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Monthly Archives: April 2016

In wait.

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Route 222 from Lancaster to Kutztown smells savagely of cowshit at this time of year.

Roadside attractions include Terry Hill, a closed water park on the Allentown side of Kutztown. The owner shut it down a few years ago; he was in his mid-70s and wanted to retire.

Outside the locked gates of Terry Hill stands a pirate — there’s no mistaking him, he’s the real deal; peg leg, sword and eyepatch. He must be 15 feet tall. Presumably he is wooden, though I cannot vouch.

He looks as though he were lobbying the passing cars, looking for a saviour.

Of course his real game is intimidation. Few pirates are truly friendly. The core concept defies friendly. You don’t do pirates if you really want friendly, especially not ones with swords and battle-scars.

Yet, here is this one in search of a (moneyed) ally to wipe off the dust and bring the people back.

He has the same sheepish air as the indicted mobster who suddenly starts popping up in newspaper pictures advertising his philanthropy. He’s not such a bad fellow, really; it’s just that people say such terrible things about him.

Perhaps someone will come to his aid.

Not content to leave it to chance, our friend the pirate is out there tonight, peering through the darkness at whatever cars pass.

A 24-hour canvasser.

# # # # #

I passed through that stretch of road listening to the Grateful Dead, 45 years ago today, playing a show in Providence, R.I.

That was during their boogie period, when they were down a drummer and between good keyboardists, and they spent a lot of time lighting up stuff like “Bertha” and “Johnny B. Goode” … not the most rewarding brainfood, but good driving music.

And as I listened to “Mama Tried,” with the late Jerome Garcia laying licks over the chord changes of the late Merle Haggard, I found the idea of Prince’s death easier to take.

Prince’s passing drew a stream of comments about how we’d never see another creator like him, just as Merle Haggard’s did a week or two ago. As songwriters, singers and performers, they were distinctive, groundbreaking and irreplaceable.

This is true enough. But thankfully, genius is not an exhaustible resource. Cultural traditions continue to bear fruit and cross-pollinate. We never get the exact same genius twice, but the new generations carry enough of the old DNA to make us smile knowingly and nod our heads while they take us somewhere new.

(There will never be another Jimi Hendrix, for instance. But the sight of another flamboyant, sexy, charismatic black man playing ferocious guitar would have made Hendrix smile. Prince took a few ideas from Hendrix, a few from Sly Stone, a few from any number of others, and let his own style grow up from those roots.)

We will always have what the old generations gave us, like the sound of the Dead in Providence in April ’71. It’s still capable of taking us wherever we’re used to going.

And we know — because Prince showed us in his time, and Merle Haggard showed us in his, and Jerry Garcia in his — that someone with new ideas, a new vision and a new sound will come along, probably when we’re not expecting it.

So we watch, and listen, and try to keep an open mind for when they show up.

Fingers grow back.

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My latest recording is available at Bandcamp as of a few minutes ago. This time around I had help, from dozens of shaggy-haired, bell-bottomed, short-skirted teenagers who had no idea what I was doing.

thingsweburned1

The new one is called Things We Burned. It was created by extensively editing the music from a locally released 1970 album featuring various student performing ensembles from Penfield, N.Y., High School.

You’ve probably seen this kind of record in the crates. Maybe you even own one. The local high school concert band or marching band cuts some songs in a studio on the cheap, presses up some records, and sells ’em to parents and grandparents. Some end up sitting in a box years later in the bandroom storage area. That’s how this one landed in my hands.

The record — being bare-bones, as these things often seem to be — doesn’t have any performer credits beyond the names of the ensembles, so I can’t thank Johnny and Jane from the Class of ’71 for their groundbreaking work on tympani or flute. If you’re out there, and you read this, thanks. You played great. Knocked ’em dead.

The record also doesn’t have any copyright claim anywhere on its label or jacket. So far as I can tell, that places it in the public domain, and thus fair game for my kind of vandalistic re-creation.

What’s it sound like? As chaotic as all the other stuff I do, only this time there’s a concert band playing. Maybe that’s more palatable; maybe it isn’t.

It’s out there, anyway — and it’s name-your-own-price, which means free. So take two, tell your friends, and cover your ears.

Shadoobie.

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At one point in his ranking of the songs of Some Girls from worst to best, Jim Bartlett invited me to get my own blog if I was unsatisfied with some aspect of his logic.

So I did. đŸ˜‰

I enjoyed Jim’s piece (I always do) but my view of the Last Great Stones Record differs pretty sharply from his. So rather than ramble at length in a comment, I decided I would rank the record as I hear it — not to change anybody’s mind, but just to present my own take.

Check Jim’s out; check mine out; and then take out the record and listen to it again, just ’cause it’s great.

10. “Far Away Eyes” – This has always struck me as Mick taking the piss out of rednecks, and rednecks don’t deserve his condescension. It breaks the flow of the album OK, being neither a punk raver nor a pseudo-soul ballad, but surely another of the dozens of songs that came out of the sessions would have done the same in stronger fashion.

9. “Respectable” – My least favorite of the punk ravers, maybe because the idea of millionaire jet-setter Mick Jagger needling someone about being respectable is more than I feel like swallowing. I’m sure it’s supposed to be meta-ironic — Mick knows he has no place ranking on some formerly trashy woman for putting on airs, and he’s doing it anyway — but I don’t pick up a Rolling Stones album so I can analyze it through a funhouse mirror.

I find the music kinda headachy, also.

(YouTube offers a video of John Mayer playing “Respectable” onstage with the Stones in 2012. That sounds about right.)

8. “Before They Make Me Run” — The flip side of being a junkie, an outlaw and a rock n’ roll bad boy is that you screw over a lot of other people, including those who are on your side. (Tom Nawrocki’s “Keith Richards, Jerk” post from a few years ago explains this well.)

This Keef-sung I-am-what-I-am anthem embraces his persona without apology … and that position doesn’t hold up so well with the years.

When Keith sings “I’m gonna move while it’s still fun,” he could mean that he wants to make a graceful exit while everybody’s still smiling, or that he’s gonna split before somebody burdens him with some adult obligations. When I was a kid I heard the former. Now I hear the latter.

7. “Some Girls” – Unnecessarily sleazy and sexist (though I can practically hear Jagger declaring, in wounded mockney: “I didn’t say all girls were like that; I said some girls.”) Still somewhat enjoyable for its dented, slow-riding elan, and for Sugar Blue taking all the space he’s given.

6. “Just My Imagination” – A credible enough recasting of the Tempts, though it doesn’t really need four-and-a-half minutes.

5. “When The Whip Comes Down” – Of interest to me as a kid, since it was one of the few songs I knew of that was written from the point of view of somebody gay. It seemed different, maybe even progressive. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make head or tail of the words, so whatever I might have learned was lost on me.

I do appreciate a good stripped-down rock tune from time to time, and this one — which rides almost entirely on two chords and apologizes to nobody for it — gets points for minimalism. Behind his mirror-shaded facade, Lou Reed might have quietly approved.

4. “Beast of Burden” – A “soul begging song,” Jagger said, and he puts it across nicely as the guitars intertwine behind him.

3. “Lies” – I haven’t done a beats-per-minute comparison, but “Lies” has always felt faster and higher-energy to me than the other punk songs on Some Girls, like they pushed it off a steeper hill. That’s enough to lift it above the other fast numbers on the album. (Plus I find the lyrics easier to buy.)

“Lies”‘ position at the end of Side One scores points as well: It works nicely as the end of the first course.

Imagine you’re a Stones fan in ’78, and you’ve been underwhelmed by Goats Head Soup, narcotized by It’s Only Rock N’ Roll and only mildly intrigued by Black and Blue. You put Side One of Some Girls on, and the energy and attitude pin you back in your seat; you’d forgotten they knew how to play like this.

And at the end of “Lies” — closing with those six body-blow chords — there’s a moment of silence … then the needle clicks and lifts off the vinyl, and you think, “Did I really just hear that?”

2. “Shattered” – I don’t generally like this-town sloganeering. I don’t get on well with people who present New York’s raggedness as if it were some grand virtue for me to envy. And for that matter, I don’t get on that well with New York itself.

But none of that matters in the face of Jagger’s headlong ranting, which captures both the grand sweep (love, hope, pride, joy, success, dirty dreams) and the gutter details (the crime rate going up, up, up, up, up, UP) of life in the city.

Plus, his cheeky “Go ahead, bite the Big Apple – don’t mind the maggots!” deflates the pomp that so often ruins the city’s more starry-eyed chroniclers. This isn’t sung from the point of view of a worshipful outsider … more like a guy whose trash hasn’t been picked up in three weeks.

1. “Miss You” – That hook. I whistle it at work sometimes, even when I haven’t heard the song in weeks. It’s simple and trashy and humid and perfect, and it sounds like it fell off the back of Fred Sanford’s truck, and whenever I encounter it in the world I make every attempt to prolong what I’m doing until it’s over.

(People ask me — chk chk chk — “Whassamatter wit’ you, boyyyyy?”)

The wrecking ball.

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A story about an April Fools’ joke might seem a couple days late and a couple dollars short at this point in time.

But this story isn’t so much about April Fools’ as it is about gullibility and impermanence, both of which are eternal.

So come back with me (he said, grabbing your sleeve, rendering escape impossible) to an April morning many years ago.

It is Monday, April 1, 1985. I am in the sixth grade, not quite twelve years old. And I am listening to Dr. John Potter, the morning DJ on WMJQ 92.5 — Rochester’s less popular hits station — as he makes his listeners an unusual offer.

The offer involves Holleder Memorial Stadium, a 20,000-seat brickpile in the city proper that has hosted high school football, pro soccer, and even a few Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills exhibition games.

The stadium is not even 40 years old in the spring of ’85 but has been edging toward irrelevance for a while. High school football doesn’t draw 20,000 people any more. The NFL no longer comes to town. And two professional soccer teams, both calling Holleder home, have folded in the preceding five years.

The city fathers have even taken to allowing rock concerts there, a common last step for sports facilities gone to seed. (Holleder is one of four venues in Rochester to host a Grateful Dead concert, and the only one of the four I will never set foot in.)

But even the stadium’s availability to longhaired hordes is not enough to keep it alive; the neighbors are touchy, and there are other, more attractive concert venues in the city and region. In the spring of 1985, the announcement comes: Holleder Stadium is to be torn down.

And so here’s Dr. John Potter on April Fools’ Day 1985, loud-hailing a freebie offer to anyone who will listen: To a few lucky callers, he’s giving away tickets to see the Wrecking Ball at Holleder Stadium on April 18 (or whatever the demolition date was; it matters not.)

He plays it straight, as though the Wrecking Ball were a band rather than an implement of industrial deconstruction. He throws in a few embellishments here and there, of the sort you’d imagine — along the lines of, “Yeah, I hear this show is really gonna tear the place down.”

And sure enough, the calls come on air, several of them, all unsuspecting: “They some kind of hard-rock band? … Sure, I’d like to go. Thanks, Dr. John!”

And by the time I am required to leave for school, Dr. John Potter has distributed his full stash of tickets — maybe even front-row — to see the Wrecking Ball at Holleder Stadium.

I was credulous (as indeed I still am, too often), and it does not occur to preteen me that the callers could be plants, in on the joke. It is possible that I, not they, were the gullible ones.

On the other hand, I can believe even as a jaded adult that, in a city the size of Rochester, there are people who (a) don’t follow local news that closely and (b) are only too glad to accept tickets from their favorite morning jock, even if they don’t recognize the name of the “band.” (Dr. John Potter, like David Bowie’s mythical DJ, had believers believing him.)

Time moved forward. What happened after that?

Holleder Stadium departed this earth as scheduled a few weeks later. A high-tech park occupies the site now. If you stopped a random sampling of Rochesterians on the street tomorrow, I wonder if one in 10 could tell you where the stadium used to be.

According to the FCC, WMJQ didn’t outlast the stadium by all that long. The station at 92.5 became WLRY in October 1986, then WBEE the following February. The call letters remain WBEE; it’s now a very popular country station.

I have no idea what happened to Dr. John Potter, but the most recent online citation I can find for a radio DJ by that name dates to the early 1990s. If he’s still in the radio business, neither he nor his station seems particularly active in promoting him.

He might have taken a new on-air identity. Or, given the state of the radio business since 1985, it’s also possible that he left the industry, went back to school and got a job doing night-shift tech support. (If he’s reading, he’s welcome to set me straight in the comments.)

The moral of the story, I guess: Years come and go; places come and go; entertainments come and go; people who position themselves as beloved daily companions also come and go; and only the suspicion that one has been hoodwinked lasts.

Good night.