Rodgers that

In all the late-60s-English-blues-guitar-god listening I’ve been doing lately, I’ve taken a real fancy to Free. I’m drawn to both Paul Rodgers tasty, cooler-Rod-Stewart vocals and Paul Kossoff’s tasty Les Paul guitar tones. (Though he is also named Paul, Paul McCartney does not enter into the picture, though Pauline Kael might.) Free had, true to their name, a nice looseness that Bad Company lacked. And although Free had a big following, the songs on “Fire and Water” have a quiet intimacy–they would come across better in a small club than a stadium. “Cooler Rod Stewart?” you ask. No, it’s not a joke; I’m thinking of Rod in the “Jeff Beck Group” era, before he blew all his blues rock cred with those horrible multi-platinum albums in the mid 70s. Pagey formed Led Zepplin as his New Yardbirds (with John Paul Jones on bass). How much less ridiculous would Zep had been if Rod was its singer. As he was in Jeff Beck’s own version of the New Yardbirds. Well, you can compare them directly since both groups did “You Shook Me” on their first album. Personally, I prefer Stewart to Plant. Gasp! Here’s more fantasy football, what if Rodgers had been the singer for Zep? Would it sound anything like “The Firm”, the group that Page and Rodgers eventually formed together in the 80s? Don’t know, never heard them. Any comments here?

Where am I going with all this? Ah, grasshopper, always impatient. When Zep formed their vanity label, Swan Song, Bad Company was the first act they signed. Their other big act was the group that Paul Rodgers is now touring with, and of course I’m talking about Queen. And now you know… The rest of the story!

Rock ‘n Roll politics

A while back I celebrated my long-delayed Karaoke debut. This took place appropriately enough in “Music City, USA”. Nashville certainly earns that title, covering as it does that wide stylistic expanse from Country to Western.*** Up on stage, S.Fo and I performed My Generation (my choice) and LA Woman (his choice). Both songs are probably revealing of something or other. Leafing through the giant binder full of songs, I flipped past one page with about a third of the page blacked out. At first, I just continued browsing, but the blackened section piqued my curiosity, compelling me back to figure it out. Wild Turkey in hand, doing my best darkened Honky-Tonk 1:00 a.m. Wednesday squint, I gradually began making out letters behind the magic marker. When the mystery was revealed, I was hit with a wave of queasiness. In a move confounding authoritarian jackassery with patriotism, someone had blackened out all the songs by The Dixie Chicks.

What reminded me of this funny and sad incident is the new story about Sweet Neo Con, the new Rolling Stones tune that tells president Bush what the Glimmer Twins really think of him. Now, instead of three young Southern women criticizing Bush, you have the full force of the British Rock ‘n Roll empire launching an attack. And funnily enough, the calls for burning their album in the street haven’t been heard. The calls to ban Start Me Up from football games. And while it’s generally true that bullies don’t like to pick on people their own size, I suppose I can imagine another defense, Scott McLellan informing us that “The United States does not interfere with the Rock and Roll of sovereign nations.”

So more often than not, Rock and Rollers are part of the VLWC, and of course most C&Wers are Ditto-Heads, but there are plenty of notable exceptions. We have the Dixie Chicks on the one hand, and Johnny Ramone on the other. We saw the documentary “The End of the Century” last night. If you’re the kind of person who has read “Please Kill Me”, you need to see this movie. Just like the book, the story of the Ramones is interesting and surprisingly sad. Much of the movie focuses on Johnny, for two practical reasons 1) he was still alive (unlike Joey) and 2) he wasn’t strung out (unlike Dee Dee). Joey had succumbed to Cancer at age 49. In 2001, Dee Dee ODed at age 49 in 2002, two months after the film wrapped, and Johnny made it all the way to 55, losing out to prostate cancer in 2004. Johnny comes off as a humorless, fairly bitter, generally not fun to be around kind of guy. Which is a shocker, but you realize that without his level-headed discipline, the never would have survived for as long as it did. Johnny was the enforcer. He made them practice, he made them dress alike, he made them tour like maniacs, he kept tight reins over their finances. And because they were all such complete misfits, they stuck together, realizing they would collapse without each other.

Even though they hated each other.

Johnny had a revealing and unfortunate Spinal Tapian moment when, reflecting on Dee Dee quitting the group, he utters words to the effect that the band would have been exactly the same with another bass player, another drummer and… another singer. For Johnny, it was all about Johnny. For the rest of us, of course, the Ramones are all about Joey. We already know what the Ramones would sound like with out Joey: Green Day, Blink 182 or take your pick of a few dozen other imitators. And I’m not buying any of them. Johnny and Joey’s bitterness had many sources, not the least of which was Johnny stealing Joey’s girl and marrying her. (The KKK took my baby away.) Politically, they were polar opposites with Joey playing the New York Jewish Left-wing Woody Allen type, and Johnny on the Right. Johnny took time to praise president Bush during the band’s induction in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But I like to think that at that moment, in Rock and Roll heaven, Joey and Rock ‘n Roll Jesus glanced at each other, rolled their eyes and smiled.

***Evidently, I never tire of that joke.

Proof that advertising works

OK, you’ve all seen that VW ad featuring the kids that look like all of us circa 10 years ago dancing to this great garage song, getting into a row with their downstairs neighbor. They climb into their VW, the song still blaring. Eventually you see them dancing to the tune in their new house. The problem is that back then none of us could have afforded that car or that house. But, hey, the point of the ad is that things are different now! So, believe it or not, I broke down because of that ad: I bought the CD. The group is Kings of Leon, and the song is “Molly’s Chambers”. Classic garage, and it’s one great song. The rest of the album isn’t bad either.

Saw “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” last night. At one point, I turn to N and say, “this movie validates my taste in pop music.” Not that it particularly needs validating. But it is nice to see Devo gaining new respect these days. Mark Mothersbaugh does a few of his tyical Wes Anderson cues for this pic–nice but almost too understated. Not as effective as the scene underscored by the classic Devo tune “Gut Feeling.” And the use of “Search and Destroy” is almost too on the nose. Especially since I got the thought process behind the choice right away. They’re rescuing the bond company stooge… stooge… Stooges… Search and Destroy! Oh well, Wes isn’t exactly an obscure director (not, I mean, into obscurity) and it is after all one of the greatest garage band songs ever. I always like hearing Bowie in a film but I think the samba gimmick fell a little flat. eXpecially at the end of the film when you first hear Bowie playing Queen Bitch, and then right away the Samba guy. Ouch! That’s not playing fair!

Right now I have Kasabian in the deck. Thanks to Clickradian AG for the tip. I had seen them on Letterman, then saw their video on Mexican MTV. So we have critical mass. The story here is that BMG copy-protected the thing so it won’t just play in a CD-ROM drive. Oh no you di ‘nt! Forced me to copy WMA files and play those. Hey BMG, that sucks. Especially since I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t listen to mp3s. I listen to CDs exclusively. Oh well, I guess it’s just a challenge to get at the uncompressed audio.

The “Team America: World Police” DVD is out, and if you saw the theatrical release, it’s still worth watching to see the stuff they had to cut out to avoid an X-rating. Once again, the songs make the picture. I particularly like “Pearl Harbor Sucks and I Miss You.” Which brings me back to that Sith business. I don’t want to write too much about. In the New Yorker review, the writer can barely keep to the subject (look, the movie is just plain bad) and supposes that it would have been more effective as a silent picture. No dialogue, just the music. I agree, but even better would have been puppets! The puppet acting and dialogue in Team America was for the most part more convincing than what Lucas accomplished. How does he do it? He must put his stars through the “de-actorizing machine.”

You didn’t really think I was going to buy a car did you?

Another sad day for NYC

Bobby Short died this morning. Just two weeks ago I wrote a short list of things I needed to do right away; seeing Bobby Short play his gig at the Carlyle was number 1 on the list. Number 2 was to see Les Paul do his show at the Iridium; we’re hoping to do that tonight.

Sweety Das Küken and other weird iMemes

On my last few working trips to Europe, I would tune in to German MTV from time to time. Somehow inanity dubbed or subtitled into German is more engaging than plain old English inanity. But if you watch for more than a few minutes, you will see, endlessly repeated, these bizarre little commercials for special songs and ringtones to download into your mobile phone (that is, after they’re permanently encoded into your neural network) … The most popular one seems to be this little singing and dancing chick called Sweety das Küken. If you’ve never seen Sweety, maybe that’s for the best. If you’re really curious, go ahead and google, but mostly you will find video along the lines of “Sweety in a Blender,” the sure-fire sign of Internet mega-memedom. (Europeans are now completely obsessed with the customized ringtones. It’s not uncommon to see a senior executive at the second largest company in France run out of a meeting clutching a phone blaring something ridiculous like Dragostea Din Tei, a hit Romanian techno tune.)

And if you happen to make a video of yourself chair-dancing (Roadie!) to this same techno tune, you become instantly famous a la William Hung. This story has hit the Times a few days ago. If you haven’t seen the video yet, you owe it to yourself to watch. For me, I think the kid is genuinely talented, if a little misguided. Sorry to hear that he’s so distressed by all this unwanted attention.

I don’t know how I managed to miss it the first time around, but in 2003 a teenager from Quebec, who became known as the Star Wars Kid, inspired countless video post-production hacks to produce hundreds of minutes of video based on the kid’s 1:48 clip of himself practicing Jedi arts. This one is funny to watch too, but the attention SWK got was a little more mean spirited. Just google “star wars kid” and you’ll be amazed at how much stuff is out there.

And it’s not an iMeme, but Roxy Music’s “Do the Strand” must be a virus from outer space…

Numa Numa, Yay!

(ex-) Sedrick fan #1

From the “The inverse square law is your friend, department…”

Silly Lilly writes “OK, Here’s my little news piece about someone who did a search on our drummer’s name because he liked “Spankdriven”, a band she played in a couple of years ago. He has an obsession with the bass and contacted me because of our sedrick web page, and wanted to be put on our mailing list. He warned me he was planning to sit right in front of me in front of the stage, and here is his e-mail to me after the show: …

“Thanks for letting me intrude on your space to watch you perform
on Sat 12 Feb at the Bayou.

Hmm. Your performance was too loud for me. Sure, I plopped my butt
down in front of you to watch you up close, and that may have been
a strong reason for the cause, but not the main reason. I sat back
with the normal audience for the first two songs to gauge the sound
level. I had to decide whether the visual experience was more impor-
tant than the aural experience. I went with the visual to watch you
play.

Lillian, I watched your left hand quite often and marvelled at the
contortions to fret several strings at once (at least that was what
I was seeing).

For experimentation, I brought my digital camera along to take pic-
tures. The camera does not have a zoom. I dislike using the flash.
If I use the flash, then the pictures seem false to me. The camera
does not take good pictures in low light, that is, any motion often
causes a blur. The result is that nearly all of the pictures have
too much blur. A few pictures have barely adequate sections. The
stage lighting washed the pictures in red. If you have ever looked
through the red side of red-blue 3D glasses, then you know what I
mean. I will have to do some cropping to extract those worthwhile
sections for my memoriabilia.

And now, more about the sound …

When I introduced myself to you after your sound check, I intruded
with my comments that the sound from the sound check was too loud.
I still have the same opinion after listening to your performance.

For me, the main culprit was the singing for being too loud, that
is, either the singing itself, or the singing part caused the band
to put more energy into the song. Often, the words in the songs were
unintelligible to me from the distortion. During the slow songs, the
overall sound, including the singing, was within a tolerable level
as the band tried to keep the energy level in check. The worst for
me was the punk songs at the end of the performance, especially the
last one when Lillian let it rip. I felt waves of nausea from the
sonic screams in the last song.

My options are: (1) plead for volume restraint, (2) be intoxicated,
(3) wear earplugs, (4) stay away from the stage, or (5) not come. I
can do (3), but I ask for (1), and (5) seems inevitable.

With the venue name of Bayou Blues and Jazz club, what I heard was
different from what I expected. I expected blues and/or jazz, not
classic rock nor scream punk. I enjoy classic rock, but not scream
punk. The classic rock songs got my foot tapping. For some reason, I
expected all originals from Sedrick, but no cover songs. To me, one
has to ask about how Sedrick identifies itself, perhaps you are still
trying to understand each other to choose an overall direction.

I wrote the above with no animosity whatsoever nor intended any, but
a genuine desire to provide one person’s honest feedback. I am in my
quest to find a live music band that caters to my music taste, and
keeps the sound level below the pain/discomfort threshold.

Thanks for your time,
…”

And here is a final response that our drummer and pretty much everyone else in the band found completely distasteful, but I just think it’s all downright funny:

“Lillian,

I did some thinking about my music taste and the music of Sedrick with
your comments in mind. And, yes, please take me off the mailing list.
Time for me to renew my search for a live rock band which satisfies my
music taste. If you know of a live rock band which is looking for fans
and which is beholden to the classic rock scripture but is fresh and
modern in their own style, then please let me know such that I can be-
come a disciple of theirs.

Thanks for the memories,

And, all the best,

….””

Les Paul at Iridium

From the “good-things-come-from-Waukesha” department:

Not to be ghoulish about it, but the death of Bobby Short yesterday created a real sense of urgency about seeing Les Paul do his regular Monday night gig at Iridium. I had lost my chance to see Bobby, and wasn’t going to miss out on seeing Les. As soon as the box office opened, I made the reservations. If you’re not an electric guitarist, you’re forgiven if you don’t know that he is the living patron saint of the instrument. He was monstrously famous as a performer in the 50s, but he’s equally important for the engineering and design work he did in the early days of the electric, culminating in the creation of his namesake guitar, which is one of the true icons of Rock and/or Roll. But what’s truly amazing about him is that he’ll turn 90 this June and he still gigs, doing two shows every Monday night…

Iridium is tucked away into the basement of 1650 Broadway, which cyberkrunk insiders know as the original home of the studio I helped to found. It’s also a famous old music building where people as diverse as Irving Berlin and Don Kirshner worked. Kind of an annex to the Brill building, which is just down the street. After hanging out for a while in a line that was already startlingly long at 9:30, we were whisked in and seated at a long communal table front and center. It’s a mid-sized club that probably seats about two hundred; the site lines and sound are both good. They’ve made some effort at putting together a menu, but I especially liked the wine list and found a nice Croze-Hermitage with which to settle the drink minimum.

Les plays with a quartet now. Les’ main sideman for the last 20 years is guitarist Lou Pallo. Lou is just a kid, he can’t be more than 65 years old. He’s an amazing guitarist in his own right, and seems to have an extremely humble approach when playing with Les. Rounding out the combo is Nicky Parrott on bass and John Colianni on piano. They play really well together, do a lot of listening to each other, and just make it all work.

To be sure, Les no longer plays the way he used to, but he still plays damn well. Since his fingers are no longer so nimble, he has stripped out the pyrotechnic figuration that used to be one of the cornerstones of his style–this duty has been taken over by the group’s pianist. Instead, Les focuses on the melody and some simple comping. But he’s still got his characterstic phrasing and flourishes and above all, simply beautiful tone. Any guitarist can learn a lot from watching him play. We were very close to the stage, so I could see clearly what he was doing. There was a lot variation in where he picked the strings, often picking close to his left hand over the fingerboard. A lot of variation of pickup selection, too. His left hand technique looked a little strange; I’m guessing that he has lost strength in his fingers and makes up for it by doubling one finger over another. But the really strange thing is how much he uses his left hand thumb. Almost everything he played on the sixth string was with his thumb; I only saw him use regular fingering on the sixth string in one passage in one song. He rarely touched his vibrato bar. I was also extremely surprised to see that he seemed to be using nothing but stock effects pedals–he even made a joke about buying them all at Sam Ash (a couple of blocks away on 48th street). The effects were used spraingly and tasefully, mostly delay, a bit of tremolo. The volume level was quite low, so low that Colliani was playing his piano with a closed lid and a leather cover.

There’s a style of Jazz gig that seeks to create the ambiance of a chamber music recital. Man, this wasn’t that kind of gig! Les had a TV show in the 50s and I’ve never seen it, but it must have been something like his gig last night. The group played a few numbers, then started hamming around and bringing out guests. When you’re 90 years old, you can make any kind of tasteless joke and not only get away with it, but get a laugh too! Bassist Nick Parrott is very easy on the eyes, so inneundo jokes with Les are expected, even though she could be his great-grandaughter. Sometimes Les will bring out a Keith Richards-cailbre guest, but tonight we weren’t so lucky. We had a Nashville couple playing a Beatles medley, a vocal beatbox artist, a sax player, who did “Lester leaps in” for his second number, a harmonica-playing dude from Wisconsin, and a 7-year-old who, while cute, really couldn’t play too well. Even though it wasn’t a stellar bunch, we all had fun–it was a great vibe, just like hanging out and jamming with friends.

Knowing full well that most in the audience are there just to worship him, Les sets the standard for making himself available to his fans. I’ve never seen anything like it! Flash photographs are allowed throughout the show. Following the second set, Les meets with every single person who wants to see him, whether they want him to sign an autograph or just shake his hand. A long line formed as soon as the set was over, maybe half of the people at the show. Lots of them were carrying guitars for Les to sign–would it be in bad taste to bring in an SG? Apparently, some nights, this goes on for hours and hours, maybe til three in the morning. He’s more than fifty years older than I am, and I’m no kid anymore. Not only that, but he had a cold tonight, and his runny nose didn’t phase him a bit. When I grow up, I want to be Les Paul.

Since it wasn’t midnight yet, we decided to press on for a blues nightcap. After a brief diversion scarfing a slice at Ray’s on 8th Avenue, we headed down to 42nd street. That is, the new 42nd street, aka the Disney block. Generally this is a place to avoid at all costs, but our destination–the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill–is one of the few exceptions to this rule. Downstairs at Lucile’s bar, they have free music every night. This is a very good thing to keep in mind! We caught the last 45 minutes of the Jr. Mack band’s set. Jr. was playing a mixed bag of blues, rock and some gospely pop (poppy gospel?), but he really had the BB guitar style down pat. It’s really great to be able to stroll in at midnight on a Monday night and hear some really great music for no more than the cost of a couple of over-priced drinks. The scene was a little weird, a few working stiffs, a couple, and thirty-odd Italian exchange students. It’ll be worth another visit, and the man himself if playing there this summer.

Fade out to Bobby Short singing “I happen to like New York…”

Composer John Sherlock declared Leader and/or Dreamer

Toronto composer John Mark Sherlock will be featured in an upcoming issue of Maclean’s magazine, which is roughly the Canadian equivalent to TIME magazine in the US. This issue, part of a series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the magazine, will profile 100 Canadian leaders in fields including the Arts, Sciences, Business and more than likely, puck-handling. John has been a fixture on the Toronto contemporary music scene for more than a decade now, fulfilling many commissions including works for chamber and dance groups. He and I met in guitar master class, and then had the good fortune to do the Array Music young composers workshop the same summer. John’s music often showcases his amazing collection of antique keyboards, which includes Rhodes pianos, Hammond organs, Yamaha Clavinets, and if I remember correctly, at least one Pianosaurus. If we are lucky, we will convince John to do a story about his collection here. We really shouldn’t do this, but one of our operatives went digital dumpster diving and turned up a PDF preview of the piece. Congratulations, John!

George Tsontakis wins Grawemeyer

George Tsontakis has been awarded the 2005 Grawemeyer award in composition. This is very nice to hear. I, along with half a million other student composers, studied with George at the Aspen school; in my case back in the summer ’89. In addition to being a brilliant composer he is a brilliantly funny person–and he does an infamous Peter Falk impression. That humour often comes out in his music, which usually has a very effective kind of American neo-romantic style. In particular, I like his string quartets and the Galway Kinnell songs.

The full title of the honour is the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award For Music Composition. Carrying a prize of US$200K, the award is as prestigious as it is lucrative. Previous winners include Kaija Saariaho, Aaron Jay Kernis, Pierre Boulez, Toru Takemitsu, Karel Husa (who told me he liked my piece Wind and Silver, so he’s alright too), Krzysztof Penderecki, Gyorgy Ligeti and Witold Lutoslawski. George is in very good company.