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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Encore Performances: I can’t forget Yoko Ono’s Ass.

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The Boston Strong benefit concert is going on tonight. Somehow I don’t think the band I’m about to write about is on the bill, despite being Bostonian to the core.

From the old blog, October 2007. Edited in one or two places to update time references:

My memories of long-gone local bands the other day made me reminisce of the fine old days when I knew Yoko Ono’s Ass.

OK, I never actually knew Yoko Ono’s Ass.
But I knew they existed, because I saw them mentioned in The Noise, a super-cool Boston rock’n’roll zine I used to pick up anytime I found it, back during my college days 20 years ago.
The Noise ran ads from some public-access cable TV show (I think it was in Somerville) that regularly gave air time to all manner of local bands that came crawling out of their basements for a shot at glory.
And, at least twice, the ads for the show included a tease — Lord, was a word ever righter? — for appearances by Yoko Ono’s Ass.

Stuck in my dorm in Boston, I never got to see the show.
We didn’t get cable in the dorms then, although New Hampshire Public Television came through with astonishing clarity.

Then, as quickly as it had arrived, Yoko Ono’s Ass disappeared.
I’ve always wondered whether the band broke up; whether they received some sort of legal estoppel from Ms. Ono; or whether they simply changed their name after learning the hard way that no one would pay money to see Yoko Ono’s Ass.

I also continue to wonder what they sounded like.
When your name is Yoko Ono’s Ass, what kind of noise comes out of your guitars?
Were they some kind of avant-noise outfit, like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks?
Were they a suit-and-tie-wearing pop band?
Or were they something worse?
Boston being the snarky college town that it is, you have to be careful:
Behind even the cutesiest and most offbeat name could lurk the most hideous of evils — a SKA BAND.
(If these people named a ska band Yoko Ono’s Ass, they should be made to wear nipple-pinching clothespins.)

The answer might well be out on the Net somewhere.
But damned if I’m gonna Google Yoko Ono’s Ass ….
I think I’d rather live with the mystery.

 

Someone left me the following comment on the original post about eight months after I wrote it:

“i knew yoko onos ass. they were from allston. all bezerklee students. derek, joe, brian, and tom. good band. they also had a goup called senor happy. and some a funny parody called sack if sh!t, that was out of connecticut. post for more details.”

Johnson, Jackson, Dylan and Shepp.

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I gather it is fairly common for bars to mark Bob Dylan’s birthday by devoting an entire night to his songs, performed either by local bands or open-mic amateurs.

It would be interesting to see them mark Archie Shepp’s birthday the same way.

The gnomic singer-songwriter and the avant-garde tenor saxophonist don’t have much in common — except a birthday, which happens to be today. (Shepp is 76, four years older than Dylan.)

As far as I know, the two men have never crossed paths.

But both have performed with a small universe of supporting musicians over the past 50 years.

So I decided it would be fun to find out whether the man who gave us “Mama You Been On My Mind” and the man who gave us Mama Too Tight have ever played with the same musician. Was any player flexible or versatile enough to make both scenes?

(Longtime readers may recall that I once went through the same exercise trying to connect John Coltrane and John Lennon — two other legends with no apparent musical common ground.)

So I spent some time comparing the personnel on both birthday boys’ albums. I didn’t look at every last album. But I looked at a whole bunch, and there wasn’t much to tie the two men together.

I had to wriggle through a loophole to find one, but I finally tracked down a musician who has played with both Shepp and Dylan. It’s a guy who plays an instrument not commonly used in rock, folk or jazz.

Tuba player Howard Johnson recorded with Shepp on the aforementioned Mama Too Tight album in 1966.

In the Seventies, Johnson was hired for the horn section that backed the Band at their New Year’s Eve 1971-72 and Last Waltz concerts, which resulted in the Rock of Ages and The Last Waltz albums respectively.

Dylan guested at both shows, and performed with the horn section on at least one of the tunes from the Rock of Ages concert (“Down In The Flood”). So, there’s a connection, slim as it is.

Some Googling also turned up an intriguing pair of almost-but-not-quite connections between Dylan and Shepp. Both would have been more direct than Johnson’s link:

– Top-call New York studio guitarist David Spinozza, who appears on Shepp’s Things Have Got To Change album, would have been a candidate to play on Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album.

But, as this November 1974 Rolling Stone article says, Dylan called his New York sessions for the album on exceedingly short notice. Engineer Phil Ramone was unable to secure the services of his preferred session pros, including Spinozza, because they were already booked.

– Shepp appears on one track of Frank Zappa’s You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 4, apparently the result of a one-night-only jam that got saved on tape.

Several sources, including Zappa, have said that Dylan approached Zappa in 1982 to discuss the possibility of Zappa producing Dylan’s next album. After listening to Dylan play some songs, Zappa reportedly suggested he hire Giorgio Moroder to produce instead. (In the end, Dylan’s next album, Infidels, would be co-produced by Dylan and Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler.)

Finally, Dylan and Shepp do have one other common link: Both were inspired to write songs by Black Panther militant George Jackson.

Dylan’s song “George Jackson,” despite an uncharacteristic bit of lyrical profanity, scraped into the Top 40 in late 1971 and early 1972 …

… while Shepp’s “Blues for Brother George Jackson” appeared on his album Attica Blues.

Personally, I prefer Shepp’s to Dylan’s. But either one would sound good at an open mic tonight.

Five For The Record: The Doors.

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News item: Doors organist Ray Manzarek is dead at 74.

I never knew the Doors as a working band.

Instead, they existed in my teenage years as something distinctly different — a titan; a megalith; one of the inescapable blue-chip bands of classic rock, ranking alongside the likes of Led Zeppelin as one of the groups that everybody knew.

(My introduction to them came circa 1985, at sleepaway nerd camp. There was a kid on my floor a year older than me, a little more mature, to whom all things excellent were “life.” Pizza was life. Root beer, I think, was life. And the Doors, in Jim’s language … yes, the Doors were definitely life.)

I doubt that the kids who went to Penfield High in 1969 cared half as much about the Doors as the kids who went there in ’89.

For that matter, I wonder if the kids in high school today — the ones who weren’t even born when Val Kilmer played Jim Morrison — care nearly as much about the Doors. Do the leather-trousered shaman-poet and his beatnik pals still stir teenage souls? Or are they faded now, like daguerrotypes?

For me, nearly thirty years on, familiarity has bred contempt. Time has amplified the missteps in Morrison’s lyrics (“I see the bathroom is clear”) and the less dextrous instrumental moments of his bandmates.

These were not the Baudelaires and Rimbauds of Sixties L.A., but just a more-interesting-than-average band whose reach exceeded their grasp a fair amount of the time.

Still, in keeping with my ongoing Five For The Record feature, here in no particular order are five Doors songs that stand the test of time better than most.

1. “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat),” 1971. This was the song I went to YouTube to hear after learning of Ray Manzarek’s death, and the one Doors song I mumble to myself when I get the urge to do such a thing.

Morrison’s lyric is all over the place from the get-go, but I like the matter-of-fact way he declaims it; and I can’t get enough of the muscular, metronomic whomp-whomp-whomp of the rhythm section. (That’s Elvis’s bass player, Jerry Scheff, sitting in.)

Manzarek, for his part, makes a memorable entrance after Morrison raves about the sound “driven slow and mad like some new language,” his organ bubbling up like a cooling spring of water amidst the humidity of the rhythm track.

2. “The Soft Parade,” 1969. From an objective standpoint, this song is an overblown mess. It’s got that line about sailors and the underfed, for one thing. You know, that line — the one every Morrison-hater keeps at the ready.

But it’s a wonderfully memorable mess, encompassing Morrison’s screamed introduction … some delicate harpsichording … the funniest, blandest, fruggiest funk the Doors ever puked up … some jazzy soft-shoe … and then a long journey into the underbrush.

It is, in eight-plus minutes, a summation of everything these guys ever did right and wrong … the Doors song to have when you can only have one.

As an added bonus, “The Soft Parade” gave birth to one of the best and most insidious cultural references I’ve ever encountered.

About once every six or eight years, I run into something — a news story, a workplace discussion, an email chain — to which “The monk bought lunch!” is a logical, perfect and hilarious addition. (I remember Dennis Miller dropping the phrase once in his heyday, if that’s any measure of its value.)

Now that I think of it, I’m about due to run into the phrase again. When I do, I’m gonna laugh like a loon. And if you’re in the same room with me, you’ll know why.

3. “Light My Fire” (full version), 1967. Yeah, we’ve all heard this a million times, and heard other people’s covers as well. The original full version still stands, though, as an audacious combination of Morrison’s poetic drama and the musicians’ power. (This was on their first album, remember; they were still developing as a group, but already capable of catching lightning.)

The sinuous, dynamic improvisation will always remind the Morrison obsessives in the crowd that the Doors were not a one-man show.

4. “Peace Frog,” 1970. You want darkness? Try Morrison singing again and again about blood — up to his ankle, up to his knee, up to his thigh; rising, tumbling, drowning rivers of blood — over a backing track that sounds deceptively jolly at first, but comes to resemble the sound of a spring ratcheted close to its breaking point.

I’ve always found the line “Blood in the streets in the town of New Haven” (motivated, of course, by a personal vendetta of Morrison’s) especially chilling. My fondness for all things Connecticut might have something to do with that; but I think it cuts deeper.

We know where the blood in the streets of Chicago came from. And blood in L.A.? That’s not too surprising; weird shit happens in Los Angeles. Anyone who’s read their Joan Didion, or their Vincent Bugliosi, can tell you that.

But blood in the streets of New Haven? That suggests the evil force is manifesting in cradles of education; places of tall old oaks; birthplaces of the nation. There is nowhere in America saintly or hallowed or granite-hardened enough to resist.

5. “The Spy,” 1970. There are one or two others I might have picked for this last spot — like the hard-driving “Break On Through,” which all things considered is probably a better song than “The Spy.”

But I like the understated nature of “The Spy,” a simple, dusty countryish-bluesish number that keeps its cards close to its vest.

Robbie Krieger’s guitar makes this one. That nagging riff is a classic: Like a phone ringing at 3 a.m., it won’t leave you alone, but you’re afraid of what will happen if you engage with it.

We’ll shine like chrome with snow-white angel wings.

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Was it the pubic hair? I don’t think so.

It’s been nearly 20 years since I stopped into a record store on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, specifically to buy a copy of the Black Crowes’ brand-new album Amorica.

I wasn’t entirely sure why I wanted it, but I knew I did.

I’d seen reviews for Amorica (an album frequently remembered for its controversial cover art) that suggested it was an epic wallow in funky Seventies-style sonics.

(That was part of the reason I bought it, I suppose. A record in 1994 that didn’t sound like Nirvana? Sign me up.)

Turns out the retro tonalities weren’t the story. Amorica was a tattered, glorious ride through both sin and salvation (mostly the former), driven by powerful music and filtered through frontman Chris Robinson’s opaque lyrical sensibilities.

When he sang Sit back and watch my divine spark flash,” you couldn’t be entirely sure what he was singing about — a lighter? Something sexual? The proverbial moment of artistic inspiration?

Whatever he meant, Amorica still stands as a triumph of messy, complex Big Rock Star-style music at a time when Big Rock Stars were distinctly out of style.

Various people I know have suggested that the Black Crowes would have been Led Zeppelin-level arena-rock legends if they’d only come along 15 or 20 years earlier. And if they had, Amorica would have been their Sticky Fingers, to make a quick comparison to another beloved, soiled-around-the-edges Big Rock Album.

Chris Robinson has recaptured my attention lately. Not with the Black Crowes, who have regrouped for a tour, but with his side band, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, which features Crowes keyboardist Adam MacDougall and three guys I’m not otherwise familiar with.

The CRB allows fans to make and circulate audience recordings of its shows. In much the same way I felt curiously drawn to Amorica, I have been inexplicably moved to download a couple of CRB shows, and I’ve begun to give them a listen.

Robinson, now 46, remains an idiosyncratic frontman with an immediately recognizable style — one of those singers for whom hitting the perfect note is kinda secondary.

His lyrics haven’t changed that much either. At his best, he is enigmatic; at his worst, he is also enigmatic.

Nowadays he favors an exuberant, face-choking beard of the sort that Mathew Brady might have photographed. And when he takes the stage, playing his intricately detailed custom guitar, he looks like he has one foot in Antietam and the other in the Watkins Glen ’73 Summer Jam — an interesting collision of Americana, if nothing else.

As for the band, they are mostly better when they groove than when they twinkle, explore or meander.

The recording I’ve been most frequently listening to gets it right: The band opens with “Someday Past The Sunset,” a swaggering roadhouse boogie whose lyrics hang overhead like thunderclouds (“There’s something missing but they won’t drag the river / God sends his children out into the streets.”)

Elsewhere in the show, they pull out a laid-back but stinging cover of Mose Allison’s “The Seventh Son;” do an OK “Never Been to Spain” that cooks decently enough; and do justice to the mournful ballad “Like A Tumbleweed In Eden.”

And, they jam, sometimes kinda monotonously. You’ve heard it before, if not necessarily from them.

Just as I’m not quite sure why I bought Amorica, I’m not quite sure why I like these guys, given their ratio of hits to misses.

Maybe the exact opposite effect is at play. Having bonded with Robinson’s big rock star persona to some degree, I am now charmed by what he calls his “farm-to-table psychedelic band” — the lower-key group with which he goes out on the side.

Maybe I’ve soured on the Crowes — subsequent albums I’ve heard have not had the spark of Amorica — but Robinson’s voice and worldview are still appealing to me, so I’m willing to consider them in a different setting.

Or maybe I just like the freedom of having dozens of shows available for download. If I want to put in the time, I could very well download a dozen shows and condense them into one all-killer, no-filler Chris Robinson Brotherhood compilation that consistently reminds me what these guys do well.

Whatever the reason, there is still something in Robinson’s slippery, declamatory blend of soul, blues and midnight mysticism that catches my imagination.

And I hope he explores it further — but at concise length — in the company of his side band once he gets off the road with the Crowes.

Encore Performances: June 19, 1976: The small screen.

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A little under the weather. Will churn out some fresh copy soon, but in the meantime, there’s this. From the old blog, June 2009.

Yup. Casey spins ’em, I blog ’em, with favorites in bold.
And now, the usual snide, shallow commentary on the Top 40 hits in the land for the week ending June 19, 1976.
That’s right, folks, don’t touch that dial:

No. 40, debut: “Rock n’ Roll Music,” The Beach Boys.
Normally I would be inclined to automatically bold-face anything by the Beach Boys — especially their first hit in several years.
But really, this cover just kinda farts along, with precious little rock’n’roll energy.
The stompy, primitive drums (which are “primitive” in a poorly played way, not “primitive” in a raw, primal, exciting way) just have to be Dennis Wilson.

No. 39: “Mamma Mia,” ABBA. Before THAT MOVIE came out, I would have accepted this as a pleasant if overly mannered slice of semi-novelty Swede-pop.
But now … nnnnnhhhhhh.
(Do Swedes really say “mamma mia?” Does anybody nowadays? Has the expression “mamma mia” gone the way of the nickname “Dutch”?)

No. 38, fifteenth week on the chart: “Get Right Back,” Maxine Nightingale.
I love this song — not quite enough to bold it, but I love it.
It is to clap tracks what the mythical Gene Frenkle and Bruce Dickinson are to cowbell.

No. 37: “I’m Easy,” Keith Carradine.
Casey points out that this song from the movie “Nashville” bombed upon its release in ’75, but caught on after Carradine performed it on the Oscars telecast.
(This is just the first of many ways in which TV will figure into today’s countdown.)

Laid-back and open-shirted as it is, this is a damned good song by the standards of actor-singers. I much prefer this to the efforts of actors from my hit-radio generation, like Bruce Willis, Don Johnson or Patrick Swayze.

No. 36, debut: “Turn The Beat Around,” Vickie Sue Robinson. As one disco one-hit wonder (Maxine Nightingale) was about to slide off the charts, another one was on the rise.
OK, they both probably managed to slide another tune in at No. 38 or something, but to me, they’re one-hit wonders.
I like Maxine better.

No. 35: “Save Your Kisses For Me,” the Brotherhood of Man. A weird, out-of-place slice of 1971-style bubblegum, complete with jaunty rhythm and rinky-dink horns.
Not for me.

No. 34: Believe it or not, I flat-out missed whatever was at Number 34. Sorry, folks. I’ve let you down. I’ll try not to do it again.

No. 33: “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker,” Parliament. The “Mothership Connection” album, from which this comes, was one of my first connections to funk music, back around freshman year of high school. I’ll always have a fondness for it.

Casey answers a listener’s question about whether songs have ever fallen out of the Top 10 and then gone back in. The most extreme example: BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” went from No. 1 to No. 12 to No. 34 and back to No. 8 in consecutive weeks.

No. 32: Cyndi Grecco, “Makin’ Our Dreams Come True,” otherwise known as the theme to “Laverne and Shirley.”
This one still sounds great, even with a sax solo and a key change stuck in to embiggen it to single-length.
The rhythmic switch behind the words “There ain’t nothin’ we won’t try / Never heard the word ‘impossible’ ” is the single best (and subtlest) use of the baion since Phil Spector.

Casey makes a tease he must have been dreaming of since 1970: Coming up, the return of the Beatles!

No. 31: “Let Her In,” John Travolta. See comment on No. 37.

No. 30: “Today’s the Day,” America. With a bit of gravel in the grammar: “You’re the most brightest star that lights my way.”

No. 29, debut: The Beatles, “Got To Get You Into My Life.” I forget why they saw fit to release McCartney’s ode to marijuana as a single 10 years after the fact.
But they did, and the people of this great country still had enough taste left to make it a substantial hit.

After the song, Casey says with an almost visible gleam in his eye: “Can you believe it? The Beatles and the Beach Boys back on the chart in the same week?”
Bless ya, Case — this is your reward for all those weeks you had to put up with “Seasons in the Sun” and “The Lord’s Prayer” and “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.”

No. 28: “That’s Where the Happy People Go,” the Trammps.
What makes the Trammps not one-hit wonders? Well, this.
Kind of the same chugging drum rhythm as “Disco Inferno,” and of course the lead singer has the same readily identifiable timbre.
This is not as good as “Inferno,” but it does have a marvelous refrain: “The disco / That’s where the happy people go.”
(What did you expect? Burger King?)

No. 27: “You’re My Best Friend,” Queen.

No. 26: “Get Closer,” Seals and Crofts. Casey announces this is one of five duos on the charts this week … so when the female voice comes in, my wife asks hesitantly: “So Seals was the woman, and Crofts was the man?”
No, dear … Casey is misleading you; this is really more like a trio, albeit uncredited.

I somewhat enjoy this song, though it has its shortcomings — for instance, the second verse just sort of arrives.

No. 25: “Boogie Fever,” the Sylvers.

No. 24: “Welcome Back,” John Sebastian. Two former No. Ones, back to back at 24 and 25.
I like this one better.
In fact, I would probably vote for this as the best TV-theme-turned-hit-single of all time, even if its cheerful, ambling folkie groove in no way conjures up the gritty Brooklyn milieu of Gabe Kotter and the Sweathogs.

Unlike other TV themes, this one doesn’t sound like it was artificially lengthened — there’s no forced key change that reminds you that you usually hear a compressed 30-second version.

No. 23: “Rhiannon,” Fleetwood Mac.
Yeah. I bolded a Fleetwood Mac song. Bite me.
I happen to like the groove on this song — the electric piano and the Mac rhythm section (who have always tended toward the subtle) create a good atmosphere for Stevie Nicks’ tales of bedknobs and broomsticks.

No. 22: “The Boys are Back In Town,” Thin Lizzy. I never cared much for this; they can sell it to as many lad-movies and beer commercials as they want.

No. 21: “Fool to Cry,” Rolling Stones.
I said to my wife, “There’s a reason the classic-rock stations play ‘Miss You’ twice an hour but will never play this.”
Maybe it’s the way Bill Wyman’s bass burps unbecomingly up in the mix, or maybe it’s the limp, watery guitar playing.
I still insist that “Moonlight Mile” and “Beast of Burden” are the only two ballads that this bunch have ever really nailed.

No. 20: “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow,” Rhythm Heritage. Otherwise known as the theme from “Baretta,” a show I don’t think I’ve ever seen all the way through.
The third TV theme in this week’s countdown.

No. 19: “Take the Money and Run,” Steve Miller Band.

No. 18: “Moonlight Feels Right,” Starbuck. Yacht-rock (literally) at its finest.
Scoff that, Jimmy Buffett.

No. 17: “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again,” Eric Carmen.
I have all sorts of love for Eric, but really, this is way too Manilowish.

No. 16: “I Want You,” Marvin Gaye. Maybe the first Marvin Gaye song I genuinely like, even if it is a little unbalanced: It kinda stays in one place for a minute, and then the chord changes start going by at, like, two per measure.

No. 15: “Movin’,” the Brass Construction. Nice Bernie Worrell-ish synth playing. I kinda gently lukewarmly like it.

No. 14: “Takin’ It To The Streets,” the Doobie Brothers. I hate corporate rock’n’roll bands that sing about “the streets.”

No. 13: Gary Wright, “Love Is Alive.” Was this guy the Howard Jones of the ’70s — kind of a one-man show surrounded by keyboards?
This one’s better than “Dream Weaver.” In fact I almost bolded it. But not quite.

No. 12: “Kiss and Say Goodbye,” the Manhattans. Starts with a spoken-word voice-over, and if you’ve been paying attention, you know what the house rule on those is.

No. 11: Pratt and McClain, “Happy Days.” Yup, the fourth TV theme on this week’s countdown.
I haven’t seen an episode of “Happy Days” in donkey’s years, though I sure used to see a lot of it growing up.
Wonder what Tom Bosley’s up to now? And Erin Moran?
Oh, yeah, the song … the song is forgettable.

Casey plays a damn fine AT40 Extra: BB King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” from 1969. This blows that Pratt and McClain stuff right out the door.

No. 10: “I’ll Be Good To You,” the Brothers Johnson. Mellow ballad, and absolutely nothing like you’d imagine the record sounded like if you only saw the single sleeve.

No. 9, up from 33 two weeks ago and No. 25 last week, and on its way to Number One: “Afternoon Delight,” Starland Vocal Band.
Wonder if the guy and his Mississippi-born chick on the boat in “Moonlight Feels Right” had this playing on their AM transistor radio while they, uh, hiked the Appalachian Trail?

No. 8: “More, More, More,” the Andrea True Connection. We don’t get enough porn stars scoring Top 40 hits any more.
This is pretty sloppy if you listen — there’s a trumpet player who can’t quite get to what’s written, and an unfunky drum drop that happens at the absolutely most noticeable and distracting spot.
(Did they hire Dennis Wilson?)

No. 7: “Shop Around,” Captain and Tennille. Gotta have a cheesy cover every week and this one’s it; worse even than the one at No. 40.

No. 6: “Shannon,” Henry Gross. Didn’t listen. Isn’t this the one about a dog that drowns or something?
Hey, I didn’t watch “Marley and Me” either.

No. 5: “Sara Smile,” Hall and Oates. Not their best tune but Daryl Hall’s voice is always a pleasure.

No. 4: “Love Hangover,” Diana Ross.
Yet another song with a flaw I find endlessly annoying:
When Miss Ross yells “Hang-o-ver!” at that point when the tempo speeds up, is it just me, or is she at least half a tone flat?
I bet the lust-crazed, sunscreen-streaked couple on the yacht liked it when this one came on too.

No. 3: “Misty Blue,” Dorothy Moore. I didn’t listen to it, and in fact, I can’t find the melody in my head — I keep trying to think of it but I keep coming up with “Moody Blue” instead.
No matter; we’re almost done.

No. 2: “Get Up and Boogie,” Silver Convention. No idea why this one got any higher than, say, No. 22.

No. 1 for, I think, the fourth non-consecutive week: “Silly Love Songs,” Wings.
This song is an absolute triumph for McCartney — the moment where he packaged his entire philosophy into one perfect, catchy, not-a-note-or-instrument-out-of-place arrangement.
(Also, rather than combining song fragments into one tune, he actually bothered to sit down and write himself a whole song. It paid off.)
I can still hear it coming over the radio (AM-only, natch) in my parents’ big Plymouth Satellite on long car trips.
I wonder what John Lennon thought when this came over his radio in the Dakota.

Mundane Moments: Atom plant, mother.

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My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then.

# # # # #

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See those green bushes in the foreground?

What we have here is a rare picture of the atom plant (Marginafolia sacreclaudensis.)

Scrubby and unprepossessing, the atom plant grows in tight clusters in a geographic area roughly equivalent to that traveled by the Marquis de Denonville.

It’s believed that, at one point thousands of years ago, the atom plant dominated the landscape between Albany and Buffalo.

In his journals, the ill-fated 17th-century French explorer Normand Grosgrain cursed the endless acres of atom plants in which he would eventually surrender his life: “They mock my hunger with their fruitlessness … the wind through their twigs is the very call of Death.”

Later settlers found different uses for Marginafolia sacreclaudensis. When soaked in water at length, its branches yielded a refreshing, mildly intoxicating beverage. The effect, the settlers discovered, was even more potent when the roots were included.

Pioneer journals indicate that white and red man alike devastated the landscape throughout the 19th century, tearing acres of atom plants up at the roots to savor its herby, head-swimming tisane.

By 1920, the atom plant was approaching extinction. It clung to life in scattered thickets and fields, primarily in the watersheds of the Genesee and Mohawk rivers.

Slow to regenerate, it has made only a limited recovery in the past century, nurtured by a dedicated few nature lovers who understand its former significance and omnipresence.

No surprise, then, that my grandpa would whip out his camera when he came across a stand of the atom plant and record the moment for posterity. He knew he might never see this rare bird of the floral kingdom again in his lifetime.

As for that half-finished building that happened to be in the background, I dunno what they make there. Hot water or something.

Ontario, New York, 1969.

End of the tartan rainbow.

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Tartan terror!I have an ungodly amount of music in my house that I’ve never substantively listened to.

Some of it was bought; some of it was given; and some of it was downloaded from the Internet back when I used to do that sort of thing.

Collectively, it represents a head-spinning wealth of riches that I’ve never even reached into my wallet to touch. Among the highlights:

  • Something like 12 CDs of Glenn Gould playing Bach.
  • A three- or four-CD compilation of recordings from a West German free-jazz festival circa 1970.
  • An album of Keith Jarrett playing Handel’s harpsichord suites (on piano).
  • John Coltrane performing live at Newport roughly a year before his death.
  • Both studio albums by faith-influenced singer-songwriter Judee Sill.
  • Several shows by the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, whose blues- and psychedelic-influenced jams I could seriously get to like.
  • A big reverberant wad of Jamaican dub.
  • The Left Banke album with “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina” on it.
  • A smattering of modern classical, including Gavin Bryars’ “The Sinking of the Titanic.”
  • “Sammy Davis Jr. Sings, Laurindo Almeida Plays.”
  • 2 CDs worth of Jerry Garcia performing New Orleans music, with the Dead and by himself.

And this doesn’t include a whole bunch of recordings I’ve only listened to once or twice and should really get to know better.

It got to the point today where I removed all familiar CDs from my car — even a couple that have had a free pass for months. Any time I spend in my car, I’m gonna spend getting to know some unfamiliar music.

All of which begs a question some of you were probably asking already:

Why am I writing, or even thinking, about the Bay City Rollers?

# # # # #

Well, starting tonight, I’m not. But why did I ever?

You’ll notice that except for one entry, I never actually wrote about the Rollers’ music at any point during this outburst of posts. Their music still doesn’t hit my monkey nerve.

And I was never all that interested in the offstage drama. It makes for good stories, but ultimately there has to be music to support it.

I think the one thing tying me to the Rollers over the years was their cheesy retro appeal. Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, before the Seventies became cool all over again … those were the golden days to buy Bay City Rollers (and Village People) records for a buck each, and turn them up loud enough to block out “Can’t Touch This.”

Nowadays I can get all the retro I can hold on the Net in fifteen minutes, ranging from the truly awesome (Stevie Wonder on “Sesame Street”) to the insanely cheesy (Donny and Marie singing “Reelin’ In The Years.”)

The Rollers, so bland and well-groomed, ultimately can’t compete for my interest with all the other Seventies resources out there.

And when it comes to alternatives to today’s uninspired music … well, now I’ve got a whole ocean of unique, alternative, interesting and/or flat-out bizarre music at my fingertips, some of which I rattled off a few paragraphs ago.

So I think I will put away the tartan logo and turn my back on the Rollers once and for all. The novelty has worn off.  They still have plenty of real fans to support them, or so my comments pages would indicate.

Of course, this could ultimately be my loss. Maybe this decision is a rejection of my youth. Maybe it is a rejection of all things youthful and buoyant in favor of all things adult, knotty and pretentious.

I guess that’s my burden to bear, then.

Now where’d I put that Archie Shepp record?