What Keeps Me Up Nights

My front porch is slippery. Whenever it rains, the painted concrete becomes difficult to navigate in my Wallabees because their oh-so-stylish crepe soles are just not very non-slip. I have managed to hydroplane my way onto my ass several times, and without fail, the thing that goes through my head as I fall gracelessly onto my coccyz is that it would be a particularly pathetic way to die and leave my family on their own.

I rehearse the needlessly cruel, John Irving-esque way in which my daughter will tell her friends that I died “descending”, my son’s refusal to use the front door to the house, my wife’s insistence on gaining ingress and egress through a window. Given my extremely low tolerance for the twee irony which passes for profundity in John Irving’s books, I grow depressed and descend my front steps at a pace which often prompts my mother-in-law to push me out of the way so that she can get outside, “Today, Grandpa”.

Which is why I find the barb-related death of Steve Irwin so utterly enervating. That guy didn’t worry about falling over in the bathtub. He probably didn’t wonder if every cramp in his left arm was the sign of an onrushing cardiac infarction (with the secondary worry of where the nearest bottle of aspirin might be). And yet, ultimately, would it comfort his widow any to know that it was no common slip-and-fall which turned her world upside down?

I can’t help but imagine his last moment, as he pulled that barb out of his chest, the surprise, the fear, the sense of disappointment. How much more depressing to be wondering why you chose gloss latex instead of eggshell.

McStakes In McLagan

As a fallible person, I want to correct a mistake in my Mac with No Cheese blog about great ex-Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan.

I have mis-identified the record label that recently reissued his two obscure late ’70’s albums on CD. The correct name of the label is Gott Discs, not Gott Records as I mistakenly listed and you can check out the label’s releases (and maybe order the McLagan CD and a few others) at Gottdiscs.com.

Sorry about the error.

The Music Nerd….doesn’t always know…..

Andre Agassi’s Tears

                  When the world falls apart some things stay in place…

He gave us 21 years of amazing professional tennis. He was the new young turk who yanked the baton away from the old young turks like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors and Ilie Năstase. Like them, he infused the game with some much needed personality (if not all-out punk rock attitude), which sadly is once again in short supply on the tennis court. These reasons alone would be enough, but Andre Agassi yesterday at the U.S. Open, having lost the final game of his professional career, exemplified why I’ve loved him through the years. 

Standing mid-court, unable to hold back the tears, he forewent the customary post-game interview and, saying goodbye to professional tennis, addressed the 23,000 New York fans giving him a standing ovation:

“The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn’t say is what it is I have found. Over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed, sometimes even in my lowest moments, and I’ve found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could never have reached without you.” 

Radio Birdman interviewed on the eve of their debut American tour

Radio Birdman interviewed 8/30/06 – Backstage at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles

Present: Kim Cooper (LITG), Chris Masuak (CM), Deniz Tek (DT), Rob Younger (RY)

Radio Birdman at the Wiltern

Last Wednesday afternoon I wound my way south through the secret north/south axis of the city’s center, on my way to a happening that might have sprung fully formed out of one of my more frisky juvenile fantasies: my all-time favorite rock and roll combo since 1983, the mighty Radio Birdman, were making their debut US appearance tonight in the grand art deco Wiltern Theater in my home town of Los Angeles.

Two decades’ journalistic celebration of Birdmen and its offshoots have earned me the friendship of the band’s leaders, so it was with knowledge that a backstage pass awaited that I parked around the corner from the venue, just up the block from L. Ron Hubbard’s first Scientology offices. What a kick to see the letters RADIO BIRDMAN on that lovely green marquee.

I first buzzed and gained access to the front door, only to be directed round the back, where sound check was just finishing. As the door closed behind me, a couple of lithe young ladies made a dash for it, just catching the wood before it slammed. I mentioned this to guitarist Deniz Tek a few minutes later, when he expressed concern that the group might not be able to fill such a huge hall, noting that when teenage girls are sneaking in, you don’t have much to worry about. "Teenage girls…?" he mused, "We never had teenage girl fans—except you, of course!" These are different, and better times, it seems. So a few hours before the band defeated a criminally unskilled sound man with a career-spanning performance packed with poetry and raw power, I sat down with three of the original Birdmen for a brief chat about the state of the band in 2006, and their expectations for the tour to come.

Lost in the Grooves: Is "Zeno Beach" the record you would have done after "Living Eyes," or is this a building on what you’ve all done individually and together?

Deniz Tek: No, we couldn’t have made it after "Living Eyes." It’s the result of all those years of individual experience and collective Radio Birdman experience.

Rob Younger: Yeah, it is, I think.

LITG: So you think it’s just a merging of all of your influences and everything that’s come before?

DT: It’s actually the next New Christs record.

LITG: I thought so! It sounds a lot like the New Christs.

DT: A lot of people have said that to me.

RY: That’s bollocks, that’s just bollocks.

LITG: It’s overdue.

DT: But I think so.

LITG: Who do you think is coming to see Radio Birdman in America?

DT: Well, Kim Cooper for one.

RY: There were a lot of names on that guest list I recognized. (laughter) Radio Birdman at the Wiltern - Rob Younger with Carmen Hillebrew

above: Carmen Hillebrew with Jack Lord and Rob Younger, after the show

DT: I suppose it would be a mixture of musicians, record collectors, people who sort of go into music, rock and roll history a little bit more deeply than average. Otherwise how would they know about it? Or maybe a few people who have come on board with the Sub Pop compilation, because I think there was some word of mouth about the band before that—bands would talk about who they liked, and a lot of bands like our band, whereas not very many people in the general population would know about it, but bands know about it. And they’d talk about it—people couldn’t find the records in America, it would be difficult, until the Sub Pop thing.

Chris Masuak: There are some guys from San Diego coming up who were involved with fanzines. Kenzo—I can’t remember his fanzine, but he used to have a fanzine about the Tribesmen, New Christs.

DT: It’s definitely kind of a small following—hoping to become bigger. Radio Birdman at the Wiltern - Deniz Tek with Art & Steve Godoy

above: Art & Steve Godoy with occasional bandmate Deniz Tek, after the show

RY: Yeah, my friend James said people really only know our first album here, don’t even know the second one, let alone had a chance to worry about the third one.

LITG: That’s true. I had to go to England to get the second one.

RY: But there’s stuff from "Living Eyes" on "The Essential" [Sub Pop comp], that’s what he was saying, cos it was released here, that first one, "Radios Appear."

LITG: How did it come about, you coming to America?

DT: There were a couple of stabs at it over the last five years or so, but none of it panned out because we couldn’t afford to come. And I guess finally with the new album, it gave us enough momentum to get enough good gigs to make it possible.

LITG: You released it independently in Australia, right?

DT: Yeah.

LITG: So how’s Yep Roc been for you? They treating you well?

DT: Yeah, they seem to be. They’ve done a good job so far with setting up interviews and promotion and stuff like that, and they’ve been really pleasant and easy to work with. I think—I was talking to Rob about this—they’re small enough that it’s that middle layer of record companies. We wouldn’t get anywhere at all with a big label, we’d just be put on the back shelf or under the rug and no one would ever hear of us again and nothing would happen, whereas with that middle layer, it’s big enough to get distributed around, but not so big that we get lost, cos you’re not, y’know, a big earner.

RY: They remember your first name. Radio Birdman at the Wiltern

LITG: Is there someone at the label who is a long time fan?

RY: Not that I know of.

CM: I think that there label’s devoted to stuff that they consider to be almost eclectic or artistic.

DT: Artistic and underappreciated, maybe.

CM: Yeah, that seems to be their reason.

LITG: So it’s sort of a boutique—everything in it’s worth looking at, cos it’s been curated.

CM: I’d rather be curated than be in a boutique, though! (laughter) You don’t want to get too precious.

DT: If you’re curated, that means you’ve been put in a museum.

LITG: Under glass, or in a gallery, maybe.

CM: I don’t want that, either.

LITG: It’s not waxworks, it’s rock and roll. Favorite song on the record?

DT: "Locked Up." That’s my favorite one today, cos I just heard it.

RY: I like "Remorseless," probably cos we haven’t been playing it for a while.

DT: Yeah, we should put that back in the set. It’s not in tonight’s, but we’ll do it tomorrow night.

LITG: Any surprise cover versions for the tour?

DT: Oh, there might be a cover version, but it won’t be a surprise to anyone. (laughter)

LITG: Does it start with a T and end with an E? [e.g. "T.V. Eye"]

DT: Nope.

LITG: Is it a really long word? ["Transmaniacon MC"]

RY: Same band. [it turned out to be "Search and Destroy," and it was a knockout]

LITG: Ohhh, okay. I think those are all the questions I want to pester you with. Thank you gentlemen!

Radio Birdman at the Wiltern

Watch this space for more Radio Birdman coverage, including rock critic Don Waller’s no holds barred take on the band’s place in the pop pantheon circa 1976 and today.

The Dean Gets Expelled

Last Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of sitting down with Robert Christgau, the self-appointed Dean of American Rock Critics, in his East Village apartment. This was indeed a big thing for the kid here, considering that I’ve read Christgau’s work, well, ever since I was a kid. His Consumer Guide to music has appeared in The Village Voice since 1969 and has since been collected in three volumes of books that have long shared a space on my reference shelf alongside the first and best edition (the one edited by Jim Miller) of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Andrew Sarris’s The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, Greil Marcus’s books, and all of Pauline Kael’s collections. As a teenager in Utah, so that I might stay on top of what Christgau (and Sarris) had to say, I subscribed to The Voice

Through the years, Christgau became part of the very pop culture he writes about. On 1972’s live Take No Prisoners album, Lou Reed wondered aloud from the stage: “What does Robert Christgau do in bed?” I’ll forgo quoting where this line of thinking took him; suffice it to say that it culminated with Reed rhetorically asking, “Can you imagine working for a fucking year and you got a B+ from an asshole in The Village Voice?” In his review of the album, Christgau responded with his usual humor and aplomb by thanking Lou for pronouncing his name right. And he only gave the album a C+. 

“I always admired Christgau’s writing and wit and courage,” singer/songwriter Elliott Murphy wrote yesterday (before we even knew about Friday’s goings-on at The Voice), “and when he gave Aquashow [Murphy’s debut album] an A- it was the only grade I ever got that I was proud of.” 

All of which brings us back to Tuesday evening in the East Village. Christgau had kindly consented to an interview for a book I’m putting together about the critic Paul Nelson. I didn’t agree with everything that the Dean had to say, but what he said was never uninteresting. Such had been the tacit terms of our writer-reader relationship for over three decades (we should be so fortunate in all of our relationships). Earlier that day, he had even more kindly arranged for me to get into The Voice‘s library, where I was able to glean invaluable material from 30- and 40-year-old bound volumes of the newspaper. I owe him big-time.

 

So it was with considerable shock last night to discover an article in The New York Times that told, in part: 

In a move that decimated the senior ranks of its arts staff, The Village Voice, the New York alternative weekly, yesterday dismissed eight people, including Robert Christgau, a senior editor and longtime pop music critic who had been at the paper on and off since 1969. 

In a statement released yesterday, Village Voice Media described the layoffs as an effort “to reconfigure the editorial department to place an emphasis on writers as opposed to editors.” The company added, “Painful though they may be in the short term, these moves are consistent with long-range efforts to position The Voice as an integral journalistic force in New York City.” 

The article went on to say: 

Mr. Christgau, 64, who noted that he had forged the paper’s style of music criticism, with its “serious consideration of popular music at a critical level,” said in a phone interview that before he learned he had lost his job, he had begun organizing the paper’s Christmas consumer review. â€œI was really thinking about what I was going to do. I wasn’t planning on going anywhere,” he said. “I was doing my job.”

What befell Robert Christgau on Friday is not uncommon in everyday corporate America. I watched the same thing happen to people I’d worked with for years, as they fell victim to the ever advancing bottom line. Unlike Christgau, as it got closer I was able to make the decision, to paraphrase Keith Richards, to walk before they made me run. 

I have no doubt Christgau will do just fine, that this, like many seemingly life-crushing changes, will turn out to be an opportunity in disguise, an unexpected detour taking him down a path he wouldn’t otherwise have taken to a better destination than he could have imagined. 

In the meantime, Christgau’s website remains available online and, in an act of sheer generosity and (deserved) egoism, reflects virtually everything that man’s put into print. With his recent review of the New York Dolls’ latest album, his writing demonstrated the same thing that the resurrected Dolls did with their music: that rock & roll done right is ageless. 

For Pete’s Sake!

    While what’s left of those Brothers Gibb may, whenever asked, still like to refer to themselves as the Enigma (Cucumber Castle) with the Stigma (Saturday Night Fever) (for starters), may I posit the REAL, TRUE, ORIGINAL Great Big Rockin’ Rolling Enigma is none other than the one, the still and only, Big Boy Pete Miller.  

Why, armed with little more than his twin-tone green ’61 Gretsch guitar – name of Henry, btw – and a clutch of equally vintage recording equipment (including a Goobly Box and genuine Humbert Humbert by way of very special effects, I kid you not) Pete has, since 1959 and counting, been in dozens of bands (the so-aptly-named Offbeats, Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers, The Fuzz, even Buzz), toured everywhere with everyone (Beatles, Stones, Kinks et al all round Swinging Sixties England, not to mention the wilds of the Orient – with his trademark electric wah-wah sitar — during no less than the Vietnam quagmire), composed beyond-numerous neat numbers for Freddie and the Dreamers, Damned, and the (original) Knack, and most notably of all as it turns out churned out literally thousands of recordings in studios worldwide these past four-plus decades with, for and/or alongside the likes of Marty Wilde, Peter Frampton’s Herd, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Murray the K, Arlo Guthrie, Elvin Bishop, The Avengers, Tuxedomoon, Roy Loney, Marshall Crenshaw, Johnny and the Potato Chips, and even our good buds The Squires Of The Subterrain, very roughly chronologically speaking indeed.

And now!  The good folk over there at Angel Air Records (“Where the Artist Has a Voice”) have gone and collected a dozen of some of Pete’s prime early-Seventies San Francisco productions neatly together right here upon one perfectly titled The Perennial Enigma CD.

Thrill, as I repeatedly have already, to The Great Joe Meek / Marc Bolan Tape that Got Away (“The Demo”), the absolute biggest hit Dave Edmunds somehow never had (“All Down The Road”), and a mere two-minutes-twenty- five called “Get Up And Dance” which finally fills that socio-musical gap between The Swinging Medallions and your very first Elvis Costello long-player.

Elsewhere, Harry Belafonte makes an extremely wrong turn …straight down into Lee “Scratch” Perry’s sub-basement (“Havana Juana”), “Who Stole My Garden?” asks the kind of musical question even those Bonzo Dogs seemed incapable of, and “Rudy’s In Love” – not to mention “The Prayer” – makes one wonder why in holy heck that Plastic Ono Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album didn’t, or should I say COULDN’T, sound half this coooool ??

Not to fret though:  For while the inimitable Johnny Rhythm may no longer be with us, Big Boy Pete is still sitting tight there in Frisco, safe and stereophonically sound within his esteemed Audio Institute of America, demo-ing up his next several hundred severely-high-fidelity musical marvels.  So until they too begin trickling out upon us Lost Groovers, I’d suggest you grab your own Perennial Enigma toot sweet, awreet?