Truly great, career-spanning performance from the Birdmen at L.A.’s
Wiltern last night, despite an unsympathetic soundman and some
equipment snaufus. They are entirely as fierce and poetic as a fan
could want, and this is not one of those regrettable reunion shows
that breaks hearts. I’ll post a proper report at LITG once I get back
from SF over the weekend (they’re at Great American Music Hall
tonight)… but if you’re debating seeing them in SF, Seattle or
beyond, the answer is emphatically: “yeah hup!”
Not the Archies, but the Archies team (Jeff Barry and Andy Kim) at the peak of their musical creativity, with a two-fer reish of dreamboat vocalist/co-writer Kim’s first two albums for their indie Steed Records. After nearly a decade as producer and songwriter for hire for some of the most savvy guys in the business, Jeff Barry found himself with the muscle to bring projects to completion on his own. With these two albums, you’ve got the sound of pop’s finest craftsmen delighting in the formal structures of late sixties pop and forging two dozen lovely little moments. “HWEGTW” is more traditional Brill Building romanticism, with Barry’s trademark eclectic arrangements brimming with handclaps, steel drum and hushed, layered vocals. On “Rainbow Ride,” the pair are mildly psychedelicized, offering frenetic, organ-fueled rockers (“Please Be true”). Love You-era Stonesy rambles (“Nobody’s Ever Going Anywhere”) and with the gorgeous “Foundation of My Soul,” a reminder that, no matter what the hippie critics said, in the magical world of Kim and Barry, love, and pop, are not at all disposable.
I know I may have said this before but I am in love with the record store. Not just one, but the whole concept of having a place to go to and buy records, CDs, whatever format music is being sold on these days. It is the only way I buy music.
Not that I don’t trust the internet, mind you. I don’t worry all day someone is out there at the other end of my computer waiting for me to slip up so they can steal my identity and all the perceived groovy things that go along with it. Actually, if anyone actually thinks my sorry life is better for them than their own, come and get it as far as I am concerned. All that tells me about the person who would do that is how little taste they must have ’cause my life just ain’t roses and pickled herring my dears.
But, I digress.
I LOVE RECORD STORES.
For example, I am motoring around the town of Charlotte in what I call my car (what you’d call it is another matter) and I pass a relatively new record shop and decide to go in and check out the used section. Since I haven’t been in the shop for about a month I am already salivating at the thought of what cool used CDs have come in since the last time I was in there. As soon as I enter, the owner (who knows me from when he managed another record shop in town) immediately greets me by name and informs me he had just recently made a big jazz buy from someone selling their entire collection. Since he knows I love organ jazz (Jimmy Smith, McGriff, McDuff, etc) he had scoured the buy and had put a bunch of stuff away for me, awaiting the next time I would enter his store.
He immediately runs behind his counter and produces a giant stack of organ jazz CDs! The best thing about it is there were only a few out of the thirty or so CDs he had saved that I already owned and most of the CDs were rare and extremely hard to find. Seems the person selling them was a keyboardist.
Now, maybe I could have found all of this very cool stuff on the internet. In fact, I am sure I could have. I could have searched for title after title, one at a time, and made a very mechanical and worklike thing out of it all.
But it wouldn’t have been near the amount of fun and it’s hard to get service as good as that no matter who you’re dealing with. The owner knows me, knows what I like and he often saves or recommends things to me when I walk in the store. The best part about that is I know he is not trying to trick me because he knows I know about music and he knows I will call him on it if he does something messed up like that.
Why am I writing about all of this? Well, in the past year or so quite a few used shops have closed in Charlotte and many, many have closed all around the US and it’s a damn shame. Though the internet gives us the comfort of shopping from home it seems we have forgotten the visceral experince of going to a shop and picking up CDs because the covers look cool, or because we recognize a producer or player. It seems (after talking with a bunch of like-minded friends) that we are, for the most part, going after what is safe and refusing to discover great new music whether it be vintage or totally new.
Sure, we can search names on the internet but what about the names we don’t know. How do we learn about those? Magazines, radio, sure. But I have always thrived on recommendations and I usually only get those from the workers or another customer or two at my favorite record shops.
Let’s try to patronize these things once in a while so they stick around. I don’t want to mechanically search for stuff. I want to stumble upon stuff I have never known or maybe forgotten about only to see it finally there in front of me, turned in for money because some idiot didn’t like it. I have found so much cool stuff this way. My God. I won’t let you internet shoppers take them away from me. Don’t make me kill you……
Thanks to our generous pals at 125 Records, we have a limited number of copies of the brand new and wonderful Loud Family with Anton Barbeau CD What If It Works?, each one cleverly autographed by Anton and LF mainstay Scott Miller, available as a free premium for folks purchasing a retroactive subscription for $23 US, $34 overseas. A retroactive subscription consists of any four recent issues of Scram, sent all at once with your free CD, and represents a weird warpage of time and space through which you can approximate the experience of having been a subscriber all this time.
Interested? Then email me to confirm we still have CDs, and once one is being held for you I will follow up with payment instructions. For more info on the available back issues, read on…
Scram #22: Newest issue! The beatnik/banker issue (which are YOU?). Cover by Derek Yaniger. Features a fascinating chat with folk songstress Vashti Bunyan, Neutral Milk Hotel interviews not printed in editrix Kim’s 33 1/3 book about the band, a candid (and then some!) interview with bluesman Nick Gravenites, Phil Ochs’ collaborator Lincoln Mayorga and many more wild surprises.
Scram #21: The swamp issue. Cover by Lark Pien. Features Blag Dahlia of the Dwarves, Gene Sculatti on when MOR went hip, the Phanton Surfers’ Mike Lucas interviewing Blowfly, Skywald Horror-Mood comics, baroque popsters The New Society, mysterious Kenneth Anger soundtrack artist Andy Arthur, Deke Dickerson on hillbilly eefing records & a High Llamas interview.
Scram #20: featuring Andrice Arp’s aquatic cover art, schoolyard fun with Johnny Thunders and Gene Simmons, a chat with Sloan’s Jay Ferguson, all about Absolute Grey, Devendra Banhart meets his heroine Linda Perhacs, bubblegum songwriter Elliot Chiprut, P.F. Sloan live pics, Lost in the Grooves sneak peak and more.
Scram #19: Bart Johnson’s cover, a leisurely chat with the Zombies’ Colin Blunstone and Paul Atkinson (RIP), part two of the P.F. Sloan interview covers the Grassroots, Byrds, Dylan and Jim Webb, the Lee Hazlewood interview Hustler didn’t want you to see, John Trubee’s campfire tales, Denny Eichhorn shares another comic Wild Man Fischer adventure plus the first interview ever with psychedelic siren Linda Perhacs!
Scram #18: cover art by Tom Neely, Emitt Rhodes, Marty Thau on bubblegum, NY Dolls, Suicide & more, the great lost Ramones interview, preteen popettes Smoosh, Johnny Sea.
Scram #17: Dan Clowes cover, Steve Earle, Plush, Russ Forster on the 8-track underground, proto-punk LA zine "Back Door Man," John Trubee talking with Byrds/Zappa dancer Carl Franzoni, bubblegum awards (including Turtle Howard Kaylan’s acceptance speech).
Scram #16: Robert Crumb / Aleksandar Zograf, Rezillos, Radio Birdman reunion, Every Mother’s Son, Steve Wynn, Van Morrison’s contract-busting Bang! sessions, Gene Sculatti on right wing radio, the Turtles and Strawberry Shortcake, Neil Hamburger, Canned Hamm. Mike Longdo memorial. Cover by Steven "Ribs" Weissman.
Yesterday evening we drove into Manhattan, parked right off of Spring Street, and walked the few blocks to the firehouse. They found our names, nydeborah‘s and mine, on the guest list and welcomed us inside. Servers zigzagged through the crowd and foisted upon us some of the tastiest hors d’oeuvres I’ve ever tasted — delicate little crab cakes, sandwiches made from paper-thin breads and cheeses, the tiniest pigs wrapped in the tiniest blankets — and made sure our free hand was always wrapped around a glass of wine or a cocktail. They showed us around the splendid New York City Fire Museum, where, among its collection of fire-related art and artifacts dating from the 18th century to the present, a restored 1921 Type 75 American LaFrance fire engine proudly bore the name Brooklyn. With great reverence, they escorted us into the room housing their 9/11 memorial, where faces are put to the names of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives that day.
Then they took us upstairs to the third floor to see what we were there for in the first place: a special screening of three National Geographic Channel documentaries devoted to 9/11 that begin airing this Sunday evening:
Inside 9/11 [Sunday, 27 August]: Nominated for a primetime Emmy and updated to reflect new information from this past year, this four-hour miniseries traces the timeline that led up to the deadly attacks, spanning decades and circling the globe to reveal a clearer picture of the events.
Triple Cross: Bin Laden’s Spy in America [Monday, 28 August]: Playing out like an espionage thriller, Ali Mohamed, a radical ex-Egyptian Army officer, became a CIA asset, joined the US Army, and served the FBI as an informant — then triple-crossed all three in the name of his true allegiance: Osama bin Laden.
The Final Report: Osama’s Escape [Tuesday, 29 August]: How did Osama bin Laden walk away from a brutal barrage of bombs and gunfire by US forces during the battle at Tora Bora? A penetrating look at how this infamous terrorist eluded the world’s most powerful military machine in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Seven hours of material had been expertly edited down to 90 or so riveting minutes for this preview. And when all was said and done, despite the horrible imagery (the planes hitting, the aftermath, the posters advertising the missing) and sounds (the explosions, the screams, the sobbing), which have long been seared into our collective psyches, what haunted me most was the image, both fanciful and frightening, described by survivor Louis Lesce, a no-nonsense career counselor attending a two-day class on the 86th floor when American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower:
When the screening was over, the audience sat stunned, silent, filled with our thoughts of that morning. I remembered turning on my car radio, back in Salt Lake, and hearing that the second plane had just hit. I remembered getting to work and not doing anything but watching, with Lou and Larry and Steve, the news on TV until the towers came down. I remembered the long walk back to my office. I remembered lying awake in bed that night, scared of how things were never going to be the same again. I’d felt alone for a long time, but never as alone as that night, where the dark seemed darker.
Then the audience snapped out of it and broke into enthusiastic applause.
I’m glad these brilliant documentaries, executive produced by the impressive Jonathan Towers, brought back all these memories. They should. Don’t miss them.
Without any Why We Fight rhetoric or any Michael Moore high jinks, sans Nicolas Cage or Oliver Stone, Towers simply lays out the facts and keeps the viewer glued to the screen. We get to think — instead of being told what to think.
Inside 9/11 ends with the November 2001 wisdom of Osama bin Laden. Still basking in the glow of 9/11, unperturbed by the bombs bursting in the distance, he summed up the Gordian knot that is life as we now know it:
“We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us.”
As most of us know, 1964 was a pretty big year for music. The English youth scene was just taking off and the British Invasion had just begun to take over America, even as American pop music was coming into its own. The Beach Boys were rocking out, having huge hits all across the country, spreading their sun-bleached love to teenage girls everywhere. James Brown & his Famous Flames were creating a stir, and Motown was starting to make it big with the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and the Tempations all happening at the same time. Lesley Gore, who was born in Brooklyn, New York had her first pop hit, “It’s My Party” in April 1963 and her star kept rising throughout the next few years.
In October 1964, The TAMI Show was shot in front of a live audience of screaming teenagers at The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Southern California. The biggest names in music of the day were there, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Miracles, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, the Rolling Stones (the latter three representing for the Brits), Provincetown, Massachusetts’ own garage godz the Barbarians and then, Lesley Gore, with hosts Jan & Dean. The TAMI Show was a huge concert that captured the excitement over everything that was happening in music at the time, and everything was new.
The theme from The TAMI Show, sung by Jan & Dean, written by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, told of all the amazing acts that were going to be performing (“here they come, from all over the world”) and wrote in “the representative from New York City is Lesley Gore, now, she sure looks pretty.” And Lesley did look pretty, with her gorgeous smile and her signature flipped hair. It’s quite possible that because she was so young and so pretty, she left a strong impression on the Beach Boys, who she hung out with at the taping of The TAMI Show.
Lesley Gore â€” TAMI action with hosts Jan & Dean in the background (right)
The next summer, the Beach Boys came out with their great album Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!!) that featured the song “The Girl From New York City”. Connection? Probably. Lesley Gore wasn’t someone who was easy to forget. She had a very distinctive voice, deeper than was usually normal for pop stars, and almost raspy in some songs like “Hey Now.” She was very pretty, and very energetic, two things which probably helped her become a star.
While Lesley did sing many songs like “If That’s The Way You Want It” (Tell me that you aren’t ready to settle down with one / Want to keep me on a string while your having fun / If that’s the way you want it / So be it, my love) she also went out on a limb with songs like “You Don’t Own Me” (“You don’t own me / I’m not just one of your many toys / You don’t own me / Don’t say I can’t go with other boys / And don’t tell me what to do / and don’t tell me what to say / and please when I go out with you, don’t put me on display”), which she recorded in ’63, and she was rewarded with a number 2 hit.
While Lesley is known and remembered for her voice and her catchy pop hits, I am a fan of hers for an entirely different reason. I love her hair. Lesley Gore is my undisputed hair idol.
I have the greatest hits collection, It’s My Party; The Mercury Anthology and the photo that was used on the cover really is something else. I would have to imagine that it’s one of the first publicity photos of Lesley Gore because she looks very young, and her hair is done up into this magnificently tall, gravity-defying bouffant with these saucy bangs.
Lesley Gore â€” It’s My Party
I remember seeing this picture of Lesley Gore amongst my mother’s extensive CD collection when I was growing up, before I ever listened to it, and was always amazed by the pretty girl’s hair. Lesley’s hair almost seems like it’s so tall that it continues outside of the frame for at least another foot.
Lesley Gore seems to have managed to have the perfect hair for every era of hair fashion during the ’60s, if her publicity photos are anything to go by. She had a short, bobbed flip for most of her early career, but she also had a long flip kept in place with headband, and various bouffant hairstyles (some better than others); I have even seen an amazing photo of her that was probably taken in the late ’60s with this large bouffant compiled of large soft waves with white beads strung throughout.
I have been trying to imitate Lesley Gore’s different ’60s hairstyles for a while now, but can only pull off a half hearted flip. I probably just need to use more AquaNet hairspray, lots more.
Late this last winter my mother found out that Lesley Gore was going to be speaking live in front of an audience at the 92nd St. “Y” and immediately bought tickets. I was thrilled, I couldn’t wait to see her, have her sign my much listened to Mercury Anthology, and inspect her hair. When Lesley walked out on stage I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed, just knowing that the woman standing in front of me was Lesley Gore, my hair idol. But after a few minutes of a boring interview, the shock wore off, and I looked, really looked at Lesley’s hair.
While I suppose her current style is a good, modern choice for someone her age, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. Her hair was bleached blond, straight, and cut into a choppy, short look. Compared to her hair from her youth, it was pretty boring. I kept picturing her stylized hair that curled up around her cheeks, drawing your eyes to her smile, bouncing as she walked, and her current hair that just fell flat around her face couldn’t compare.
Lesley Gore belting one out in Paramountâ€™s Girls on the Beach (1965), also featuring the Beach Boys and the Crickets
In the middle of her interview Lesley broke into song, getting a roaring ovation from the crowd who was thrilled to be hearing the songs they love her for, but again, she disappointed. Instead of giving the crowd what they wanted she sang a short medley of her hits and then sang a song off of her new album to scattered applause.
After the interview, Lesley sat in front of the auditorium to sign her albums, old and new. I approached her with my old CD and tentatively said, “I’m a big fan of yours.” Lesley didn’t look up, but silently signed my CD and pushed it back to me.
I mustered up all the courage I had and said, “Lesley you’re my hair idol.” She didn’t look up; she was busy signing another CD. I’m sure she just didn’t hear me.
PARTY FOR PRESERVATION
This month Dumb Angel noticed a short paragraph by Steve Lopez of The Los Angeles Times that pretty much sums up how we have arrived at our journalistic approach to Los Angeles, the music industry, the film industry and all that goes on here in mainstream circles that we prefer to avoid and circumvent. It’s the same for everything here, so listen close to Lopez:
And standing up to people is what I like about (former NYC Police Chief, now in L.A.) Bratton. We all know by now that Broadway Bill likes to run his mouth, which isn’t a bad thing around here. Los Angeles is corrupt and content, and one reason for it is the unwritten code that calls for polite and cordial relations among local leaders. It’s an old boys’ network, you might say, with one guy covering for the next and expecting the same in return.
We’ll have none of that at Dumb Angel. We spent our first year back in Los Angeles eliminating this backwards “booster” mentality from our work environment . . . we mean people surrounding “the music business” . . . who carry the same kind of mentality that would have you tearing down the Cineramadome and the Capitol Tower. Industry back-watchers are the kind who would go along with the pack and say it’s o.k. to dismantle such area-identifiers and put up a shoddy mixed-use development instead. (Example: how much does the music biz spend to sell bands like Velvet Revolver?)
New York City soldier Carmine Priore’s photographs and postcards of Hollywood on a stay during World War II. The NBC Radio Studio on the corner of Sunset and Vine is long gone, but the Hollywood Palladium, CBS Radio Studio and Earl Carroll’s Vanities buildings remain . . . if mixed use developements don’t rape what’s left of Hollywood’s most historic district. (Thanks, dad, for the pix…)
Today, the Hollywood Palladium, the original CBS radio studio next door where the Byrds, the Monkees and Brian Wilson recorded during the mid- ’60s, and especially 6230 Sunset Boulevard, just East of Vine . . . are all threatened by mixed use developers. The latter building was originally the home of Hollywood’s most glamourous nightclub, Earl Carroll’s Vanities, which became the Moulin Rouge (often headlined by Louis Prima and Keely Smith with Sam Butera & the Witnesses), the Hullabalo (same for Love, the Yardbirds and Jan & Dean), the Kaleidoscope (the Doors, Big Brother & the Holding Company), the Aquarius Theater (Hair, Zoot Suit) and a bunch of other stuff as the years passed. Someone’s gotta stop this kinda cultural destruction from happening; these are all major landmarks of Los Angeles history.
Therefore, we present photographs of a recent party held by the people who are doing this kind of work. After checking out our February blog on Balboa, it was decided that the birthday party for Chris Nichols, speaker for the Los Angeles Conservancy’s ModCom Division, would be held in the Balboa Fun Zone area. Yes, there was news that the Balboa Fun Zone too would be torn down by developers, but the end result was reasonable; all of the oldest attractions would be staying, and the Maritime Museum they are putting there is basically in the space of a structure that was not a part of the Fun Zone’s early charm. (We are losing, however, a very cool haunted house in the deal). All that said, here are the pictures from the the ModCom birthday party for Chris Nichols this past June, 2006.
From the south side of the Balboa boardwalk heading north (through a bustling summer crowd), this vintage neon for the Bay Arcade is the first thing you see . . . inside they still have a photo booth from the mid-’60s (with original Peter Max-style artwork and Mod-girl sample photos on the side â€” see our first blog about Balboa). Photo by Larry Underhill.
The entrance to the Ferry Boat, from the Balboa Peninsula side, boasts the old ferris wheel and another classic neon depicting a Populuxe family. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Ahoy, skipper! The Auto Ferry boat to Balboa Island. Photo by Larry Underhill.
A wide-angle view of the Balboa Pavillion with carvings in the foreground from a cruise boat dubbed, The Tiki. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Ferry Landing . . . The theme of the party was a mad Scooby Do chase scene in Balboa . . . bring a portable a.m. radio to hear Bubblegum music and clues . . . and wear a scarf, Hanna-Barbera style . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
Only fun is in store . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
Groovy Go Go girl Maria Basaldu diggin’ the sounds and gettin’ clues to solve the mystery. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Dumb Angel editor Domenic Priore tunes in . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
DJ Penelope Pitstop spins Bubblegum records out over the local airwaves (shortwave radio transmission blanketed Balboa all evening). Listen to her radio show Bubblegum & Other Delights each Friday nite from 7-9, PST on www.luxuriamusic.com . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
John Arroyo gets advice on the mystery from his talking monkey. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Held up as a relic oâ€™ the times, Balboa stages and original bumper car next to the ferris wheel. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Balboa Fun Zone bumper cars. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Dumb Angel’s front cover design man Chris Green tries out the photo booth. Photo courtesy of Chris Green.
Daniel, Aimee, Domenic, Brian, Steve, Jason, Chris and Vincent love the psychedelic photo booth in the Bay Arcade. Photo courtesy of Chris Green.
DJ Senor Amor hams it up with Jill McGraw. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Hanford Lemoore and tiki journalist Humuhumu. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Beatniks rule â€” Todd the barber and the lovely Elvia. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Julian Nitzberg with Chris and Charlene. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Cap’n Sharkey Waters reminisces about his tuna canning days whilst handing out the clues to solve our Scooby Doo mystery. Will the group solve it? Will they catch the bandit? Stay tuned . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
Meri Pritchett and her boy Nathan think they’ve got the mystery solved! Photo by Larry Underhill.
8-Ball Naomi with Book of Tiki Sven Kiersten, Greg and Domenic Priore . . . check out Naomiâ€™s bitchinâ€™ store in Burbank, on Magnolia, and visit her website at 8ballwebstore.com . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
Stephanie, Shikaya and Rachel â€” our teenage detectives. Photo by Larry Underhill.
The entrance to the Balboa Fun Zones haunted house ride . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
Enter at your own risk . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
Inside the haunted house ride, neon warnings light up like in a crowded montage. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Gretchen and David Zalkind go deep undercover. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Dionysus Records head-honcho, Lee Joseph. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Dig . . . Dumb Angel #4 cover artist, Chris Green (in blue shirt), with Vincent, Marjorie, Jason, Steve . . . eating nothinâ€™ but paper napkins. Photo by Larry Underhill.
The gang tries to “Play Faro” with the great Merlini, but he keeps eating the cards. Photo by Larry Underhill.
The great Merlini as portrayed by Charles Schneider. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Guk-guk-guk-guk-guk . . . Dino Fantini, the REAL Popeye. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Daniel Paul and the lovely Aimee Boice. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Alan Leib (left) talks with friends by the Balboa Fun Zone carousel. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Caretaker Kent really kept this place clean. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Are those g-g-g-g-ghosts? . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
The gang gets ready to pin down the monster… Photo by Larry Underhill.
Now inside the Balboa Pavillion, Chris Nichols drags the captured sea monster through the crowd . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
Who is it? Is it Sharkey? Is it the caretaker? Is it Merlini? . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
Har Har! It’s Greg Brady! [Barry Williams] . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
“And I would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling kids!” . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
“Well, I do know a little choreography!” – Barry Williams . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
“I think I’ll go for a walk outside now the summer sun’s callinâ€™ my name (i hear ya now) . . .” Photo by Larry Underhill.
“Everybody’s smilinâ€™, sunshine day . . . everybody’s laughin, sunshine day . . . everybody seems so happy today!” . . . Photo by Larry Underhill.
The birthday boy, Chris Nichols, with Barry Williams. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Los Angeles Conservancy Modern Committee chair Adriene Biondo enjoys a Balboa moment. Photo by Larry Underhill.
Photo selection and captions by Brian Chidester, Chris Nichols and Domenic Priore
“For anybody who grew up in Hollywood, who went to school here, what’s happened to it in the last 25-30 years is heartbreaking. Groucho Marx once said that, you know, ‘all of the places, when they talk about ‘the good old days,’ that what they’re really longing for is their youth. That the hotels were dirty and cold and so forth. What they remember was that they were young’. As a kid, everything looked rosy, but the place was much cleaner, physically and geographically”. — journalist Nick Beck, from from the Morgan Neville film Shotgun Freeway
It’s a lovely week to be a fan of mercurial sixties singer-songwriter P.F. Sloan, with his first US album release since 1972’s Raised on Records (my review of Sailover is here), a feature story in the L.A. Times (which I had a small part in, passing contact info for Phil’s one-time songwriting partner and Bubblegum Award recipient Steve Barri along to writer Richard Cromelin) and a terrific electronic press kit over on YouTube, where Phil wanders around London, talks about the record with producer Jon Tiven, leafs through old photo proof sets and lets slip the secret identity of Hallowe’en Mary. It’s great to see Phil looking so happy, and getting the recognition he’s so long deserved.
I read on my editor David Barker’s 33 1/3 blog this morning that the Neutral Milk Hotel book is the fastest pony in the paddock. One doesn’t like to brag about book sales, but you gotta understand, all my previous publications have been so proudly under the radar that it’s just a hoot to see something I’ve written be so popular. But there are plenty of great books on that list–collect ’em all!
Not too much movement on the chart over the last couple of months – most of the books are still selling, but at a very similar rate. Notable exceptions being the Forever Changes book in the UK, on the back of Arthur Lee’s sad death, the DJ Shadow book, those on the Pixies and Beastie Boys, and of course the Neutral Milk Hotel book, which keeps going, week after week.
(Note to self: no more books about bands with "Stone" in their name…)
1. The Smiths
2. The Kinks
3. Pink Floyd
4. Joy Division
5. Neutral Milk Hotel
6. Velvet Underground
7. The Beatles
10. Neil Young
11. Rolling Stones
12. Dusty Springfield
13. Beach Boys
14. DJ Shadow
15. Jimi Hendrix
16. The Band
17. The Replacements
18. Led Zeppelin
19. David Bowie
20. Jeff Buckley
22. Beastie Boys
23. The Ramones
26. Bruce Springsteen
27. Elvis Costello
29. James Brown
30. Jethro Tull
31. Sly and the Family Stone
32. The MC5
33. The Stone Roses
My early forays in record collecting were strictly economically determined. With little pocket money, I sought my treasures in out-of-the-way places and bought them cheap. Happily, this led to some life-enhancing discoveries: The Who Sing My Generation and Sell Out, right there at the corner drugstore. The Man Who Sold the World, a remaindered Mercury copy alongside full-price RCA reissues at the local head shop. A Beard of Stars, complete with “Ride a White Swan” 7”, from an overstock sale at the college bookstore, and a promo copy of Marquee Moon among the rejects outside the college radio station. With the possible exception of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, all were under a dollar; the Television album, otherwise impossible to find where I lived, was free—and, as the ad says, “priceless.”
But even closer than these to the core of my musical being is a flukier, more improbable find. One day my mother brought Bass Ball by François Rabbath home from Woolworth’s for my brother, who played string bass. Information about the record stopped with Dom Cerruli’s provocative liner notes, which place Rabbath among a nouvelle vague of French jazz. Rabbath and his drummer, Armand Molinetti, serve up twelve elegantly arranged, sonically adventurous tracks. Some are live; others feature bass overdubs—up to three, but generally no more than one. Maybe it’s that Bass Ball is on Philips, but to me it’s oddly reminiscent of Vincebus Eruptum. Rabbath is far subtler than Blue Cheer, true, but his multi-tracked basses are sludgily akin to Leigh Stephens’ guitars. In Rabbath’s hands the bass is a protean creature of moods: a gentle flamenco guitar on “Ode d’Espagne,” a cell of screaming lunatics on “Basses en Fugue.” Heavy metal starts here.
Needless to say, we wore Bass Ball out. Themes from the record soundtracked my dreams. My brother learned to approximate the songs on string bass; he was particularly effective peeling off keening arco harmonics and coughing up abrasive gutturals on “Walpurgis.” Eventually picking up bass guitar, he evoked Rabbath immediately, effortlessly, unconsciously.
When Spalax’s 2003 New Sound of Jazz turned up among Forced Exposure’s current releases, it was like running into an old friend. The disk compiles stereo versions of Rabbath’s 1964 debut and its follow up. (The CD lacks the impact of my mono vinyl, so crank it!) The songs from Bass Ball anticipate absolutely everything: Cale’s viola (“Prelude a l’Archet”), the Yardbirds’ stop-time concussion volleys (“Hesitations”), Hendrix’s technical feats of strength (“Impalas”), John Theodore and Neil Hagerty’s workouts in The Royal Trux (“Western a la Breugel”). It’s still unclear where Bass Ball belongs in the jazz canon. It’s new, all right, but it’s not free. The word “skronk,” however, aptly describes its more extreme tonalities. I’m happy to report that the tracks from Rabbath’s second album don’t disappoint. Cut from the same cloth as Bass Ball (though lighter on electronic enhancement), the seven titles are longer and, consequently, even further out.
Given its rainbow-tinted, strobe-lit cover and gag-inducing title, I was never entirely satisfied that Bass Ball wasn’t cornball stuff. It’s good to hear that Rabbath is a respected, if obscure presence in French jazz history. Of course he used drugs, as the supremely eerie “Bitume” always suggested. Spalax’s somewhat amateurish packaging does include pictures of the man himself. Not quite the mad hipster of my imagination but no square either: A balding, monkish guy closing his eyes and setting his bow for the heart of the sun.
For my money, New Sound of Jazz is our era’s King of the Delta Blues Singers. (Re)introducing a troubled young virtuoso whose shadow falls quietly across the music of the last forty years, illuminating his story while leaving intact just enough mystery, this reissue is like a portal to a world of howling ghosts. I don’t even care if it popularizes a treasured childhood secret. I doubt Rabbath’s will ever become a household name. But in a time when a young person can pick up Funhouse, Marquee Moon, and White Light/White Heat from a single aisle at Circuit City, it’s nice to know there are still further frontiers—new sounds in jazz, if you will. Buy this disk and be haunted.