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October 22, 2014 / Jaded Bitterman

Interview With (A) Neil Young (Fan)

NeilYoungNeil Young has been making the media rounds lately, and since he always has some new album or other new endeavor going on almost every year, I figured instead of interviewing Neil Young, I’d interview a Neil Young fan instead.

Actually, I couldn’t land an interview with Neil Young if I tried, so “Interview With (A) Neil Young (Fan)” isn’t just the next best thing, it’s the only thing.

We were both born in the early 70’s, so we were still mere babies when Neil Young became a star and first embedded himself into the rock’n’roll popular culture consciousness with his solo works and albums with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. As a teenager in the 80’s (probably the commercial and critical low point of his career), what drew you to Neil Young and how did you become such a big fan? Or did it start earlier as a child in the 70’s?

I remember one of my older brothers owning the Live Rust album and him cranking the songs “Sugar Mountain” and “Hey, Hey, My, My (Into The Black)” and just being enamored with the sounds. I had no grasp of who Neil Young was. Like any younger brother I just wanted to emulate whatever my brother did.  A few years later I started playing the guitar and  I heard “Down By The River.” I remember thinking that it was a song unlike any I had ever heard before. It’s unpolished, simplistic nature was just something I was not used to hearing at that time. Matter of fact, I recall the first CD I ever purchased being Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere simply for that song. When I headed off to college I somehow scored the Decade compilation and that pretty much pushed me over the edge.

Your personal Absolute Favorite Neil Young Album, if you were force to name just one?

Wow, now that might be the hardest question you could ever ask a Neil Young fan such as myself. I honestly can’t say that I have a “favorite” album of his since there are so many that I am drawn to. I mean, On The Beach holds a special place in my heart because I love every single song on that record (an album I received in a trade with a close friend. I got On The Beach, he got a Cindy Crawford Playboy). And while Decade is a “compilation” vs. a proper album, it is perhaps the album that turned me from a casual fan into a hardcore one. It would be the album that I would probably tell someone who’s never heard Neil to listen to first. Those being said, I also absolutely love Tonight’s The Night, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Le Noise, and I do own the 63-72 Archives box set which is off the hook awesome.  Might as well toss in Rust Never Sleeps because let’s face it, it’s fuckin’ awesome. Live At Massey Hall used to only be a bootleg but it’s since had a proper release, and is Neil as his intimate, solo, acoustic best!

Read more…

September 10, 2014 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

BONO IS IN YOUR YARD HOLDING A BOOMBOX OVER HIS HEAD

St. Bono and the boys were so busy rushing this off to Apple Corp to push to you that they didn't even have to make a cover!

St. Bono and the boys were so busy rushing this off to Apple Corp to push to you that they didn’t even have time to make a cover!

First, this isn’t really a first. Thousands of bands release free digital albums all the time. Even in the realm of major commercial artists obviously we had Radiohead “giving away” In Rainbows almost 7 years ago as part of a “pay what you want” thing… and as for selling it to a corporate sponsor for them to give away, Prince had his Twenty Ten CD given away with a newspaper in the U.K. a few years ago. AC/DC, the Eagles, Justin Timberlake, Prince and several others have cut exclusive deals with the likes of Target and WalMart. Jay-Z had an (intrusive) app to deliver his free album (sponsored by Samsung). And Beyonce and others have done the suddenly announced/released “IT’S HERE NOW” album drop.

U2 selling this to Apple for them to then “give” to us is a bit of a hybrid of those previous releases. I guess the main difference is that they actually PUT IT ON YOUR COMPUTER. Lots of major artists give away tracks for free, or offer streaming previews etc… plenty of free tracks that most people can’t be bothered to “go get” (by clicking a mouse several times).

This is Bono coming to your house and standing in your yard holding a boombox over his head.

Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know” he sings as he crawls into your inbox.

The cynical among us will say we’ve already talked about U2 enough, or entirely too much, over the last 25 years or so… and “who cares,” and that any critical discussion about That New Free U2 Album is just falling for Bono’s trick and giving them the publicity they want. OK. Rock bands might not be the most important subject in the world (to you guys) but within the realm of “The Arts” and “Pop Culture,” if we’re going to chronicle every time Justin Beiber pisses in a bucket, then perhaps it’s okay to give 15 minutes of fame to discussing the new U2 album and its method of delivery.

I mean, leave it to U2 to somehow pull off a “surprise album” that’s been years in the hyping.

Doing it this way saves them from any potential embarrassment of it “flopping” and/or the reality that even U2 isn’t gonna sell millions of copies like the old days. By any measure, conventional sales figures of this album would have looked bad by U2 standards even if still in line with rock-bottom expectations of music sales in 2014. So this gets them publicity and they get to look like they gave it away for free…

This is how U2-level artists deal with the new Music (Lack-of) Business, and of course we shed few tears cuz they’re already rich…. and obviously there’s a few levels of artists trying to get their music heard (from the novice garage bands, to the mid-level professional but still anonymous artists on up to the superstar stratosphere). So now even the U2s of the world have to pull stunts just to get heard and “play for free” (even if their new album giveaway was actually subsidized by a large corporation). It’s just funny that even they have to do this shit.

After the first several listens, I’d say there’s some interesting tracks and some more late-career filler with a few pretty good kinda “raw” moments as well… and a few more examples of Bono going for the Big Huge Sweeping Sentiment lyrics… but it’s still too soon to have a strong opinion. (Ultimately it sounds destined for “not-horrific, better than their last one, but still just OK” status.)

There’s a wide variety of musical styles here, oftentimes many of them squeezed into the same song. “Cedarwood Road” opens with a nice crunchy riff signaling the stripped-down sound of their early work and still manages to wind itself into the sweeping lush choruses of slick latter-day U2 anthems (and back again). “Volcano,” “Raised By Wolves,” and “This is Where You Can Reach Me Now” are more evidence that U2 still has a pulse, a subject that was up for debate upon the release of their last album No Line On the Horizon (which now makes more sense as a title representing a flat line… ZZzzz).

This one sounds more like a U2 album (albeit a “new” U2 album). No, it doesn’t sound like War, but most importantly it also doesn’t sound like it’s TRYING TO SOUND LIKE the perfect blend of The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. While most cite those two as U2’s very best, albums like How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and parts of No Line suffered because they seemed like such obvious imitations of U2’s peak former selves. That trick actually worked on All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2001, but not so much on the subsequent releases. Granted, who better to make an overtly U2-like (U2-lite) album than Bono and Edge and those other two guys. Unfortunately, the delivery method and “business model” are more interesting than the music.

On Songs of Innocence, they take a few minor chances (still within their wheel house, even though I hate that expression). Nothing too crazy, no noisey avante-garde shit, no foolish gimmicks or guest rappers. There’s some variation and texture to everything. Parts of it are as lush and shiny (and borderline over-produced) as some of their shmaltziest work, but most of it sounds surprisingly live and natural (and again the word “raw” comes to mind). There’s clarity in the mix, and Edge’s guitar consistently cuts right through when he finally gets to do Edge things, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen often enough on this album.

It would also be very easy to make a case for this album being a collection of over-warmed horseshit and boring soft-rock built for the stadium masses. And I’m sure those snarky reviews are out there. I bet some of them use the word “pap” or “Coldplay.” And part of me listens to “Song for Someone” and it sounds like an SNL skit parodying emotional pop songs (I mean, the chorus goes “This is a soooooooonnnnnnnng….. for someone….” It’s kinda hilarious.

But it sounds like U2 moving forward, not U2 trying too hard to sound like old U2, and not U2 trying to get all futuristic or working too hard to be hip. They will always swing for the fences; they will always manage to have at least some cheese dripping around their, uh, edges… and we’ll always prefer their classic albums over whatever else they do.

Now it’s just a matter of which clever title pun to use as a closing line, All That They Can’t Leave Behind, or Still Haven’t Found What They’re Looking For? U2 will still Say Anything for attention? I’d say there’s still some fire, but most of it is forgettable.

August 26, 2014 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

On Ice Buckets and Challenges

Thanks to my brother Mark for nominating me for the #ALS #IceBucketChallenge. I’m not making a video, but will be sure to join the masses who have donated. The nature of charity is that you don’t advertise how much you give (but my donation will be in the 10’s of dollars, I can assure you).

Of course, NOT doing an ice bucket video makes me a bit of party pooper in 2014, and that’s okay. If you want to see ice bucket videos, I’m pretty sure you will find some out there. Dave Grohl dressed up as Carrie. Sammy Hagar telling Eddie and Alex Van Halen to go jump in a lake. Eminem on stage during a concert. I’m pretty sure our friend who called out my wife had someone dump pool water over her head while they were standing in the pool. I thought that was just called “Summer.”

The spirit of this ALS viral fundraising phenomenon, the big picture as I see it, is to bring a “less popular” disease to the forefront. Of course (and unfortunately) we have more than enough diseases and famine in the world that we don’t lack options for our charity dollar.

The ice bucket challenge has brought Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)—also referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease” and Motor Neurone Disease (MND)—out of the shadows 75 years after Gehrig’s last at-bat for the Yankees. This craze has inspired people all over the world to pour in record numbers of donations (see what I did there?).

The death of Robin Williams was my bucket of ice.

Robin Williams died of perhaps the darkest and most unknowable disease there is: Depression. We don’t know what else was going within him to cause his suicide, and reports that he was also beginning a battle with Parkinson’s only leave us with more questions.

I don’t know what it’s like to experience true Depression. Yes, I’ve been sad, but I’ve always had perspective, and a positive outlook on life and I’m always looking to make a joke. Part of the reason for this happiness is that I grew up watching Robin Williams. From the slapstick insanity of Mork and the furious stand-up routines (that also stood at the forefront of the pop-culture/charity movements of the 1980s with Comic Relief) to the dramatic roles that reminded us “You’re not perfect, sport,” and “Seize the day,” Robin Williams improved our mental state while he either numbed his own, or simply held on tight as it deteriorated.

I don’t mean to throw cold water on something that’s supposed to be fun (sorry). All of this is just my long-winded way of avoiding a big bucket of ice water getting dumped on my head. But just as this viral trend has flooded ALS charities (oops, I did it again) with much-needed support, we need to continue to shine our lights, and cameras, and actions, into the shadows of mental illness and addiction.

As always with this stuff, like with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death… when it’s Cancer or other diseases, there’s usually this tremendous support and compassion… but with Depression, especially when mixed with a history of any type of substance abuse, there’s a stigma, there’s this idea that, “Well, fuck him, he shouldn’t have been such a waste-oid. He did this to himself.” Most substance abuse may start off as choosing to party, choosing to get fucked up, but it too is a disease, no matter if the chicken or the egg is first. Some people turn to substance abuse as a result of Depression. Obviously Depression is a separate animal from Addiction… but they are often treated, or mistreated, similarly.

So I’ll be matching my ALS donation and finding some mental health charities to support as well. And heck, I’m also a big fan of “Music in Schools” charities too! But that’s for another post.

For now, I can only imagine what Robin Williams could have done with a bucket of ice, a camera, and a challenge.

July 16, 2014 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

Top 10 Jazz Albums That Sound Like Children’s Book Titles

school daysThis is where we’re at with Top 10 Lists: we don’t need another “Desert Island Classic” list of the Top 10 Best Rock Albums and no one really cares what my favorite instrumental albums or Top 10 Live Albums are, but I wrote those lists anyway (and can I interest you in my Top Albums of 2013?).

Why not get even more random and silly with it: how ’bout the Top 10 Consecutive 3-Album Runs… or even the Top 10 Best Album Covers That Match the Best Albums from 2011?

So, as a casual jazz fan on a recent Miles Davis kick (and a father of two young boys), it popped in my head that there’s some good jazz album titles that sound like children’s books. And, just to teach about counting (or set a bad example of such), this Top 10 Jazz Albums (That Sound Like Children’s Book Titles) list contains 12 items!

  1. Miles Davis – Milestones
  2. Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
  3. Stanley Clarke – School Days
  4. Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil
  5. Wynton Marsalis – Big Train
  6. Chick Corea – Children’s Songs
  7. Pat Metheny – Imaginary Day
  8. John Coltrane – My Favorite Things
  9. Herbie Hancock – Dis Is Da Drum
  10. Ornette Coleman – Soapsuds, Soapsuds
  11. Modern Jazz Quartet – Patterns
  12. Charlie Parker – Ornithology (Okay, so maybe this one woulda been called Big Book of Birds or whatever…)
July 10, 2014 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

Fantasy Rock Band

Just stare at that chart in all its trivial rock’n’roll glory.

As arbitrary as the chosen musicians and their corresponding “salaries” might be, and countless arguments can be made about who’s missing and who’s under/overpriced, I’m still fascinated by this! [We could make 5 or 10 different salary charts based on this same concept, but as you can see, @MattNorlander made this one,
so credit to him and send him any of your complaints.]

A few things are keeping me from making a final decision on a line up. Should I just try to make the salary work under the $25 cap, or also consider how the styles/playing fits together? Just like in sports, perhaps more so, chemistry can be as important as talent. But, this is fantasy. I think it’s safe to assume we are getting each of these guys at their peak, and not current (and in some cases, dead) state. Is it a requirement of this pointless fictional game to spend the full $25? What about getting credit/points for spending less?

My day is shot.

One inherent flaw is the idea of strictly defining the guitarists as either “Lead” or “Rhythm” guitarists. Sure, guys like Keith Richards and Neil Young are more known for riffage than shredding, but that’s not all they can do. Jimmy Page is listed as Rhythm but I’m pretty sure he’s capable of playing Lead. On the flipside, the top Lead Guitarist is Jimi Hendrix, but he’s more than capable of playing a Rhythm role as well. Same for George Harrison (listed as the cheapest “Lead” option, perhaps because we often think of him as a peaceful strum-along type).

So that leads (LEADS, see what I did there?) to more questions: should I pick 2 very versatile guitarists so they each fill both rhythm and lead duties? Or go for a more defined rhythm-lead combo? We’ll play with some lineup options later, but thought it should be noted that the guitar slots are tougher to define than Drums or Bass.

“Frontman” seems easily defined, but there’s some basic flaws with that slot too. Are women eligible? (In fact, there are no women anywhere on this chart, so that’s another general complaint to be launched elsewhere on behalf of Janis Joplin, Kim Gordon, Chrissie Hynde, and Ann & Nancy Wilson.) And are we judging/choosing our Frontman on vocal abilities alone or does stage presence play into it? Again, chemistry comes into play, how will a given Frontman’s voice sound with a given supergroup of musicians? If you choose some hard-rockin metal-leaning musicians, then Axl Rose might be a better choice than, say, Bono or Mick Jagger. But I’d trust Bono and Jagger to actually show up to the gigs and perform on time, and in general I don’t think I’d want Axl Rose in any band I was putting together.

Read more…

July 9, 2014 / Jaded Bitterman

An Ode To Judas Priest

judas_priest_wallpaper_by_coshkun-d3in61p
Between the years of 1982 – 1988 my favorite band on the planet–by a wide margin–was Judas Priest. I was borderline obsessed and consider them my first true musical love. My bedroom walls were covered with 6′ posters, wall tapestries, and cut out photos from the likes of Creem and Hit Parader of my leather-clad heroes. When my parents bought me my first Walkman the first tape I threw in was Priest’s underrated debut album Rocka Rolla and I listened to it 10,000 times if I listened to it once.

During this time period you would hard pressed to find a heavy metal band bigger than Judas Priest (maybe Iron Maiden, but that is an argument I choose to not partake in since I had it about 1639 times in 8th grade with my Maiden-loving cohorts. I’ll admit this though: Maiden had way better album covers). They had some radio-friendly singles (“Breaking The Law”, “Living After Midnight”, and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”) and pretty much sold out 20,000 seat arenas all over America (I should also note here that Priest was able to achieve this success without ever being considered “sell outs” and continually sustaining respect among their peers, including being one of the few metal bands asked to perform at Live Aid. They had a plethora of metal street cred stocked up in their well).

On June 6, 1986 I became one of those 20,000 fans and attended my first concert ever at the Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey: Judas Priest with opener…Krokus (a band that had absolutely zero shot of “blowing” anyone off the stage but themselves). I knew every note of every song they played. I sang along to every anthemic chorus The Metal God sang, and I pumped my 13-year old fists in the devil horn \m/ for 2+ hours. I didn’t want the show to end. It was heavy metal ecstasy up to an including the guy in the row in front of us asking me if I had a rolling paper (I had no idea what a rolling paper was at the time. I just wanted to hear “Victim Of Changes“–which they didn’t play but did at a later show I saw).

Over the next few years I would see Priest only three more times during this peak period of their career. As I aged, my musical tastes expanded and Priest slowly fell out of my repertoire. I always maintained a respect for the band, it’s just that over time, some of their music didn’t age too well and some of their later albums didn’t have the direction and cohesiveness of their previous works. They seemed more like a band trying to fit in with the modern trends (Turbo) vs. creating them (British Steel). Turbo was a synth-laced pop metal album (which some fans, to this day, will never forgive them for). Ram It Down (the last album I actually bought of theirs) seemed like it had the band heading back in the right direction, but it’s trashy, speed-metalesque songs just didn’t sound like…Judas Priest. I mean, it had the fast guitar solos, the insane operatic metal screams, and the “metal” lyrics. It simply didn’t sound like the Priest we were used to but a Priest that was trying to keep up with new up-and-comers like Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, and Pantera (all heavily influenced by, as Phil Anselmo calls em, Judas Fuckin’ Priest!).

Read more…

April 23, 2014 / Jaded Bitterman

A List Of TV Shows That You Should Watch

tvI watch way too much TV. Anyone within earshot of me on a daily basis probably thinks that I spend all of my free time watching television shows and then recapping them with friends and co-workers. To some degree this is true. I believe we are (still) in “The Golden Age Of Television” (a term I did not make up but one that critics generally refer to as anything that’s been put on TV since The Sopranos first aired. If you ask me, it started with HBO’s Oz, but I won’t rock the boat on this one). I have nothing against non-TV watchers, I just want you to know that you are missing out on some quality programming these days.

With the rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Go, iTunes, etc. binge watching has replaced good old fashion week-to-week anticipation. Cliffhanger ended the last episode? Don’t want to wait a week (or a year) to see who killed off your favorite character? Simply click the “Next Episode” button and binge away. Netflix even goes as far as releasing every episode of its shows seasons at once. Anticipation be damned!

Online recaps are as abundant as Starbucks and McDonald’s. Noted publications/sites from The New Yorker to Rolling Stone run endless stories, interviews, recaps, discussions, and podcasts about popular television series. The most recent season debut of The Walking Dead drew over 16 million viewers (to put that into perspective, there are around 300 million people in the US. 16+ million of them are watching a show about zombies). I am one of those 16 million viewers and I watch–and have watched–a ton of television series in my day (mostly dramas). Way too much some would say.

You might be very apprehensive when it comes to deciding which series to watch first–since there are so many good choices out there. Even if you missed the initial run of The West Wing you can easily binge through all its seasons online. But should you watch that or catch up on Mad Men? Is True Blood worth diving into? How many seasons behind am I? You hear “everyone” talking about how great these shows are and you’re kinda interested in them but don’t know where to start. I equate it with how I feel when I walk into a really good music store (yes, some do still exist!): I am overwhelmed with having to narrow down my choices in order make a selection. When I sift through 80 Zappa records trying to figure out which one to buy, how do I know which one to begin with?

So lucky for you (I think?) I am here to write you a list of what I feel are excellent television series that you should watch. This is not a list of the “best shows ever” in some arbitrary order (I mean, how could I say The Wire is better than The Sopranos or vice-versa? I can’t!).  I am purposefully not putting numbers in here because I cannot rank them in terms of greatness.

The following list contains my personal favorites when it comes to great television.  I hope that if there is a series on this list you have not watched–or have been tempted to watch–that my brief explanation(s) of the show(s) might intrigue you enough to get started. (Note: I did my best to not include any spoilers.)

Read more…

March 6, 2014 / Jaded Bitterman

Zappa Plays Zappa As Good As Zappa

11mays.large2I consider myself a big Frank Zappa fan. Yet, just by looking over his discography, I realized that I am not that big a Frank Zappa fan. He has over 60 albums produced, hundreds of live shows recorded and released, tv performances, movies, etc. I would need three lifetimes of isolated listening just to digest (and understand) even half of his catalog.

So when I recently bought tickets to see Zappa Plays Zappa at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, I went into it fully realizing that I probably wouldn’t know half the songs they were going to play. So I cheated in order to tease myself: I went online and checked out some previous set lists from this tour and wouldn’t you know it, more than half of the songs in the list were ones I had never heard (I find it necessary to put a disclaimer in here right now because I know how crazy some Zappaheads can get: I am a Zappa fan, but not a fanatic. My preference when it comes to Zappa are more inline with his “serious” works vs. the “satire”, “improv”, and “humor” he often implemented into his music and shows. While I fully appreciate that aspect of his songwriting genius, I simply prefer(ed) to listen to him wail on the guitar while the Greatest Back-Up Band(s)-To-Ever-Walk-The-Face-Of-The-Earth went bat shit crazy behind him. Therefor, I am aware that my knowledge of his discography is limited yet still deeper than casual.)

I went to see a Zappa cover band a few years back (I won’t mention their name) and left after five songs. Not because they weren’t good (cause let’s face it, just being able to play one Zappa song–any Zappa song–makes you a pretty damn good musician in my book), but because it just wasn’t anywhere close to the real thing. It lacked authenticity. Dweezil Zappa heads up Zappa Plays Zappa, and Dweezil is as close to Frank as we as fans are ever going to get. It’s like watching Jason Bonham play drums: even if his last name wasn’t Bonham we’d still be impressed with his playing nonetheless. It just helps to alleviate any apprehension we have towards listening by saying to ourselves, “well, at least it’s his son playing!” While some children-of-famous-musicians go out of their way to avoid the shadows of their parents, Dweezil has embraced his legendary father’s music. Frank’s shadow is simply too long to avoid.

Right off the bat I knew the band would be good. How could they not be? I just wasn’t prepared for how good. Let’s start with Dweezil. Obviously we know the dude can play guitar (Franks Gibson SG to be exact). But come on, man, when did he get this good? (probably 20 years ago, I just wasn’t paying attention). I am rarely into the fast, shredding-type players (I appreciate Vai, Satriani, et al, but to me, it’s just dudes playing fast for other dudes to impress them with how fast they can play, dude.), but Dweezil inherited his father’s Coltrane-esque phrasing and sense of the musical moment. His guitar sounded sweet, he played it sweet, and he did his father’s music much justice. I thought during one of Dweezil’s (many) guitar solos, “Frank would be impressed.”

I’ve always said that you can take 8 bars of a Zappa song and any other band would make an entire song out of it. Within each song is basically 4-8 movements. The amount of concentration and memory it must take to perform a set of his music is mind-boggling. As a musician, when you watch other musicians that are this good, it makes you either want to quit playing altogether…or practice more.   I won’t list each member of the band here (drummer, keyboard, bass, two multi-instrumentalists/vocalists) because you don’t need to hear about how great each of them were individually. They were absolutely amazing in every sense.

The highlight of the show was an improvisational moment when Dweezil called up a young girl from the audience who couldn’t have been older than 7. He asked her, “do you play any instruments?” to which she replied, “the flute.” Dweezil proceeded to put his guitar around her shoulder and stand behind her as he helped her “play” it. The audience roared. He turned the distortion to ten, cranked out some AC/DC-type rocker riff and the band picked up behind them. This little girl was jamming onstage with the band and we, the audience, ate it up. It was classic Zappa showmanship. Once she was done–and the standing ovation died down–he asked her, “so…still want to play the flute?” You think that girl doesn’t grow up to join a band??? Let’s hope.

There were so many insane musical moments throughout the show that it’s hard to point out any one. It’s such a profound experience when you witness such great musicianship in a live setting. I have always known that Zappa’s music is not everyone’s cup of tea. It can be complicated and confusing to the average listener. The odd rhythms and weird instrumentation (and even weirder, often hilariously satirical lyrics) assured he would never have a #1 hit. Parts rarely repeat themselves. Shit, time signatures rarely repeat themselves. It’s not “easy listening” by any account. Dweezil and his band did a fantastic job of keeping the musical visions of Frank alive, and judging by the near sold out crowd and numerous standing ovations, there are still plenty of people out there that appreciate the Zappa catalog. As hard as that is to imagine, it gives me hope knowing that some music fans still want to be challenged by the artists they listen to.

February 6, 2014 / Jaded Bitterman

Lefties

I am right-handed. I throw a ball right-handed, when I used to actually use a pen and paper I wrote right-handed, I kick right-handed, punch right-handed, and play drums right-handed. But I play guitar left-handed. It’s odd, I know. When I was 13 years old and just beginning my excursion into learning the instrument the most common advice I received from other players was “practice” and “learn how to play right-handed.” I did the first, never bothered with the second.

At the time I didn’t understand why anyone would actually care if I played lefty or righty. Now I realize why: do you know how hard it is to find a left-handed guitar and/or accessory options? They are out there, of course, and I have obviously been able to purchase quite a few in my day. But walk into most any music store and you will undoubtedly see dozens upon dozens of guitars, 97% of which are right-handed (you might find a few lefties in the mix; usually shitty, low-level Strat and Les Paul knock-offs). You would think, considering some of the all-time great players have been left-handed, we wouldn’t be so ‘discriminated’ against. Is it wrong that I find some pleasurable ironic humor in situations where right-handed players are in my midst without their guitars and they can’t play mine because it’s “backwards”? Call it cosmic payback, musician karma, whatever. Come on, I can at least pick up a righty and throw together some chords. Probably because I have spent my entire playing life surrounded by you backward-ass right-handed players.

Which leads me to the reason I am even writing this post: to celebrate the influence that some of rock and rolls lefties have brought us. I bring you, what I feel is, a list of some of the most-influential guitar players of all time. And guess what? They are all lefties!

Read more…

February 5, 2014 / Jaded Bitterman

Selling Out: Who’s Buying?

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We are, in fact, only in it for the money.

This morning I was listening to The Howard Stern Show and he had 60’s icon/songwriter/musician Donovan on for an interview and some impromptu acoustic performances. Since it was Stern it was, of course, a great interview (say what you will about the man, but he is, hands down, the single best interviewer I have ever seen or listened to. Especially when it comes to musicians.). Donovan spouted off stories about his days hanging with The Fab Four, recording his hits with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones as session men (pre-Zep), and then  showed Howard how this one descending chord progression is used in tons of songs you know and love (he went on to play “Dear Prudence”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “House Of the Rising Sun”, and more to prove his point–they all use the same type of progression). Then Howard asked him questions along the lines of, “Does it amaze you that so many people know the lyrics to your songs and sing along? Were you aware that would be the case when you wrote them? How do you know when a song is good?” Donovan’s response was insightful. He told Howard, “the first thing  you need to do is please yourself. The second is impress your peers. The last thing you think about is the fans.”

It reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with some fellow musicians. We were ranting and raving about bands that “make it” vs. ones that don’t (including ours, which is why we were so bitter at the time). Then a sentence was uttered that has stuck with me ever since: you have to start making music for yourself.

Most bands and musicians start out with the goal of “making it.” And by “making it” I mean, in simple terms, being able to make music as your professional career, i.e. get paid to make music. Very few fulfill this dream.  When starting out, most artists are all about pleasing the fans, mainly, because they are trying to get some. But for those that  really hit it big (U2, Metallica, The Stones, etc.) they basically get to dictate their own careers once they do.  After Metallica’s Black Album sold a gazillion copies they essentially earned the right to do whatever the fuck they wanted. You think U2 cares if you think Zooropa sucked?

Growing up, the term “selling out” was one of the biggest insults you could hurl at an artist. This was mostly applied in the hardcore/punk/metal scenes. When Metallica came on in the early 80’s they were underground, dirt-bag metalheads wearing jeans jackets, ripped jeans, and sneakers while playing the fastest, most maniacal music on the planet. Now they play the Grammy’s and get mentioned on Good Morning America. Ozzy Osbourne was the devil incarnate back in 1982–now his music appears in car commercials. Does that mean Metallica and Ozzy have “sold out” or that a.) the powers that be are now people of the age that grew up loving these musicians so they are celebrating that love, b.) in this day and age you do whatever you can to get your music out there, or c.) there is no such thing anymore as “selling out.” (I think Ian MacKaye would disagree with c.).

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January 10, 2014 / Jaded Bitterman

Modern Man: A Night With Stanley Clarke

timthumbLast night the wife and I went to a local music/dinner club called The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. It’s a great venue with a great reputation that books acts ranging from jazz greats to blues masters to Americana roots rock. You walk in, grab a seat at a communal table, order over-priced but decent dinner fare, and watch the artists perform to a room full of attentive spectators.  It’s a music club for people who don’t mind sitting down while watching music. It offers you the ability to enjoy an artist without the distractions that come with most rock clubs.

That is why I was somewhat amazed last night on a few levels. We went to see the legendary (and way too under-appreciated) Stanley Clarke. If you don’t know who he is, well, go find out. Before the show I knew of Stanley Clarke, “heard of him” but never actually listened to any of his music knowingly. He’s done work on movie soundtracks, played with some of the all-time jazz greats, and is generally well-regarded in the musical community. He’s a bass player that transcends classification. A true “artist” of his craft. Funk, jazz, blues, rock, hip-hop, salsa, etc. etc. etc. Stanley Clarke has played it and played it better than 99.99% of anyone else that ever has.

What amazed me first and foremost during the show was his scaled-down band: Stanley on bass, a drummer, and a piano player. I thought, “Ok, this is going to be ‘good’ but probably end up repetitive and boring as the set goes on. I mean, how much can you do with a trio like that?” Of course I was wrong (it’s happened before and depending on whom you ask the numbers vary). The drummer was 19 and the piano player (from the Republic of Georgia) was 17! Let me say that again: 17! (As of this posting Stanley Clarke is 62).

I think it’s pretty wise for an old-timer like Clarke to select young, extremely talented musicians to surround him. They brought an exuberance that helped keep the set fresh and improvisational. They were both spectacular at their respective instruments. The drummer’s arms on some of his solos looked like humming birds wings and the piano player played with a passion and soul you seldom find in someone so young. They both received more than one standing ovation.

Read more…

December 8, 2013 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

Top 20 Best Albums of 2013

I’m still an album guy. Not necessarily vinyl, but Albums with a capital A to mean a body of work consisting of a group of songs. I’m mostly a digital consumer of music, on MP3 and yes I still sometimes rock CD’s in the car.

It seems nowadays we talk more about how we listen to our music, instead of the actual music itself. We flash badges on social media to signify that we’re with Pandora or Spotify, we subscribe to iTunes or (in my case) Amazon MP3. We see flashy commercials for $200 headphones and share playlists between our phones and auto-post our current listening pleasures on Facebook and Twitter. And I guess it’s assumed most people are listening to their awesome playlists of trending tracks, on random of course.

But I still listen to full albums. I never throw a bunch of songs by different artists into a queue, I listen to each “album” straight through. I’m not saying it’s any better and I’m not here to rant on how things have changed. But lost among the technology discussions and the hand wringing over digital rights and the business of music and the allegedly dying Music Business… let’s remember the actual music. And, for me, The Music comes not in the form of the Hottest Track of The Summer or Latest Trending Single.

When I talk about The Music, I want to talk about albums. The Best Albums of 2013, in fact, according to me and based on what I liked listening to the most. Here are my Top 20 Albums of 2013:

20. Atoms For Peace – AMOK
Flea’s famous funk sounds a bit buried among the Thom Yorke/Nigel Godrich production that mostly sounds like a continuation of Yorke’s first solo album. But the subtle rhythms by not just Flea but percussionists Joey Waronker and Mauro Refoscodo reveal themselves through repeated listening. It might be a better Tide-You-Over-Til-The-Next-Radiohead album than the last the Radiohead album was.

19. Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw
Catchy folk recommended for fans of Dawes and/or Dr. Dog.

18. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Was never really into NIN when they first peaked, but have grown to dig on some recent Trent Reznor projects. And surprisingly this new one is quite “accessible” (which is what critics say when they want to let you know it isn’t just noise… there are actual hummable songs and hooks here).

17. David Bowie – The Next Day
I was never a massive Bowie enthusiast. A casual fan. The best-of’s and hits collections were enough for me. I respected him but admit I was never well versed in the depth of what’s considered all of the best albums. I actually don’t think much about David Bowie. But then with little notice he came back out of left field and what was assumed to be a likely quiet retirement and graceful aging if health permitted. And the album was a rockin’ and infectious gem or a record that I was kinda addicted to listening to for several weeks there. Even if you’re just a little Bowie-curious, definitely worth checking out The Next Day.

16. Inspectah Deck w/ 7L & Esoteric – Czarface
7L & Esoteric have a knack for pumping out modern-day “90s Hip-Hop Classics” if you know what I mean. Their basic production value and overall aesthetic is a direct descendant of the Guru & DJ Premier pairing that gave Gang Starr it’s mass appeal. The catchy beats come in waves as the smilies and metaphors surf atop them effortlessly. On 2013’s Czarface, they’re joined by Inspectah Deck a microphone master and unsung hero from the Wu-Tang Clan to inject even more energy into mix.

15. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push Away the Sky
On Push Away the Sky we get mellow and creepy Nick. And somehow it’s every bit as effective, affecting, and addictive as rocking and creepy Nick was on Dig Lazarus Dig!

14. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
At times gimmicky and pastiche, these robot dudes really do know how to make some great-sounding music. Niles Rodgers incomparable guitar work is the MVP here, even if after a while the whole funky 70s vibe does eventually lose some of it’s luster. But beyond the “Get Lucky” sheen there’s a variety of tracks here, including some spoken word by Giorgio Moroder, with the subtle standout being “Instant Crush” featuring a lead vocal by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. Daft Punk may never pull off those helmets, but somehow they managed to pull off making the robots sound human and the humans sound like robots. And you can dance to it.

13. Black Sabbath – 13
OK if they couldn’t work things out with original drummer Bill Ward, at least they got former Rage Against the Machine beatmaster Brad Wilk to crush these classic-sounding riffs. Considering what a debacle a comeback album like this could have been, it’s a downright enjoyable and rockin’ return to form (of sorts). And yes of course I switched them around so they’d be #13 on this list. \m/

12. Leif Vollebekk – North Americana
Oh, look: It’s this year’s “Haunting, sparse acoustic production meets Dylanesque phrasing” album. And it’s a good one.

11. Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion
Tremendous live band, and on record they remain sad but true. It’s such bummer music, but you believe every word and the harmonies are so good that you have to keep listening.

10. Clutch – Earth Rocker
If you know Clutch, you know they are the best relatively unknown hard rock band in America. If you’ve never heard of Clutch, you need to get with the program. And this new effort is as good as any place to start. Maybe I’m blinded by the shiny newness of the crunching riffs, but Earth Rocker might every bit as good as previous Clutch classics like Robot Hive Exodus, the self-titled album from 1995, or whatever you think is the Best Clutch Album. By the way, these guys wont just rock your face off, they’re also underrated songwriters. Dig in.

9. Vampire Weekend – Vampires of the City
That rare breed of “critics darlings” who actually live up the hype. Incredibly well-crafted album that may have marketed as a new sound actually succeeds by combining the best features of their first two albums. Cinematic and precise, and somehow still fun.

8. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Stunning singer/songwriter strips it down, with sensational results. If you think you hate country music, think about checking out this (and every) Jason Isbell album. Short on twang, but long on songs.

7. The Roots & Elvis Costello – Wise Up Ghost
It’s weird. It’s like people are stalking the weird thoughts in my head. Not even that, cuz I never dreamed of putting the Roots and Elvis Costello. But I’ve loved them both very much for a very long time. And yet even I found word of their collaboration to be odd. But hot damn if this isn’t a great set that finds E.C. In his usual whine, but the songwriting and the rich tapestry of grooves of Questlove and the band make this one of the most enjoyable records from Elvis in a while. And, along with their Wake Up! Collab with John Legend in 2011, it’s yet another funky notch in the belt of the Legendary Roots Crew.

6. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
I don’t throw them on here lightly. What I mean is this isn’t a “career” award or anything like that. Their new album is GOOD. Really good. Not that the last two were bad, but they were okay/good. Like at the time we knew they were sorta Pearl-Jam-By-Numbers generic “good” but we convinced ourselves they were actual Good. But Lightning Bolt is Good. Really good. Pearl Jam good.

5. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Apologies to Jay-Z and his buddy Kanye, but as far as megastar rappers who can still put out a great album and rip the mic to shreds to the point that he’s murdering the English language… Eminem sits atop the throne. His more famous counterparts might have bigger social media strategies and yachts and famous wives, but hip-hop has always been mostly about LYRICS. Jay-Z is an iconic rapper but he no longer has anything to say. Kanye’s always been a good producer and still makes incredibly interesting music (the beats and backing tracks) but he’s never been a good rapper. On The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem proves that he still has plenty to say and the astounding verbal dexterity and unparalleled flow with which to do it. Instead of boring us with stories of champagne and caviar, Marshall Mathers doesn’t mind showing us he’s still hungry.

4. Killer Mike & EL-P – Run the Jewels
Probably my favorite hip-hop album of the year. While El-P has a reputation as a space-age futuristic producer (and he is that), he also drops some seriously old-school beats and bangers that rival the best producers in the game. And oh by the way, on this set he harnesses his frenetic flow on the mic and more than holds his own next to his buddy Killer Mike, who again brings his hard rhymes and booming vocal style. This logical progression from last year’s R.A.P. Music album (credited to Killer Mike, and produced by EL-P) find the pair once again proving the “Hip-Hop Is Dead” doubters dead wrong.

3. Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork
This might be the most perfect record of the year. Josh Homme has picked up his axe and this time he’s brought Dave Grohl’s thunderdrums along on a bunch of the songs, and even Elton John (!) shows up. Perfectly crafted rock’n’roll music, Like Clockwork is a timeless classic. [Speaking of Sir Elton, this seems like a good place to throw an Honorable Mention to John's fine new album The Diving Board.]

2. Jonathan Wilson – Fanfare
Oh, I shoulda made this album #1. Perhaps my favorite album of the year in that this record makes me want to use the word exquisite. It makes me think of words like beautiful and even meticulous. For such an organic and classic analog sound, it’s still so pristine… in the way that poets probably once wrote of pure art. (I guess. I’ve never read much poetry.) It’s the kind of album that demands and deserves a lot of attention. On Fanfare, singer/songwriter and underrated guitar whiz Jonathan Wilson reminds us of his extraordinary gifts as a producer. He was the man behind the boards for well-received albums in recent years by Dawes, Father John Misty, and Roy Harper… and now working for himself he allows his amazing songs to blossom beyond the Laurel Canyon laid back jam vibe and constructs an Album with a capital A. That deep shit that makes guys like me write this stuff singing their praises. His guitar tone. The deep sound he captures off the grand piano. His gift of voice. OK, I need to stop. Just know that this guy is making some very special music.

1. Portugal The Man – Evil Friends
For many years I stopped writing about music. Writing as a “Music Critic” for the student paper throughout high school and college had eventually turned me off for the obvious and predictable reasons. Why are we trying to describe music? Who are we to decide what’s “good” when music is so subjective? And then when albums like Evil Friends would come out from bands like Portugual The Man, I would try to rewrite some form of disclaimer about how it’s silly for us to try to explain what something sounds like. I cant tell you who or what Portugal The Man sounds like. (In fact, their real name is Portugal. The Man, with that period in the middle. Probably just to piss off people like me who write about music. Everyone hates music critics.) But I can tell you that this album is awesome. It might seem a little weird at first, but it’s a grower.

I won’t tell you how to listen to it… or on what platform… just listen. You wont be able to stop.

November 7, 2013 / Jaded Bitterman

Interview With TrampStamp Record’s Mick Longstein

As I enter TrampStamp Record’s downtown New York City office building I am immediately greeted by a man named Bruno. Bruno is well dressed, in his early 30’s, slender, and fit. He’s wearing a $3000 Armani suit. Black. He is wearing Ray Ban aviators inside the building. A little wire is dangling off his ear and down the side of his neck. He leans his head to his left and speaks to his shoulder.

“He’s here.”

Pause.

“Ok.” he says to his shoulder.

“Follow me.”

One awkward elevator ride later I am sitting in the waiting room of a posh multi-million office decorated with hallways of gold records, photos of famous musicians, and one fantastic gold plated door that leads to the office of the man who made all of it possible. That man is none other than the legendary Mick Longstein.

Bruno leads me in.

“How you doin?” Mr. Longstein asks.

“I’m good, how are you Mr. Longstein?”

“Please, please. Call me Mick. This ain’t no Wall Street bank aight?”

Moments later, after some small talk and the usual pleasantries I am finally able to get to the reason I am here: to interview a master of the arts.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did TrampStamp Records get its start?
Mick Longstein: 
When I was about 18 years old a few of my associates and myself took over a little night club in Brooklyn. Well, once we had it up and runnin’ we need somethin’ to, you know, draw the people from the neighborhood in to start spending their hard earned cash..with us. I had a cousin who started a little rock and roll/do wop outfit, The Dick Ritchie Valens Quartet, so we booked ‘em to play 7 nights a week, 6 shows a night. Well, a few years later and we got all this cash flowing through the club but, you know, we ain’t gonna play Uncle Sam any of that cut. So we started a, umm, a subsidiary. Yea. That’s it. And we figured, hey, let’s expand our empire into this music business. So we started TrampStamp Records.

Let me get this straight, so TrampStamp Records was originally a front? A place to launder your cash?
ML: Hey buddy, who said anythin’ about laundering money huh? I got no fuckin’ clue what you mean by that. Next question!

Ok. Who was the first artist you signed?
ML: Let me think about that one, cause, you know, my memory ain’t too good no more. You know, it was Blue Lou Boyd & The Chesterfields.

Who had the big hit “Am I Lying?”
ML: Yea, that was a big hit for sure. We made our first million off a that one. I bought my first wife a mink coat with those proceeds.

Read more…

August 24, 2013 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

Three Crazy Snubs From Grantland’s Best Song of the Millennium Contest

Grantland has posted a “Battle for the Best Song of the Millennium,” formatted as a tournament bracket of course, culling 64 songs for all of us to vote on. I’m still an album guy, so “singles” and playlists are not really my thing. I can admit to being just old enough that I haven’t heard of a good chunk of the songs they picked, and that’s okay, I’m not in tune with all The Big Hits or whatever moves the radio dial these days.

I’m less concerned about what made Grantland’s list than what was snubbed: 3 of the songs that I would probably pick if I had to pick just the 5-10 best songs of the millennium, “Seven Nation Army” (The White Stripes), “Crazy” (Gnarls Barkley), and “Welcome to Jamrock” (Damian Marley). I’m sure narrowing the last 13 or so years down to 64 potential “Best” songs was a daunting task. So much so that they’ve already posted a reaction to the reaction: 20+ more songs they acknowledge shoulda-coulda made the list. Only “Seven Nation Army” made their “songs that just missed the cut” list, “Crazy” and “Jamrock” were snubbed there too.

From Grantland’s Mark Lisanti:

Not to pull back the curtain on our selection process… but “Seven Nation Army” bit the dust because of the dreaded “marching band penalty.” You know: If you can play it at midfield with tubas and French horns and socially awkward people in hats that have that weird strap that hangs down below the nose, it can’t possibly be a good song. It’s a Jock Jam. It’s halftime entertainment.

That’s sound reasoning if you want to vote against it once the tournament starts, but there’s 64 (SIXTY-FOUR!) slots… how do you not include this song ?

Read more…

June 25, 2013 / Jaded Bitterman

The Russian Incident

“Two and a half years!”

I am sitting with Gringo Starr, former drummer for Jackie & The Treehorns as he sips an espresso, noshes on a fish taco, and tells me his story.

“Two and a half years I spent in that gulag. Because of him.”

The “him” Gringo is referring to is known simply as Jackie. While many have written about him, few actually know the man.

‘Shady, elusive, arrogant, slutty’ are some of the words Mr. Starr uses when describing Jackie. Then he pauses in quiet contemplation and continues.

“But he’s also a genius.”

In what he now calls his “previous life” Gringo Starr was the drummer for Jackie & The Treehorns. A world-renowned rock group with an enigmatic frontman. While on tour in Russia with the group, Starr was arrested for indecent exposure after being caught receiving oral sex in an alley from a fan. He was sentenced to three years in a Russian gulag. While reports vary and rumors have swirled around the music industry and State Department for years, Gringo claims that only he and Jackie know what actually occurred that night.

“It’s simple. He left me. I was backstage with this super hot Ukrainian chick–cause Jackie always had hot international chicks around–and we were getting down. Well, she was going down I mean. Next thing I know, I’m skinning goats for Siberian farmers in the dead cold of a Russian winter.”

The story goes that while Gringo was encouraged by Jackie to partake in his post-show activities, once in the act, Jackie instructed his tour entourage to leave the venue, essentially deserting Gringo in an unknown land which led to his eventual arrest and incarceration.

“I mean, if he wanted me out of the band, he could’ve gone about it another way. That was kinda harsh, no? I hadn’t even finished yet!” says Gringo while inhaling a filterless Camel cigarette.

He continues, “Remember that scene in Almost Famous where the tour bus leaves the rest stop and Jason Lee’s character chases it screaming, ‘oh, it’s okay, it’s easy to leave me. I’m only the lead singer!!!”, well, that is what I felt like. Then I realized, shit, I’m only the drummer!”

“The Russian incident…it was tragic.” says Heshel Treehorn, Jackie’s long time manager.

“But it paved the way for Jackie’s amazing concept album The Russian Incident. It’s a story of one man’s struggles to cope with being a stranger in a strange land. But it’s kind of like Gringo’s sperm that night: it never got released.”

Jackie himself has refused to comment on the incident leaving his fans and the media with only speculation about what really happened that night.

“I’ve called, emailed, faxed, tweeted, and facebook-friended the U.S. State Department about this and they won’t return my calls.” says über Jackie fan Clarice of the band Clarice & The Lotion Baskets.

“I even put in a formal freedom of information request, but they keep telling me they have no ‘Jackie’ in their records. How is that even possible? Who doesn’t know Jackie?”

Gringo and Clarice will soon get a chance to tell their sides of the story in the upcoming Worthy Bros. documentary The Jackie Movie, which is scheduled for a Fall 2013 release.

“I am looking forward to exposing Jackie to the world for whom he really is.” says Gringo.

An interesting choice of words considering his history.

June 6, 2013 / Jaded Bitterman

Revisiting Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath
One of my earliest childhood memories was not of learning to ride a bike or my first day of school or the first time I walked into a professional baseball park. It involved something much less childlike in nature. It was my discovery of Black Sabbath. In particular, the opening notes of the song “Iron Man.”

My brothers and I shared one of those every-school-had-one old school tape recorders. It was the portable audio device of its time. Built-in tape deck, built-in speaker, a little handle to carry it around with. The original boom box. One day, in it, I discovered one of my brothers tapes. Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. I had no clue who this band was, what they sounded like, or why my brother even owned the tape. I brought it into my room, sat it down on the floor, put myself next to it, and hit the play button.

Thump-thumb-thump-thump–dddrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-dddrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

I AM IRON MAN!

Holy fuckin shit I was floored! I mean, my mind was literally blown. I wish I had a photo of the expression on my face when I first heard Ozzy’s techo-fuzzed voice. I immediately rewound the tape and listened again.

I AM IRON MAN!

Repeat 13,736 times.

I had never heard anything like it before in my life, and my life was forever changed by it. I couldn’t care less about the rest of the song. That fuckin’ intro was so amazing to my adolescent mind. It’s still amazing to my adult mind. What does that say about my mind?

Read more…

May 21, 2013 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

Farewell Transmission

I guess it’s sadly fitting that Jason Molina would turn into a ghost before he reached the horizon.

He was a severely underrated and sadly under-appreciated musician and writer who recently died at the age of 39.  Even if you’ve never heard of the late singer/songwriter known for his bands Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co, please visit the Steam Engine music blog to read our farewell transmission remembering Jason Molina by clicking here.

 

 

May 6, 2013 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

The WHO? Pop-Culture Shock at a Pizza Place

It certainly wasn’t my first old-guy moment. It probably won’t be the worst one I’ll ever have; in fact, it wasn’t so much an old-guy moment as it was a case of pop-culture shock.

On my way home from work on a recent Friday, I stopped into a nearby location of the regional pizza franchise PizzaBoli’s to pick up a couple pies I’d phoned in. The young girl at the counter, dead-eyed and slightly confused, says, “What does your shirt mean? I don’t get it.”

the who logo shirt“You don’t get it? Oh, it says The Who,” and I point out the lettering which is black on a dark background so I thought maybe she didn’t notice it and just saw the target and arrow up.

“What’s that mean? I don’t get it.”

“It’s the band, THE WHO.”

And she’s saying “Oh I never heard of them” while I was already babbling on about how “it’s kinda hard to see the lettering… or… were you confused by the arrow as if it was supposed to be pointing up at me like Who is this guy?”  Like I was trying to let her off the hook for not noticing what it said or something and then I realized that she really had never heard of The Who and probably thought I had on some random shirt of my friend’s band or some other “Never Hearduvums” and so I just had to ask….

“Wait, you’ve never heard of The Who?”
“No… sorry…”

I figured, okay she’s pretty young and so I turned to her PizzaBoli’s Teammate, I wish I’d gotten his name, he was a mousey lookin’ fella, very short reddish hair with a tightly trimmed matching mustache, let’s call him Chet. He certainly wasn’t as old me, but at first glance he had to be at least 30ish, but even if he was only 25 I figured it would balance out the possibly 16-year-old cashier. So I asked him…

“You’ve heard of the The Who, right?” Now I’m kinda point-framing the iconic logo as I leaned over the counter so he could see it. “The classic rock band? The Who?” I asked, certain that he was about to give me the “Oh yea, The Who. What about ‘em?”

But he just shook his head sheepishly. “No, sorry…”

“You’ve never heard of THE WHO?”
“I’m really not much of a music guy.”
After a dumbfounded pause, I somehow managed to keep my composure. “Okay, fair enough… uh, you’ve heard of The Beatles, right?”
“Well yea…”
“Of course, The Who aren’t quite The Beatles, but I just thought you’d…”

…and I just trailed off. I knew I couldn’t go all DFENS on ‘em like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, though a part of my brain wanted to. And I’m not even that much of a Who fan!

It’s not like I was wearing my Replacements shirt; The Who aren’t exactly something obscure, I mean I got the shirt at fucking Target! And it’s also a pretty iconic logo. I wasn’t asking them to sing or name songs. I could understand the young girl, but the other dude… They did play the Super Bowl a few years ago, they show up at every 121212 Sandy Relief 911 Concert for NY type event, awards shows, wherever they can get out there and have Roger Daltrey show us his Ken-doll plastic, oddly buff orange chest while Pete Townshend does 20,000 windmill moves to the point of self-parody…. Like ‘em or not, and I realize they aren’t quite as well-known as the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, but….. WHO THE FUCK HAS NEVER HEARD OF THE WHO?

Meanwhile, The Who aren’t even from my generation, pardon the pun. I was born in 1970, after the Beatles broke up, and month before Jimi Hendrix died (yet somehow I’ve heard of them).  Told ya this wasn’t really an old-guy incident.  Seriously, this isn’t about me being too old.  You can stay on my lawn. If I was 70 and some kids never heard of Frank Sinatra, I would just assume they’re too young… but this felt different. It was just odd… it was actually quite shocking on some level.

I love The Who. I’ve often considered writing something about them, and it sucks that it had to happen like this. Even though I was always much more partial to John Bonham and Mitch Mitchell, drummer Keith Moon was an absolute monster. I actually think Tommy and Quadrophenia are a bit bloated and could be intimidating for most listeners. Go crank up Who’s Next and picture feeling that kind of rock’n’roll power putting that record on for the first time way back in 1971. Those intros to “Baba O’Reilly” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” musta blown people’s minds back then!

Anyway, I wish I’d stayed to check if they’d heard of Hendrix, the Stones, Zeppelin and a couple of others. Maybe next time, because I do like PizzaBoli’s, who I’ve now mentioned by name three times in hopes of getting free pizza when this article goes viral.

So I walk out with my pizzas, and echoing through the shopping center is the familiar sound of the Rolling Stones (in the case, the song “Shattered,”) blasting from a speaker outside the Radio Shack. Yes, the Radio Shack. With Mick Jagger imploring me to look at him, he’s in tatters, I’m not even sure what planet I’m on. The economy’s been in the toilet for like 6 years and somehow Radio Shack is still in business selling little fuses and plugs and batteries and bullshit that nobody needs and I just met two people who never heard of The Who.

May 5, 2013 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

The Flaming Lips Bring the Noise

Basic RGBEvery time I listen to a new Flaming Lips album, I question if I really enjoy listening to vacuum cleaners faxing each other.

Considering the Flaming Lips never sound like they are in, or of, the real world, there are times on their new album when the “music” sounds like alarms going off and welders working in machine shops.

The oscillating fans drop their front cages and fall crashing down to grind their blades into the carpet when singer and Flaming Lips mastermind Wayne Coyne starts singing “ooooh… aaahhhh….” I’m not sure I heard any lyrics. These aren’t so much songs as they are fleeting droning dreams, or perhaps nightmares given the album title of The Terror.

None of this is surprising, given the Flaming Lips history of at-times brilliant albums that are also sometimes too weird for their own good. These Lips have always moved faster than our brains. So I was giving The Terror another listen… and at one point wondered “is this still the intro?” and so I clicked over to check and I was 24 minutes in.

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May 4, 2013 / Jaded Bitterman

Total Satisfaction: The Rolling Stones at the Staples Center, Los Angeles, May 3, 2013

Occasional correspondent and BumsLogic contributor Darryl Walter went to the Stones concert in L.A. so you wouldn’t have to. Here’s his review:

“Who would spend that much money for a bunch of old aging rock stars?”

“They haven’t put out anything of value in decades.”

“Mick and Keith hate each other.”

I heard these and other comments about the 2013 Rolling Stones “50 & Counting” tour but when I found out that I would be in Los Angeles on business, I knew I wanted to see this show. After all, they are the undisputed “World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. No other band, NO OTHER BAND, has been rocking out for half a century.

One of the things that make the Stones special is the riffs, Keith Richards has created some of the most notable riffs in music, it only takes a few seconds of hearing the first chords of “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Satisfaction,” or “Brown Sugar” and you know what is coming.

Rolling Stones

Photo courtesy of Filth Mart, West Hollywood.

Before the concert started, the UCLA Bruins Marching Band performed “Satisfaction” while marching and grooving on the floor of the Staples Center. A video montage that contained clips and quotes from fans throughout the years preceded the Marching Bruins.

The show opened with “Get of My Cloud” and then the band tore into “The Last Time.” Mick thanked the Los Angeles crowd and acknowledged the backlash for the high-priced tickets by asking if it is really just Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and parts of Santa Monica that were at the show.

Mick and backup singer Lisa Fischer went to school on “Gimme Shelter,” followed by special guest Gwen Stefani coming out for a duet on “Wild Horses. Gwen probably should have stayed in Orange County rather than embarrass herself trying to follow the powerful vocal prowess that Lisa Fischer had just displayed on “Shelter.”

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