Last month it was my turn. This weekend it's Posie's. Yep, she too is turning the big 4-0, and at least has the bonus of being afforded a Sunday on a Bank Holiday weekend on which to 'enjoy' it. Were we really only 25 when we met? I guess so. Happy birthday, babe. I love you!
And sadly, this is also the day we remember her family's Gentle Giant, dad Dave Strenz, who passed away on Posie's birthday a few years back. Dave recently got his own bench overlooking the Atlantic at the Jersey Shore. Now we can sit with him and watch the waves roll in... We miss you Dave.
Hopefully so, at any rate. I'm off to watch the Crystal Palace-West Ham United Play-off Final and unless I can't control myself, I won't be posting again until Tuesday. So, offer congratulations or commiserations, as you like. In the spirit of the game, I'm off to Nevada Smith's in my 1948-49 replica shirt, a claret and blue beauty which has been mistaken once or twice before for Villa or West Ham. May the best team win. May that be Palace. And may I have an extra incentive for being back in South London this August.
There's a couple of South Londoners over at The iJamming! Pub who soak up so much new music they probably have to empty out their 40GB iPods every week just to get the next week's music up. Rather than try to keep up with them, I went running today the old-fashioned way with a Walkman and a cassette tape I made over 15 years ago. Recorded on a Maxell Chrome cassette (over the top of a Playn Jayn album, it would seem!), the audio quality is still excellent, proof positive that there was never anything wrong with the old system of analogue recording and replication as long as you looked after your music and didn't rely on cheap tapes. And it's not just the tape itself that's stood the test of time, but the songs too... I was happy to hear every one of them. Not that I can explain what the rhyme or reason was behind the selection, which is as follows:
Duchess-Stranglers/Hand In Hand-Elvis Costello/Elected-Alice Cooper/Cruel Circus-The Colourfield/Rattlesnakes-Lloyd Cole/I'm Not Sure-The Chords/A New England-Billy Bragg/Backstage Pass-The Boys/Life On Mars-David Bowie/I Don't Mind-The Buzzcocks/
Sleep That Burns-Be-Bop Deluxe/Cheated-The Beat/Back On Board-Down the Dip-Aztec Camera/The Deceiver-The Alarm/One Big Tree-Three Colors/Men Are Getting Scarcer-Chairman Of The Board/Coalfield Train To Hatfield Main The Housemartins.
Comments welcome. In particular, who remembers Be-Bop Deluxe with as much affection as myself?
(First time readers may want to check out my previous articles about Bruce Ratner's proposed arena for background info. Start here. Continue here. And then here.)
For the last eight years, ever since the Atlantic Mall went up at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic in Brooklyn, shoppers, residents, town planners and architecture critics alike have complained about its awful design. Entirely unwelcoming from the street, and no more friendly on the inside. No wonder that a number of the big 'box stores' who originally rented out space there abandoned it along the way; this is not a place to attract casual custom.
In the last year or two, developer Bruce Ratner has himself started admitting that the design is less than perfect, going perilously close to actually apologizing for a wasted opportunity to build a decent retail space in the heart of an urban community. His sudden mea culpa is not exactly unrelated to the fact that he intends building a basketball arena with 17 skyscrapers into the bargain right across the street from the Mall, and people are understandably wary of his promises that it will be a work of architectural art. In fact, it has been suggested that if Ratner wanted to do the community a favor, then rather than force local residents and businesses out to make way for this oversized $2.3 billion new building project, he could tear down the Mall and build over the space, solving two problems in one fell swoop of a demolition ball.
Ratner, of course, will do nothing of the sort. He is, however, cleaning up the Mall, trying to make it more attractive and welcoming as an obvious attempt to buy some positive publicity in the face of the increasingly controversial Arena project.
And in doing so, he's finally admitted why the design was so damn unwelcoming in the first place. Try this quote from Wednesday's New York Times:
"It's a problem of malls in dense urban areas that kids hang out there, and it's not too positive for shopping. Look, here you're in an urban area, you're next to projects, you've got tough kids
He doesn't need to say any more, does he? "Dense
tough"? You know what Ratner's getting at: he doesn't want young black teenagers hanging out there. He's frightened of them. (Lets leave aside the fact that the Mall is hardly surrounded by projects and that there are such things as truant police in New York. Let's also leave aside the inherent prejudice that school kids in the projects automatically play truant. This is the shit that comes from people who've never stepped foot in a project, who don't even stop to say hello to people of different class and race.)
Here's what I see: While the corporate retailers who eventually came to the Atlantic Mall (and who were a granted a say in the design of the place, according to the Times report) were all too happy to take black peoples' money, they offered no incentive for the shoppers to actually enjoy the process. No restaurants, no communal areas, no fountains or flowers or easy-access car parks none of the accoutrements you would expect in any suburban community where the population might just a little less
I hate racists. That includes the banks, supermarkets and big box stores that have traditionally ignored poor urban (i.e. minority) communities because they don't see the opportunity for a quick profit. And it includes those that, when they do see that opportunity as arranged for them by a big white developer ensure that the environment is designed so that shoppers come and go as quickly as possible. Don't hang around our mall, is the underlying message they have for their own shoppers, we're scared you might mug us.
We, the local community, were the ones who were mugged. By Ratner and his corporate cronies who dropped such an eyesore on us. But now that crime is at all-time low and Ratner is planning his $2.3 billion urban monument, he has the audacity to turn round and tell us that he can afford to spruce up the place and make it more attractive. That somehow, the community now deserves it.
Mayor Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and developer Bruce Ratner gloating at the unveiling of the plans. Note Jay-Z behind them: the rapper would be a financial partner in the new sports team.
The street in the foreground and the train tracks in the middle would be built over for the complex. So would the houses behind the camera. Some critics suggest that Ratner should build over the Atlantic Mall on the other side of the street instead (see Office Max). Ratner has also built the new office block going up behind the Mall.
Three facts, Mr. Ratner:
1) Crime was already going down long before your Mall went up. Crime reached its peak in New York in 1990 Mayor Dinkins' first year and has dropped steadily ever since. The Mall, however, went up in 1996-97. A decent developer, by the way, would consider making a shopping experience pleasant enough to actually attract people, perhaps based on the not entirely unreasonable notion that if you treat people like humans, they will act like humans. (Or as football fans that survived the 70s and 80s know, if you treat people like animals, they will inevitably act like animals.)
2) The reason the communities that surround the Mall Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Boerum Hill have enjoyed such a phenomenal improvement in their quality of life is not thanks to a depressingly-designed Mall full of corporate retailers paying minimum wages. The neighborhoods have thrived because local homeowners and businesspeople made a commitment to their communities: they opened shops, bars, restaurants, salons. They bought houses and renovated them. Step by step, brick by brick, block by block, they made these communities not just a pleasant place to live, but also a thriving place, an enviable place. I've seen it happen on my doorstep, on 5th Avenue. I've seen it happen on Smith Street in Cobble Hill. I've seen it happen on Lafayette and Fulton in Fort Greene. We're even starting to see it on Myrtle Avenue: the same projects that gave us The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z are now looking out on jazz cafes and restaurants. (Here and there. It's going to take a while on Myrtle. The fact that it's even begun is beyond many people's previous wildest hopes.) These local people have taken enormous risks often with their life savings. And the reason they succeeded is not because they were scared of local people but that they welcomed to them and catered to them - as something other than poor people who cared only for discount goods and couldn't be trusted to socialise.
3) Jay-Z is a major player in the cartel that has bought the New Jersey Nets basketball team; he's particularly gung-ho about bringing them to the proposed new Arena at Flatbush-Atlantic, barely a mile or more from the Marcy Projects on the aforementioned Myrtle Avenue where he grew up. There's a reason he's doing this, apart from the desire to turn a profit. It's because basketball is the black man's sport in America. He's playing to his own culture. And so he should. Which means, Mr. Ratner, that by building a basketball arena in the heart of Brooklyn, a predominantly black borough, you can fully expect to draw a predominantly black crowd. Are you fully aware of this? And if so, are you as scared of that notion as you were of black people actually spending social time inside one of your malls? What will you do to deter them this time? Make the Nets arena an equally awkward place to congregate? Unlikely, given that that's the very purpose of the place. Or do you plan to price all but the buppies and the ghetto fabulous out of attending? And what will Jay-Z say about that should you try it? Fear of a black planet? You ain't seen nothing yet.
So for the next couple of months I'm going to be writing a book about The Clash. It's a relatively straightforward project, as part of an Omnibus Press series, The Complete Guide To The Music Of
, intended to serve as a primer for new fans rather than as a definitive biography for long-term obsessives. It's not going to pay for my retirement, but nor is it going to take a year out of my life.
It is, however, as one friend has already pointed out with evident jealousy, allowing me to get paid for listening to The Clash. Do you have any idea how great it feels to play 'Complete Control' ten times in a row, at full volume, on a Wednesday afternoon, as part of your workday? Obviously, I have to write about the music as well as listen to it, but fortunately, that seems like dream employment too.
Then again, this book is exactly what I need right now. Those who are close to me know that I was shafted on not one, but two projects last year. In separate instances, one after the other, I was asked by well-known musicians to write their biographies/life stories. In each case, I was thrilled at the prospect: the stories (one of a band, one of an individual) were fascinating both culturally and musically and writing an "Official Biography" even just as ghostwriter if that's what it entailed - seemed like a perfectly interesting concept given that I'm always on the look-out for a new angle.
I realize now how fortunate I was back in 1986, interviewing and writing about Echo and The Bunnymen for their 'Official Story': they were young enough not to give a damn, in the best possible sense, and left me alone to write what I wanted. The artists I was approached by last year are older, which made them both slower in their decision-making and more reserved about how much of their lives they wished to discuss. No I'm not going to name names, but one of them was a British band whose lead singer ultimately changed his mind, after the contract had been agreed. (I know the singer's decision disappointed the other band members, and so I don't harbor bad feelings towards them, even though it was a waste of my time.) The other was a very well-known band leader and personality who led me on a merry-go-round that included a European tour and a trip to their American hometown before it became apparent that they really had no desire to actually get on with the project, despite all previous emphatic statements to the contrary, but were simply acting out the superstar's whimsical lifestyle: drawing people into their web and then leaving them hanging, completely oblivious to the effect this might have on those other people's career plans for the simple reason that, being superstars, they believe the world revolves around them and them alone.
Joe as we like to remember him. Read my tribute to Strummer here.
Don't worry, I'm not asking for sympathy. In the words of Morrissey, No I never had a job, because I never wanted one. I long ago chose to follow the path of the self-employed, taking gambles every step of the way, and I've been fortunate that some of these gambles have paid off financially, some creatively and, once or twice in life, they've done both. Perhaps then I was due a rough patch, or a string of bad luck. The latter artist's manager at least had the decency to pay what we in the writing trade call a 'kill fee,' though it far from compensated for the time I spent on the project. Still, I know now that I was better off being cut loose after several months dilly-dallying rather than struggling to accommodate the artist's ego for years which, I'm afraid to say, is such that I doubt there will ever be a successful (auto) biography, even though it would surely be a best-seller. (And if there is, then clearly I wasn't the one to serve as conduit.)
Still, when you add last year's frustrations on to the fact that all the books I've written in the past have involved expensive periods of research, followed by extensive solitary confinement for the writing process, you'll probably understand why I'm content to be writing this Clash book right now. My brief does not involve tracking people down for interviews, nor writing my usual 4-600 pages. It's about the music, pure and simple. I can read my background material, collect my thoughts, and write my words - all while listening to The Clash. So yes, I'm fortunate.
Expect me to drop comments on The Clash here and there over coming weeks, especially as I read up on the band. Right now, I'm enjoying the newly published Uncut 'NME Originals,' compendium, reliving much of my youth in the process, given that I read the paper almost every week from late 1977 onwards. That, of course, was late enough in the game to know that The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Jam, The Buzzcocks and others were the most important groups to grace the British rock scene in a generation. Those whose job it was to review them in the context of the times were not always so far-sighted. My favorite quote so far is from Allan Jones, reviewing The Sex Pistols at the Nashville in April 1976:
A much-vaunted four-piece band of total incompetents
They do as much for music as World War II did for the cause of peace. I hope we shall hear no more of them."
Allan Jones can currently be founding editing
So, I've listened to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On album several times now, and while having no doubts as to its incredibly emotive, lasting, soulful brilliance, it raises a question that I once saw humorously phrased in a sex book as, Do Buddhists Shave Their Pubic Hair? The question here would be, Can Atheists Dig Gospel?
Freedom of religion is a corner stone of our society, but freedom from religion is equally important. Those of us who don't believe in a God or have yet to formulate an opinion either way have just as much right to follow our (non) beliefs as those who think they know exactly what's going to happen to them when they die.
Which puts us in an awkward position when listening to artists whose music we enjoy, but who clearly do believe in God and all the more so, who impose their beliefs on the listener. That's certainly the case with What's Going On, especially (though not exclusively) in the songs 'God Is Love' and 'Wholy Holy.' And I have to be honest: I feel no more comfortable listening to Marvin Gaye advocating the Bible and telling me God is merciful than I do when stuck at a church wedding and hearing the man at the pulpit proselytizing likewise. The difference, of course, is that I can't walk out of a church wedding without offending the very people who've invited me; I can of course take Marvin Gaye's album off the turntable without anyone knowing. The difficult question then becomes, Do I Want To? Or do I prefer to just dig the emotive power of Marvin's spiritual beliefs and tune out the message?
Obviously, a similar question has come up countless times over the years with regards to political music. I've a long history of supporting various anti-establishment rockers and very little of that music embarrasses me all these years later. There is, though, I've come to realize, a thin but clearly visible/audible line between reportage, opinionating, and preaching, with the music that falls into the latter camp usually coming off worst. And yet immediately I can think of two exceptions that disprove that rule: 'Stand Down Margaret' and 'Free Nelson Mandela.' I might also suggest that those two 2Tone songs were so joyous they were our generation's equivalent of gospel. And so, again, Can Atheists Dig Gospel? And if so, is it not hypocritical to praise a black choir from Harlem, while denouncing a white Christian rock groups from the midwest? Is it not equally disingenuous to groove to roots reggae artists praising Jah, knowing that Rastafarianism treats women as second-class citizens, while castigating Islam for similar reasons?
I sense there isn't a straight answer to this question and that the beauty of music must, as with other art, be in the eye of the beholder. I'm just wondering aloud if sometime my liberal sensitivity my willingness to embrace all cultures, all creeds over-rides my equally liberal resistance to religious preaching.
A relevant tangent
I didn't have as bad a time listening to old vinyl albums through last week as my post on Monday might have suggested partly because my new stoop sale purchase reminded me how I'd cleaned an ageing couple out of their entire record collection the first weekend I moved to Park Slope several years ago. I paid an ageing couple $50 for about 150 albums that typified 1950s-1960s white liberal New York Jewish taste. Among the many jewels were three mint condition Mose Alison albums, equally well kept debuts by Tim Hardin and Janis Ian, pristine condition records by Phil Ochs, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Josh White, and a Blues Box Set. These records alone more than paid for everything else and have enjoyed repeated hearings over the years as they've served to widen my musical scope. But the others got rapidly consigned to my own basement. So last week I finally unearthed the remainders and took them with me to enjoy a real mammoth session of vinyl discovery. (While writing away, of course: listening to second-hand albums is NOT my full-time job!)
And guess what? Among the most rewarding discoveries was the double album Jesus Christ Superstar. No, really. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's populist musical is far cooler than you might suppose. In fact, it can be compared favorably to Tommy. Both are rock operas about Messiahs and their persecution by the mob: Tommy ends with resurrection; Jesus Christ Superstar ends with its hero on the cross. Both operas are set around much the same tempo and with much the same instrumentation. Each has a well-known rock star of the era in the title role: Tommy with Daltrey of course, JCS with Ian Gillan. (The one time Gillan lets rip his trademark scream, it sounds just like 'Child In Time.') In addition to Gillan, Murray Head plays Judas while Yvonne Elliman is Mary Magdalene. As with Tommy, you'll find that you known many of the songs 'Everything's Alright,' 'I Don't Know How To Love Him,' 'Hosanna' and of course, the title track and that they still sound fresh over thirty years later. And, much like the original Tommy, the recordings all sound disappointingly thin this far down the line. Tommy has been given the 5.1 Surround Sound Remix; Jesus Christ Superstar was remastered onto 2CDs back in 1996.
I know, I know: why is it I can praise Jesus Christ Superstar yet have reservations about a couple of Marvin Gaye's more theological offerings on What's Going On? Well, firstly there's the camp factor: there are few people my age who won't enjoy hearing some of these songs again for the nostalgic seventies trip, and recall them fondly as playground and terrace chants if not from the rock opera itself. But then there's the camp fire factor: as with Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar tells a story. It doesn't pass opinion, makes no judgment calls. Certainly doesnt preach. It just tells one of the most familiar stories we have and sets it to music. Which means I can enjoy it for what it is.
Most of the other 100+ albums from this box are either musicals or classical (all good recordings kept in excellent condition), and I'll get to some of them as the years go by. But there's one record that had escaped my attention and which I simply have to now share with you.
In the mid-Sixties, as we know, rock groups and producers were pushing music beyond all previously recognized boundaries. They weren't the only ones. On his second album Inventions (1964), the then 24-year old jazz-folk musician Sandy Bull, accompanied only by jazz drummer Billy Higgins, near enough took down the entire history of global pop music in under an hour. Inventions opens with a continuation from its predecessor (Fantasies for Guitar and Banjo), a track entitled 'Blend 2.' Over the course of 24 minutes, it includes elements of Ornette Coleman, Ali Akbar Khan, music from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt, an American folk tune, 'Wabash Cannonball' and 'Pretty Polly,' before closing out with a tribute to Indian ragas and all on the one acoustic guitar! Bull then closes Side 1 with a brief electric guitar rendition of Bach's 'Gavotte No. 2' at a time when folkies were still smarting from Dylan's conversion to the electric. (The sound is close to a baroque organ - precisely Bull's point in conducting the exercise.)
On Side 2 Bull dives into Latin music with 'Manha de Carnival,' except that he plays the melody on the oud, a Middle Eastern guitar-like instrument he was taught by Nubian expert Hamza Al Din. (Bull overdubs bass and acoustic guitar on the same song.) Not content to have taken us so far around the world already, he then drops back in time to the 14th Century for Machaut's 'Triple Ballade,' playing oud, banjo and guitar. Finally, brilliantly, Bull takes on Chuck Berry's 'Memphis' with a dazzling display of electric guitar such as would have done the song's composer (or Duane Eddy) proud. (Recording on the same label, Vanguard, as half the era's prominent folkies, Bull goes against their parochial worldview by claiming that Berry "may well be the folk poet of America today.")
This closing ten-minute jazzy improvisation of 'Memphis' is the highlight of Inventions for those of us who love rock'n'roll first and foremost, but the entire album is nothing short of a revelation. It's hard to put a price on music of such timeless quality; suffice to say that, finding it buried in a box of albums from which I'd already gotten more than my $50 worth, this was the best "freebie" I've had in months. Maybe years. (Vanguard has a compilation CD, Re-Inventions, which includes 'Memphis,' 'Triple Ballade' and 'Manha de Carnival.' I tracked Inventions down on vinyl via Forced Exposure, which states that a CD is available through Bull's own label Timeless Recordings. See if you can find it.)
How do I know so much about the music? Because back then, albums came with sleeve notes and in the case of Inventions, as with many other jazz albums of the era, these notes were written by Nat Hentoff. These days, Hentoff pens a weekly column called Liberty Beat for the Village Voice, where he frequently goes against the paper's own party line by reminding us of the oppression that continues to take place in countries like Cuba. In last week's column he wrote about the horrific situation in Sudan, where government-backed Arab Muslim militias are systematically killing off black Muslim farmers in an attempt to make certain areas 'Zurga-free.' (Translation, nigger-free. Or in other words, genocide.) According to Human Rights Watch, mothers are given the choice of execution for their children: being burned alive or shot. (Mothers are also forced to watch their children being gang-raped by these government-backed militias; should they intervene, they are immediately shot dead.)
Hentoff calls for the United Nations to step in and avoid having another Rwanda-style bloodshed on its hands, but he has little faith it will do so. And he offers good reason for his cynicism: in late April, when the United Nations Human Rights Commission met to address the situation in Sudan, it expressed only 'concern,' stopping short of an actual condemnation. That might be , Hentoff suggests (though he wouldn't be the only one), because the Commission happened to include "such pitiless abusers of human rights as Zimbabwe, Cuba, and China." And just two weeks later, Sudan too was elected to serve a three-year term on the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Hentoff closes today's column, continuing his focus on Sudan, with this quote:
'"American ambassador Sichan Siv, walking out of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in disgust after it had re-elected Sudan to membership, said to The New York Sun, "The least we should be able to do is not elect a country to the only global body charged specifically with protecting human rights, at the precise time when tens of thousands of its citizens are being murdered or being left to die of starvation." '
Another challenge to conventional left-leaning opinion, and from an unlikely source... A lengthy piece in last Sunday's Observer newspaper in Britain takes film-maker, author and Wesley Clark (remember him?) advocate Michael Moore to task. Moore has three attributes that most people hate about Americans: he's fat, he's rich and he's a loudmouth, a combination usually that makes for an excellent bully. The fact that he's documented as doctoring his documentaries to suit his political purposes is, of course another good reason to watch him warily. (Documentaries, though they will always include an element of editorializing, are simply too important and valuable a medium to be fictionalized.)
However, because of Moore's politics, many people are willing to overlook these character weaknesses and offer him unmitigated praise. His new movie Farenheit 911 just won the coveted Palmes d'Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the first documentary to do so in over 50 years. The Observer's Andrew Anthony visited Cannes to profile Moore, and over the course of several days, came to see through the man's carefully constructed and frequently contradictory façade. Try these paragraphs for incisive, dryly humorous reporting:
"After the conference
Moore went to the official screening of his film
.The end of the film brought a standing ovation that, observers estimated, lasted somewhere between 12 and 15 minutes, a Cannes record, and possibly unmatched since Stalin's audiences used to continue clapping for mortal fear of being the first person to stop.
"The applause here, though, was genuine. For the Americans who made up a large section of the audience, this was their first opportunity to stand up straight after the shaming horrors of Abu Ghraib, and for the French, well, there is nothing the French love more than an American criticising America. The following evening on French TV, I watched Moore thank the French people for being 'friends who can tell you the truth to your face'. He might have returned the favour and told the French about their government's appalling role in Rwanda a decade before - but there are limits to truth-telling, even among friends."
You can read the full report here. Please do. I'll be back on Friday.
Thanks for keeping the pub conversations going in my absence last week. I'll get my own responses in over the next day or two. It's really pleasing for me to see so many discussions going on there, and covering so much ground. Because people come to this site for different reasons and from different directions, there's always going to be healthy disagreement. And yet, because our drinking is only virtual, it's never going to descend into Friday night pub-closing agro
A sight you don't see every day
On which somewhat related subject, I'm happy (really!) to see that Millwall fans made such a great day of their FA Cup Final defeat to Man United last Saturday. Perhaps, this one time, the thugs who've given their club such a bad name over the years (yes, that's got a lot we do with my antipathy towards our south London rivals; as a Crystal Palace fan, I've been on the receiving end too many times) were outnumbered. Most likely, it was just the positive influence of the Cup Final itself. I'll never forget the celebratory atmosphere at Wembley in 1990 when Palace played Man U in the final. It was the greatest sporting occasion I've ever witnessed - better even than the World Cup Final. And I remember how nasty the mood was at the replay five days later. 1990 was the last year The FA Cup Final ever went to a replay, wasn't it? Probably just as well.
It's going to be a great atmosphere at Cardiff next Saturday, too, for the Palace-West Ham Play-Off game. Such are the stakes (winner goes up to the Premiership) that this feels every bit as important as a Cup Final. In fact, one West Ham fan just remarked to me that it's his club's biggest game since the 1980 FA Cup Final. I'm somewhat amazed, but not really surprised, at how many of my friends have declared themselves West Ham fans over the past week. (Or is the other way round?) A couple of them are even going back from New York for the big match. Not me. I'm booking my plane ticket for August instead, when I can see Palace kick off a long-awaited return to the Premiership!
I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the Hammers. Maybe it's the colors till Palace went all Barcelona, we were two of the only four clubs to play in claret and blue. Or maybe it's just that they're a London team far enough away to be rivals, unlike all the south London teams plus Chelsea. Or that they've never done us personal damage, like Arsenal. Maybe it's because of Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. None of which means I don't want us to give them a stuffing at Cardiff, but at least it means I can genuinely afford to say, May the best team win. And may Palace again squeeze through with a last minute goal. Any which way, I think you all know what I'll be doing next Saturday morning.
A sight you also don't see every day: my son playing footie. Who cares if Ronaldo is a goal-scorer, not a goal-keeper? I finally got him to wear the shirt without complaining!
I didn't watch the Cup Final Saturday. I didn't even see a TV for five days, nor e-mail. After working through the week, I drove straight to the Jersey shore for a cracking weekend with the In-laws and kids and stuff, one of those occasions when I came home at the end of it all realizing how much I have to grateful for. Obviously, I know anyway, but given that I've been through some professional shit over the last few months, it's helpful to be reminded now and then. And the positive vibes continued when I got back to Brooklyn to find that snail mail is still popular round these parts. A friend, who works at HBO and to whom I'd casually mentioned at Tiswas last week that I'd missed the first episode of Deadwood, sent it through on VHS without prompting. Another friend sent me a bunch of press cuttings from the UK. Another friend sent me not one but three tasteful birthday gifts from Australia (a little late, but obviously the mail takes time to travel across the world). And yet another friend did something extremely old-fashioned and sent me a postcard from Belgium. How's that for a Global Village?
I listened to a ton of new music last week. Or I should say, music that's new to me. To keep me company while writing in the woods, I took along the box of records I'd just bought at a Park Slope stoop sale. (see here.) Given that I only paid $15 for thirty or so albums, I couldn't expect to like everything and in that sense, I wasn't disappointed. Which doesn't mean I wasn't disappointed, if you follow. Here are some observations.
Incongruous: The album Reach Out yielded The Four Tops no less than six classic Top 20 American hits, including 'Reach Out I'll Be There,' 'Walk Away Renee,' 'Bernadette,' 'Standing' In The Shadows Of Love,' and '7 Rooms of Gloom.' Yet among the other half-dozen cuts are two Monkees hits, 'I'm A Believer' and 'Last Train To Clarksville.' Great songs of course, and the Tops certainly don't butcher them, but alongside so much primarily wonderful Holland-Dozier-Holland material, they stand out like environmentalists at an Enron GM. (The sixth hit from the album, in case you were counting, was Tim Hardin's 'If I Were A Carpenter,' but unlike the Monkees hits, that song was more sparse in original form and thereby easier for the Tops to tackle. And, of course, reel in.)
Unbearable: Jimmy Roselli. A biography on this Italian-American crooner was published around the same time as my Moon book here in America, and occasionally the two were reviewed together. According to those summaries, Roselli was a distinct talent who could have been as big as his fellow Hoboken singer Frank Sinatra, except that, "Roselli's reluctance to give in to the Mafia hurt his career." I don't know about that: on the double album The Best Of Neopolitan Songs ('Ave Maria,' 'Passione' etc), he eschews Frank's subtlety and grace for the kind of operatic sentimentality one more frequently associates (if one's memory goes back that far) with Cornetto commercials. Apparently, mobster Larry Gallo was buried with a Roselli record in his hands but as anyone who's ever seen a gangster's idea of interior decoration, there's no accounting for taste.
Appalling: Boz Scaggs and his Hits! Who bought this stuff in the late 70s? Who told him to wear a pink jacket on the sleeve and stare straight at the camera as if anyone would still care 25 years later? Why did I get so far through life without being subjected to Scaggs' aural scabs only to succumb this far down the line?
She even sings like a bitch: Yes, Barbra Streisand and her horribly overblown show tunes. Most egregious of several albums (all of them major hit in their time) is My Name Is Barbra, where she adopts the persona of a five-year old. At least the crayon drawing cover to Color Me Barbra is charming enough to keep after I've thrown out the vinyl. Turns out I already had copies of both these albums, which suggests that there must be as many of her show tunes doing the stoop sale rounds as of Frampton Comes Alive.
Crap cover, great music
Crap cover, crap music
Great cover, crap music
Schmaltzy: Donna Summer, Live and More. I think they meant MOR Live; released at the peak of her popularity, this is more cabaret than it is disco. No one can tell their audience "I love you" that many times and mean it. Proof positive that synths (as on her classic singles) can emit more soul than strings.
Dated: Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band was always presented as concept disco for cool people, maybe due to the presence of August Darnell. To be honest, though, and even with 'Cherchez La Femme' in its midst, this debut sounds no less dated or middle of the road than Donna Summer. Perhaps you had to be there at the time.
Dance to this: 'Salsoul 3001' by The Salsoul Orchestra, a 12" single on, yes, the Salsoul label. This b-side to the inferior Nice'n'Naasty is an enticing disco take on the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme and one I might yet play at a DJ gig.
Dance to this too: 'Medley Of The Hits of 1979.' I was hoping this might be a bootleg edit but it seems to be more of a Stars on 45 style re-recording. Either way, it's a white label that doesnt look entirely legal. But it is fun, in an innocent, "This is what we dance to back then" kind of fashion. Sneak fact: between 1978-1979, 13 of 14 consecutive American number ones were disco songs. No wonder there was a backlash.
Embarrassing: Sonny & Cher doing the double act comedy clanger 'Podunk' on the same 1967 album (In Case You're In Love) as the excellent 'And The Beat Goes On.' (Mind you, their versions of 'Stand By Me' and 'Groovy Kind Of Love' are barely much better. And they butcher a song by my current tragic hero Tim Hardin along the way.) The 28-minute 1972 album A Cowboys Work Is Never Done (sic) is actually a more enduring record, at least while Cher is singing, and the sleeve the duo wearing embroidered denims on front and God knows what on the back is, as with much of Cher's visual contributions to popular music, worth consigning to the Smithsonian. Especially as the album appears to be out of print.
Not as good as they said it was then, not as bad as we feared it might be now: Band On The Run by Wings. Every now and then, I feel sorry for Paul McCartney. He shouldn't have to worry about the likes of me wondering aloud whether his multimillion selling Wings albums have stood the test of time. Then I remember that he doesn't worry about the likes of me. And I stop feeling sorry for him.
Too mainstream: Lou Rawls' Sit Down And Talk To Me, despite the Gamble & Huff material.
Concept album 1: Not what it was cracked to be.
Concept album 2: What it hasn't been cracked up to be.
Concept album 3: Everything it's cracked up to be?
Should have been mainstream: Life Goes On by Faith Hope And Charity. Vibrant, classy prime era vocal soul-disco material written by Van McCoy. (Author of 'The Hustle' if memory serves well.)
Are They For Real? The Baja Marimba Band, covering the likes of 'Winchester Cathedral' and 'Georgy Girl' as produced by Herb Albert and Jerry Moss. The back cover shows at least three other albums by the same group. Where did they come from and what were Messrs A&M thinking?
A Good Name Spoiled by Bad Music: Dan Fogelberg had no shortage of hits, and I thought he had a certain amount of cred too in the late 70s. But of course I'd never really listened to him. Dan's not as wretched as Boz, but he's still disappointingly dated. Souvenirs sounds fey and feeble. His collaboration with Tim Weisberg, Twin Sons Of Different Mothers, sounds frighteningly close to modern muzak.
So That's What They Were Up To: Not one, but two concept albums by The Moody Blues, and separated by two decades. On The Threshold Of A Dream was released in 1969, same time as Tommy but behind The Village Green Preservation Society, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, and SF Sorrow. Clearly an also-ran in comparison to these great British rock operas otherwise we'd know more about it, wouldn't we? On The Threshold Of A Dream is nonetheless a very good album. 'Lovely To See You' is classic late sixties British psychedelic pop, and though the acoustic 'Lazy Day' seems just a little too close to The Small Faces' 'Lazy Sunday' for comfort, there's enough quality here to suggest it could doing with being revisited by more people than myself. Certainly it's a better album than 1981's pompous Long Distance Voyager, by which time Justin Hayward's crew had become a very very very poor man's Genesis.
They make the hits, we just play them: I already have Sly & The Family Stone's Greatest Hits on CD. Likewise those of Diana Ross. Doesn't mean I'll throw out the vinyl.
This is what we paid good money for: Marvin Gaye's What's Going On. Except I left it back in Brooklyn. But we already know it's a classic, right? (Then why have I never owned it?)
Richard Pryor: Crazy...Funny
The real shit: That Nigger's Crazy by Richard Pryor. The actual content seems tame by the modern standards of Chris Rock and co. But bear in mind that Pryor was doing this stuff specifically, throwing the nigger word left, right and center a full thirty years ago and you'll realize what a revolutionary album it was. In fact, That Nigger's Crazy like the current crop of black comics merely picked up where he left off, two decades later. A brief skit about black drivers being busted by the police ("I
'Cause I don't wanna be no motherfucking accident") tells you how far we haven't come. Fortunately, Pryor didn't mind challenging his audience's prejudices, too. My favorite lines on the whole (ludicrously short) album are
'Don't ever marry a white woman in California. (Applause.) A lot of you sisters are probably [puts on female voice'], "Don't marry a white woman anyway, nigger [cheers, Pryor maintains female voice
] Shit... Why should you be happy?"' (Cheers turn to boos, Pryor nervously laughs.)
The biggest surprise of all about That Nigger's Crazy is that it won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album. Think about how long it took the Grammys to award a Best Rap Album Grammy to an artist with a similar sense of risk and you'll wonder if the voting committee were all on coke that year. (It was 1974, after all.)
MAY 17-23: 5th Ave Street Fair, James, Surefire/The Go Station live, Crystal Palace
MAY 10-16: Radio 4 live, John Entwistle, Jeff Mills, Wine notes, Joy Division covers
APR 26-MAY 9: Twenty Twos, Morningwood, French Kicks, Ambulance Ltd all live, More Than Nets, Mod, Turning 40
APR 19-25: 5 Boroughs Rock, The Number 3 Bus, Orbital split, MC5 reform
APR 6-19: British Press Cuttings, More Than Nets, Art Rockers and Brit Packers
MAR 29-APRIL 5: The Rapture/BRMC/Stellastarr* live, The Chinese Beatles, Freddie Adu
MAR 22-28: Singapore Sling live, Kerry on a Snowboard, Pricks on Clits, Eddie Izzard, Who's Two
MAR 15-21: TV On The Radio live, Tracking Terror, Bloomberg's Education Bloc, The Homosexuals,
MAR 8-14: The Undertones live, Winemakers Week, Madrid Bombings, Just In Jest
MAR 1-7: Rhone-gazing, Pop Culture Quiz answers, Who's Hindsight, March Hitlist
FEB 16-29: Lad Lit, American Primaries, New York novels, Candi Staton, the Pop Culture Quiz, World Musics In Context
FEB 9-15: Grammy gripes, Spacemen 3, Replacements, Touching The Void, Moon myths, Voice Jazz & Pop Poll
FEB 2-FEB 8: Suicide Girls in the flesh, Johnny Rotten's a Celebrity...So's Jodie Marsh
JAN 26-FEB 1: Starsailor/Stellastarr*/Ambulance live, Tiswas, Wine Watch, Politics Watch
JAN 19-25: Brooklyn Nets? LCD Soundsystem, Iowa Primary, The Melody, TV On The Radio
JAN 12-18: The Unicorns live, New York w(h)ines, Sex In The City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, S.U.V. Safety, Bands Reunited
JAN 5-11: Tony's Top 10s of 2003, Howard Dean and his credits, Mick Middles and Mark E. Smith, Mick Jones and Don Letts,
DEC 22-JAN 4: Blind Boys of Alabama live, Joe Strummer, Year-End Lists, Finding Nemo, The Return of The King
DEC 15-21: Placebo live, Park Slope, Angels In America, Saddam's capture
DEC 8-14: The Rapture live, Guardian readers change lightbulbs, Keep iJamming! Thriving
DEC 1-7: Cabaret Laws, Ready Brek, Kinky Friedman, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Jonathan Lethem, Julie Burchill, Blizzard running
NOV 17-30: Lost In Music, Lost In Translation, Neil Boland, Political Polls, Press Clips, Australian Whines
NOV 10-16: Ben E. King live, Hedonism readings, A***nal, Charts on Fire
NOV 3-9: Brother Bear, Oneida, P. Diddy, Steve Kember, Guy Fawkes, Iraq, the Marathon
OCT 27-NOV 2: CMJ Music Marathon report, NYC Running Marathon preview, Prey For Rock'n'Roll, Yellow Dog, Gen Wesley Clark, Halloween
OCT 20-26: Television Personalities, defending New York rockers, Bill Drummond Is Read
OCT 6-19: LCD Soundsystem live, Renewable Brooklyn review, Blind Acceptance is a sign...
SEP29-OCT 5: New York w(h)ines parts 1 and 2, Bruce Springsteen at Shea Stadium.
SEP 22-28: Atlantic Antic, Pacifists for War: General Wesley Clark and the Democratic Debate, Danny Tenaglia, Running Wild, Steppenwolf
SEP 15-21: Radio 4/DJ Vadim live, Manhattan Mondaze, Circle of Light, Renewable Brooklyn
SEP 8-14: Central Park Film Festival, Roger (Daltrey) and me, September 11 Revisited, The Raveonettes/Stellastarr* live, Recording Idiots of America,
SEP1-7: Film Festivities, Party Monster, Keith Moon RIP
AUG 25-31: Punk Planet, Carlsonics, Copyright Protection, Cline Zinfandel, BRMC
AUG 18-24: Black Out Blame Game, John Shuttleworth, British Music mags, Greg Palast, The Thrills live.
AUG 11-17: The New York blackout, Restaurant reviews, The Media as Watchdog, What I Bought On My Holidays
AUG 4-10: Step On again, Shaun W. Ryder, Jack magazine, the BBC, the Weather, Detroit Cobras, football and Rock'n'Roll
JULY 28-AUG 3: De La Guarda, The Rapture, Radio 4, Stellastarr*, Jodie Marsh, A Tale of Two Lions, Hedonism launch photos,
JULY 14-27: Manchester Move Memories, Hedonism is Here, Holiday postcard
JULY 7-13: Chuck Jackson live, Step On, Beverley Beat, British Way of Life
JUNE30-JULY6: David Beckham, Geoffrey Armes, Happy Mondays, Step On at Royale
JUNE 23-29: Ceasars/The Realistics live, weddings and anniversaries, Cabaret laws.
JUNE 9-23: Hell W10, The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite, Nada Surf live, Field Day debacle
JUNE 2-8: Six Feet Under - Over, Field Day, Siren Fest, Crouching Tigher Hidden Cigarette
MAY 19-JUNE 1: Ian McCulloch live, New York's financial woes, Six Feet Under, Hedonism, Tommy Guerrero.
MAY 5-18: Live reviews of The Rapture, De La Soul, Carlsonics, Laptop, The Libertines, Echoboy, The Greenhornes; observations on Chris Coco/The Blue Room, The Apple Music Store, Alan Freed, Phil Spector, The Matrix Reloaded, Rare Earth, Tinnitus and Royale!
APRIL 28-MAY 4: Flaming Lips, Madonna, Bill Maher, The Dixie Chicks, the war
APRIL 21-27: Rotary Connection, War(n) Out, Cocaine Talk
APRIL 14-20: Belated London Musings on Death Disco and CPFC.
APRIL 7-13: London Musings: Madness, Inspiral Carpets, the Affair, the Palace, the Jam
MARCH 31-APRIL 6: Music be the spice of life, London Calling: Ten Observations from the Old Country
MARCH 24-30: Six Feet Under, Peaches/Elefant live, MP Frees and Busted Boy Bands
MARCH 17-23: Röyksopp live, Transmission, Worn-Out War Talk
MARCH 10-16: Live reviews: Stratford 4, Flaming Sideburns, Joe Jackson Band, Linkin Park. Why I Oppose The War (For Now).
MARCH 3-9: The Pursuit of Happiness, Weekend Players, U.S. Bombs, Al Farooq, A New Pessimism, Brooklyn Half Marathon
FEBRUARY 24-MARCH2: Orange Park, Ali G-Saddam Hussein-Dan Rather-Bill Maher-Jon Stewart TV reviews, Stellastarr*, James Murphy, The Station nightclub fire, the Grammys
FEBRUARY 17-23: Village Voice Poll, Singles Club, Smoke and Fire
FEBRUARY 3-16: Snug, The Face, Pink, Supergrass live, Keith Moon, Phil Spector, Gore Vidal
JANUARY 27-FEBRUARY 2: Communist Chic, Spiritland, Daddy You're A Hero, Keith Moon, State of the Union, CPFC and more on Iraq
JANUARY 20-26: Divisions of Laura Lee, Burning Brides, Words On War, Child Abuse of a Different Kind, Losing My Edge
JANUARY 13-19: Pete Townshend, Pee Wee Herman, South Park and more Pete Townshend
JANUARY 6-12: Interpol in concert, Tony Fletcher's Top 10 Albums and Singles of 2002, More on Joe Strummer and The Clash, Fever Pitch and Bend It Like Beckham.
DECEMBER 31 2002 -JAN 5 2003: A tribute to Joe Strummer, Radio 4 live on New Year's Eve
2002 MUSINGS ARE LISTED HERE: