Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Epic Adventures of 'Chinese Democracy'

I bet you thought I was going to discuss Tibetan protests for independence, or Chinese/U.S. relations? Hell no. This is something much more important. This post is about Axl Rose and the latest incarnation of Guns ‘n Roses. This is about Chinese Democracy.

Chinese Democracy is a legendary G’nR album. Those in the industry can just say “Chinese Democracy”, and that is shorthand for so many, many things. None of them good (especially for Geffen Records). Chinese Democracy has not been released yet; even though Axl and various versions of G’nR have been working on it since 1994. That is, work on Chinese Democracy started during Bill Clinton’s first term. According to the New York Times, Rose has blown $13 million recording Chinese Democracy (as of 2005). Seventeen different “musicians” have worked with Axl on tracks for the record, including Sebastian Bach and Shaquille O’Neil.

ABOVE: Axl Rose (center) hard at work on Chinese Democracy

Fun Chinese Democracy fact: A child born the year that work commenced on Chinese Democracy would now be starting High School.

What’s the hold-up? That story is as confusing as, well, the possible development of democracy in China. First and foremost, Axl Rose is insane. That much is clear. But Axl has blamed, alternatively, bandmembers come and gone, Geffen Records, and several fired managers for the delays. Axl has been on a Chinese Democracy tour, off and on, since 2001. He has been perpetually working these tunes out on the road. (Well, when he chooses to appear for his scheduled shows, which is about 50% of the time). The funny thing is that by many accounts, the tunes are great and sound of vintage G'nR.

Fun Chinese Democracy fact: Axl has worked longer on Chinese Democracy than it took the Beatles to form, tour the world several times over, film four movies, record and release 13 albums, and break up.

BELOW: Will Axl accept Dr. Pepper's challenge to finish Chinese Democracy this year?


Rose has consistently provided release dates since about 2005; all of which have come and gone. But this last week the ultimate challenge was put to Axl. Dr. Pepper has offered a free can of Dr. Pepper to every American-with the exceptions of former G’nR guitarists Slash and Buckethead (not to be confused with current G’nR guitarist Bumblefoot)-if G’nR releases Chinese Democracy in the 2008 calendar year. Axl responded in an open letter to Dr. Pepper, thanking them for their support, and he even offered to share his Dr. Pepper with Buckethead since “some of Buckethead’s performances are on [Chinese Democracy]”.

Demos of varying quality and authenticity have been leaked to radio and the internet over the years (followed by lawsuits). Some of these tracks indeed sound promising. Former Skid Row singer and reality TV star Sebastian Bach, who has contributed backing vocals to some Chinese Democracy tracks, describes the record, in its current state, as “a very cool album – it’s badass with killer screams, killer guitar riffs…the word is ‘grand’. It’s fucking epic.” Well, there you go.

All we can do is wait, hope and pray that Axl and G'n R deliver Chinese Democracy within this calendar year so we may finally savor this “fucking epic” along with our free can of Dr. P.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dez's Picks: 'The Last Waltz', 1978

As slightly previewed in my back and forth with Johannes in the previous post's comments section, I view THE LAST WALTZ as the greatest rock and roll documentary ever made. (True, the competition is sparse, because there just aren't that many great rock docs out there.)

The Band. One of the greatest groups of their (or any) era; The Band released two unquestionable masterpiece records, Music From Big Pink and The Band, then tried in vain to recapture that magic for the rest of the 1970's, and finally folded for all intents and purposes in 1976. (They did release some things afterwards, and regrouped without Robbie Robertson in the 1980's and 90's...but as far as The Band when they really mattered, they folded their tent in '76). This most Americana of bands was comprised of four Canadians and one Arkansan. They cut their teeth playing jukes and dives across Canada and the U.S., until Bob Dylan finally plucked them from obscurity to be his backing band on his seismic first electric tour in the mid-60's (the one that changed the course of rock history). They were worshiped like few other bands by their fellow musicians. Eric Clapton to this day insists that merely listening to The Band’s debut was one of the main inspirations for folding Cream. Clapton even traveled to their communal home/studio in Woodstock (the 'Big Pink' referenced in the title of their debut) and asked them if he could join as their guitarist. Not too keen on the competition, Robertson told him "no thanks."

Key to The Band’s greatness was the integrated approached they took. Each member was a multi-instrumentalist, and they also boasted three expressive and unique singers. Robbie Robertson wrote most of their original material. Charges of dictatorial tendencies aside, Robbie insists that he begged the troubled Richard Manuel to share the songwriting burden (Manuel equally shared the songwriting on the debut); but Manuel was creatively spent after that first record and was satisfied to sit back and play keyboards, occasionally drum, and be their primary vocalist. Levon Helm (drums) and Rick Danko (bass) were the loosest white rhythm section in all of rock (listen to "Don't Do It" from Rock of Ages if you want to argue that point with me), Manuel’s singing could truly break your heart, Garth Hudson was a wizard at filling the musical space with an array of instruments, and Robertson was a restrained but wonderful guitarist who also wrote some truly classic tunes.

Robertson finally decided to call it quits in ‘76. The rest of The Band did not agree, but Robbie was the one calling the shots at that point as relations in this once communal group were stretched to the breaking point. He decided they should go out with a bang. Throw a farewell concert to end all farewell concerts, invite lots of fellow musicians of the day to share the stage and film it all. Enter Martin Scorsese. Bill Graham let them use the Winterlands in San Francisco on Thanksgiving of that year for the festivities, and Graham even provided a full Thanksgiving dinner for the fans before the show.

ABOVE: The Band remembers the old days (Martin Scorsese at far left, Levon Helm not pictured)

THE LAST WALTZ is much more than a mere performance video. Scorsese wanted to capture the group in interviews, hanging out, and in the studio as well as on stage. What he got was alternatively whimsical, insightful and deeply sad. This is nothing more than a testament to the toll of the road. One scene that sticks out is an incoherent Manuel barely able to get through telling a simple story from their early days, even with bandmates carefully prodding him along and clear multiple takes and edits by Scorsese. What should have been an amusing anecdote of hard times when they were starting out becomes a scene showing a man on the edge. Manuel would eventually hang himself several years later in a hotel bathroom.

But you’ve also got a playful Danko giving you a tour of their studio and reveling in the fact that it used to be a brothel before they bought it and converted it. Also a clear-eyed Robertson admitting that he is exhausted after 16 years on the road, with an obviously frustrated Helm sitting quietly next to him, clearly wanting 16 more years of the same and pissed off that Robertson is calling it quits for the rest of them. Helm and Robertson still have not reconciled, and Helm's opinion of THE LAST WALTZ is about as low as his opinion of Robertson. (Helm famously refused to show up to The Band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because he did not want to share the stage with Robertson, and even more telling, he waited outside of Rick Danko's funeral until Robertson left, only then did he go in to pay his own respects to his fallen bandmate. Helm views THE LAST WALTZ as a Scorsese/Robertson ego trip, reducing the rest of The Band to mere sidemen in their film project. Helm often points out with glee that in all of the shots where Robertson appears to be singing passionate back-up vocals, his mike was turned off the entire show).

BELOW: Robertson trying to sound deep in an interview with Scorsese, although I am impressed that he was able to catch the fly with with bare hand. The unintentionally funny Robertson interview clip is followed by an incendiary performance of "Up on Cripple Creek" that Levon Helm could sing

In the end what makes THE LAST WALTZ so special are the performances. The Band themselves go through their own greatest hits with vigor and passion. Highlights include a visceral “Stagefright”, a moving “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (with killer horns arranged by Allan Toussaint), a funky “Up On Cripple Creek”, and a drop dead gorgeous “It Makes No Difference” (could Rick Danko’s performance here be the most emotionally raw vocal in rock? It would be in the running. And what about Robertson's spot-on guitar solo?) Then you’ve got The Band backing a who’s who of 70’s greats: Neil Young and Joni Mitchell together on “Helpless”; Muddy Waters on a smoldering “Mannish Boy”; Clapton trading licks with Robbie on “Further On Up the Road”; The Staples turning “The Weight” into a soul barnburner; Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote”; a trip to the Big Easy with Dr. John on “Such a Night”; a celebratory “Caravan” with Van Morrison; “Mystery Train” with Paul Butterfield; a gritty “Who Do You Love?” with Ronnie Hawkins (the Canadian rockabilly legend that The Band supported when they were starting out, billed as The Hawks); even a groovy “Dry Your Eyes” with Neil Diamond…and finally a mini-set of loose rockers with Bob Dylan himself.

Funny story: Neil Young had just snorted a huge amount of cocaine backstage (being the '70's, Bill Graham had set up an entire cocaine room backstage for all the honored guests), and in the original film a hunk of white powder was clearly visible hanging out of Neil's nose as he performed "Helpless". With the magic of digital technology, Robbie and Scorsese have gone in and removed the offending powder from Neil’s nose.

ABOVE: Muddy Waters shows the youngins how it's done

Some other accidents that are still there make for wonderful moments in the film. Muddy Waters' smoldering performance of "Mannish Boy" is very effective because most of the song is filmed with one camera focused on Muddy, slowly zooming in and out on the legendary bluesman. This was not due to artistic greatness on the part of Scorsese, it was due to rebellion by one of his cameramen. Scorsese made a mistake and called for a break in filming (to let the cameras cool down) during the song; not realizing that it was Muddy due up next. But this particular cameraman, so sick of Scorsese's constant orders being barked over his headset, had tossed off his headset earlier in the evening and decided to film guerilla-style. Hence his was the only camera rolling during the great performance. Another fantastic, unplanned moment was during Clapton's "Further On Up the Road", when his guitar strap popped loose right in the middle of his solo. Robertson, without missing a beat, jumped in and picked up the solo right there until Clapton was able to reattach the strap and continue on. Talk about watching each other's back.

ABOVE: Does Neil Young know where he is?

The film and soundtrack capture an era. It is melancholy, celebratory, powerful and weary as hell. The performances are all superb. There was a time when I had this movie on an old, dusty videotape (thanks DRE), and I watched it every night for months at a time as I was going to sleep. I got to know every moment intimately (at least the first half), but in a dream state, half awake and half asleep. I can’t really explain it, but that is a great way to know THE LAST WALTZ. It is triumphant and tragic. The performances reveal the peaks which this group of musicians could still climb on a nightly basis; yet it also shows the toll this life takes on men. Some grow cold and decide to leave it behind (Robertson), some get so addicted to it that they cannot bear the thought of doing anything else (Helm), and some never make it out and become another rock and roll casualty (Manuel, and later Danko).

What to buy…

A couple years back, Scorsese and Robertson put together a beautiful DVD Special Edition of the film, with insightful extras. Likewise, the soundtrack was remastered recently with revelatory results. It was originally released on three records (two CDs), so the two disc version is still available. But I would highly recommend splurging for the 4-disc box set, which features many bonus cuts and covers the entire show performed that night. The bonus cuts are as good as what ended up making the original album and film.

As for other essential Band purchases: the debut Music From Big Pink and follow-up The Band are two of the more important albums released in the late 60’s. Greatest Hits is a good single disc overview. The Band: A Musical History is one of the better box sets ever released. It has the obvious cuts, but is packed with A-List rarities as well.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Crying Wolf...

Some of you who checked GNABB late last night or this morning may have noticed a GNABB Obituary, wherein I dramatically declared the death of GNABB and thanked everyone who read or participated. This was posted due to a common problem we all face. Swamped at work and learning a new job, household duties, etc. I felt I needed to give up some things to tend to these other duties more fully, so I killed GNABB. Then my wife finds out what I did this morning and is furious and makes me resurrect GNABB. She promised me that she would take care of all household duties, I could quit my job...all so I can deliver the best GNABB possible. OK, not quite. But she did insist that I bring it back. So here we are, back in business. I hope that dispells any confusion, and I hope that I did not send my thousands of readers into deep despair with my message last night.

Coming soon...a fascinating discussion as to why "The Last Waltz" is the greatest rock doc ever made...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Down Under

Colin Hay (of Men At Work fame) is one of my musical heroes. Check out this great acoustic version of "Down Under". His shows are typically like this clip: solo acoustic with lengthy and amusing anecdotes between songs. I saw him live in Austin in a small club a couple of years back. There were perhaps 12 people in the audience. But he still gave a great show and hung out afterwards and was very friendly. To this day he possesses my favorite voice in rock. I'm glad he's getting some attention (finally) for his solo work. Enjoy...

For what it's worth...

I had an experience last night that got me thinking about our recent discussions here at GNABB and around the nation about race issues.

We have some black neighbors who live across the street, and last night they were having an old fashioned crawfish broil in their garage (I'm not making this up, they're from Louisiana). As I pulled in my driveway, my neighbor came across the street and invited me over for some crawfish and socializing. My wife was out most of the night with some friends on a girl's night out, so I went over solo. I ended up staying over there for about 5 or 6 hours, sitting in their garage with mountains of crustacian carcasses in front of me as I consumed about 500 pounds of crawfish and talked about a number of topics with my hosts. Over the course of the long evening, I was struck by the diversity of folks who came through that garage. From my count: two black couples with two young children (one kid took a liking to me, so there I was, with four year old Tyson sitting on my lap; he didn't seem to mind that I was white), one mixed couple (black male, hispanic woman), two white couples with four kids between them, and eventually when my wife got home she joined us (I'm a white male and she is mixed, half Hispanic/half white). Little white and little black kids laughing and enjoying crawfish; while an assortment of white, black and Hispanic folks sat around drinking beer, eating crawfish, and joking, laughing and telling stories about every topic under the sun.

The point? Perhaps crawfish are the answer to healing racial wounds. But also, from our conversations here regarding my post about Rev. Wright and Obama, and from the things we have heard on the airwaves over the last week or so, we have MAJOR racial issues in this country. But to be honest with you, I cannot think of many other countries where you would see a scene like I was a part of last night. There was not the least bit of tension in that garage, it was all good times. Now, it is true that certain topics were not discussed. And it might be interesting to ask each person privately about their opinion on race relations in America...but still. When religious factions and different tribes elsewhere are killing each other in other parts of the world, is it really so bad here? When in many parts of Europe there is a real battle brewing between the native populations and the Muslim immigrants, are things here so horrid?

And that does not even adequately describe the racial diversity on my street. We have some Pakistanis living a couple of doors down, and some Koreans across and up two doors.

The closest thing to tension I have witnessed was when the Korean lady was stealing new grass from several other newly built homes in the neighborhood because her own grass had not yet been delivered, and my black neighbor yelled at her. Perhaps that is our version of tense black/Korean relations, like you hear about in South Central L.A. I don't know.

I realize that there is one common denominator here: economic class. It costs a certain amount of money to live in our neighborhood, and all of these people have that money and are professionals. Which is why I have often thought that there is more tension and divisiveness along the lines of economic class than race. At least in today's society it seems that way.

Poll Results

I've been doing polls here since the inception of GNABB, but have yet to conduct a conversation about the results. The latest poll just closed, and after thousands upon thousands of votes, here are the results:

Your favorite decade for music?

1960's: 41%
1990's: 33%
1980's: 25%
1970's: 0%
2000's: 0%

Perhaps these results are in part reflective of the demographics of the GNABB Nation. I have found that one's favorite period of music usually coincides with their teenage/high school years where for most normal people things like music and other pop culture are of utmost importance. (For people like me, that period of obsessiveness continues to this day).

The 60's as winner doesn't surprise me. Rock and roll (and I am assuming most readers here are primarily rock and roll listeners, in whatever favorite genres) really came of age and blossomed in that decade. But what surprised me was the strong showing for the 1990's. I didn't think that was a particularly strong decade for tunes. For the record: my vote went with the 1980's (notice I worded the poll carefully, asking for "favorite", not some sort of objective "best" or "most significant"). Where's the love for Duran Duran and Men At Work, people?

ABOVE: 80's music was noted for its substance over style, and its hardhitting political and social impact on the key issues of the day...oh wait, I meant the 1960's

I'd be curious to hear from voters (or even non-voters) in this last poll as to what made your decade of choice so great...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

RIP Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

Prolific sci-fi visionary author and staunch atheist Arthur C. Clarke passed away on Wednesday. He is justly respected for his many sci-fi novels as well as non-fiction work, but I am a big fan of his co-written screenplay with Stanley Kubrick for the groundbreaking film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Clarke and Kubrick butted heads with each other over many key aspects of the project, and Clarke admitted to being somewhat baffled by Kubrick’s finished product; but Clarke's ideas were key to the film (which was born from his short story, "The Sentinel"). He came up with the concept of communications satellites in 1945, decades before their use (and he pioneered the idea of geostationary satellites). Greatly respected throughout his long career, Clarke has been cited by many scientists and top minds at NASA as a key inspiration. He is honored as a national hero in his adopted home of Sri Lanka. RIP ACC.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies Like Billary?

Alright, Obamaphiles, explain this one away. I bought into the whole Obama transcends race argument for awhile. But the first chinks in that armor came with some disturbing comments by his wife, Michelle. Things along the lines of the Obama campaign being the first time she was “proud of America”, and the U.S. being a “mean” country. What exactly about Michelle LaVaughan Robinson Obama’s life has been so difficult? How has she been done wrong? Princeton educated. Harvard law school. Prestigious law firm. A job working for Chicago’s mayor. What exactly has she been deprived of? There are few whites out there with those kind of credentials.

Now on to Rev. Wright. Many in the black religious community defend his sermons by saying they were “taken out of context”, that Wright is being “lynched in the media” and misunderstood by those “ignorant of black culture, black expression and the black church.” Whatever. The dude said what he said. Taken out of context? Unless his quotes were preceded by a statement like “what I am about to say is the opposite of how I feel…”, I do not see how “context” will make much difference here.

The fact that Obama attended church with a minister for 20 years who espouses a hardcore black liberation theology…say goodbye to a lot of the white support Obama used to have. I’m fairly open-minded, but it certainly gives me serious pause. Obama named his ‘Audacity of Hope’ book title after one of Wright’s sermons. He has been a member of Wright’s congregation for two decades. Wright married Obama and Michelle; he baptized one of Obama’s children. Wright served in Obama’s campaign (until last week) as his “spiritual advisor”, whatever the hell that means.

Now Obama distances himself from whichever sermons of Wright’s that are distasteful, but insists Wright is still a positive spiritual force? Really?

Elegant Damage Control

Obama gave a remarkable speech yesterday trying to explain this entire situation. He finally took advantage of his half white / half black ancestry as a political tool to show how he is uniquely American. That was cool. I also admire him for not throwing Wright completely under the bus. As one commentator put it, it was the most “elegant damage control” he had ever seen. Yet, it was still damage control at its heart. Obama’s insistence that he has been waiting to make a speech on race like this for awhile is BS. He has wanted to avoid this as long as possible. One speech, however elegant, will not make up the lost ground. Obama indeed transcended the race issue before Rev. Wright became headline news. He was finally making inroads into the working class whites and Hispanics that have been Billary’s base. But now I think he has lost them for good. Even if he beats Billary, this will have lasting consequences into the general election against John McCain. Black liberation theology just doesn’t sit well with working class whites and Hispanics who have their own list of grievances and problems. Frankly, it doesn’t sit well with me either. McCain has never looked better.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Yesterday afternoon as I watched the Houston Rockets defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in a glorious victory that marked their 22nd victory in a row and secured them the 1st place spot in the Western Conference, I started thinking about the nature of streaks. Be it in sport, entertainment of some other kind, professionally or whatever.

But first, let’s appreciate what the Rockets have accomplished thus far. Only one team in NBA history has a longer win streak (the ’71-’72 Lakers at 33). Ten of these 22 games have been since All-Star Center Yao Ming had to call it quits for the season due to a bone fracture. The latest win was against the L.A. Lakers, the team tied with the Rockets at the top of the Western Conference. The Lakers kept Rockets star Tracy McGrady to 11 points, yet the team still found a way to beat the Lakers to grab the top spot in the West. Rafer Alston hit 8 three pointers, Shane Battier played tougher defense on Kobe than anyone else has this season, new back-up point guard Bobby Jackson scored 19 points, and new Rockets star Luis Scola had 13 points and 11 rebounds (a player we got in a trade with San Antonio in exchange for $5.00 and a bag of M&M’s). At the beginning of this win streak The Rockets were not even in the playoff picture for the West, now they are atop the Western standings. This partly says something about how tight the West is right now, but it also shows what a scrappy and determined team who were counted out when their best player got knocked out for the season can do. It shows incredible heart.

This started me thinking about streaks in general. The more impressive they are, the more the expectation builds to keep them going. Also the harder the fall when they do come to an end. This is nothing revelatory, I know. It reminds me of an attorney I used to work for whom I admire a great deal and who will remain nameless, but he has supposedly never lost a case that went to trial. This guy has been practicing for awhile, and he has a true killer instinct like any good litigator should. He is also ex-military, which I think instills something that no other experience can. I worked on some fairly tough cases with him, and one of the first things he would say to me as we embarked on a new one was that he has never lost a jury trial, and he intends to keep it that way. More important than the actual case at hand was making sure the win streak was maintained. (Still good for the client, even if the motives for winning were a bit off). This dude has a huge ego, as many trial attorneys do, so this was not surprising. But it is interesting how the burden of a win streak can change the focus of the task at hand.

The Rockets and my old boss aside, can you think of any other impressive streaks? My mind usually goes back to music or movies. As far as music, the two win streaks that immediately come to mind are the Rolling Stones 1968-72 and Pink Floyd 1971-79. For the Stones: try Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street all back to back to back to back to back. As for Floyd, how about Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall all in a pretty row. (I am cheating slightly with Floyd, they did put out the minor soundtrack Obscured By Clouds during this time, but it was a soundtrack to a forgotten film, so we can conveniently disregard it). In today’s digital age the significance of a great album is being lost (the subject of a long post in the near future).

Anyway, what even makes a noteworthy streak? There is no magic number, it depends on the arena. In music, having five classic records in a row like the Stones between ’68-’72 is remarkable. In the NBA, getting up to 20 wins in a row is pretty amazing.

So dear readers, I’d be curious of other noteworthy streaks you can think of. It can be sports, music, movies, professionally, personally or whatever. I don’t care the field. Give me some impressive streaks and tell me why they are so impressive. One more for me: today marks 365 days and counting my wife has stayed with me!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Tom Jones moment, part 1

Watch this video. As one of the commentators said on YouTube, "Tom Jones was the original mack daddy". Indeed. Wait until about 1:18 into the video, and it gets freakin' hysterical.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Yeah, what he said...

Click here for a great article by conservative talk show host Glenn Beck on why Florida and Michigan have to suffer the consequences of their actions and not have their votes counted this go around. He says what I have been saying, only better.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


“Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem”

“I hope you are all Republicans”-to the doctors in the emergency room treating Reagan after the assassination attempt

I was listening to talk radio the other day, as I often do, and Laura Ingraham was doing her new segment “what would Reagan do?” Akin to the “what would Jesus do?” campaign from a few years back, Ingraham’s segment amounts to trying to divine the Right path according to the Conservative Holy Scripture. Most conservative talk radio hosts are disappointed with their options this election season, so many are turning back to the golden days of the Gipper. Sean Hannity has taken to calling himself a follower of “Reagan principles”, not “conservative” or “Republican”, but “Reagan.”

This Reagan worship is nothing new, but it seems to have resurfaced with a vengeance on the airwaves in recent months. As my formative years were during the 80’s, Reagan’s figure looms large in my consciousness as well. Depending on your political persuasion, Reagan was either the greatest Republican since Lincoln or an uncaring man oblivious to the problems of most Americans.

My purpose is not to conduct an in depth analysis of his administration and policies. I am more interested in this Reagan cult of personality that has emerged in the right of center territory. Just from my own recollection growing up in the 80’s, we have not had a president since Reagan who inspired such American confidence and bravado (or arrogance?) Emerging from the rough and tumble 1970's with Watergage and Vietnam still fresh on peoples' minds, Americans were having a crisis of confidence. After the malaise days of Jimmy Carter, Reagan reminded us that being American was a point of pride.

He seemed to exude confidence and action. He essentially “fired” over 11,000 air traffic controllers who refused to end their strike. Who would have the balls to do that nowadays? In the face of the most famous terrorist of that decade, Muammar Gaddafi (or Quadafi, or Kadafi, or…), Reagan bombed the crap out of Libya and Gaddafi basically hid under a rock for the next couple of decades. (On the other hand, after the bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut, we didn’t really do much but get the hell out).

ABOVE: Reagan prepares to kick the shit out of Libya

In moving beyond the myth, Reagan’s terms were mixed bags. Reaganomics lowered taxes and unemployment and revitalized many sectors of our economy. It also brought on staggering deficits. Failures like the slow response to AIDS, the War on Drugs, immigration amnesty, and Iran-Contra were notable…but then so were triumphs like helping to topple the Soviet Empire; with a deft and flexible foreign policy that ranged from threatening the “Evil Empire” to forcing them into bankruptcy when they couldn't keep up with SDI and increasing defense spending in general; then shifting gears to cooperation with Gorbachev and encouraging reform and promoting understanding with the Russian people. Our current president should take note, sometimes a shifting and seemingly "inconsistent" policy towards an enemy can be very effective. It is called flexibility, and Reagan was a master. He adapted to the changing situation in the Soviet bloc.

Beyond the facts is the persona. The Great Communicator, indeed. In the end, I think that was his greatest gift. People can legitimately argue back and forth whether Reagan's policies were good or bad, but they cannot deny his personal connection that he had with the American people. The confidence and optimism that he brought back to the country (stemming the tide of self-loathing in which many Liberals thrive) may be his greatest legacy. Policies aside, it is that aspect of his adminstration that sticks with me at a gut level. Unfortunately, W.'s careless bungling has chipped away at that righteous swagger that Reagan so carefully cultivated for us.

There was a reason why the Reagan Democrats were a sizeable group of his constituency. These were people who had little in common with his political philosophy, but…they just liked the guy. They felt he was a leader beyond the constraints of political party. Barrack Obama has this potential in him. I can see pockets of Obama Republicans here and there. That may be why the Right is willing to make a deal with the devil (Billary) in order to defeat Obama. People on the Right know what it is like to have a once in a lifetime leader on your side of the aisle.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

RIP Buddy Miles and Jeff Healey

Note: both of these talented musicians passed away in the last couple of weeks, so a paragraph or so for each...

The 'legendary' BUDDY MILES, 1947-2008

The legendary Buddy Miles was a physically imposing figure. With his gregarious personality, his American flag glitter jacket, his hulking presence, and his soulful drumming and singing, the legendary Buddy Miles was a fixture in 60's and 70's rock. Most notable for his collaborations with others, the legendary Buddy Miles was the definition of a supportive and collaborative musician. He worked with Jimi Hendrix as drummer and singer in Hendrix's shortlived rock/soul experiment Band of Gypsys. He then worked with Michael Bloomfield in the shortlived supergroup Electric Flag. The legendary Buddy Miles also collaborated with Carlos Santana, and had his own solo hit with "Them Changes". Years ago I attended a benefit in Aspen, Colorado which featured the legendary Buddy Miles performing and singing. He was great on the drums, but I wished he would have laid off the guitar. I remember him hawking a photo of him with Hendrix for charity. RIP the legendary Buddy Miles.

JEFF HEALEY, 1966-2008

Jeff Healey was one of those rare wunderkind talents. Blind from birth, he learned to play guitar in a rather unorthodox fashion (see photo above). When Healey first hit the scene with his excellent debut See the Light, he was hailed as an up and coming great. His guitar skills were unquestionable and thrilling, but he suffered from a lack of good songwriting. Healey's popularity peaked when he appeared in the Patrick Swayze classic 'Roadhouse'. His best songs were usually covers, and his subsequent work never quite caught fire like his debut, but he continued to record and tour successfully. Healey was also an avid record collector, accumulating over 25,000 early jazz 78's. He hosted a radio show in his home country of Canada which featured classic jazz music. In his later years, Healey released albums that alternated between blues/rock and traditional jazz. He just completed his latest record, Mess of Blues, right before the cancer that blinded him finally took his life. Mess of Blues will be released posthumously next month. RIP JH.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Class of 2008

Not that most of you care, but tonight was the induction ceremony for the Class of 2008 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Like most halls of fame, the RRHOF is surrounded by controversy and questions of “why is he in there?!” and “where the hell is Peter Gabriel?”, etc. etc.

I will post another article surrounding these debates at a later time (in fact, a frequent reader at GNABB and I have a great documentary in the works regarding one of these nomination battles); but tonight I’d like to focus on this year’s class of inductees and the ceremony. They used to broadcast the yearly ceremony on VH1, but to add insult to injury, not even VH1 deems it worthy of full broadcast anymore (they show a truncated version later), so you must tune in to VH1 Classic for the whole thing. Even my rather generous cable package does not include VH1 Classic, so I was reduced to watching the webcast at

Along with about 10 other people nationwide, I sat in front of my laptop in anticipation of the 2008 RRHOF Induction Ceremony. In years past, these ceremonies have been worth watching. The induction speeches are generally entertaining (highlights from previous years include Bono inducting Springsteen and then several years later Springsteen returning the favor for U2; a favorite speech was by Jeff Beck inducting Rod Stewart by saying “he likes me a lot more than I like him, but anyway, here’s Rod Stewart”). The acceptance speeches can be irreverent (two years ago The Sex Pistols sent a letter calling the RRHOF a "piss stain" was fun to watch Jann Wenner have to read the letter as their speech at the ceremony) or heartfelt, full of humor or uncomfortable moments as still feuding band members are forced to stand together and make nice. Jeff Beck provided another highlight the year that The Yardbirds were inducted. The former band members were all on the stage giving self-congratulatory remarks back and forth. It was worthwhile just to see the Holy Trinity of British Guitar standing side by side (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page). When it was Beck’s turn to say something, he goes “I’d just like to say fuck you all for kicking me out of the band” (referring to the disasterous American tour when Beck was indeed booted from the band for his erratic behavior). For a split second everyone looked extremely uncomfortable, but then Beck burst out laughing as everyone else relaxed. As you can imagine, with these type of personalities, it is not your typical awards ceremony. The performances are often noteworthy, for either being great nostalgia or disasterous.

Jackass Jann Wenner (founder of Rolling Stone magazine and one of the more powerful and worst influences on the RRHOF) started things off with a decent rundown of the RRHOF criteria and history. The most notable part of this speech was the cutaway shot to Billy Joel and his date. She is freakin’ hot!

The first award was in the Non-Performer category for A&R legends Gamble & Huff. Ever humble: “Every time we wrote a song, it was a hit.” Patti Labelle’s performance before their induction was typically bombastic. I can never hear “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” without thinking of this Ricky Gervais/David Brent transcendent video of the R&B classic from “The Office” (BBC version). I digress.

The Early Influence inductee for the night was Little Walter. Now, I am more excited about Little Walter’s induction than most of the other major inductions. In my opinion, the roster of Chess Records blues greats (of which Little Walter was one) is as responsible for inspiring rock and roll as anything else. Ben Harper gave a lovely induction speech (I liked “to pass through life is to pass through the blues, and to pass through the blues is to pass through Little Walter”). Little Walter did for the harmonica what Jimi Hendrix did for the guitar. Anyone who picks up the instrument passes through the sound of Little Walter. Harper and harp legend James Cotton’s version of “My Babe” was spot on.

ABOVE: blues great Little Walter

I was happy that instrumental surf legends the Ventures were inducted (with a warm introduction by John Fogerty), but their performance was a bit sloppy. I guess you can give these guys a break, their first hit was 48 years ago!

The induction of Leonard Cohen was a nice surprise. He is held in the same esteem as Bob Dylan in many songwriting circles. How high was Lou Reed during the induction speech?? My God. That was painful and fascinating to watch as Lou decided to read what seemed like every lyric Cohen has written over the last 30 years. Cohen, on the other hand, gave a hilarious and humble acceptance speech. His poem “Tower of Song” that he recited was brilliant: “So you can stick your pins in the voodoo doll / I’m very sorry, baby, but that doesn’t look like me at all”. Damien Rice’s performance of Leonard’s "Halelujiah" was beautiful. Don’t know why Leonard chose not to perform himself, though. By the way: this Damien Rice dude is great, although he had some killer material to work with tonight. Reminds me of early David Gray.

ABOVE: A very high Lou Reed recites Leonard Cohen lyrics...for a very long time

I always dig In Memorium tributes, but unlike the Oscars (who omitted Brad Renfro), perhaps the RRHOF were a bit too inclusive. Don Ho? It was sad that two members of the Dave Clark 5 died within the past couple of years before they could enjoy their induction…wait, what the hell? Jeff Healey died this year?? And the legendary Buddy Miles?? I missed those.

ABOVE: former MTV VJ Mark Goodman reports from the kitchen of the Waldorf Astoria at the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony

Next came Justin Timberlake to induct Madonna. Timberlake’s speech was a bit awkward and strained with his sexual innuendo, but funny in parts. Madonna’s speech seemed to go on about for about 30 minutes, but it was engaging. Madonna doesn’t perform, but instead has…Iggy Pop & the Stooges perform her tunes?! Ballsy. I like it. Iggy Pop jamming out to “Ray of Light”? OK. Also a great F-You to the Hall…why isn’t Iggy in yet?

ABOVE: Iggy Pop performs Madonna's greatest hits

Note: I’m not sure it was a good idea to show “classic performances” from past Rockhall ceremonies while they were working on transitioning the stage. With all due respect to this year’s inductees, showing such titans as Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty all jam on “Satisfaction” together or a reunited Led Zeppelin tearing it up on “Bring It All Home” with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler…kind of reminds us that maybe we are running a little thin on rock greats left to induct.

As for John Mellencamp, I am glad he’s in there. Sure, he’s sort of a Springsteen-Lite, but he does have a great core group of songs. Billy Joel was hilarious doing the induction speech (“John, remember those dumbass videos we had to make in the 80’s?”) He also told a funny story about a flag football game between Billy and his band/crew vs. John’s, where Mellencamp secretly pulled in whoever was the star University of Indiana QB at the time and they slaughtered Billy and his boys. Great story. Mellencamp’s actual speech was alternatively bitter and humble. The performance was predictable…a rather lethargic version of ”Pink Houses” (a shame, because it is one of his greatest songs) and a nice solo acoustic “Small Town,” and finishing up with “Authority Song”. It was somewhat sad when Mellencamp tried to induce the tuxedoed, $10,000 per plate crowd to stand up and dance.

ABOVE: Mellencamp recalls the Johnny Cougar days

It is somewhat strange that Dave Clark 5 got the final induction. Having Madonna and Mellencamp open for you? Tom Hanks gave a spirited induction speech (“one of the few British Invasion bands not named for a mineral or an animal”). The best speech of the night. The DC5 gave a very classy acceptance speech, it was especially emotional because their lead singer Mike Smith died just one week ago. Having Joan Jett sing the DC5 tunes was inspired. She was kick ass, and looks the same as she did in the 80’s.

Finally, it was time for the All-Star jam. At times a train wreck, at other times inspired. First up: DC5’s biggest hit “Glad All Over” featuring Mellencamp and John Fogerty taking the lead, with Billy Joel jamming on the organ. The only downside was James Cotton honking away on what sounded like a harmonica in the wrong key for the song. The webcast ended at that point, but usually they jam for awhile at the end.

Overall, it was a varied slate of artists. Madonna and Mellencamp were givens, while The Ventures and Cohen were borderline choices but I approve. As touching as the DC5 were in closing the show, when you consider who is still not in the RRHOF, they were a pretty weak choice.

For an overview of all past inductees, go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website. Future Rockhall is a fantastic and exhaustive blog discussing and debating all things Rockhall related.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Billary Rises From the Ashes...

I apologize for the number of political posts lately, but this is quite an usual election season and it is worth keeping the discussion going...

How did she do it? How did Billary change the story from ‘will she exit gracefully once she loses?’ to ‘Billary changes the tide and Obama now on defensive’? Was it the “3 a.m.” ad? Was it the unfortunate timing of the trial of Illinois lobbyist Tony Rezko? Was it the stupid (as in, stupid to put in writing) memo from Barack’s camp to the Canadians on NAFTA? Was it that Hispanics just will not vote for a black man? Was it the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy perpetrated by Talk Radio in favor of Billary, encouraging their listeners to vote for her in droves in order to keep her in the race so the Democratic candidates can continue to bloody each other as Juan McCain sits back and hosts Bar-B-Q’s at his Sedona ranch? Was it that the national media finally recovered from Obamamania and decided to scrutinize him a bit more closely right before Tuesday? Has Obamamania peaked; has The Dali Obama finally shown some weakness?

So many intriguing questions and issues to delve into. While Dali Obama still has a delegate lead (therefore allowing his camp to declare victory), the momentum has clearly shifted back to Billary (therefore allowing his/her camp to declare victory). If the media decides that Obamamania has in fact worn out its welcome, the psychological importance of last night on this election could be far reaching indeed. I think that my wife is indicative of the confusion in the Democratic ranks. A longtime Billary booster, she recently caught a bad case of the Obamas and cast her Texas primary vote in early voting for the Dali Obama. But then she felt guilty, and was swayed by the “Obama may just be all talk and no action” argument, and so she then caucused (verb) last night for Billary. She can do that in Texas, since its rather unique and idiotic Democrat system makes it “the only state where one can vote twice and not get arrested” (in the words of Bill Clinton). The Dems only have themselves to blame for the Billary/Obama stalemate. Because Jesse Jackson whined back in the 80’s, they changed their primaries over to this proportional BS vs. the winner-take-all philosophy of the Repubs. That is why McCain is chillin’ in Sedona while Billary and Obama are spending millions tearing each other apart.

Can you believe that Billary is now seriously pushing to count her Florida and Michigan delegates? That is so Clinton. She was the only dem on the Michigan ballot; the Dems agreed not to campaign in Florida, but Billary broke the agreement and did it anyway by sending Bill down to do her dirty work. Now she wants them all counted retroactively. In a recent interview, she blamed the Republican governor and Republican legislature of Florida for “once again” trying to disenfranchise Florida’s voters, when it was the Democratic National Committee that made the decision!


Monday, March 3, 2008

Dez's Essentials: The 13th Floor Elevators, EASTER EVERYWHERE, 1967

It is a hotly debated topic in music circles as to who invented psychedelic music, but there were no greater or more devoted purveyors of the subgenre than Austin’s legendary 13th Floor Elevators. Formed in the mid-60’s out of the ashes of several local Austin bands, the Elevators made no bones about being all about the psychedelic, LSD-halucinogenic experience. They combined a Texas garage sound with psychedelics, and on their precious few recordings, a fascinating murky sound emerges. The murkiness of their sound is partly due to circumstance; the original masters of their recordings have long since disappeared (somewhere in Houston, rumour has it), so we are more or less stuck with the sound we’ve got.

The Elevators formed in Austin, spent some time playing shows throughout the Houston area, and also moved to San Francisco in the late 60’s (even headlining shows with the likes of Big Brother & the Holding Company opening for them). The Elevators’ secret weapons were threefold: 1. Tommy Hall. Not only did Hall write most of their psychedelic/spiritual/searching lyrics, he also played their most distinctive instrument. Playing the jug with a microphone held up to it, Hall’s distinct sound permeates the Elevators’ songs, creating a queasy feel throughout. 2. Underrated guitarist Stacy Sutherland not only played great solos, but his real strength lay in his complex and melodic rhythm playing (Sutherland was gunned down in the late 1970’s by his own wife). 3. Last and most important: the otherworldly wail of lead singer/guitarist Roky Erickson. Possessing one of the most powerful voices in rock history, Roky embodied the unbridled energy of great garage music.

The rock and roll landscape is littered with casualties and near-casualties, and none are more legendary that Roky Erickson. Listening to their music, it is not surprising that the Elevators ran into trouble with the Texas law in the late 60’s. After one of his drug busts, Roky was facing a substantial prison term. His lawyers instead were able to work out a deal for a stay in a mental institution. While there, Roky was subjected to electro-shock treatment, and he emerged crazier than he was when he went in. Whether he was already nuts (he supposedly now suffers from schizophrenia), or whether it was due to his prolific drug use and/or the treatment in the institution, or a combination thereof, Roky was never the same upon his release. He later recorded a series of horror movie inspired, gritty rock records (featuring tunes such as “Night of the Vampire”, “I Walked With a Zombie”, “Cold Night For Alligators”, “I’m a Demon (and I love Rock & Roll)”, “Creature With the Atom Brain”, “Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)”, etc.) that are held in high esteem by garage enthusiasts. It seems that Roky is finally turning his life around nowadays. For a gripping and fascinating study of Roky Erickson, check out the documentary ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’.

OK, on to the actual album review. Easter Everywhere is the greatest psychedelic record ever made, rivaled only by The Elevators’ own debut and Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn (led by the more famous drug casualty/loony, Syd Barrett. Barrett and Erickson are definitely kindred souls). The 8-minute opener “Slip Inside This House” may be their definitive piece, while tunes like “She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)”, “Earthquake” and “Pictures (Leave Your Body Behind)” are all classic psychedelic should-have-been singles. These tunes feature the Elevators rocking out at full speed, but they were equally at home slowing the pace down. Two notable tunes here in particular are sparse and haunting, their original “Dust” and a gorgeous cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (entitled here just “Baby Blue”), which is reminiscent more of Van Morrison’s great version with Them. In fact, Roky’s voice often reminds the listener of a very young Them-era Van Morrison. No small compliment. Below is "Baby Blue"...

To explore some mindblowing psychedelia, check out Easter Everywhere. Once you get used to the murky production, you will find that the lo-fi feel actually enhances the overall mystery and listening experience.

For Further Listening:

The Elevators’ debut, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, is equally essential. It also features the closest thing they ever had to a hit, the classic screamer “You’re Gonna Miss Me”. Check out this appropriately grimy link to a performance of "Your Gonna Miss Me" from the 60's. Does anyone have a voice better suited for basic rock & roll than Roky Erickson? Their third album features Roky only sporadically, but Bull of the Woods is still worthwhile as Stacy Sutherland takes the reigns on their studio swansong. Going Up is a decent overview.

If you dare to enter the world of Roky Erickson, I would suggest the raw Gremlins Have Pictures or the two-disc retrospective I Have Always Been Here Before.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Maurice vs. Winston

When two people love each other, the normal course of events is courting, marriage, and the coming together of two lives in harmony and contentment. But this does not necessarily mean that the others in their respective lives want to be thrown together. This is often a serious issue if you have children from previous marriages…or if you have pets who were perfectly happy with your bachelor lifestyle. Such is the case in our household.

In this corner…I present to you Maurice. My cat. I am the only living creature, human or otherwise, that Maurice can stand. Most of the time he will cuddle with me and purr like a motor. He will tolerate other humans from a distance, but when they make the mistake of thinking they can cozy up to him, his claws and teeth let them know otherwise. He is ornery, aloof at times, and the most selfish of living creatures. He is also my favorite non-human on earth. I am secure enough in my masculinity to say that I prefer cats over dogs. I admire their independence, in general I think they are beautiful creatures, and I am fascinated by their finely honed instincts and skills. The perfect animal.

In the other corner…Winston. My wife’s dog. He is genial to the point of stupidity, like many dogs. He is a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, bred for the sole purpose of being cute, chasing balls and sitting in your lap. He indiscriminately loves all humans. He would sit in my wife’s lap or Idi Amin’s lap with equal pleasure. A whore, in other words. Yet when he is confronted with other dogs or cats, he must assert his dominance (which consists of barking loudly). He is not a very imposing figure, so it is somewhat amusing to watch. I have grown to really dig Winston, especially when he sees other dogs on the TV and charges the screen to confront them.

So, my wife and I decided we would try to integrate the dog and the cat. How has that worked out? We now have one of those baby gates at the bottom of the stairs, and the cat resides upstairs while the dog hangs out downstairs. To be honest, I was very disappointed with the outcome of the battle. Maurice is a big dude (being part mainecoon, which is the largest domestic cat breed), so Winston and Mo are comparable in size. With my confidence in the superiority of cats, with Maurice’s sometimes violent nature, plus the fact that he is still fully armed with his claws…I would have put large sums of money down on the fact he would slaughter Winston in a face to face duel. The idea was that they should be thrown together, let them have their confrontation, and then they would establish some sort of natural hierarchy and understanding. Maybe even grow to respect and like each other.

I stood by with haughty confidence, while my wife was quivering in fear that the cat would casually rip the dog’s cute little bulging eyes right out of the sockets with one deft swipe of his deadly talons. So here is how it went down: Winston barked loudly and Maurice ran off like a little pussy. We then closed them in a small room with no obvious escape routes. Alright, Maurice was just a little surprised, that’s all. Now let’s see what happens…Winston barked loudly and my cat cowered like a little pussy. This is the same cat that has to be held down by three people and fights through sedation like a mofo at the vet. Dammit Maurice. You can’t beat up a little Spaniel? Winston, on the other hand, turned from a genial furry idiot to an animal that would have made Michael Vick proud.

We have tried many times to see if they can co-exist, but it always ends with Maurice scampering away, terrified. So in the end, we have let them have their own territories. Winston runs around downstairs, and Maurice rules the upstairs. He watches somewhat perplexed from the safety of the stairway as Winston chases thrown balls endlessly below. And such is peace in our time.