Late autumn of 10th grade (1988-89), I was submerged in all things 1965-69. Mostly, things that involved fuzzed out guitars and cool haircuts. Thus, I didn't know much in the way of the Beach Boys, but kept coming across things in books and magazines about the amazing Pet Sounds and the mysterious Smile saga. But where to seek these things out? No one I knew liked The Beach Boys. I was a little embarrassed to check stuff out of the library.
Oh wait, there was that one kid who seemed to love only oldies and especially The Beach Boys. Maybe I'll ask him. Yikes. I never really talked to him before. But this was important.
Indeed! He had Pet Sounds. He lent it to me, and on a cold and desolate suburban adolescent night, I suddenly had a good reason to not do any homework. Huh. Jeeze. This was incomparable to anything I was listening to. More sophisticated, and yet not "up its own arse". It was sad and beautiful. It didn't leave my tape deck for weeks.
I told my sister about it, and that Christmas, she gave me this excellent book:
Ho. Lee. Cow. Really? Really! So, so, SO much information. (Bummer alert: this is another book I lost in a fire, and now it's like $150 at Amazon. GRRR!!!!) All in 'zine copy-machine style. Old articles, interviews, new pieces and interviews, amazing photos...all documenting, in real time, the story of Smile. I had to hear it. I asked the same kid, and lo and behold, he had a smile bootleg. Pretty bad quality, but I got the picture (I have very awesome memories of bootleg listening back then. The warbly cassettes I'd buy at record shops made things seem more mythical. I remember a live Traffic concert tape from '67 that made them sound literally like they were elves playing atop a mushroomy misty mountain. Anyway...)
I then rented The Beach Boys: An American Band and learned a few things:
--That emulating the young Dennis Wilson's drumming--the spirit, not the technique--would be a good idea.
--That I would wear an orange turtle neck and white cords with pride. And I did. The jocks sneered. Victory.
--That there was a lot more to learn about The Beach Boys.
--That there was a lot I didn't need to hear.
--That the more wholesome the band tried to come across, the more disturbing they seemed.
Also, my sister and I liked to laugh and imitate Brian Wilson circa '76. laying in bed talking about Phil Spector. "Phil Spector. Whoo!" And also how he says "When I took the LSD..." (in that sort of way people use to imitate a square. "Don't try the pot, kids!" But Brian's not trying to be funny. Or maybe he is?).
But mostly, I watched the same 30 or so minutes over and over. Pet Sounds to Smile. And especially the "Surf's Up" clip. Now, I've never been a big fan of piano-driven pop, especially when there's no drums. But this wasn't pop. This was....indescribable.
Watch for yourself:
Some time later that year, I wrote one of my first ever songs and ripped off the phrasing from the first part of "Surf's Up", and threw in a reference to the Grand Coulee Dam (from "Cabin Essence"). I didn't know how to play piano or write songs or even sing, really (I was a drummer and lyricist only). So of course, I base my first ever song on "Surf's Up" (??). I guess I was looking for an excuse to fail right off the bat. My songwriting partner tidied it up a bit, while not knowing the Beach Boys influence.
So, Ok...fast forward to 2004. I'd made a lot of music, I'd made a lot of Beach Boys fan friends, most of whom are musicians. I'd heard a lot of good Smile clone jobs: Dukes of Stratosphear, Apples in Stereo, High Llamas, etc etc. Though most just make me want to go back to the real thing. Then the real thing--Brian Wilson-- announced that he was going to re-record and release Smile with his back up band, The Wondermints. This was cool, and I bought it and dug it. But...
It was not a listening experience that I wanted to return to. When you know Smile as done by angelic voiced 20-somethings at the top of their game, it was a little disconcerting hearing 60-something Brian, his voice long ago ravaged by waaay too many cigarettes and waaay too much cocaine, as well as 40 years having passed, singing those same words.
Again, it just made me want to go back to the original.
So thank god, and thank you Brian and Al and--am I really saying this?--Thank You Mike Love for getting over all the squabbles and hang ups and scars and lies and insults and allowing the real SMiLE Sessions (because it truly never was finished) to be remastered and released.
I bought the 2 CD set, because, well, I think that's enough for now. And it is a lot. And it is all amazing. It arrived yesterday.
I'm wearing the pin today.
I'll start this review by discussing two reviews I recently read: The London Guardian likened Smile to "...a psychedelic experience Hendrix wouldn't understand, but Don Draper might." You may know Don Draper as the protagonist of the excellent television program, Mad Men, about the Manhattan advertising big shots around 1960. The review also mentions that Brian sounds "terrified" when he asks the other Beach Boys "you guys feeling any acid yet?" in the middle of the "Our Prayer" rehearsals (he doesn't mention that Carl replies "I feel great".) The review is overall favorable, and acknowledges that Brian Wilson was "way ahead of everyone else".
But to those two excerpts, I will reply: The world today shows that Don Draper and co won the revolution. They bought Hendrix's (and Marley/Morrison/James Dean etc) image and put it everywhere. They don't really mean much. Don't believe me? Look at the t shirts at Target. See how many Hendrix or Lennon YouTube comments you can read before someone's calling someone else a "faggot" or spreading Christian propaganda. Right. You've really learned from listening to these artists. It's safer being a Don Draper because it's easier to be subversive and not attract attention. They watch the artists walking on the edge, and if they fall, they buy their legacy. Thus, a midwest football team owner plays one of Jerry Garcia's guitars with his buddies on weekends because he could afford to buy it on auction. It's sick, but it's how it is. (Wow, did I just lay down and admit defeat? No. I'm still on the artist's side. How could I not be?).
Anyway, I think SMiLE exists neither in Hendrix or Don Draper land. (If you want Don Draper, listen to the Capitol Records industry ad hidden track!) In fact, it represents a world that existed in the combined young, twisted minds of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks. Van Dyke wrote amazing lyrics that conjure so many images, so many worlds, at once. Brian's music and, most of all, his vocal and instrumental arrangements dress these lyrics in the most unique, innovative, multi-multi-multifaceted music that represents someone thinking 1000 ideas per minute and actually able to get a good percentage of them across to his bandmates and the session players. (Listen to "Smile Backing Vocal Montage" and you will hear more ideas in these snippets than most people have in a career. More about that later).
These music and lyrics together are like an altered state where your senses are all firing at once and you're hearing and thinking the most amazing otherworldly ideas--but only if you have the wits to somehow get them down on paper or tape, they're lost forever. Brian and Van Dyke were thinking and hearing these things while in the studio, and luckily had the musical and vocal support to bring them to life.
And, back to the Guardian review: I don't think Brian sounds "terrified" when asking about the acid. He's in the middle of arranging the miraculous "Our Prayer" with the Beach Boys, teaching them which harmonies to sing. He sounds calm, together, in his element. They pretty much all do. Only when Mike Love briefly turns one of Brian's instructions into a cheesy song is the calm disturbed. You can feel everyone cringe. The mellow officially harshed. Right after that, Brian says "You have any more of those hash joints, Danny? I know you do" (Danny Hutton, later of Three Dog Night, who ran with Brian's posse). Acid, hash...So, Brian was maybe a little preoccupied by drugs.
But more importantly, those few seconds--Mike trying to lighten the mood by reminding the guys of surf-pop and Brian asking for more hash--pretty much tell the Beach Boys tale for the next decade or two. See what I'm getting at?
The other review comes from the Los Angeles Times, which gives the Smile Sessions 2.5 stars and says that the collection lacks "...the flair for pop economy that helped turn the Beach Boys into icons. (Wilson) more skillfully balanced inspiration and aspiration elsewhere.".
In the words of Mark E. Smith: Hey there, Fuckface.
Yes, and Sgt Pepper didn't sound like With the Beatles. Missing the point just a tiny bit, aren't we?
I wonder if the writer listened to what I found to be the most amazing listening experience of all (and believe me, it was all an amazing listening experience. Do it on headphones. Yes. Do.)
The track is called "Smile Backing Vocals Montage" and was compiled just for this collection. I won't be able to do it justice with words, but suffice to say (I think these are all in it. My head's still sort of swirling from all this new info):
1) it gave me new found respect for the other Beach Boys--they are giving it their all, and many of these arrangements are worlds away from anything anyone had ever dreamed up. Brian took them into his warp-speed carnival of a mind and they did exactly what they were told.
2) Brian's vocal ideas are just...just...holy crap. Ok, an example: Laughing down a satanic-sounding scale in 4 part harmony (Vegetables). Umm..I'm at a loss. That is just mad genius. I can't list it all. You need to listen and discover. But I'll throw this other one in..
3) In "Wonderful", I always thought that there was some kind of brass--trombone perhaps-- doing the counter-melody in the later verse ("farther down the path was a mystery.."), but it's MIKE LOVE! Now there was a non-annoying use for his voice. Who knew?
If there's one (one) one (one) (sorry) piece on Disc One (the tracks slated for the SMiLE LP) that I'd say is a bit much, it'd be "Look (Song For Children)". I dunno, I just don't love it.
THINGS TO LISTEN FOR ON DISC ONE or If there's a heaven, I would like to have a loop of the following playing, because I just think that they are among the most beautiful and engaging pieces of music ever recorded:
1) 4:18-4:30 of "Heroes and Villains". God, do I love those 12 seconds and wish they went on for 7 hours.
2) The first several seconds of "Barnyard". A rare instance of a guitar as lead instrument. Cool-ass tone.
3) The cello intro and final 50 seconds of "You Are My Sunshine" (this is not a diss to Dennis, who sings the rest of it)
4) "have you seen the Grand Coulee" bridge of "Cabin Essence".
5) Every damn second of "Wonderful" and "Surf's Up". The whispered refrains on "Surf's Up"? I never heard that before! How did they find things to make that sound even better?
6) I love "Holidays". It's 50's-early 60's Los Angeles to a tee. Not that I was there. But I'm real glad not to hear the "new" vocals on it that the 2004 Smile had. That was kind of lame.
7) The last minute of "Wind Chimes". Actually, no. All of it.
So, bonus stuff...and yes, I'm sure I'll be searching for someone who got the whole box once I officially want more. But for now, I gots plenty to chew on. Some observations:
1) session bassist extraordinaire Carole Kaye seems like a real cut up in the studio chatter. Brian even has to tell her to settle down. At some point there seems to be some "blue humor" in which "fingering" has more than a musical meaning. Me, I have no idea what they're on about. But I guess if you're "one of the guys" you gotta adapt.
2) I have always loved "He Gives Speeches", ever since my friend Tony Westcott gave me a Smile bootleg 10 years ago. And it's way better than the dumb song it evolved into ("She's Going Bald").
3) As my friend and fellow rock blogger at Born To Rock and Roll wrote to me, "Surfs Up '67 might take the cake.". He might be right. It's a solo piano version, crystal clear and heart wrenching and life affirming, and 100% perfect. In every goddamn way. If you just download one track, download this. It will shut up anyone who just doesn't get the fuss. That is, if they have a heart. If I was Brian, and I was told that this was just "ego freakout music", I'd have a nervous breakdown too. Oh, Mike Love, I'm sorry I went and wrote one of the most miraculous songs ever in the history of music. I'll get right down to writing "Do It Again" next week. Happy?
4) Heroes and Villains- The "Children Were Raised" is the band getting the insane "bom bom bom" bits just right. And again, you gotta doff your cap. Or raise the white flag. Or roll out the red carpet. Or roll a hash joint for Brian. "Part Two" taught me that Al Jardine sings one of the most distinctive parts. I must say, I often have a hard time telling when Al is singing lead. His voice has elements of all the guys. Except Dennis. You can always tell Dennis.
5) "Cabin Essence" without vocals stands as a breathtaking and modern/avant garde piece of music. I want to listen to it again and again. I want it played on every PA of every show I go to. And every waiting room I wait in. And in Stop and Shop.
6) I'll stop here: the "Vegetables" and "Fire" sessions--and the others--show Brian telling the Wrecking Crew (session musicians) exactly what to play and how to play it. "Don't play the high D", "Don't hit the cymbals that hard" etc. Every last detail. I remember in the "American Band" video, Carl, in a 70's clip where he's wearing a sun visor on the beach, recalls Brian's ability to hear one note or sound that he didn't like when 25 people were playing at the same time. Carl seems either jealous or sad. Or both.
And that was that. Because this super baby was never born, because some of its uncles (ahem, Mike Love) hated and cursed the baby while it was still in utero, because Brian was a sensitive artist who retreated and masked his heartbreak with drugs instead of telling Mike to fuck right off, Brian agreed to abort it. He never regained this kind of control. He never even wanted to have it again. This is all starting to make sense. There is so much damn guilt and shame attached to this project. The boys went along with Brian for a while. Apparently they even abandoned the clean image and shared his drugs to see what it was all about. Then something snapped and suddenly it was "cut the shit, Brian. This is garbage. We need hits." Poor Brian spent the next 35 years, convinced that they were right. "Smile was me on drugs. It's ugly music. It's inappropriate. It shoudn't be heard". And the Boys were all "poor Brian, what happened?". YOU are what happened. If they had allowed Smile to be released, and Brian's ego and psyche wasn't stomped on, who knows? With this release, he's getting the last laugh. Justice is served, a bit too late to save the world, but enough to hopefully blow a few thousand minds, old and young.
Well, well. It's Kinks season. Greys and yellows and leaves gathering on the ground. Tea and sweaters and darker beers. The mindless idealism of summer giving way to a firmer grip on reality. The body and mind slow down just enough. This is the time that poetic realists like Ray Davies, Lou Reed, Paul Simon and others come in handy if the chill is getting you down. They will keep it real and yet whimsical in a way that doesn't mean losing one's grip on every day things. (Granted, this season also goes great with the trippiest of the trippy: Syd Barrett, Incredible String Band, and anything from 1966. In fact, in my mind, 1966=autumn. That's just from a guy who wasn't born yet.)
It's also getting to be, for me anyway, Beach Boys season. I got into the Beach Boys via Pet Sounds and Smiley Smile and Sunflower during my 16th autumn/winter. No cars, bikinis or surfboards on these songs. Instead, a somewhat...no, quite bizarre outlook on things, which really just mirrored the strange reality that The Beach Boys knew.
You know what might be the coolest thing about Jim Morrison? In his official Elektra Records Bio, filled out in 1966 just before the first Doors album was released, he lists his favorite bands as The Beach Boys, The Kinks and Love. Now that is quite cool. He wasn't going to take the easy route of The Beatles/Stones/Animals/Dylan. In 1966, Love was, as we all know, the Coolest Band In California, by far. And probably tied for Coolest Band in the USA (hard to beat the Velvet Underground).
The Beach Boys and The Kinks? In 1966, both were at very interesting points in their respective careers.
They had both spent 1964-5 charting huge hit singles and albums, which insured that their faces would be all over the teen magazines and on TV shows, and that their gigs world wide would be filled with screaming girls.
They both had siblings in the band, with one (Ray Davies in the Kinks, Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys) handling the lion's share of writing.
Both Ray and Brian were sensitive, thoughtful types who were evolving into young, eccentric geniuses (more on that word later) more and more with every single.
Brian suffered his first nervous breakdown on tour in 1964, and gave up touring--though would do the odd concert with the Boys for the next couple years. Instead, he stayed home and wrote and recorded material that was many levels above the average pop fare. That he tempted fate and added copious amounts of drugs to his already fragile psyche made for an interesting and world-changing catalog of songs for about two years, but this was followed by a long and sad decline.
Ray Davies, following his muse while the accountants, lawyers, family and pop scene were barking orders, also suffered a nervous breakdown, and stayed home for for a period in early 1966. Luckily, as far as I know, he didn't dabble with substances that would have possibly turned him into another young casualty. Instead of a steady decline, Davies began a period of creative and emotional ups and downs that pretty much have lasted his whole career. But the English realist/fighter in him has never completely let others take over his image and thoughts, like Brian Wilson let happen.
So, 1966. Imagine a bridge with a few different types of young folks standing a few feet from its entrance. You have:
1) those who idolized and screamed at The Beatles 2) folkies who worship every word written by Dylan. 3) the slightly "looser" youth, Stones fans, who were not scared of Mick and Keith and Brian.
Now, this bridge is a bridge to psychedelic adventure, to mind expansion, to "the future" and to a music scene which was going to start changing incredibly fast every 6 months.
What do you do? Are you on the bus or off the bus?
--Some kids went for it. They were ready to go wherever the musical visionaries were going to take them.
--Some Beatles fans decided the Beatles were getting too weird and so got off the bus and maybe got into The Monkees (who themselves were getting weirder by the month--thus, my case for The Monkees being the most subversive act of the 60's.)
--Some Dylan fans wondered: Why the big hair and mod suit and yellow skin and slurred singing and inability to tune an electric guitar and "war" and "poor" becoming "rain" and "pain"? They soon wouldn't have to worry, but these folk purists ditched Dylan and anything with an electric guitar. Maybe they found Leonard Cohen or Pentangle. Maybe they found Donovan (see: Beatles fans turning to the Monkees). Maybe they went back to Woody Guthrie.
--Some Stones fans thought: I can't get down and dirty to "Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In the Shadows", and turned to John Mayall or something.
Watching all this were the few and proud who knew that their boys in The Kinks and Beach Boys weren't about to play this game. They were confident enough in THE POWER OF SONG, REGARDLESS OF FASHION to be second guessing the future.
It's hard to find people who stuck with The Beach Boys and The Kinks through thick and thin, through the psychedelic maelstrom that left each band struggling to sell a fraction of the records they were selling two years previous. In 1967-69, The Beach Boys and The Kinks released SO MUCH good music that was regarded as CRIMINALLY UNHIP.
"Hip", in a lot of cases, meant "LIMITED SHELF LIFE" and "UNLISTENABLE".
"Unhip", apparently meant "DESTINED TO BE INFLUENTIAL FOR AT LEAST A HALF CENTURY".
Because, you see: Vanilla Fudge and Canned Heat and Jefferson Airplane were hip.
WHO HAS BEEN INFLUENCED BY ANY OF THOSE BANDS IN THE LAST 35 YEARS?
No one worth while that I can think of.
Whereas, WHO HASN'T BEEN INFLUENCED by PetSoundsSmileVillageGreenWaterlooSunset? Almost no one I know. That's my tiny twee sheltered pop world view. But it's the view I like.
I won't say that the psychedelic/hippie thing totally passed by The Kinks and The Beach Boys.
See for yourself (each band in 1970):
However, by 1970, even some politicians and high school principals and weathermen and baseball players were sporting hair longer than The Beatles in 1964.
Now, there are certain parallels between The Kinks and Beach Boys, but they are more coincidence than pertinent element. But let's go through and sort them out.
The Kinks had Ray and Dave Davies;
The Beach Boys had Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson.
In each case, THE MAIN SONGWRITING BROTHER (Ray Davies, Brian Wilson)=MENTALLY ILL=GENIUS=UNCARING OF MUSICAL TRENDS=ENDLESSLY INFLUENTIAL.
Yes, I use the term "genius" haphazardly. It's subjective, highly abused, and not a scientifically proven term. However, it's a safe bet that these two are something approaching "genius". You can't write "Surf's Up", "Busy Doin' Nothin'" and "Til I Die" and NOT be a "genius". Nor can you write "Waterloo Sunset", "Animal Farm" and "Shangri-La"...
I use "mentally ill" not disparagingly, but as a matter of fact. Brian Wilson is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and manic depressive. Ray Davies is bipolar. Like many many artist/creative types, this is what set them apart and made them appear to so unselfconsciously marching to their own drum.
Too, they both looked to the old greats--their parents' music--for inspiration. Porter, Gershwin, Sinatra etc. Not exactly controversial, edgy stuff. But neither of them were interested in being on the front lines of youth rebellion. Can you imagine Ray or Brian shouting "We Want the World and We Want It Now!" or "Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!" More like "I want a comfy chair and I want it soon!"
Where they differ is in the areas of self control. Ray Davies is a master at it, and is often portrayed as a neurotically selfish, controlling cunt by his brother Dave (I can use that word when paraphrasing Dave Davies, can't I?). Thus, Ray often reminded everyone that he was the leader of The Kinks. He was the songwriter, singer, arranger, genius, face and voice. He begrudgingly let little brother Dave have a song or two per album, and sometimes mixed the songs behind Dave's back so as to not appear to be as attractive as the other 11 Ray-penned songs on the album. Dave fought back for a while, but as the years went on, he decided to give up and let Ray wage his war with an imagined enemy.
Sure Dave's songs are sometimes the "skip over" song on Kinks albums, but really, one can't deny "Death Of A Clown", "Strangers", "This Man He Weeps Tonight"...
Dave was the party guy. He lived the 60's-70's rock life that Ray never did (or was ever cut out for). In his book KINK, Dave relates having vomited on a groupie's head while she was giving him head.
Now that kind of wins the gold medal for rock lore. He also talks about how too much acid led him to a strange breakdown which led to a long fascination with searching for evidence of extra terrestrials and a whole New Age way of thinking.
Ray, beyond booze and his pills for depression, was not a drug experimenter or a believer in the unknown. He liked his control and didn't want to compromise it. He was a young husband and father who liked being at home and celebrating old British traditions ("roast beef on Sunday's alright!")
With this need for groundedness, he's enjoyed a fairly consistent output of songs for the last 40 years, has always appeared to be a suave, intellectual, slightly eccentric rocker--with only one real public meltdown--but you'd break down too if your wife and kids left you on the eve of a big festival show.
Then again, there's always been a strange facade to Ray Davies that is much more indicative of a writer than a rocker. Only the best writers can make you believe that their life is one way, when really that's just the characters they create. With Ray, it's hard to tell. Sort of like Woody Allen saying "no, I'm not the neurotic, sex crazed, therapy junkie that appear in most of my movies. But I'm very comfortable writing from that point of view". Some would say otherwise. At that point, the casual fan just says "screw it. I like his work and I'm glad he has shared his gift with the world and enriched so many lives and really I don't care if he's really popping Xanax every half hour as he gets into another fight with an ex". (how did we get onto Woody Allen? oh right. neurotic geniuses.)
So, Brian and his brothers. Not so clear cut. Not at all.
Whereas many people will describe Ray Davies as a control freak with a severe lack of compassion for those who have cared for him--except when it's convenient--, it's safe to say that Brian Wilson has let his LACK of control and INABILITY to control his surroundings be his downfall. Thus, his mental illness completely consumed him. Also, he was surrounded by so many people who wanted a piece of his genius, that he just lay down and led the feeding frenzy begin until he emerged a non-productive, obese, shell-shocked, raspy voiced, multi-viced man who bore no resemblance to the guy who could write no wrong from 1962-68.
This has probably been said before: but couldn't one argue that the cocktails of legally prescribed meds that Brian was given in the 80's were what turned him into the somewhat zombified person we see today? I mean, in the Brian Is Back days, sure he was big and raspy and it must have been shocking for those who expected the angelic voice, but also he seemed human. Right? I mean, watch this:
He's got comedic timing, seems confident..much more human than he's seemed since the mid 80's.
I'm not sure what the preliminary stages of his "comeback" were, but in 1976, there wasn't so many psychiatric pills that no one knew exactly what they'd do after a year or two. I know he was running, eating healthier and, as he told Mike Douglas, when asked "are you off drugs?", responded "well...I'm off cocaine". I believe Dr. Landy, before going WAY overboard with chemical cocktails, allowed Brian to have a hit of weed once in a while. But whatever.
Perhaps it was LSD. Ray Davies knew his mind enough to know that acid would be a huge challenge to his delicate mental state. Brian Wilson was ready to try anything, any time. In 1976, he did sum it up nicely (paraphrase): "Everything I'd ever be or not be, I came to grips with and learned to face (on LSD)". People have described Brian as a big child, not at all intellectual. He wouldn't read books but rather take a few sentences of some pop-psychology theory he heard and rave about it for hours. Then drop it forever instead of attempting to investigate and learn more. Like a child hearing something an adult says and then repeating it over and over without even knowing what it means.
So, lack of control, lack of self-knowledge...that's the big difference between Brian and Ray.
But what did Brian Wilson have that Ray did not? Unconditional love from his brothers. You never hear of Carl punching out Brian or Brian kicking Dennis in the crotch on stage. All you hear about with Ray and Dave is fighting, bickering, swearing, things breaking...
Brian, Carl and Dennis loved each other and never said anything but the nicest, most complimentary and supportive things about each other, through thick and thin. Probably because they all endured their horrible father's mental and physical abuse together and had an understanding that it messed them all up in various ways.
Now, the other Wilsons...
If we had to stick to this model, I suppose both Dennis and Carl had elements of Dave Davies--just in turns, at different points in their lives. Carl was the lead guitarist, but that's about the strongest point for his case. Oh, and in 1970 he started looking like a total hippie for a couple years.
But Dennis was always the ladies' man, like Dave. He was also the total party animal and was up for whatever, whenever with whoever (including Charles Manson). He also wrote some songs that, in low doses are absolute life-affirming treats (like Dave Davies, Dennis Wilson could come up with one or two absolute gems for a band album, but couldn't really sustain it for a solo album. Yes, I'm saying I don't think Pacific Ocean Blue is as good as everyone says. Not one of the songs is as good as "Be With Me", "Little Bird" or "It's About Time").
I'm getting very off subject, I think. I started this entry 2 weeks ago, got totally hung up and returned about 6 paragraphs ago. What, indeed, was my point?
So during the period in question (1967-72), both bands saw their popularity fall drastically and then build back up as people realized "Jesus...I'd MUCH rather hear what Ray Davies has to say than Jim Morrison. And The Beach Boys sing harmony much better than The Airplane" (though Mike Love was and is and always will be, a CREEPY GUY).
Unfortunately, it was the BEST of the best that saw the absolute nadir (chart and sales and "hipness"-wise) of both bands. Something Else By The Kinks, Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur sold poorly. As did Wild Honey, Friends, 20/20 and Sunflower.
These albums also coincided, more or less, with each band not really touring as they once had. The Kinks were playing dinner theaters in 1968 and had been banned from playing the US in 1966 (a mysterious union disagreement). The Beach Boys were touring France and Czechoslovakia and the Southeastern US.
Their saving grace came from a select few underground rock journalists who never gave up on the music, could see most psychedelia and heavy rock for the one-dimensional thing that it was, and incessantly raved about each new Kinks and Beach Boys release. Eventually, some readers caught on. By late 1969-70, both bands were hitting the road again, and reacquainting themselves with "the new rock audience". They don't scream. They listen, they dance free form, they smoke pot, they watch light shows, they don't mind if you tune...and they want you to "put out", as some would say.
Each band was...not terribly equipped to the task. They were the old dogs learning new tricks. Of course, The Stones and The Who and John Lennon could pull it off because they could always rely on attitude.
You could check this out, if you like to download bootlegs: The Kinks Live At The Fillmore West, November 1969
What you'll hear is The Kinks trying to be "Heavy, man". Ray is shouting too much. Dave's guitar is PIERCING and they attempt to "jam" a few times. Now I know not everyone likes Jerry Garcia's guitar style, but if you take a 3 minute Dave Davies solo vs a 3 minute Garcia solo from November 1969, it's sort of like hearing a 4th grader tell a story, and then a professional writer tell the same story.
Don't get mad: I'll turn the tables.
Dave Davies could come up with the most exciting 12-second solo in his sleep. His best solos are a kick in the arse. A dose of adrenalin.
Jerry often stumbles a while before getting in the zone. It's rare to hear a blast of sheer adolescent "in and out" playing from Garcia that Davies excels at. Jerry gives you the foreplay, sets the mood, etc.. What? Jesus Christ. Now I'm getting sick. But really, it's an apt metaphor. Check out that show.
Did you think I brought up Garcia for absolutely no reason? No. Because....
The best example of The Beach Boys on the hippie rock stage comes from a show they did in 1971 at the Fillmore East with....The Grateful Dead.
How is it? Much has been written, so I'll be brief.
The Dead are in their second home--NYC. It's their crowd. Bob Dylan was watching. The Beach Boys were in the midst of a come back. Unfortunately, they also did awkward things to try to appear "with it" and it's just not flattering. Whereas the Dead wouldn't bat an eye at some nude dancing happening on stage, or being dosed by surprised, and pretty much react to any adversity with "hey man, be cool", The Beach Boys are kind of painfully nerdy.
On one hand, there's Bruce Johnston (pretty sure), who seems very uncomfortable and out of place. He keeps apologizing for even being there. Apologizes for tuning. Apologizes that The Dead aren't playing. Then he says (in his squarest delivery) "We're grateful there's something called the Grateful Dead, because (voice rising dramatically) THEY'RE ALRIGHT! (then forced "do I sound stoned?" laughter) Yeaahhhhaaalright".
Then there's Mike Love, who, during the "gotta keep those love good vibrations happenin'..." part, rambles a story in his "mellow guy" delivery about being "all stoned and drunk" hanging out with Buffalo Springfield. What? FOR CHRIST SAKE, MIKE. THEY BROKE UP IN 1968!
Plus, we don't want Mike's obnoxious piercing fake theramin during "Riot in Cell Block 9".
But I'm gonna stop being down on this gig. Because Bruce Johnston, scared nerd, pooping his pants at all these hippies around him, meekly asks the audience "how about a car song?". Which is just fucking hilarious. And then The Beach Boys do "I Get Around" and it RUUUUULES!!!!!! And that's the best part of the show.
The other highlights come from the collaboration of the two bands. Both bands sound like they're having a blast on "Searchin'". Pig Pen and Carl Wilson (or Al Jardine...can't tell) duet. What is with this song and strange combos? I also have a version of Doug Sahm, Leon Russell and Jerry Garcia doing it. A good mindless jam, I guess.
Then there's a version of just The Beach Boys with Jerry Garcia doing "Help me Rhonda". The Beach Boys decided to do it "as if it was a new song" and play it "Dead Shuffle"-like (think "Deal" or "Truckin"). Jerry follows along OK, but takes a bit to grasp the Brian Wilson twists in the verse chords.
The finale is also good. Both bands doing "Johnny B Goode". Carl Wilson (I think?) and Bob Weir singing in unison on the verses. Jerry takes the solo, and he could always pull out some good Chuck Berry licks in those days.
And there's this!
If you wanna hear the whole show, I recommend THIS LINK. You gotta get past the first 3/4 (just Dead) of the show. The collaboration starts with "Searchin'" and goes to the end. Unless, of course, you want the whole Dead show. But I don't think it's anything spectacular.
So....here's the real real payoff.
A playlist. On Spotify. 80 songs of soul cleansing, beautiful, under appreciated in its day....
Ladies and Gentleman, The Beach Boys and The Kinks in their Golden Age. Dig.
The author at Age 10, Carl Thomas Memorial Field, Noth Andover, MA. Spring 1983.
Finally, nostalgia for something I actually experienced! (well, the Pixies/Sonic Youth tribute was in my lifetime too...but that's adolescence. What follows here is safe, snug childhood)
This post had to happen sometime, so it may as well be now.
If you were lucky, you had an age that you look back upon when everything seemed perfect. The world made sense, and what didn't make sense filled you with wonder. You felt safe and secure, and yet were perhaps experiencing your first taste of independence.
For me, that's 1983. For 11 months of 1983, I was 10 years old. I was in fourth grade, and just learning to like living in New England, after not really enjoying my first year (we'd moved from California in 1981).
I played in the North Andover Youth baseball League (Little League, for all intents and purposes) and was drafted in the first round. I was sooo psyched when the coach called to tell the news.
In any case, I never really thought much about 1983 until a few years ago, driving to the Cape for a gig with, I believe, The Aloha Steamtrain. I had a complete flashback to driving to the Cape with my parents and sister, and was compelled to yell out the window, "SUMMAH '83!!!!" which then sort of became the band's rally cry for the rest of the weekend. And has become a phrase that occasionally rears its head. It signifies the ultimate in freedom and happiness. You kinda need to be able to understand the significance of the eastern Massachusetts accent. I.E. "Summah".
So, let me pay tribute to that magical summer of sitting in the back seat of the LeBaron, hearing these songs, watching the people in passing cars and wondering what being a grown up was gonna be like.
Little did I know being a grown up would be all about reminiscing about childhood.
Here, cats and kitties, is a selection of my favorite songs from that magical time, when Ronald Reagan was every child's creepy grandpa and the Red Sox were always in 4th place.
TACO-Puttin' On the Ritz
Shannon-Let The Music Play
The Human League-(Keep Feeling) Fascination
The Pointer Sisters-Automatic
Men Without Hats-Safety Dance
Eddy Grant-Electric Avenue
Come Dancing-The Kinks (my Mom thought this song was "cute". My sister Alyssa explained to me that this was by an old band who also wrote "Lola" and "You Really Got Me". I felt educated and intrigued....)
Thomas Dolby-She Blinded Me With Science
DeBarge (YES!) All This Love (why can't I find the original video?)
And that's about the ride home from Salisbury Beach back to North Andover.
Hope it rocked your tubesocks.
"What's this, The Bee Gees? The Band?"
No, it's John Cale from his solo debut.
"What's this, Steely Dan? The Dead?"
No, it's Lou Reed from his solo debut.
At the time of releasing their debut solo albums, neither Lou Reed or John Cale were the cult figures they would become. They, in fact, were largely unknown by the record buying public, and thus, didn't take too many artistic chances on these albums--they were only trying to fit into the current rock music fabric.
Back to two of my favorite themes: Alternate History and Level Playing Fields.
These are the two manipulative (THOUGH FACT-BASED) devices I like to employ not only to keep things interesting (for me at least), but also confuse the reader into seeing my way.
These are the things I use to convince you that Mike Nesmith and Jerry Garcia traveled parallel roads, but just never met up. Or that The Velvet Underground were as much of a jam band as the Grateful Dead were a noise band. Again, I produce all the facts. I'm not saying "Donnie Osmond was a junkie".
I'm not lying to you, or deceiving you. I'm just trying to reprogram the conventional wisdom that was set in stone by "the winners (or Wenners) in the world".
Here are some fuel for what keeps me going:
--While Jann Wenner is single handedly keeping The Monkees out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (though, really, who gives a fuck about that sham of a museum?), his one time cohort, Ben Fong Torres gave Michael Nesmith's work plenty of positive praise.
--While many a Lester Bangs fan may be able to quote some anti-Dead rant, they know not of his having written the words "In spite of everything, and I can hardly believe it myself, I am a Grateful Dead fan" (his review of Grateful Dead aka Skullfuck aka Skull and Roses. 1971)
--Because SPIN Magazine's Record Guide gives XTC's catalog pretty much a raw deal beginning to end, there is a sizable percentage of young music fans out there that will never give them a chance--or if they do hear them, they'll have a shitty pre-conceived notion. Whereas they'll pretend to love The Fall, even if they secretly can't stand them, and will never admit this until they're laying naked with a lover at 4:30 am after also admitting that they are frightened of H&M dressing rooms.
So....level playing field, alternate reality....imagine that David Bowie quit show business after the limp success of his "heavy hippie" album, The Man Who Sold The World. And that was that. He'd be remembered for some campy singles ("The Laughing Gnome" etc) and two innovative (and totally awesome), psychedelic rock records which were largely unheard outside Europe.
No re-inventing Lou Reed. No record-buying public rediscovering The Velvet Underground. No Glam Rock Revolution. No Stooges after two albums. No Eno, Roxy Music, T Rex (in his post hippie guise), no disaffected youth forming their own bands in the 70's (Joy Division, The Fall, etc) or 80's alternative bands owing everything to the Velvets (Jesus and Mary Chain, Dream Syndicate, Feelies, Yo La Tengo, Galaxie 500).Sure, there were the underground journalists praising White Light White Heat, and FM DJs occasionally giving "Sweet Jane" a spin, but no monster cult was being built.
Huge, right? I really don't want to know a world like that. At all. I don't want Glenn Frey, Jackson Browne and Stephen Stills to be calling the shots in the 70's. That's gross and makes me feel suicidal.
Sure, I like The Grateful Dead, BUT because I like what they bring to the party. I like hummus AND peanut butter. I like IPA AND Stout. I like shaving and not shaving. Point being, I like hearing "I'm Set Free" next to "Wharf Rat" and don't want to live in a world where one doesn't exist or where one isn't allowed to be heard. I want both.
Anyway...put yourself in mid 1972. Music is changing, but where's it going? You're 21. Maybe you should stop caring. Maybe you love CCR and The Stones.
Maybe you used to like The Doors but Morrison's death confirmed that he was just a scary dude. Maybe you love McCartney's solo albums but can't get into Lennon's (though you don't say this in certain company). Of course you love George's stuff.
Maybe you've learned that James Taylor and Joni Mitchell will get you laid even though you'd rather hear Randy Newman--who will NOT get you laid.
Maybe you've had psychedelic revelations while listening to Marvin Gaye and Traffic back to back for 18 hours and bought a dashiki you've never worn.
Maybe Bob Dylan is totally off your radar after his last couple albums.
Maybe you liked a couple Monkees singles when you were 14 but have no idea that the guitar player has released 5 great solo albums while you weren't looking.
Maybe you have a housemate that listens to Pink Floyd all the time and you just can't understand why--but envy the caliber of female action he seems to get as he cranks up 23 minutes of "Echoes" and that's the last you see of him or his date until the following afternoon.
But here's a safe bet: unless you are a rock journalist or FM DJ, you (or your housemate) most likely do not own either of these albums:
It's 2011. Have you heard these albums?
They are, respectively, the solo debuts of Velvet Underground founding members, John Cale and Lou Reed. John Cale's debut is entitled Vintage Violence and was released in the spring of 1970. Lou Reed's debut is self-titled and was released two years later.
There's a good chance you haven't heard these albums, and also a good chance (let me know when I'm being more condescending than informative) that perhaps you thought Paris 1919 (1973) was Cale's solo debut and Transformer (late 1972) was Reed's. Those albums were when they hit their stride, yes, musically, in style, and found their place in the fabric of the times--i.e. as outsiders from artsy backgrounds who, thanks to Bowie and Lenny Kaye and Lester Bangs, were now being seen as guiding lights--when just a year before, they were looking for such a light.
How funny (he says, slipping into an orange robe) that so often, the guiding light for which we search in life is within us.
Ponder that with me for a second....(Buddhist bell rings). *
* I truly believe this.
Ok. Back to these albums.
These two albums require nothing but a love for rock and roll. Sort of like Nesmith, with his cursed stigma (teen-idol? no way!) Lou and John entered their solo careers kind of like the new guy on the block who was reluctantly handed an invitation to a party, even though there's something a little weird about him, and shows up. It's a bit weird that he brought a weird (for these parts) brand of beer and that he drops literary references instead of TV show references. Oh, and that no one could be sure if he actually took a hit off that joint going around.
But later in the night, he's encouraged to play some songs on the guitar and, well, they rock! In a weird way. Kind of uptight and nerdy, but trying to fit in.Or, hey, wait a second. Maybe he's making fun of us! Maybe we should kick his ass! Do you even LIKE Ten Years After!? Thought not, pansy!
This is the vibe one gets from these albums. Conventional stuff from unconventional guys. Just getting their foot in the door, proving to the hippie-crazed industry that they too have something to offer and to forget about White Light, White Heat--that was then, this is THE SEVENTIES!
John Cale's Vintage Violence:
What can I say? Most people will like this album. There's nothing weird about it. Some strange lyrics, but whatever. There's no test. So if you don't understand some literary reference, bug fucking deal. It's a rock record. Cale says in his excellent memoir that he was just learning to write pop songs. Prior, he really preferred bringing his rich classical and avant garde knowledge to the pop format, but here he was rocking out with his Welsh accent.
"Cleo"--amazing pop that sounds like it's from some bizarre 1962 B-movie.
"Big White Cloud" and "Charlemagne" are ripped straight from Bee Gees playbook ("When the Swallow Flies", "Trafalgar" and "First of May" come to mind). Cale admits as much in his book. No shame at all in that.
"Bring It On Up" is a revelation. Why? Because it sounds like Exile-era Stones, two years before Exile. It even sounds like Jagger singing back up.
"Please" and "Ghost Story" are very pretty midtempo ballads that, to me, reflect the opiate haze that Cale was still in at the time of writing and recording this album.
Not Best Bits:
"Fairweather Friend"--this was the single, and I guess I can see why. But it sounds forced and sort of makes me angry when I hear it. It's kind of annoying.
"Adelaide"--a blues harp opening. Enough said.
Now, Lou Reed's solo debut. Not many folks know this record.
Short time table:
1970--Mo Tucker leaves the Velvet Underground to have a baby. They get teenager Billy Yule, a Mitch Mitchell-wannabe, and brother of bassist Doug Yule (who was Cale's replacement in 1968). The band get a deal with Atlantic Records, and record Loaded, which is by far, their most accessable album.
Why? More conventional rhythm section and better engineering. Pure and simple. Don't argue. All the VU albums (save White Light White Heat, which is just a beautiful monolith) had pop songs all over them. But Mo Tucker played simple, sparse patterns with no sign of syncopation.
Now, this 16 year old Billy Yule wasn't gonna play like a chick. He was gonna boogie like all his fave rock drummers.
Boom, for the first time in VU history, you got DRUM FILLS! and FUNKY BEATS! and already, Lou was forever a funky rhythm guitar player. And Sterling Morrison was getting more and more noodle-y in his soloing. So, Loaded. Pop album. Very 1970.
Lou left during mixing. Lou also had Doug Yule sing a few songs to make them more pop-friendly.
It did OK, but they weren't a band by the time of release.
1970-71--Lou goes back to mom and dad, and takes a job as a typist at his father's accounting firm. Or so the story goes. He possibly cleaned up a bit, got healthy for a bit, and wondered what was next.
1971--makes some demos (check this out!) at journalists Richard and Lisa Robinson's apartment.
Gets signed to RCA, who feel that the perfect band to back Lou Reed on his solo debut is.....wait for it.....
(like, um, serious W-T-effing-F here, right? Like, am I alone here, people?)
I'll say it again. The band YES. Actually, just Wakeman and Howe. Because these British art rockers were REALLY in tune with the NYC downtown art/drug/party scene. Oh, and the drummer, Clem Cattini, was easily 10-15 years older than everyone else, and his idea of "hip rock drumming" was to play GODDAMN FILLS THAT GO ON FOR 4 FULL MEASURES, MAKING SURE TO HIT EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HIS TOMS. Well, in 1971, that kind of WAS hip rock drumming....
(for the record, Lou didn't say no. Nor did he say no to having Steve Winwood and Jack Bruce on his 1973 album Berlin).
Thus, what we get on Lou Reed's debut solo album is what this weird British band considered "downtown NYC music", coupled with Lou not being very articulate and probably a bit freaked out. Plus, it's produced by Richard Robinson...WHO WAS NOT A RECORD PRODUCER. HE WAS A ROCK JOURNALIST.
What does it sound like?
Do you like the Velvet Underground? Do you like the songs "I Can't Stand It", "Ocean" and "Lisa Says", as heard on the 1985 release VU? Those are all perfect recordings of a perfect band, right ? Yes, in fact they are. They are perfect. They never saw the light of day in the 60's. Crime.
On Lou Reed's solo debut, they are not perfect. They are filled with funky beats, flamboyant fills, fancy fretwork and Lou shouting a lot. Not great. And I just can't hear them as if I'd never known the VU versions. Because those VU versions just entered my DNA and there they will stay.
What Is Good On Lou Reed's solo debut:
"I Love You"--pretty. sounds like a Moby Grape song or something.
"Love Makes You Feel"--I love this song. It's unlike anything Lou did before or since. Except the rhythm guitar break has a "What Goes On" thing. NOTE: on the acoustic demos, he does do "What Goes On" at the request of the Robinsons, so maybe they had suggested he write a newish song along those lines? This is only a guess...
"Wild Child"--it's a fun song, and has all the Lou Reed hallmarks...but really...The Doors already had a tune called "Wild Child" and it was a cliche already. I would not have said this to Lou, because he hated Jim Morrison with a passion. NOTE: Jerry Garcia hated Jim Morrison with a passion too.
"Ride Into The Sun"--beautiful. It's got this whole bridge bit that sounds maybe like the Yes dudes came up with it, but I don't know.
"Going Down"--also lovely. total drug/depression song.
"Berlin"--yeah, he recorded this before there was an album called Berlin. Same tune, but, in my opinion, I like this version better, if you ask me, as far as I'm concerned, as one man's opinion.
So there's you go.
You could make one great Album out of these two albums combined. Wanna do that? Ok, let's do it: This will be a nice lead in to perhaps my next entry. We'll see. Enjoy this thing, though. Again, I won't post anything illegally.
Hello, There 2:48 John Cale Vintage Violence
Ride Into The Sun 3:17 Lou Reed Lou Reed
Big White Cloud 3:33 John Cale Vintage Violence
Love Makes You Feel 3:14 Lou Reed Lou Reed
Ghost Story 3:48 John Cale Vintage Violence
Lisa Says 5:35 Lou Reed Lou Reed
Bring It On Up 2:26 John Cale Vintage Violence
Wild Child 4:42 Lou Reed Lou Reed
Cleo 2:36 John Cale Vintage Violence
Going Down 2:58 Lou Reed Lou Reed
Please 4:20 John Cale Vintage Violence
Berlin 5:17 Lou Reed Lou Reed
Charlemagne 5:03 John Cale Vintage Violence
I Love You 2:21 Lou Reed Lou Reed
A few weeks ago I had been making mental lists of all the awesome, creative things I was going to do with my free time this summer after I get laid off, and then it all turned on me-- free time presented itself as frightening and intimidating and too fast-moving; and my plans, seemingly delusional. I was hearing murmurs about my 20th high school reunion, and thinking about meeting people at my upcoming wedding, and felt at a loss to think of one worthwhile (to the average stranger) thing I've done with my life.
Oh, crap on a cross--not a good mindset.
Then Steely Dan's "Black Cow" came on the iPod. Yay short attention span!
And I couldn't wait for when the drummer goes to the ride cymbal during the solo. Holy stromboli do I love that ride cymbal. In fact, when I was in the market for a ride a couple years back, that was what I wanted.
For some reason I had it in my head that Bernard Purdie played on that track. WRONG. It's Paul Humphrey.
You know that guy? I wasn't so sure myself, until I checked his credentials.... He played with Frank Zappa, Marvin Gaye, Jerry Garcia and Lawrence Welk.
Like you do.
Such subtlety on that track. Actually, Steely Dan's AJA album features, I think, a different drummer on every track, and thus is a must have for all drummers (even if Becker and Fagan wrote out the parts)
Humans aren't machines (and drummers are neither one or the other), so drum notation will not result in carbon copy performances from drummer to drummer.
Or maybe it's supposed to, and I'm just super neurotically defensive about my weaknesses because drumming is what I like the most and I wish I was better at it. Anyway, back to sunnier thoughts.
So this was a crack of daylight. That's right! I like drumming. And people (some people) like my drumming.
AND, I was going to be spending a couple days recording drums for one of the best bands in the land, School For The Dead, of which I've had the privilege of being a member for nine years.
As much as I would have liked to trade places with someone like Paul Humphrey, or Ronnie Tutt or Hal Blaine, when I sat and listed all the recordings I've been on, it's time well spent. I've kept busy. I just forget to take the time to feel proud about stuff. It's always "on to the next thing". And it will hopefully keep going and going. Maybe the law of averages will kick in and something I've played on will be serenading JC Penny shoppers 20 years from now. Yes, that's all I want. We all want immortality. My one saving grace is that I know that sound waves will survive longer than physical structures.
In lieu of having made a real resume of dayjobs, as unemployed people should do, I made this: a drumming resume. Wanky, I know, but, like I says, it's been a good chunk o' me life.
And I owe so, so much to so many talented people. Too many to mention. Life is strange. One thing leads to another.
Note: the years may be a bit off. I'll correct them once I really need to.
1989--Matt and Brian--Quasimodo (home 4-track, North Andover, MA)
2011 (TBA) School For The Dead--(Frank Padellaro) ????
2011-2012 (TBA) Lo Fine--(play on 2 songs, or something of that nature...)
Plus some performances, random sessions and/or stand-in gigs with folks like Mark Mulcahy, Eric Olsson, The Lay Jains, Don Lennon, Zeke Fiddler, Bruce Mandaro, Winterpills, The Claudia Malibu, The Novels, Steve Sanderson, and more....(like an impromptu set with Robyn Hitchcock a few years ago)...
On the horizon...well, I won't say what's on the horizon, because often times, in music, the expected doesn't happen, and the unexpected tells you be somewhere in 10 minutes. Or you shoulda been there last week.
Here's some visual crap I did during a similar "what have I done with my life" crisis last year....seems to happen in late summer. I think it's mold allergies.
I originally posted this four years ago on The Living Rockumentary, but felt it was worth a trotting-out...I've since bought This Awesome Book and This Mostly Awesome Collection, which satiated me for a while. But late summer/early, uh, fall, usually brings about a little Fall resurgence on my part, as ignorant as I may be of anything they've done in the last 8 or so years.
Late night internet searches can (duh) take you to weird places. You never know what you may stumble upon and how you may react to it. I had one such chance encounter recently, and it confirmed why once I gave my heart to this person/persons.
The site was You Tube, the name I entered was The Fall. Yes, that band (person, really) that's one of a kind, really and truly. A genre unto themselves. One step in to the influence and you're already 3/4 of the way to obvious and unforgivable copycatdom.
The Fall. Born in Manchester, England in 1977, the brainchild of truly working class, truly original, literate speed freak/booze hound genius Mark E. Smith, possessor of little to no instrumental skills, then or now. 30 years later they still exist, M.E.S. being the only constant. No fewer than 30 or 40 people can say they were in The Fall, be it for 15 years or 15 minutes. Also, their 30-something albums have been on 20 something different labels. That's a lot of estimated figures there. That's a lot of lazy research on my part.
No hits, no arena shows, just a loyal following that ebbs and flows. Never heard them? Take early Pavement mixed with some early Pulp and maybe you might get somewhat close. They can't be replicated. I once heard a band at the Baystate in Northampton trying to pass off their own music as original, but it was such an unabashed, by-the-numbers rip-off, that I couldn't help but yell "Hip Priest!" during a between-song lull. Yes, I was that ass. But I just couldn't abide.
You can't really hum a bar of most of The Fall's songs, and often cannot decipher what Mark E. Smith is on about. After 200 listens to "Cruiser's Creek" (one of their only "hits", from 1985), I recently read it's about an office party in which a bomb goes off. I never knew and I kind of didn't care. Even when read, it's full of not even booksmart references, but in many cases, his own slang (no big wonder the oft-self-referential Mark E Smith wrote a song called "Slang King").
What influences M.E.S.? Well, they've covered stuff by classic country, soul, psychedelic pop and reggae artists. So it's all over the map. German hippie-art band Can was one precursor, though only up to a point.
My first encounter with them: my friend Todd, soon to be singer of That Cat, and then Sourpuss, was sitting in Dunkin' Donuts in North Andover, with a large coffee and a pack of Marlboros listening to headphones. He was the coolest person I knew at that moment. I asked what he was listening to and he said The Fall.
He rewound his walkman to a song he thought was a good starting point.
"C.R.E.E.P." came on--their first "poppy" single, produced by John Leckie (XTC, Stone Roses, P.I.L., Radiohead...). Simple, cute synth riff....then this guy talk/singing with a thick accent....
I dug it, but didn't really get it.
Months later, Todd and I were meeting for coffee and cigs on an almost nightly basis. One night he showed me a Fall video tape he just got.
It started to make sense. This Mark E. Smith guy was weird. Skinny, sarcastic, semi-unintelligible....the band was like a cult. Almost like a Grateful Dead for the post-punk. You were either on the bus or off the bus. You were drawn in or repelled.
I wanted to get on the bus after seeing this video:
NOTE: I was going out on a limb with the Grateful Dead comparison--the fact that neither band sounded inbred, spoke their own language, for better or worse-- but then was sent a link to this great video and saw I wasn't crazy or making imagined mental leaps:
And much like the Dead, when someone tried to get me into them via the slick Terrapin Station album, with its uber Cali-coked-out 1977 production, I didn't get it. It wasn't until I heard 1968's feedback-laden Anthem of the Sun that I understood.
And as such, the slick mid-late 80's Fall wasn't doing it for me. Then I was loaned The Fall's dark, trippy 1983 album Perverted By Language and I got it. I got where Pavement got some things, where Sonic Youth got some things..
I decided I liked best the early to mid period. 1979-84. Trashy production. Pre sequencers 'n synth. More guitar/bass driven. And two drummers! And (after a while) M.E.S.' cute American (ex)wife Brix on guitar.
I got a job that summer delivering Boston Globes--250 of them--every friggin night/morning from 3-7 am. That summer I finally understood. Sudafed kept me going (for energy and not sneezing to death due to all the fresh newsprint) and Mark E. Smith was singing/talking about being "Totally Wired" and I was hooked. it was a surreal summer---Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" being the other main soundtrack, as well as XTC's The Dub Experiements (and really, who listens to THAT except wired paper boys? at 3:45am?)
No wonder I returned to school on the verge of mental collapse that fall semester.
Aahh..so I've rediscovered the most indescribable of bands.
"But Brian, I thought you like melody and hooks and.."
I do, but there's something there...like, no offense to lots of people I know, but I will never get the appeal of Dire Straits. Much like you may never understand The Fall. But maybe you will.
Try these on for size:
So, yeah--he's a bit of a drunk and a tyrant, but his interviews are much less embarassing than say Andy partridge's (if you want to go the "eccentric limey" route)
I was gonna make a podcast commemorating what would have been Garcia's 69th bday and stuff, but wasn't really feeling it.
Suffice to say, Jerry Garcia was no lazy hippie. His life is very well chronicled through all the music he played and played and played.
His monthly planner (if he kept one) could have included: 3 bluegrass gigs, 10 Grateful Dead shows, 6 club dates with one side project or another, a week of songwriting with Robert Hunter, and rehearsals and recording with all of the above. Phew.
In lieu of a podcast, I made a movie (below) AND.... here's a chronological list of 50 great songs he wrote over his career with the Grateful Dead. Besides "Cream Puff War", which he wrote words and music to, the rest are all music by Garcia, words by Robert Hunter.
Cream Puff War 3:18 Grateful Dead
Dark Star (single) 2:45 Grateful Dead
Dupree's Diamond Blues 3:34 Grateful Dead
Mountains Of The Moon 4:05 Grateful Dead
China Cat Sunflower 3:42 Grateful Dead
Uncle John's Band 4:45 Grateful Dead
High Time 5:15 Grateful Dead
Dire Wolf 3:15 Grateful Dead
Black Peter 5:44 Grateful Dead
Casey Jones 4:39 Grateful Dead
Candyman 6:14 Grateful Dead
Friend Of The Devil 3:25 Grateful Dead
Ripple 4:10 Grateful Dead
Brokedown Palace 4:09 Grateful Dead
Attics Of My Life 5:14 Grateful Dead
Bertha 5:44 The Grateful Dead
Wharf Rat 8:33 The Grateful Dead
Deal 3:14 Jerry Garcia
Bird Song 4:26 Jerry Garcia
He's Gone 6:57 Grateful Dead
Loser 4:10 Jerry Garcia
Sugaree 5:55 Jerry Garcia
Brown Eyed Women 4:39 Grateful Dead
Ramble On Rose 6:01 Grateful Dead
Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo 5:45 Grateful Dead
Row Jimmy 7:16 Grateful Dead
Eyes Of The World 5:20 Grateful Dead
Stella Blue 6:26 Grateful Dead
Scarlet Begonias 4:20 Grateful Dead
China Doll 4:11 Grateful Dead
Ship Of Fools 5:39 Grateful Dead
Help On the Way/Slipknot! 7:21 Grateful Dead
Crazy Fingers 6:42 Grateful Dead
Blues For Allah 12:44 Grateful Dead
They Love Each Other 4:38 Jerry Garcia
It Must Have Been The Roses 5:30 Jerry Garcia
Mission In The Rain 5:04 Jerry Garcia
Terrapin Station Part I 16:30 Grateful Dead
Rubin And Cherise 5:18 Jerry Garcia
Cats Under The Stars 5:31 Jerry Garcia
Shakedown Street 4:59 Grateful Dead
If I Had The World To Give 5:00 Grateful Dead
Alabama Getaway 3:37 The Grateful Dead
Althea 6:52 The Grateful Dead
Midnight Getaway 7:55 Jerry Garcia
Touch Of Grey 5:51 Grateful Dead
Foolish Heart 5:12 Grateful Dead
Standing On The Moon 5:23 Grateful Dead
Days Between 11:03 Grateful Dead
So Many Roads 7:25 Grateful Dead
And here's a video I made--A Grateful Dead Noise Collage. Most non-fans associate the Dead with long, noodly jams (mmm...noodles and jam...), however, for their first decade or so, they sure delighted in spending at least a few minutes each show making an awful racket that would impress your average Sonic Youth fan. Have you the stomach to take all 11 minutes?
(Keep reading to find a link to a specially prepared mix of Dylan and his heavy friends doing fun covers and odd rearrangements of his own songs...it's great listening.)
I have a few reasons why I didn't observe Bob Dylan's 70th Birthday, either in real life or on this blog.
1) I find myself wishing a lot of people belated happy birthdays, so why should Bob be an exception?
2) Didn't you get enough hype without me adding to it?
3) May 24 was a day before I had hernia surgery and so I was just trying to not stress out. Too, I was told not to eat or drink after 11 pm that night, and any real rock and roll birthday observation shouldn't start until at least midnight.
So there are some lame excuses. But here's one very legitimate reason: nothing I write on this blog seems to (nor, let's face it, should) be of real relevance to anyone, and so, writing about Dylan on his birthday would just be too relevant.
In any case, happy belated, Bob Dylan.
Forget the subjective and fanatical tags of poet/sage/prophet/spokesman.
I'm going to salute him by writing a bit about Bob being, above all else, just a guy who loves to play music, be it his own or others'. This model has more recently inspired such folks as Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, Robert Plant and Robyn Hitchcock, all of whom, besides being prolific songwriters, love to pay tribute to those who have inspired them. As a drummer, I can say, it's always a treat to play with people who just know how to play a million songs. It's sort of bringing the jazz/blues tradition to rock and roll, and thus allowing it and its artists to age gracefully.
So the following Dylan Mix consists of mainly covers, but some of his own tunes, recorded at three different times, accompanied by three different heavyweight bands. The songs are arranged non-chronologically to stress the fun of it all and continuity-in-style of Dylan as an interpreter. The three sessions are:
1) Dylan with The Band--1967, Woodstock, NY. The source of the famous (and recently written about on this blog) Basement Tapes, the culled songs here are all fun cover tunes. Mainly American folk and early rock and roll. Early rock and roll covers can often be cause for a yawn and eyes rolled skyward, but in Dylan's hands, you always know it's just gonna sound odd in a good way. His voice is evolving, or rather is recovering from the narcotic/tobacco wheeze of '66; and on one of the songs you hear what may be the birth of his syrupy Nashville Skyline voice, which he wouldn't use on record for another year and a half.
2) Dylan with George Harrison, and ???--There are a few theories about these songs. Some say half are from '69 and feature Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. I'm of the same opinion as those who believe all these songs are from the same session--May 1, 1970 with George Harrison on guitar and backing vox. The rest of the band is in question--why, I don't know. I've seen Russ Kunkel on drums, Leon Russell on bass, Charlie Daniels on bass, Al Kooper on piano, Bob Johnston on piano...a few others--pretty sure they weren't all there. In any case, Bob and George are having a great time. Fun covers and some VERY COOL reworkings of (then) semi-recent Dylan songs. It must have taken some goading from Dylan-nut Harrison, but Bob not only does some deep cuts from '64-66, but is back singing in his natural voice--not the odd syrupy put-on of Nashville Skyline.
3) Dylan and The Grateful Dead--spring, 1987. Yes, the subsequent shows weren't good. The Dead had more or less sobered up in the wake of Garcia's recent near-death, while Dylan, finding his way through an alcoholic haze of self-doubt, was all over the place--though having a good time upon discovering that he and the Dead were cut from the same cloth. The rehearsals here, written about in Chronicles Vol 1, went from Dylan almost quitting early on, basically in fright and intimidation--after all, the Dead knew his songs better than HE did-to Dylan and the Dead having a grand old time--heard here--going deep into their shared history and Garcia getting out the banjo and pedal steel for the first time in years. Dylan even plays mandolin. It's a total continuation of the other two sessions. Pressure free, full of laughs and the love of music just pouring out. Unfortunately, by the time of the tour a month or two later, Dylan was up to his old tricks, calling out songs they hadn't rehearsed, changing the keys of songs, forgetting beginnings and endings...and you kind of don't want to do that with The Dead, who had hard enough time with those things anyway...
Something I'll point out is the way I've arranged them. There are two songs that Dylan does, 20 years apart, so I've out them back to back--"The French Girl" by Ian and Sylvia and "Folsom Prison Blues", by Dylan's long time friend, Johnny Cash. So you get to hear how both the Band and the Dead treat each of these tunes. I've also made sure to include songs that Dylan was doing in 1967 which in the coming years would become lifelong stapes for The Grateful Dead: "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad" and "Big River" (another Cash tune). Deep roots. Oh, I believe The Dead were known to do "See That My Grave is Kept Clean" waaay early on, like when they were The Warlocks.
One last thing: I like comparing/contrasting the roles of lead guitarists Robbie Robertson, George Harrison and Jerry Garcia in each of these. All three were admirers of Dylan and wanted nothing but to please him. I find the biggest similarities to be between Harrison and Garcia. Partly because of their playing but mostly because they both seem to love singing with Bob--the hit and miss harmony, the good time shouting, and all else in between.
Two of the three sessions are interesting because they were recorded at two out of the three time periods that Dylan covers in his memoir.
If you've not read this book, I highly recommend it. He chose to cover three years--1962, 1970 and 1987--that represent periods in his career that he really had no clue what his next move was going to be.
In each of these cases, he just had to stop pressing the "genius" button and go with what he loved--and what he's been riding out this final years doing: having a good time playing music with friends.
Listening with headphones is recommended for the before/after song chatter.
Dylan Loves Music--rehearsals 1967, 1970, 1987--compiled by Brian Marchese
listen to it by following link below....
A Fool Such As I Bob Dylan+The Band
Da Doo Ron Ron Bob Dylan, George Harrison
Stealin' Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead
Big River (take 2) Bob Dylan+The Band
Walkin' Down the Line Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead
All I Have To Do Is Dream Bob Dylan, George Harrison
Silhouette Bob Dylan+The Band
See You Later Allen Ginsburg Bob Dylan+The Band
I Don't Believe You Bob Dylan, George Harrison
John Hardy Was a Desperate Man (2) Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead
See That My Grave Is Kept Clean Bob Dylan+The Band
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues Bob Dylan, George Harrison
I'm Free Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead
The French Girl Bob Dylan+The Band
The French Girl Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead
Yesterday Bob Dylan, George Harrison
People Get Ready Bob Dylan+The Band
Matchbox Bob Dylan, George Harrison
Tomorrow is a Long Time Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead
Folsom Prison Blues Bob Dylan+The Band
Folsom Prison Blues Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead
Goin' Down The Road Bob Dylan+The Band
Rainy Day Women Bob Dylan, George Harrison
Rolling In my Sweet Baby's Arms Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead
Mama You've Been On My Mind Bob Dylan, George Harrison