Monthly Archives: November 2009

He Just Keeps Rollin’ Along

As life continues to fluctuate in & out for me I came across a frequent nemesis from my bar tending days at Frankie’s Restaurant in Hollywood…Frank Sinatra. Tending bar while Frank Sinatra blared throughout the restaurant nearly killed any chance I would ever listen to another Sinatra song without cringing. Then tonight as I lay here for nightly worry session before falling asleep, Frank spoke to me through my I-Pod’s shuffle function. “Ol  Man River” as unconventional a Sinatra song if there ever was one.

If ever a song meant more to me at a point in my life I have already filed it away in my mind file. The file that makes time machines out of songs, escorting me back to a moment in a moment in my life when that song was the soundtrack of a milestone.

“What’s Up” by Four Non Blondes were there singing in the background in Gina Hubbard’s bedroom when I realized that I was in love for the first time. Consequently, every time I hear that song I think of her dark brown hair, her deep brown eyes & every curve of her bronze skin. It takes me back to a time when life was simpler. When in the Summer of ’93 I fell in love with a girl that would eventually become the first girl to break my heart.

“Ol Man River” speaks to em in a different way. The song plays like an old Negro spiritual as the Narrator speaks of how hard he works picking cotton & “plantin’ taters” but how his hard work is to no avail. He yearns to get away, to escape his bondage. Then he sees the river & envies it. It has stories to tell, but won’t share with the Narrator. “He just keeps movin’ along”. Water, the giver of life, has a secret that can’t be shared. The river does not suffer the indignities of hard back-breaking labor that no cares about.

So how does this fit into my life? I, too, see that river at times. Obviously not in the same context as the Narrator, I do long to get away. I, too, daydream of escaping some place where I can just be like that “Ol’ Man River”. I think of things often in black & white terms not in terms of race, but more in terms of generalities. However, when things get bad you find yourself being more open to gray areas. I see that “Ol’ Man River” now & I envy him as well. I see that river just keep rollin’ along without a care & wish I could see the things he sees, the secrets he holds.

As a people when hit hard with crisis we look for someone to help us. Often times we seek refuge from those we put in elected positions but they seek not to help the people, but merely to keep getting elected. There is another faction that seeks help from religion. It would be fashionable for me as a frequent critic of organized religion & a Catholic School survivor to condemn this practice as a bunch of fools letting hokie superstitions cloud reality, but when times get tough & I have seemingly nowhere else to turn I too will take that time machine back to my days as a Catholic School student & say a quick prayer or two hoping there’s someone out there that hears them.

Times indeed are tough. Circumstances are dire & we are truly at a fork in the road. We’ve been here before, though. We will come out of tough time much like our Grandparents did before us in their Depression. I won’t happen overnight, things rarely do, but much like that “Ol’ Man River” we will keep rollin’ along.

If you listen hard enough to that “Ol’ Man River” he’ll spill his secrets. He’ll tell you that the worrying, the ambivalence, the acceptance of things that are patently unjust can no longer be accepted. We will come out of this tougher, wiser, more resilient & eventually thankful for the knowledge that this experience will garner.

“I get’s weary. I’m so sick of tryin’. I’m tired of living, but I’m feared of dyin’. And Ol’ Man River he just keeps Rollin’ along”

You must make a decision at this fork in the road. Are you going to continuously be envious of that Ol’ Man River or will you jump in & see where he takes you? For one of the first times in my life I’m taking the plunge. I’m sick of being an observer while others succeed. I hope you’ll join me.

Frank Sinatra – Ol’ Man River – Live 1968 Oakland Coliseum

Frank Sinatra-  Ol’ Man River

For The Only Joy In Life Is To Be Loved

People rave about how good the Temptations were. They wax poetically on how great their sound was & how they innovated that ’60′s Motown sound. The truth, however, is that The Four Tops while not as widely recognized are in fact just as good if not better than the Temptations. This, though, is not a comparison piece, it is merely a testament to the effect of the Four Tops in the evolution of soul music.

The Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs had the voice of a gravely angel as he raspily sang songs such as: “Standing in the Shadows of Love”, “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” & my favorite “Bernadette”. The problem the Four Tops face is that their music doesn’t necessarily translate to today’s society as their most popular song the aforementioned “Sugar Pie, Honey bunch” is filled with slang & colloquialisms of that time. This does not take away from the affection of the song, just makes it less palatable to this generation.

Soul music today, has been bastardized to the point of nearly no return. It has formed a partnership with Rap/Hip-Hop which is fine in that music must constantly evolve  but in some instances, this being one of them, a genre can lose it’s value to the point that it’s completely worthless. This is the case with modern Soul/R&B with a few exceptions, John Legend, Amos Lee, James Hunter & perhaps Jill Scott being those exceptions. They are far & few between, though. The Four Tops exemplified that harmonious street corner sound of 60′s soul.

Where Sam Cooke took gospel to new heights, the Four Tops took that soul sound & created a genre that the Temptations followed. it was the Four Tops, though, that from their inception in 1953 to their end in 1997 that not once had a personnel change. It was the sound of the Four Tops that created Motown. The Four Tops begot the Temptations & the Supremes who begot Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrel. It was from this quartet that Soul escaped the Blues/Jazz/Gospel sound of the ’50′s & for better or worse became a marketable entity for white America in the ’60′s.

The ’50′s sound of gospel was very close to Blues & the Negro spiritual anthems that were the forebearers to R&B/Soul that Berry Gordy, in collaboration with The Four Tops among others, perfected. My contention  is merely that the Four Tops are simply not given the credit for which they so rightly deserve. The emotion that Stubbs sings with in the beautiful “Bernadette” about his longing for the girl that he adores & how he fears losing her to the “other men”, is palpable.

The Temptations are certainly more polished than the Four Tops. They go down easier. The Temptations are great in their own right, don’t get me wrong, but they are simply not as good as the Four Tops. Whereas the Four Tops are coffee black, the Temptations are 2 creams & a little sugar (nothing to do with race, sycophants).

The difference is & we’ll use the example of “Bernadette” once again, is the crescendo in the music as Stubbs goes right along with it. The music hits it’s peak just as Stubbs hits his, it’s brilliance is all consuming as you can sense the feelings in his voice getting more desperate as the song goes along. He pleads with “Bernadette” to “tell the world” of their love. Begging her to not leave him for the “other men” by expressing all the feelings of adoration he feels for her. All he wants is her to keep on loving him & then the best part when you think the song is going to end & Stubbs screams out her name without any accompaniment as one last plea for her to feel the pain he would feel if he were to lose her again to the “other men”.

It is music like this that should be recognized as the epoch of R&B brilliance, but instead they are a footnote to the easily digestible Temptations. It is my goal as a lover of the purity of all forms of music that they should be as widely recognized as the Temptations or the Supremes or even Marvin Gaye. The Four Tops live in the hearts & minds of those that have experienced their enduring legacy & learned from their example of stability & brilliance.

THE FOUR TOPS

Bernadette

Don’t Walk Away Renee

It’s the Same Old Song

The Sun Will Always Shine

I have this standing offer to any band to send me some of their material & I will listen to it & give a fair critique. Now, obviously I won’t love everything & there are times where I will downright hate it (see: Jonathan Levi Band), but for whatever it’s worth I will always be fair. That’s where the Goodbye’s come in…I was actually tweeted about their existence. Someone said you should check this band out. Then while looking for them noticed that they were already following me…small world.

I would love to say they’re from here or their first gig was here, but honestly I can not seem to find out much information about them except that right now they are unsigned. That’s a mistake that I’m sure will be rectified. They have a very distinct sound that cuts through the malaise that seems to be enveloping the music world right now. To me they’re very reminiscent of Sugar Cult, but when they became good not when they were a pop-punk nightmare.

The Goodbyes are a band that exemplifies what the post-punk era should be about while still sticking to a under 4 minute song formula. I thoroughly enjoy their album & I’m sure you will as well. Check them out here & here.

Maybe – The Goodbyes

Penny – The Goodbyes

Yellow Red Sparks Review

I love music & for the most part like going to shows or concerts. I’ve seen Yellow Red Sparks twice in the past week. First at Hotel Cafe then Thursday at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach. I couldn’t have been more surprised with what I saw Thursday though & not in a good way. It turned out to be the mirror image of what I saw the first show. Same set list, Same jokes, same everything coming off nearly like a choreographed recital rather than a live musical performance. The band is extremely talented, they have good music & good harmonies, but they are horribly formulaic & very cocky for a band that has yet to come out with a CD.

This was evident in the interview I attempted to conduct with them after their “performance”. It was set it up ahead of time with the band that we would do the interview after they played. When I questioned the bassist why he used a stand up bass instead of an electric one I received a “no comment” with a snicker. I’ve interviewed many bands in my life & not once have I ever received a no comment when talking about music. When you get personal then they shy away from questions because it isn’t their comfort zone. Music should be.

YRS are the opposite. They have an inordinate amount of minutiae they spew relentlessly which is seemingly an attempt to create some kind of mysterious persona rather than concentrating on just making good music. They have been making their current album for 2 1/2 years. The thing is they’re good, not great yet, but good with potential to explode. Right now, though, their shtick is tiresome & is detrimental to their development as a successful band. You can throw Green Day, The Beatles or even Ryan Adams somewhat play that kooky persona, but I contend that not at first. It wasn’t until popularity came that they marketed themselves differently. And in the case of Ryan Adams it has seemingly hampered his escalation after his breakthrough album Gold.

This band right now does not have the maturity to make it over the long haul. Perhaps, that will change or this will be another band that breaks up after 3 years cause everybody needs to get a real job.

I Don’t Mind Stealing Bread

For this bootleg Thursday I bring you “The Birdman Sessions”. In the spring of 2000 while in Miami at the studio of Sean “Birdman” Gould. As the story goes, Gould bumped into Eddie at a bar on South Beach and offered an open invitation to record. Eddie Vedder spent a drunken night in the studio with a few random musicians recording off-the-wall covers.

The session was dubbed “The Birdman Sessions”, and copies of the recordings were made for all of the participants. Copies of these tapes eventually leaked out amongst the Pearl Jam trading elite, and it stayed amongst those elite for quite a while.

What came out of the “Birdman Sessions” were covers of Tom Petty’s “American Girl”, Radiohead’s “Creep” & the Doors “Roadhouse Blues”. They aren’t the best of Eddie’s work, but they show that he has a firm grasp of both his fore-bearers & his contemporaries. The vocals are a little too high & the instruments are a little too low, but it still makes for interesting listening.

There are some odd answering machine messages that I’ll include as well. One where Eddie is apologizing for something & the other where he calls the “Birdman” from Spain. They almost sound like he drunk dialed Gould, but he’s very considerate & congenial & in a weird way sounds like Johnny Depp in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s a nice little collection for any true Pearl Jam fan.

My absolute favorite song on the Bootleg is “Hunger Strike” though & truth be told I actually like it more than the original with Chris Cornell & not because he made a shitty album with Timbaland. It seems like the background voices aren’t fighting each other for control of the song like they do in the original. They just nicely compliment one another which is exactly the way it should be.

THE BIRDMAN SESSIONS

American Girl

Creep

Let’s See Action

Roadhouse Blues

That Feel

Answering Machine Message #1

Hunger Strike

Perfect Girl

Running Out of Time

‘Cheers’

Against the ’70′s

Answering Machine Message #2

 

 

Images & Distorted Facts

I’ve been reading a lot more recently, much about Bob Dylan. What I don’t understand is why every song the man wrote must be dissected to the point that there are classes that are meant to figure out the meanings of his songs? Dylan is a brilliant writer. He is the seminal poet of our parents generation & for that matter ours as well. It is not a far off distinction to compare him to Keats or Dylan Thomas. However, does that mean that every word he writes should mean something? I’ve read numerous articles & books extolling his life as one big mystery for us to solve. Perhaps, it’s time to let the man be. Perhaps, it’s time to just enjoy the music without trying to make it fit something.

This is a major theme when it comes to music. Does a song become worthless if it does not suit your purpose of meaning? For instance, what if you loved the song, “Martha, My Dear” from the Beatles’ White Album until you found out that Paul McCartney wrote it about his Old English Sheepdog & not Jane Asher as everyone suspected? Would that change your opinion of the song? I’m guilty of this as well & I’m not saying there aren’t some songs that are directly related to an event or person. Sometimes, though, songs are just good writing about nothing in particular.

Often people need a song to mean something so that they can relate it to their own life & their own personal struggles. It’s a coping mechanism that makes the music so much more personal. Good music is supposed to be personal & much like life itself the search for meaning is essential to our evolution. It’s why people turn to religion, higher knowledge & in some instances drugs. We are all yearning for a higher ethereal plain to find that intricate thing that separates us from the animals so that we don’t feel like this life is just some cosmic clusterfuck in which we just meander through.

Music & writing lends to us others feelings & brilliance so that we may equate that to our own personal experiences. It is in these experiences that we turn to the artist & try to figure out his/her meaning. It is what drove Dylan to create the Motorcycle crash mythology that led to a 7 year touring hiatus. It is what pushed J.D. Salinger underground. That feeling that says I’m just a writer/musician don’t look to me for guidance, look to yourself.