THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Death's mortgage on their bodies will never transcend music's lien on their souls

I'm stealing a line from Greil Marcus (who can spare one or two from his extensive critical canon) as I reflect on the deaths of a spate of local musicians and music-loving friends who would be my contemporaries, had they not passed prematurely. Namely: Mark Linthicum (aka "Harpo," "Mark Harp," "The King of Peru," et al), Kraig Krixer ("Trixie),  Roger Anderson (The Marble Bar), and most recently, Chris Dennstaedt and DJ/music historian John Rouse. To wit...

"Death's mortgage on their bodies will never transcend music's lien on their souls."- Tom Warner, paraphrasing Marcus (on Dylan, Levon Helm, Buddy Holly, et al.)

Roger Anderson, d. 1986.

Mark "Harp" Linthicum, d. 2004

Kraig Krixer, d. 2011

Chris Dennstaedt, d. 2019

John Rouse, d. 2020

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Tomology: A Tom Top Ten

I'm stealing this idea from Greil Marcus' brilliant "REAL LIFE ROCK TOP TEN" column that he wrote from 1986-2004 for the Village Voice (and later Artforum, Salon, City Pages, Interview and The Believer), wherein the rock critic wryly mused about whatever pop cultural artifacts - books, movies, commercials, overheard conversations - caught his fancy. It's a format widely copied (Matt Groening employed it often at the LA Reader) but rarely equaled. It sure won't face any competition from me, but the format perfectly matches my sporadic, random, attention-deficited mind. See what ya think...


1. "Fifteen Million Merits," - Season 1, Episode 2 of Black Mirror (Netflix).

From Charlie Brooker and Annabelle Jones' Inside Black Mirror: "In a society wallpapered with endless video screens, Bing and his fellow citizens earn 'merits' by riding stationary bikes. When Bing falls for gifted singer Abi, he decides to use his enormous stash of merits to buy her a place on the popular talent show Hot Shot. Horrified by the results, vengeful Bing sets out to rage against the machine."

Though I love this long-running British anthology series, I somehow missed this early episode from 2011 which was written by Charlie Brooker and his wife Konnie Huq; the latter's observation that her technology-obsessed husband would be content to live in a room covered in iPad screens provided the inspiration to comment on our increasingly digital "wall of screens" world of laptops, tablets, cell phones and flat-screen TVs that isolate and insulate us from interacting meaningfully with others. Brooker and Huq further use the X-Factor/American Idol-inspired Hot Shot and its glib celebrity hosts Judge Hope (Rupert Everett, channeling George Michael with an Aussie accent), Judge Charity (Julia Davis) and Judge Wraith (Ashley Thomas) to make the point that people want to be famous, but have no idea what for. The judges award TV shows to winners that come in three non-threatening varieties - vacuous pop entertainment, mean-spirited fat-shaming game shows or porn. (The first two varieties could all get commissioned on Fox TV.) Young Kate Bush lookalike Abi Khan (Jessica Brown Findley, best known as Lady Sybil Crawley on Downton Abbey) hopes for the first, but ends up as a drug-numbed porn Wraith Babe on the last.

Abi gets to sing a wonderful song called "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is" - the 1964 Irma Thomas song written by Jeannie Seely and Randy Newman that was the B-side of her "Time Is On My Side" single - that in her folky rendition reinforced the Kate Bush analogy even more for me. In a world in which the bike-pedaling worker bees are allowed no personal possessions, she makes and secrets away little origami figures, a defiant gesture of free will and creative spirit in a dumbed-down world. But the real revelation of the episode is Daniel Kaluuya as Bing. He'd done some Brit TV shows like Skins and The Fades before this, but it was seeing him in this episode - specifically his defiant Hot Shot speech in which he threatens to cut his throat unless he gets to "rage against the machine" - that convinced Jordan Peele to cast Kaluuya in his critically acclaimed 2017 film Get Out. That Bing himself eventually sells out, is yet another example of how dark and cynical the vision of Black Mirror is.

2.  Shut It! The Music of The Sweeney (Sanctuary Records, 2001)

My wife I and I spent the previous month binge-watching all 53 episodes of The Sweeney (1975-1978) on Britbox and loved its dated, politically incorrect vibe and cockney rhyming slang - the series title itself comes from cockney rhyming slang for the Flying Squad ("Sweeney Todd/Flying Squad"), which was the London Met's Robbery & Violent Crime division. The clothes and hairstyles are hideous and future Inspector Morse star John Thaw looks like he's 50, even though he's only 32 in Season 1! Thaw played Jack Regan and his sidekick was future New Tricks star Dennis Waterman as George Carter, whose sideburns clearly mark him as a Slade fan. The chemistry and witty repartee between John Thaw and Dennis Waterman is amazing and Thaw's unhinged Jack Regan trumps his later incarnation as the erudite Morse in every way. As a DVD Savant critic described the series: "Some points of reference for those who still haven't a clue what the series was about? If you could imagine teaming Bobby Crocker with Ken 'Hutch' Hutchinson, giving them both a couple of extra lessons in Harry Callahan style insubordination/attitude and a spoonful of the kind of political incorrectness that featured in most 70s cop/action features, before flying them out to investigate the events that unfolded in Mike Hodges's Get Carter....you'd be almost on the right track." Or as a book about the series was titled, it's all about Fags, Slags, Blags & Jags.

And while The Sweeney may easily be the most political incorrect mainstream crime series we've ever seen, it is also arguably the greatest UK cop series of all time - and a big part of that is its superb soundtrack. So, to fill the void left after watching the final episode, we moved on to listening to The Sweeney. And our lobes are nicked and we can't quit! Named after Jack Regan's infamous expletive, Shut It! is the first release to commemorate music from the groundbreaking ITV series and includes Harry South's memorable opening and closing themes and Dennis King's equally timeless pilot movie theme, along with funky incidental music from various music libraries, some of which was written especially for the series. But even better than the music are the sound bites taken from various episodes that begin and end most of the 26 tracks, like this typical Regan rant: "I hate this bastard place, it's a bloody holiday camp for thieves and weirdos, all the rubbish. You nail a villain and some ponced up pin stripe Hampstead barrister screws it all up like an old fag packet and pops off for a game of squash and a glass of Madeira. He's taking home 30 grand a year and we can just about afford 10 days in Eastbourne and a second hand car. Nah, it's all bloody wrong, my son." Pure poetry, my son, like a Brit update of Jack Webb's Dragnet soliloquys from across the pond! Now off you go, on your bike, and go buy this platter with gobs of chatter! (To hear even more background music, click on this link: The Sweeney Background Music)

3. Love Sculpture, "Sabre Dance," from Classical Gassers (Ace Records, 2016)

This revved-up take on Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" from Gayaneh Ballet became a Top 5 hit in 1968 for the Cardiff-based blues-rockers - led by guitarist Dave Edmunds, with bassist John David and drummer Rob "Congo" Jones - thanks to catching the ear of DJ fan John Peel. If you ever had any doubt about Edmunds' guitar wizardry, give this one a listen. Classical makeovers were a thing at the time (thanks, Keith Emerson!), and Love Sculpture carried on with the gimmick on their second LP, Forms and Feelings (1970), covering Bizet's "Farandole" and Holst's "Mars" (from The Planets).

4. Les Lionceaux, "SLC Jerk," from Cyclone! Gallic Guitars A-Go-Go 1962-1966 (Ace Records, 2019)

OK, let's get this out of the way: The French CAN parlez le rock 'n' roll, as evidenced throughout this fun Ace Records compilation! Though mainly a vocal group, including many Beatles covers, this raw fuzzed-up rocker finds the Reims-based group sounding like Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds. The French radio show Salut Les Copains featured the Jack Burns composition as its theme song 1965-1966. Les Lionceaux later backed up Memphis Slim and Johnny Halliday before disbanding in 1967.

5. Jon Savage's 1968: The Year the World Burned (Ace Records, 2018).

This double-CD compilation is arguably the best of Jon Savage's comprehensive '60s year-in-review music series for London's Ace Records (for which his earlobes gratefully thank pirate radio), from Martha & the Vandella's Motown opener "Honey Chile" all the way 47 tracks later to the closer, featuring the MC5 anticipating the end of one era and the coming of another with the punk's-a-comin' clarion call, "Kick Out the Jams" (actually an early preview pressing version given away at their raucous Fillmore East show of December 26, 1968 - some of the 500 limited copies were thrown at the group during a stage-storming riot!). Standouts tracks include The First Edition's  fuzz-toned psychedelic ("I tripped on a cloud and fell eight miles high") #5 hit "Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In" (back when Kenny Rogers was cool - no really, it's true!)...

...The Pretty Thing's even better Mellotron- and sitar-flavored psych-popper "Talkin' Bout the Good Times," The Move's poppy "Omnibus," The Creation's Mod drone "How Does It Feel To Feel,"  Apple Records darlings The Grapefruit's baroque popper "Dear Delilah," Mason William's "Classical Gas" (I still remember hearing this on The Smothers Brothers Hour!), Kak's psychedelic weather report "Rain," the Ceyleib People's (LA music vet Mike Deasy backed by an all-star band including the Wrecking Crew's Larry Knechtel, Jim Gordon and Ry Cooder) raga-rock oddity "Changes (Tygstl)," The French Fries' "Danse a la Musique" (a Gallic version of Sly & The Family Stone's "Dance To the Music"!), and Lothar and the Hand People's Devo-esque update of Manfred Mann's '66 musical machination, "Machines"...

The compilation's subtitle title refers to disc 2's opener, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown's "Fire," which, over 50 years later still holds up, as Savage astutely observes, as "an apocalyptic record for inflammatory times." More than the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" or The Beatle's "Revolution," he adds, "'Fire' is THE sound of 1968, the year the world burned."

6. Soul of a Nation: Jazz Is the Teacher, Funk Is the Preacher (Soul Jazz Records)

Another fine release from Soul Jazz Records, this collection compiles samples of "radical jazz, street funk and proto-rap in the era of Black Power" circa 1969-1975. The vibe is equal parts self-respect, righteousness and anger, not surprising given the background; in the space of just a few years, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated, John Coltrane had died, the Vietnam War was raging and people were rioting in the streets. It's all captured here in the diverse soundtracks accompanying these tracks by artists including Art Ensemble of Chicago, Funkadelic, Gil Scott-Heron, Don Cherry, and Gary Bartz and Nu Troop.

Highlights include the Art Ensemble of Chicago's opening "Theme De Yoyo," featuring Fontello Bass ("Rescue Me") spouting Noreen Beasley's surreal lyrics ("Your head is like a yo-yo, your neck is like the string/Your body's like a camebert oozing from its skin") over an irresistable funk-avant-jazz groove, courtesy of saxophonists Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell combined with trumpter Lester Bowie, drummer Don Moye and bassist Malachi Favors; Gil Scott-Heron channeling The Last Poets and Langston Hughes in his sarcastic take on America's Space Program, "Whitey On the Moon"; and poet Sarah Webster Fabio's "boss soul" poetic workout, "Work It Out" (detailing "what it is to be Black in this time and space," and advising "Tighten Up, Hully Gully awhile/Funky Chicken and Shotgun, chile")

7. A THOUSAND CUTS: THE BIZARRE UNDERGROUND WORLD OF COLLECTORS AND DEALERS WHO SAVED THE MOVIES by Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph (University of Mississippi Press, 2016).

Essential reading for all hoarders (and I regrettably count myself as one!) and film lovers (ditto!). Unfortunately, it's also a book about the death of film - not movies, which continue to propulgate digitally, but film. This "candid exploration of one of America's strangest and most quickly vanishing subcultures" - that homogenous community of middle-aged, middle-class, single white guys who collect 16mm and 35mm film prints - details the obsessions of the colorful individuals (including co-author Jeff Joseph - busted by the FBI in 1975 and sent to jail for film piracy - Roddy McDowell, Rock Hudson, the late great Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video, and Al Beardsley, perhaps best known as O. J. Simpson's memorabilia dealer who was involved in O.J.'s infamous and ill-fated Las Vegas arrest). Why do people hoard film prints (or videos, DVDS, books, for that matter)? Many make the argument that they're preservationists, buying prints as a window into a distant past. "Movies are like a time machine," says Hillary Hess, the lone female collector. "You're seeing the preservation of a time and people who no longer exist, or no longer exist in that way." Film's very DNA is subject to decay, thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, yet another example that nothing lasts forever. The title comes from a quote uttered by Mickey McKay, a New York City union projectionist lamenting the death of his livelihood due to the digital technology: "That was horrible, going digital. It's death by a thousand cuts."

8. The Beatoes, "Mad Dog 20/20," live from The Scott and Gary Show.

Because Chris Dennstaedt passed away in December 2019 and my wife Amy and I recently attended a memorial service for him in his adopted home of Philadelphia, here's a remembrance of arguably his greatest tune (along with "I'm Too Ugly for MTV") from New York's cult public access program, The Scott and Gary Show. Chris was a self-effacing musical genius who gave us many great songs in many great bands (Beatoes, Casio Cowboys, Poverty & Spit). Thankfully, he left a musical legacy and memories his friends will never forget. He wasn't supposed to live this long, so we were lucky to have him as long as we did. Still, you get greedy when someone special gives you so much over the years.

9. Manchester: A City United In Music (Ace Records, 2019)

All the usual suspects, the Mancunian Candidates if you will, are on display here  - roll call, please!: The Hollies, Stone Roses, Herman's Hermits, 10cc, Joy Division, New Order, The Fall, Oasis, Buzzcocks - in this two-CD compilation spanning 55 years and 45 songs (and great liner notes) to support Manchester's claim to be Britain's second (if not first) musical city. But it's the fringe players popping up along the edges of the punk, pious and pure baggy beats that put the bomp in this comp for me, namely the primal punk swagger of the Salford Jets ("Who You Looking At?" - "Who you looking at? It'd better not be me!"), the sad sack twee-romanticism of Jilted John ("Going Steady"), the punk poetics of John Cooper Clarke with the Curious Yellows ("Innocence"), and the "pure pop for record store people" of The Freshies ("I'm In Love With the Girl On the Manchester Virgin Megastore Check-out Desk"), the latter's single providing the album's cover photo, which refers to the ever-picky BBC forcing them to change the shout-out from "Virgin Megastore" to "a Certain Manchester Megastore" in order to get airplay because they claimed it was free advertising, even though they were OK with singer Chris Sievey (later to become the musical comedy character "Frank Sidebottom," as portrayed by Michael Fassbender in the 2014 film Frank) name-checking every record label in existence in the final verse. In the bins, you may meet the best people, but at the point of purchase is where you hand over your heart: "She takes money/She gives change/She sells records/And that's special." Thankfully, this is the original recording, BBC be damned! All the evidence is here for Manchester being Music City UK. This case is closed!

The Freshies, "I'm In Love (Etc.)":

Salford Jets, "Who You Looking At":

10. Mute Records: A Visual History, From 1978-Forever, by Daniel Miller and Terry Burrows (Thames & Hudson, 2017).

Mute was the one-man indie created by Daniel Miller to release, as The Normal, his pioneering DIY debut single "Warm Leatherette/T.V.O.D" (MUTE 001, 1978) - one of my most prized possessions! - eventually going on to be one of the most influential electronic-oriented indie labels, with artists ranging from Cabaret Voltaire and Depeche Mode (whose first two singles put Mute on the commercial map) to Moby, Goldfrapp and both Nick Cave's The Birthday Party and his Bad Seeds. One of my favorite Mute singles was actually a re-licensing of "Fred vom Jupiter" - a Kosmonaut beloved by all Earth girls - by Die Doraus & Die Marinas (actually teenage prodigy Andreas Dorau backed by some of his female high school classmates), that in its innocent, kitschy simplicity reminded me of Gong leader Daevid Allen's "Zero the Hero" musical mythology.

As a J. G. Ballard devotee, I naturally loved that his controversial novel Crash inspired "Warm Leatherette," but it was the even more Ballardian vision of technology run amok, "T.V.O.D." ("I don't need a TV screen/I just stick the aerial into my skin/And let the signal run through my veins"), that really captivated me. This visual history has great artwork, as well as details about the making of the label's extensive back catalog, like Miller recalling that he printed the address of his mom's house in Decoy Avenue, in northwest London, on all of the early Mute releases. "For years afterward, my mum had Depeche Mode fans turning up on her doorstep. She loved it!"