Friday, December 19, 2014

Boos and Applause

Boo...Spineless Sony and the theater chains (and the malls who put the pressure on the theaters) who do not negotiate with terrorists, instead they simply obey the commands of terrorists and pull "The Interview" from release.

Applause...Alamo Drafthouse theater in Dallas, Plaza Atlanta Theater in Atlanta and Capitol Theater in Cleveland. After not being able to screen "The Interview" as planned due to Sony's spineless retreat, those theaters planned to screen "Team America: World Police" instead (recall the comedy from the creators of "South Park" which lampooned Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il). Alamo Drafthouse had tweeted: "For the record, we were still going to show ["The Interview"]...But now we'll be showing "Team America" in its place...because AMERICA, F YEAH." On top of that, Alamo Drafthouse was going to hold the initial screenings of "Team America" for free.

Boo...Paramount Pictures, who then spinelessly pulled "Team America: World Police" from release, so these theaters could not screen that film either. Tweets Plaza Atlanta theater: "Team America World Police pulled from all theaters as per Paramount Pictures."

So f*** Sony, Paramount, AMC, Carmike Cinema, Cinemark, Cineplex, Regal and Southern Theaters. Why is it that these smaller, independent theater companies have the stones to ignore threats and stand up for free expression, while these bigger companies do not? Drafthouse would be just as open to lawsuit as Regal or Sony if something happened at a theater, yet Drafthouse and other smaller theater companies still have principles. The ironic thing of course, is now everyone wants to see "The Interview." It actually got some pretty horrible reviews. If it had been released like any other film, it would have faded from memory quickly.

As many have already suggested, since Sony has sunk the money into the film anyway and is not going to screen it at theaters, why not release online? Make it free for download. Get some hackers of our own and ping the damn thing back into North Korea. Mitt Romney suggested that Sony release the film for free online, ask for $5 donations, and then donate it all to the ebola fight. There is so much that Sony could have done to turn this around, and yet they won't. As one Senator tweeted, I would rather decide for myself what movies to see, not have North Korea make that decision for me.

Good opinion piece on from Jeff Yang, Hollywood's Complete Moral Surrender.

ABOVE: From now on, whenever possible, I will be having my cinema experiences at Alamo Drafthouse. They have locations here in San Antonio, and I know they are in Houston, Austin and Dallas as well. Regardless of this recent incident, they are a great company. Comfortable seating, they also serve dinner and alcohol. In addition to screening bigger films, they also usually have a good slate of indie films.

Christmas Spirit?

My wife's mother picked up my almost five year old daughter from school the other day. While they were stopped at a light there was an alleged homeless man asking for money at the intersection. My daughter wanted to help him so she gave him her chocolate she had. He was appreciative. I was quite proud of her generous spirit and so yesterday when I was driving my daughters to school I brought it up in the car and, in my view, gave an excellent speech about generosity, charity and selfless giving. At the end of my brilliant sermon, she said "well, Daddy, I gave him the chocolate because I want to get presents at Christmas." (See Santa is watching post below). I guess what matters is our actions right? Regardless of motivation? Picking up on the silence as I contemplated the action/motivation issue, she hastily added "oh, and to show God's love. That too." Good girl. Cover all of your bases.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2015

At 2 a.m. this morning the Class of 2015 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was announced.

Recall the nominees were: Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, NWA, The Smiths, Lou Reed, Sting, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Kraftwerk, Chic, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, The Marvelettes, The Spinners, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, War and Bill Withers.

There was a fan ballot that counted as one of the approximately 500 ballots. The top five of the fan ballot were: 1. Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble (31% of the vote with almost 20 million votes), 2. Nine Inch Nails (22%), 3. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (15%), 4. Bill Withers (6.5%) and 5. Paul Butterfield Blues Band (6.25%). Four of those five also scored inductions this year. (Thanks, as usual, to Future Rock Legends for the data). The inductees are…

Green Day: Power punk pop or whatever you want to call it, they were a no brainer and got in on their first year of eligibility. They’ve got so much that critics love, (faux) punk attitude but actually are power pop masters with a leftist manifesto/concept album under their belt to boot. Of course the Hall could not resist. No argument here, either, though.

Bill Withers: Nice to see. Unique talent who wouldn’t play the industry game and walked away from music entirely after a very successful 15 years or so. His early records are fantastic singer-songwriter/soul fusion. Later stuff not so great. But get Still Bill.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble: The Hall did something right in correcting their initial nomination. At first it was just Stevie Ray Vaughan nominated, but after holy hell was raised in many quarters (including here at GNABB) over the exclusion of SRV’s crucial band, the Hall did the right thing and without explanation several weeks later added “& Double Trouble” to the nomination. SRV has been one of the biggest snubs and remarkably this was his first nomination. As predicted, as soon as he was nominated he was a shoo-in. Vaughan not only influenced a generation of guitar slingers, but he was at the vanguard of saving Blues music from being a museum piece and dragging it into the modern age as a still vital genre.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: When nominated, I predicted she would be inducted and also stated that she is probably the least deserving of all of the nominated artists. I really like Joan Jett. If anything, her influence is in her look and attitude and inspiring gritty rocker girls. But even just listening to a hits collection of hers shows that the substance of her music is fairly thin, and many of her hits were covers. No real innovation at all. But she is cool.

Lou Reed: It is a shame that his high profile from his recent death is probably what inspired another long overdue nomination and induction. Some may feel that his induction with Velvet Underground was enough, but I say no way. His solo career was as influential, deeper and more interesting. Risk taker to the extreme, he inspired anyone in rock who didn’t want to follow the beaten path. He didn’t always succeed, but he changed the game by always trying. Love Lou. Lou joins the elite Clyde McPhatter Club (artists with two inductions, named after the first artist to accomplish the feat. Trivia: there is only one artist with three inductions – Eric Clapton [Yardbirds, Cream, solo]).

Paul Butterfield Blues Band: I have to say that I am surprised that PBBB made it. I have always argued their worthiness, although most music fans could not name one of their songs or albums. One of the very first interracial bands in rock, they featured two virtuoso musicians in Butterfield (harmonica) and the guitar playing of Mike Bloomfield. Probably most famous for backing Dylan at his epochal Newport Folk Festival performance, they also deserve credit for pioneering the exploratory jam in rock with the still bold sounding “East/West.” Check out the entire East/West album to see why PBBB deserves induction.

The powers that be also chose to resurrect the Early Influence category and inducted the Five Royales. That’s cool, although like many other inductees under this category, I'm not sure whether they are really Early Influences if many of their hits were during the rock and roll era. But whatever, they are deserving.

Here is the requisite bonehead move that the Hall has to make every year. In the Musical Excellence category (often used for deserving sidemen and session players), they decided to give a backdoor induction to…Ringo Starr! Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all have been inducted twice (as Beatles and as solo artists in the main Performer category). Probably knowing that Ringo would not be voted in, they slid him in here. Why? Did they just want all four Beatles to have two inductions? People like him. He did play on a lot of other artists’ records as a session player. He even had some hits. But still…

I have always contended that for a second induction, you have to have blinders on as far as the work that they were already inducted for. Therefore, you have to pretend that Ringo was never a Beatle and that the first music we ever heard from him was his first solo work. On that basis, there is NO WAY that Ringo Starr would be inducted on his own terms. This is glitter leftover from being a Beatle. To be honest, I would not have inducted George Harrison as a solo artist either. McCartney is questionable. Lennon is probably the most deserving as a solo artist, but even he is a minor one. The Beatles are The Beatles, but that should have no bearing on inducting them a second time for their post-Beatles work. Maybe Lennon, perhaps Macca, probably not George, no way Ringo. Stupid.

I was disappointed not to see The Smiths or Kraftwerk inducted, but not surprised. The voters are so far pretty cold to the alt-80’s. In the last three years, The Cure, The Replacements and now The Smiths have been nominated and not made it in. I was also surprised that NWA did not make it. Too controversial?

That Musical Excellence slot should have gone to Nile Rodgers. Chic was nominated for a 9th time and did not make it. Just put Nile in here for both his Chic work and his excellent and important production work that he did for countless artists. That would be deserving, and they could give the Chic nominations a rest.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Of Music and Theft: Led Zeppelin

It has been awhile since I posted a Record Guide. I've almost exhausted the artists for whom I can really draft one, and I was recently working on one for Led Zeppelin. I was originally going to address their copyright and plagiarism issues within the Guide, but soon realized that it was a post unto itself.

I am sure many of you are aware of Zeppelin's latest legal woes. This time, though, it is not over a lesser album track. This time it is over what many consider to be the quintessential classic rock song - "Stairway To Heaven." Briefly, Jimmy Page has always claimed in a rather idylic story that he secluded himself in the Welsh countryside and wrote the music to this monolithic slab of rock greatness by the fire. Not so, say attorneys for the estate of one Randy California. California was the guitarist for Spirit, and he wrote a short instrumental entitled "Taurus" in 1968. "Stairway To Heaven" was written sometime around 1971 and was released on Zep's 4th record. The damning evidence, though, comes with opportunity. Led Zeppelin openned for Spirit in the late 60's when California and Spirit would have been performing "Taurus" regularly. One can just envision Page standing on the side of the stage listening to "Taurus" and maybe even subconsciously filing that melody away in his brain. The similarities with "Taurus" are in that acoustic intro before the electric section of "Stairway." Listen for yourself...

"Taurus" by Spirit...

"Stairway To Heaven" by Led Zeppelin...

Clearly there is much more to Zeppelin's song. Clearly there is a reason every rock music fan on the planet knows "Stairway" while "Taurus" remains an obscurity. Clearly there are some highly original parts to the multipart "Stairway." But all of that is beside the point. Legally (and morally) speaking, did Page use part of "Taurus" to write part of "Stairway"? If so, the credits should read California/Page/Plant, not simply Page/Plant. That is what the lawsuit claims as well. The stakes are high, of course, considering the still future royalties that "Stairway" will bring in. It is like "Taurus" is a bland, unseasoned plate of scrambled eggs that you whip up quickly at home before rushing out the door to work while "Stairway" is the most delicious, complex omlette you've ever tasted at the finest restaurant in New Orleans. But the omlette still uses some eggs. And the eggs should get some credit for the dish.

Perhaps one could forgive Page and Plant once. Maybe twice? Unfortunately Zeppelin has a pattern of not crediting source material. Below is an incredible video detailing crediting issues that plague Zeppelin's debut album. I recommend watching the entire thing. The "Dazed and Confused" part especially. Wow.

What makes this situation worse is that many of these blues artists whom Zeppelin and other early rock bands took so much inspiration from got screwed financially their entire careers through bad contracts, unscrupulous promotors and producers. Then to get screwed by young admirers who ought to be championing their musical heroes?

Here is an incomplete rundown of the legal history of Zeppelin's songwriting credit troubles:

* "Dazed and Confused" - 1967 song by Jack Holmes. Sued in 2010. Page's earlier band The Yardbirds had played shows with Holmes also on the bill and directly covered the song. Holmes now has co-writing credit post 2010.

* "How Many More Times" - Howlin' Wolf. Now co-credited after a lawsuit.

* "Whole Lotta Love" - Willie Dixon ("You Need Love"). Sued in 1985. Dixon now has co-writing credit on "Whole Lotta Love." This one is more on Robert Plant than Page. The thing that is the same here are lyrics. Plant apparently just started singing Dixon's lyrics in the studio over the music.

* "The Lemon Song" - contains verses from Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor." After a lawsuit, Wolf is now co-credited.

* "Bring It On Home" - Willie Dixon (who wrote the Sonny Boy Williamson song of the same name). Dixon co-credited in 1972 after threat of legal action.

* "In My Time of Dying" - credited to Zeppelin, but it is a traditional song that is in the public domain.

* "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" - Anne Bredon wrote the song. Page claims to have never heard it, but it is the same song. She sued and Zeppelin settled, and she is now co-credited on the song.

So, what is merely inspiration? What is taking a song and making it so different that it becomes something new? What is outright theft? With Led Zeppelin this is difficult. It is not like Zeppelin are hacks. Even with all of these songs aside, the songs that truly are original from Led Zeppelin rank amongst rock's greatest. They are clearly one of the seminal rock bands. When addressing these issues, Jimmy Page always talks about in the whole history of music, songwriters are "inspired" by what came before and then work from those templates to make their own work. It is a tradition in blues music especially to work from earlier pieces and then launch into something your own. As Joe Strummer of The Clash once said, "the only original music ever written was Johann Sebastian Bach." Meaning that everything since has been inspired or reworked from what came before it. Even Mozart wrote many of his piece as "riffs" so to speak off of already existing, lesser compositions by others.

All of that being said, I think that what Zeppelin did is beyond that. As these lawsuits have proven, credit deserves to be shared with these sources. Page, Plant and co. certainly also deserve credit for taking these songs to places way beyond the original source. But the source deserves to share in the credit. And the substantial profit.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Lie

My four and a half year old was being saucy the other day. I told her that she needed to be careful because Santa Claus is watching and he won’t bring her toys if she misbehaves too much. She thought for a second, and then asked: “How does he actually know?” Really? You are already going to doubt this elaborate fiction of childhood? No, I must dig in deeper. I must lie to further the lie. I responded, “well, we have regular conferences with Santa. We speak weekly over the phone and I tell him how you have been.” She just stared at me skeptically.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dez Reviews Pink Floyd's 'The Endless River,' 2014/1993

When word came several months ago that Pink Floyd was releasing a new record, there was quite a bit of excitement. I believe that it set a record on Amazon for pre-orders. Even if it is the David Gilmour-led era Floyd, it is still Pink Floyd. And the years have actually been kind to the Gilmour-led era, especially 1994’s Division Bell (the last record of new material they released).

The Endless River is interesting. During the Division Bell sessions, they recorded a lot more music than was released in ‘94. Much of it was instrumental ambient music. They seriously considered releasing Division Bell as a double with the second album being more ambient and instrumental. Keyboardist Richard Wright was especially enthused about the material left in the vaults.

Fast forward and Wright dies in 2008. Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason recently revisited this material and decided to put it out. They fleshed it out a bit and added some more parts, and so here we have The Endless River, which David Gilmour has stated that in no uncertain terms will be the final Pink Floyd record. Unlike statements like that made by other musicians who have embarked on three or four “Farewell Tours,” you can usually take Gilmour at his word. They decided to release it as a tribute to Wright. (Roger Waters, of course, was not involved with this material.)

As to the music itself. In one sense, you would expect this to be quite good. The weakness of the Gilmour-led years was always lyrical. Without Rogers Waters’ dark, dystopian visions, Pink Floyd’s lyrics were pretty banal during the 80’s and 90’s, but the music was always good. So an all instrumental record should be great if you are ejecting the weakest factor.

It is organized into four approximate 15 minute suites. But the weakness here is pretty obvious when you look back at the source material. In many cases, this sounds like what it really is. Unfinished pieces of music strung together. Many of the “songs” are two minutes or less, and sound like promising intros to a full song that never then develops. Quite a few of these pieces are frustrating because right when you feel like it should take off or Gilmour could really stretch out for several more minutes on one of his majestic guitar solos, the song fades into the next one. Also, it is not like this is leftover material from Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here, it is leftovers from a decent record from the early 90's.

Something else of note is that there are echoes all over this of Floyd classics. The opening suite is a shadow of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” there are reverb references to Gilmour’s “Run Like Hell” guitar, another track has echoes of “Time,” while another is a variation on “Us and Them.”

Only one song has vocals and lyrics, the closer “Louder Than Words.” Clearly intended as a big statement and comment on Pink Floyd as a whole, the message being that even though we have fought, our music is more important than the personal differences that have plagued the band. But again, the lyrics are without that Waters edge (here written by Gilmour’s wife, Polly Sampson). The song is unremarkable really, although it has a nice guitar intro that sounds a lot like “Hey You.”

With lowered expectations, this record is enjoyable enough. But as much as you might like certain moments here and there, when you finish listening it is difficult to remember any particular song that stands out. Perhaps that’s the point. This is more a quiet, minor coda to Pink Floyd’s legacy than a major final statement. And I guess that’s OK.

** out of *****

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dez Reviews The Book 'Who I Am' by Pete Townshend, 2012

Pete Townshend, guitarist, songwriter, leader of The Who, has been threatening to write his autobiography since the late 1960's. Out of all of the classic rock giants, one would expect that Townshend would write one of the better rock memoirs. He is one of the brightest and most interesting of that generation. He was even a book publisher during the 90's in London, so the guy knows writing.

Considering his complex ideas about music and art and most everything else, and his well deserved reputation for pretention, his book is actually quite down to earth and brutally honest, if not always completely self aware. For instance, I love how he spends much of the book detailing the decades long deterioration and final dissolution of his marriage. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Townshend knows he is one of the most self-absorbed, insular, obsessive compulsive workaholics in the history of the music. That is one reason The Who's music was so great. Even when at home, he talks of how he would disappear for weeks at a time in his home studio, never coming out or speaking to his family. He talks of his battle with alcohol and drugs. His many affairs that he had. Yet he seems genuinely perplexed as to why his marriage didn't last. I had to chuckle at times. Gee Pete, I don't know...His attitude was kind of, "well, she knew what she was signing up for." He does seem to be on good terms with his three children, though.

Again, his assessments of others and of himself can be brutally honest. He despises his grandmother who raised him for a time, accusing her of allowing perverted boyfriends to molest him and worse as a child. (All of this makes the Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin parts of Tommy resonate much deeper, I think). Of Mick Jagger he is unabashedly smitten ("the only man I ever really wanted to f***"), describing in quite erotic language hanging out with Jagger one evening while Jagger was wearing loose pajama pants. He of course turns his sharp critical eye on himself, being quite open about his shortcomings and issues. This should not be surprising to Who fans or fans of his solo work. "However Much I Booze" or "How Many Friends" from The Who's The Who By Numbers or all of his All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes revealed a painfully honest and open songwriter.

ABOVE: Townshend obviously has much affection for Mick Jagger

The heart of the book of course deals with the rise, flight and descent of The Who. He's generous with the stories and details, although as a Who fanatic who has read much about the band, there were not too many revelations for me there. It was great to hear it all from Pete's perspective, though.

No new stories of (Keith) Moon the Loon's antics that haven't been told before, except one really funny evening that showed how nuts he really was. Moon called the band and management together for a luxury dinner in a hotel ballroom. He enters wearing a fur coat and top hat and gives formal toasts, has the guests served steaks, lobster, caviar, expensive wines. He then announces his departure from The Who because he has accepted a role in the new Scorsese film. Townshend describes how he and the others are devastated and then very angry words are exchanged. It was all BS. Keith just had a hot Hollywood starlet wannabe with him that evening that he wanted to impress, and Scorsese was more impressive to her than rock stardom, so he concocted the whole evening to get laid.

It is clear he has affection for Moon (and his other bandmates as well, calling Roger Daltrey "the most important man in my life" and reproducing an intimate "letter" that he wrote to John Entwistle after Entwistle's death). But he also makes clear what I have always suspected. As legendary as Moon's antics are in rock lore and as brilliant as he was as a drummer, he had to have been incredibly frustrating to have to work with:

"While I made progress with my search for meaning, Keith was causing havoc with a birthday cake, a car, a swimming pool, a lamp and a young fan's bloody head. How amusing it has been to spend my life pretending it was amusing. In truth, this day was unpleasant for me, though it has been turned into something of an apocryphal joke by everyone involved.

Keith was determined to have a great birthday party, egged on by the Holiday Inn banner outside the hotel: 'Happy Twenty-First Keith Moon'. He was actually only twenty. By the time I reached the party room the cake was all over the floor, the walls and Keith's face. In the swimming pool a Lincoln Continental balanced precariously, half in and half out. Later I heard Keith had released its brake and it had rolled in. I was trying to get Keith back to his room (he was raging by that time) when a young man approached, asking for his autograph; Keith threw a lamp at him, hitting him on the head. Keith then managed to knock out his own teeth, and it was only because he was hidden away at the dentist that he wasn't arrested.

The Who were banned from Holiday Inns for life."

Although he talks a lot about his devotion to the teachings of Meher Baba, I still have no idea what Baba actually taught. Perhaps it is too complicated to capture in a rock memoir.

One other area that he addresses with candor is the child pornography charges from the early 2000s. His excuse at the time was that he was doing research to help stop its proliferation on the internet and to face his own past of being molested as a child. Coming from most anyone else that sounds like a load of horsesh*t. But from Pete, I buy it. He goes into a lot of detail on the case, presents a convincing sequence of events, and the charges were eventually dropped. I believe him.

Not surprisingly, once The Who peters out and after the first great years of his solo career are covered, it does drag a bit near the end. Lots of time is spent discussing Iron Man and Psychoderelict, his two least inspiring works. Perhaps he wants us to reassess them, but they are still terrible. I do like how he looks on his sobriety, "The secret to being a successful hellraiser, it seems, is to stop raising hell before hell razes you."

Bottom line is that this is a great read if you are a Who fan or fan of Townshend himself, but may not offer much to people who are not.

***1/2 out of *****

Friday, November 7, 2014

Political Demographics

I have largely avoided politics lately here at GNABB. For years, actually. I follow it closely, of course, and as a teacher of history deal with it, analyze it and break it down daily in my work life with my students. Maybe that’s why I haven’t felt that I needed the further outlet of GNABB to talk politics.

But I read a fantastic editorial today on CNN’s website by LZ Granderson, a frequent contributor to CNN’s Opinion section. Granderson is gay and African-American, so it is not so surprising that his articles generally lean left. Even so, I often find him to be thoughtful and reasonable. In today's piece he talks about the remarkable story of Mia Love, the first ever Republican African-American woman elected to Congress, swept to victory in the Republican electoral tidal wave of last Tuesday. She was elected in Utah, where less than 1% of the population is black.

Granderson says “For if the sexist/racist/anti-immigrant narrative that has long dogged the GOP can, at the very least, be challenged by her presence at a campaign, what will democrats use to fire up low-information liberals? The liberals’ yin to the red’s ‘Obama is the worst president ever’ yang.” He goes on to make an argument that in this last year has become louder and louder from many on the right: “For more than 40 years democratic presidential candidates have enjoyed the support of more than 80% of black voters, and yet the community’s unemployment rate remains twice that of its white counterpart. The wealth gap between whites and blacks has grown…” People on the right who have been pointing this out lately go on to ask, what has this loyalty to the democratic party gotten the black community? Do you like being taken for granted as an automatic vote? Granderson says something that should scare the left quite a bit: “[Rand] Paul has spoken about these concerns with compassion, albeit clumsily at times.”

What Granderson almost gets to but doesn’t quite say, but what Paul, Chris Christie and other leading, thoughtful Republicans have been saying this past year, is that perhaps after 40 years, why not try voting a different way and see whether different policies, a different political philosophy, would make things better for this community and open more opportunities. And if you have noticed, where Republican candidates and strategists had simply written off the black community before as a lost cause for support, that is no longer the case. Especially in some of these governor races, Republican candidates went to the black community and made their pitch, and were received respectfully and listened to. Granderson talks of newly elected Republican governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner, who aggressively went after the black vote, where Rauner pointed out that his democratic opponent takes the black vote for granted. This seemed to resonate a bit within the black community in Chicago.

Granderson notes that soon after Love gave a well received speech at the 2012 Republican Convention, her Wikipedia page was “vandalized,” calling her a “whore,” “sellout” and “house ni****.” Which side has a race problem again?

As Granderson also points out, the tide may be ever so slowly changing. He cheekily notes that “I spoke with membership services and blacks are no longer revoked for voting Republican.” I haven’t seen vitriol that much rivals leftist reactions to certain minorities who choose to go Republican. It is seen as a betrayal. Remember how Condoleeza Rice was treated by liberals? Even Colin Powell years before? The left has more of a problem accepting people as individuals than the right does, as steeped as the left is in identity politics, which thrives on an “us vs. them” mentality. In fact, identity politics cannot exist without drawing those hostile lines, can it? What would people like Al Sharpton do if they couldn’t rush to the next incident that happens to involve protagonists who are of different races and stir up passions? It is an industry. The likes of Sharpton are always desperately searching for the next Ferguson to remain relevant. Again, who really has the race problem here? Think about this: one of the most powerful tools the left has to fire up its base is to keep the racial divide alive. If that divide starts to fade, they have a real problem on their hands.

Demographic trends demand that if the Republican Party is to remain viable, then it must connect better with minority groups. Republican strategists have been saying this for years. Even more important, as far as numbers go, than the black community are Hispanics. I think for the right the message is good, but the messengers and strategies have been terrible. But again, this may be slowly changing. Look at the current national stage. Who are two of the most prominent Hispanics in politics today? Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Both Republicans. The “Hispanic” community is not a monolith, of course. Cuban-Americans, for instance, often vote very differently than Mexican-Americans. But some of the core values within the Hispanic community, I think, line up more with Republican values than Democratic ones. Especially on some of the social issues. Making serious inroads into the Hispanic vote should not be a mission impossible for the Republican Party.

Return to Mia Love, though, and her simple message which must be the message from the right. In that 2012 speech she said “my parents immigrated to the U.S. [from Haiti] with $10 in their pocket…when times got tough, they didn’t look to Washington, they looked within.” Her father worked as a janitor and other jobs to put her through college. Now she is in Congress. This is one of the core messages that the right clings to with almost religious fervor (and to an often admittedly hoaky degree sometimes). But it is real, the American rugged individualism that was born on the American frontier where the ever valuable commodity of land was available to anyone willing to go out there and take and work it. Conservatives, for whatever reason, have held on to that crucial American Individualism much stronger than liberals have. It is one of the primary things that makes this country great and unique, as well as an economic and innovation powerhouse. But simply for sharing this message Mia Love was excoriated as a traitor by many on the left. Or, was it the fact that she dared to deliver this message at the Republican Convention? Who has a race problem again? Which side seems to make assumptions based more on skin color than individual character? Which side takes votes for granted, as a given just based on identity politics? On the other hand, which side will respect you more as an individual? That has got to be the message.

Anyway, for the whole Granderson article, go here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dez Reviews Neil Young's 'Storytone,' 2014

I guess at this point Neil Young can do whatever the hell he wants. He's made a career out of strange left turns, but by all accounts, 2014 has been very active and one of his strangest years. Earlier this year was the covers album recorded in a vintage Voice-O-Gram, A Letter Home. He's also got his (second) autobiography coming out later this month. And now this record of...whatever this is. Some songs here are recorded with a 92-piece orchestra with lush (often maudlin) arrangements. Then he's got some tunes with a big band with horns a-blarin'. There are also a couple of bluesy songs played with a more traditional rock band. In the grand scheme of Neil things, this will be looked back on as a curio, kind of like Everybody's Rockin' or Old Ways. In fact, this record best fits with his perverse genre jumping during the 80's.

And some of these lyrics don't really fit the setting. "Who's Gonna Stand Up?", another one of his environmental diatribes, sounds strange with a lovely 92-piece orchestra backing lyrics like "end fossil fuel/draw the line/before we build one more pipeline" and "end fracking now/let's save the water." (Then, in typical Neil fashion, he follows this anti-fossil fuel anthem with a tune called "I Want To Drive My Car," which includes the refrain "I gotta find some fuel/I gotta find some fuel"). He sings of environmental concerns, he sings of lost love, he sings of new love, he sings of cars, he sings of playing music in Chicago ("Say Hello To Chicago"). It comes across that these songs were written on the spot about whatever happened to cross Neil's mind that day. There is no rhyme or reason to this record, really.

There are a few keepers. "Plastic Flowers" is nice, and a more subtle and more effective environmental song than the aforementioned "Who's Gonna Stand Up?" I kind of like the simple, bluesy groove of "I Want To Drive My Car." The orchestra actually is quite effective on the lovely, lush "When I Watch You Sleeping," easily the best song on the record. In fact, it is one of the prettiest songs he has ever recorded.

Storytone is available as a double disc deluxe set where the second disc features all of these overblown songs in basic, acoustic demo form. It's quite a contrast. "When I Watch You Sleeping" remains the best of the lot in demo form too.

** out of *****

ABOVE: One of the things that keeps me coming back to Neil's music is that even in failure, he's still interesting

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fantasy Basketball 2014-15

Just had my draft for my fantasy basketball team. I've played in this league with this group of guys for, I don't know, 8 or 9 years now. I pay less attention to NBA basketball than I used to, but it is a way to stay in touch with some friends and it is still a good time. We play a rotissere (sp?) type of scoring with nine categories and 10 player positions with three bench spots. What all that means is that we score simply by adding up each category throughout the season to determine placing. So for instance, out of the 10 teams, if at the end of the season my team has accumulated the most rebounds, I get 10 points in that category. If I had the second most rebounds, then nine points, and so forth. Add all the categories at the end of the season and you have your placings. The categories are Shooting Percentage, Free Throw Percentage, Points, Three Pointers, Assists, Steals, Rebounds, Blocks and Turnovers (of course, you want the least amount of those). We have a Point Guard spot, Shooting Guard, another Guard, Small Forward, Power Forward, another Forward, two Centers and two Utility spots (any position).

My personal strategies include: in the first round, get the best rated player available. That's easy. Then get the best power forward and best point guard you can. That is because PF and PG are the key positions that offer the widest range of great stats. And I do not draft any Spurs. I love the Spurs, but while Popovich is a brilliant coach in keeping his players fresh for the playoffs, that means a stat killer for fantasy. Also, the more balanced and more they all share the load, the less likely you have fantasy studs stand out. In fantasy, the selfish players are often who you want. I also have an ever evolving 'do not draft' list.

With all of that out of the way, here is how the draft went. I got the 5th pick (out of 10 teams), and it snakes (so the 1st pick doesn't pick again until 20th, and then 21st and so forth).

Round One (in this order):

Lebron James
Anthony Davis
Stephen Curry
James Harden
Chris Paul (DEZ pick)
Kevin Love
Russell Westbrook
Carmelo Anthony
Serge Ibaka
Kevin Durant

Lebron 1st was a no-brainer. This round went relatively according to most of the draft magazines, websites, etc. Durant would normally compete with Lebron for the #1 spot, but the fact that he is injured and not expected back for almost two months explains his drop. I was wondering where he would go. I like my pick of Paul, although with him there are always injury concerns. But when healthy, he usually leads the league in steals and is up there in assists and also scores alot. Durant's injury also explains Westbrook's jump. I was a little surprised that Ibaka went so high. Anthony Davis is not exactly a superstar in real life, but fantasy sports is not about real life, it is about numbers. And most projections are that Davis will blow up, fantasy-wise, this season.

Round Two:

DeMarcus Cousins
John Wall
Al Jefferson
Kawhi Leonard
Blake Griffin
Chris Bosh (DEZ pick)
Damien Lillard
LaMarcus Aldridge
Kyrie Irving
Kyle Lowry

I drafted Kawhi last season (violating my No Spurs policy, and was disappointed because of what I stated above). Griffin will kill free throw percentage. I held my nose when I drafted Bosh, I can't stand him. But with Lebron out of Miami and Wade always having one foot in the ER, it is really Bosh's team. If you look at Bosh's numbers last season when Lebron was out, they approached his all-star numbers of old. Plus, he's got something to prove this season.

Round Three:

Joakin Noah
Nicolas Batum
Al Horford
DeAndre Jordan
Dirk Nowitzki (DEZ pick)
Goran Dragic
Mike Conley
Ty Lawson
Kobe Bryant
Derrick Rose

Interesting round. I wanted Batum bad, but he was taken a few picks before it got to me. I think Jordan will be a bust this season. Dirk in the middle of the third round is pretty damn good, I say. I know he's old, very old. But he is still reliable and hasn't really broken down much yet. Let's just hope this isn't the season when it happens. Most fantasy guides had him ranked higher, so I was glad to take him here. Kobe and Rose are the real wild cards here, though. They could both return to form and be the steals of the draft, but I was staying away from both this early. It is true that the Lakers this season are basically Kobe and the Staples Center janitorial staff, but he is old, coming off injuries he's never had...I'm just not feeling it. Could be very wrong, though.

The rest of my team (in order of drafting): DeMar DeRozen, Thaddeus Young, Trevor Ariza, Brook Lopez (actually a mistake, my computer disconnected and I had someone else queued up), Patrick Beverly, Luol Deng, JJ Reddick (happy to get him, I had him last season and before his injury, he was a three point monster), DeMarre Carroll, JR Smith (kind of a joke, but it was late in the draft and this is a bench spot) and Andrew Bogut.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

RIP Jack Bruce, 1943-2014

It should tell you something that although the rock power trio Cream featured Eric Clapton, he was not the most interesting (or arguably even the most overall talented) member of that trio. Jack Bruce-singer, bassist, composer-was. Although Cream was shortlived (1966-68) they had a huge impact. It was three virtuosos, all, sometimes with musical violence, fighting for attention. At times, especially in the live setting, that made for overindulgence and chaos. But when it clicked, it was incredibly exciting and visceral listening. Clapton is Clapton, and this was his guitar god period where he wasn't afraid to be a bad-ass. Ginger Baker on drums was a virtuoso as well, but listen closely to many of Cream's songs, and you will hear the bass guitar acting as a second lead instrument along with Clapton's more obvious guitar, flying with the same speed and creative fire. But on a bass, which is harder to do. (One of the best examples is on the live "Crossroads" from Wheels of Fire, which is one of Clapton's finest moments as a guitarist. Clapton also sings lead on that one. But listen closely, underneath Clapton's guitar fireworks, what Jack Bruce is doing is just incredible.) Bruce was one of the all time great rock bassists (up there with John Entwistle, Chris Squier or Sting), acknowledged by many of his peers as a four string deity. He had jazz chops, really, playing with a fluid style, often on a fretless bass. He was also behind many of Cream's hits as a songwriter, and sang most of their tunes as well.

For most casual classic rock listeners Jack Bruce's story ends with Cream. But he went on to release many challenging, daring solo records (and was working right up to Spring of this year). If you are at all curious, his Songs For a Tailor (1969) ***** and Harmony Row (1971) **** are superb and worth searching out, revelations to listeners only familiar with "Sunshine of Your Love" or "White Room." In my book, they are more adventurous than anything Clapton put out post-Cream.

ABOVE; "Crossroads" by Cream. Listen to all three musicians here, but especially Jack Bruce's bass.

RIP Jack Bruce.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

More Class of 2015 Rockhall Thoughts

Upon further reflection, I have some additional comments regarding the 2015 crop of nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You should first read the previous post (below) if you haven't already, wherein I discuss each nominee and give my personal vote and prediction. Also, JMW and I have a lively discussion regarding Joan Jett and women in the Rockhall in general in the comments.

These more recent classes are by their nature more controversial and more open to debate than the earliest ones. I mean, who is going to argue that Elvis Presley should not be in? "You know, I don't know about them Beatles." The first four or five classes were givens. But the fun stuff comes in more recent times.

More on Sting. I cannot forgive 1993 forward. As much as I love 1985-91, there is just too much badness for too long after. It is inexcusable for a man of his talents. He traded integrity for chart success, dumbing down his lyrics and his sound. And since The Police have already been separately inducted, I must say "no" to Sting.

One of the things that I always enjoy about the announcement of the nominees (even moreso than the announcement for the actual inductees, actually) is that it gives me an opportunity (or excuse) to explore the music of some artists that I may have overlooked in my music listening career. That hasn't happened much this time around (although perhaps I should listen to Nine Inch Nails a little more than I have), but there are some repeat nominees here whom I did explore when they were nominated previously. Two in particular. I am now a pretty big fan and admirer of Kraftwerk, and the first time that I delved into their music was due to a previous nomination.

Also The Marvelettes. They get a little lost in the Motown shadow of The Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas. A few years back when they were nominated I downloaded a hits collection. I love it. A little grittier and sultrier than the shimmering Supremes or sunny Martha and the Vandellas. The early hits are vintage Motown girl group stuff, but their later songs are more sophisticated soul. If you haven't, I highly recommend checking out The Marvelettes. (The record was The Ultimate Collection by the way, a generous 25 track collection that is wonderful from start to finish). I prefer them over Supremes or Martha and the Vandellas.

I always feel that I have to defend Paul Butterfield Blues Band when they get nominated. Many people haven't even heard of them or they are dismissed. They shouldn't be. Rarely are they in the top 5 or 6 of any nominating class, but they are still important and great. East-West is a brilliant album, and especially the title track is hugely influential on jam bands to come. Butterfield and Bloomfield were also brilliant musicians.

Finally, a discussion of each crop of nominees would not be complete without whining about who is still not in the Hall. So here is my list of snubs, the asterick means that they have been nominated before, but not inducted. I do not necessarily like all of these artists, but they have good arguments. Notice the Hall's disdain especially for metal, prog and the 80's in general. Like them or not, some of these snubs are inexcusable when Percy Sledge and Linda Ronstadt have been enshrined.

CLASSIC ROCK/60’s and 70’s: Chicago; Lou Reed*; Love; MC5*; Steve Miller Band; Steve Winwood*; Big Star; Blue Oyster Cult; Canned Heat; Capt. Beefheart; Cheap Trick; Doobie Brothers; JJ Cale; Jimmy Buffett; Joe Cocker; Meatloaf; Monkees; Nick Drake; Paul Butterfield Blues Band*; Richard Thompson; Richie Havens; 13th Floor Elevators; Roxy Music; Steppenwolf; T. Rex; Zombies*...

EARLY ROCK AND ROLL/R&B/BLUES/SOUL: SRV*; Kool & the Gang; Bill Withers*; Chic*; Commodores; Dick Dale; Johnny Burnette and the R&R Trio; Lightnin’ Hopkins; Neville Brothers; Rick James; Sonny Boy Williamson; War*; The Spinners*; Marvelettes*; Barry White; Link Wray*...

PROG: King Crimson; Yes*; ELO; ELP; Jethro Tull; Moody Blues...

METAL/HARD ROCK: Deep Purple*; Judas Priest; Motorhead; Ozzy Osbourne; Iron Maiden; Thin Lizzy; Megadeath; Motley Crue; Pantera...

NEW WAVE/80’s/80’s ALTERNATIVE: Cars; Devo; Duran Duran; Journey; Cure*; Joy Division/New Order; Replacements*; Pixies; Smiths*; Sting*; Bon Jovi*; Church; Def Leppard; Depeche Mode; Dire Straits; Echo & the Bunnymen; Eurythmics; INXS; Janet Jackson; Los Lobos; Misfits; Television; Tina Turner (solo); Whitney Houston; Sonic Youth; Morrissey; Bjork; Black Flag; Husker Du; Kate Bush; New York Dolls*...

RAP: Ice T; NWA*; Erik B. and Rakim*; LL Cool J*; Africa Bambaataa*...

OTHER: Kraftwerk*; Willie Nelson (if Johnny Cash and Hank Williams are in, then where is Willie?); Can; Fela Kuti; Flying Burrito Brothers; Frank Sinatra; Gram Parsons*; John Coltrane (Miles is in); King Sunny Ade; Merle Haggard; Tom Jones; Townes Van Zandt; Brian Eno; Count Basie; Duke Ellington; Silver Apples; Weird Al Yankovic (there is actually a good case to be made here); Django Reinhardt; Ella Fitzgerald...

90’s AND FORWARD: Flaming Lips; Jane’s Addiction; Soundgarden; Stone Roses; Green Day*; NIN*...

BACKING GROUPS(leaders are in or have been nominated, but these crucial backing groups for them have not): Wailers (Bob Marley), Belmonts (Dion), Mothers of Invention (Frank Zappa), Double Trouble (Stevie Ray Vaughan, who is nominated this year)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

Today is one of my favorite days of the year – the nominees for next year’s class in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced.

Overall, this is a pretty eclectic list of nominees. You can tell that they are finally letting go of the 60’s and 70’s and moving into the 80’s and 90’s. You have the potential, for the first time probably, to have a class entirely comprised of artists who were in their prime in the 80’s or after.

There is also a “fan’s ballot” again this year. If you go to the Rockhall and Museum’s website (link on the side) or Rolling Stone magazine’s website, you can cast your votes. The top five in the fan voting will be one ballot in the voting amongst the Hall inductees, music insiders and critics who vote. Basically one in about 500 ballots. Still fun, though.

Recall that the rules are as follows: you are eligible 25 years after your first record or single. The criteria is allegedly innovation, influence and “musical excellence.” Whatever that is in rock and roll.

I would say that all but one of these nominees have a good argument for eventual induction, if not this year. And I like the one who shouldn’t be there, I just don’t think they are quite Hall of Fame material, that’s all.

So here they are. After the list, I will tell you what my “fan ballot” looked like and then give you my actual prediction.
In alphabetical order…

Paul Butterfield Blues Band: One of the few 60’s era artists in this group, they are clearly somebody’s pet project on the Nominating Committee, as they appear every several years or so. I am a fan and a great admirer of their sophomore effort, East-West (the title track is groundbreaking). Butterfield was a great singer and harp player, guitarist Michael Bloomfield was one of those genius junkie stories in the music’s lore. The bi-racial composition of the band at a time when that was unusual was bold and their adherence to Chicago blues roots plus bringing it forward with rock and roll energy and unusual experimentation all make them worthy in my book. Not a chance of induction this year, though.

Chic: Somebody REALLY wants them in. If I am not mistaken, they now hold the record for the most nominations at nine. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards are both hugely important figures, as producers as well as musicians. They were one of the better dance/disco groups, and excellent musicians as well. Hall-worthy, sure. But if they have not been selected by the voters eight times previous, I don’t see that changing with a ninth nomination.

Green Day: This is the first year of eligibility for them, and I think they are a shoo-in. I am not a fan, but they are a critical darling (leftie manifesto American Idiot sealed the deal for many, I am sure). The Hall loves the punk ethos, and then when they get arty on top of that. I don’t argue against their credentials.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: I dig Joan Jett. She is supercool and rocks. I just don’t think she is Hallworthy. No innovation. Several of her biggest hits were rockified covers or songs written for her by others (good songs, I love her “Crimson and Clover” cover and “Light of Day” was written for her by Bruce Springsteen). Influence? I think she influenced female rockers more with her attitude and look vs. the actual music. Is that enough? But as the only woman on the ballot (other than Chic’s singers, but Chic is more about Rodgers and Edwards), she has a good shot at getting in.

Kraftwerk: The most influential artist in this whole group? Good argument for it. They are basically ground zero for modern synth and electronic music. Krautrock gods. The only problem is that many people have never heard of them. Those that have heard of them have only heard of them, but not actually heard their music. I don’t think they will make it, but they are probably the most deserving of all of these nominees. On a scale of 1 to 10, their influence is at 11, their innovation is a 10 and musical excellence up there as well.

The Marvelettes: Not as big as, say, The Supremes or Martha and the Vandellas, but they were also an important Motown girl group. In fact, they had Motown’s first number one hit, “Please Mr. Postman.” I would never say that any of Motown’s first tier (or second tier, on which the Marvelettes reside, as all of Motown’s first tier acts have long since been inducted) don’t deserve induction. They do. I doubt they will make it this year, though.

Nine Inch Nails: aka Trent Reznor. Another first year eligible nominee. Reznor’s induction chances this year are less certain than Green Day’s, though. He/they are a definite eventual inductee. Out of all of these nominees, I probably know the least about their music. But by reputation, I figure they are worthy.

NWA: Like them or not, repelled by them or inspired by them, you cannot deny their importance. As far as influence, I think they are second only to Kraftwerk in that department amongst these nominees. Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Wren, DJ Yella…these guys defined gangsta rap in the 1990’s. And this induction would go to honor Dre and Cube for their later work as well, probably. Dre is perhaps the most important rap producer ever, and Cube was one of the most talented and provocative rappers in this violent subgenre. Uncompromising and controversial, it is clear that the Nominating Committee (or some members of it) want them in, as they didn’t nominate any rap/hip hop competition this time around to split votes. I think they make it in this time and definitely deserve it.

Lou Reed: Already in as a member of Velvet Underground, if he gets in for his solo work he’d be a two time inductee. He was nominated once many years ago, I bet they gave him another shot due to his death earlier this year. Nothing raises your profile like dying. But I say he clearly deserves induction for his solo work. One of the most uncompromising, challenging, and interesting rock artists of the last 40 years, Lou has done it all. I would love to see him get in, but I’m not sure he will in this competition.

The Smiths: YES! One of my main complaints about the Hall has been their dismissal of the 80’s in general as a worthy period in music (they love the 60’s and 70’s, and seem to want to leapfrog the 80’s and get right to the 90’s), but slowly they have started to acknowledge the decade. The Cure were nominated a couple of years ago, last year saw a surprise nomination for The Replacements (neither were inducted). Here is another absolutely essential 80’s group. How fun would it be to have this year’s Rockhall fight be Morrissey vs. his former bandmates? I’m afraid, though, they will meet the same fate as The Cure and Replacements and not make it in.

The Spinners: Look, I’m not going to complain about any important R&B artist nominations, as this genre (and blues) are so much in the DNA of rock and roll. Daryl Hall, in his acceptance speech last year for Hall & Oates, admonished the Hall for generally overlooking Philly Soul, and The Spinners nomination may be a response to that. Love this group, but I doubt they get in.

Sting: Hmm. This is tough. He is already in with The Police, so this would be solely for his solo work. I mean, how do you deal with this? His first four solo records (I’m including the live Bring on the Night) were brilliant and daring in their way in that he made a real break from The Police’s sound and forged his own identity. But then? Horrible, saccharine, generic, lazy (especially considering his abilities) work. I find his work from Ten Summoner’s Tales forward infuriating. I guess I wouldn’t be upset if he got in (The Police are one of my favorite bands and his early solo work I adore), but he needs to be punished severely for most of the 90’s and beyond.

Stevie Ray Vaughan: FINALLY! It is ridiculous that this is his first nomination. Year after year he appears near the top of most “biggest snubs” lists. He almost singlehandedly revived blues as a vital musical form in the 80’s and set it on a healthy track for beyond. He also influenced a generation of guitar players. Who doesn’t love this guy? Even if you don’t listen to him much anymore. But do you notice that his name looks a little odd there? A little bare and lonely? Where is the "& double Trouble?" I find it odd and dumb that his crucial band Double Trouble was not nominated with him, especially in light of the Rockhall righting past wrongs over the last several years with inducting backing bands like Springsteen’s E Street Band, James Brown’s Famous Flames, Smokey Robinson’s Miracles, etc. years after their leaders were inducted. I mean, Double Trouble (Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon and Reese Wynans) were essential to SRV’s sound. If Stevie were still alive, I think he would demand that his band go in with him, he wouldn’t be happy with going in alone. I always said that when they finally get around to nominating him that he’d be a sure thing, and I don’t see any direct competition this year, so I say he definitely gets in.

War: Great group that melded soul, rock and latin sounds in the 70’s. I especially like their shortlived collaborations with Eric Burdon. A longshot for induction this year.

Bill Withers: Nice. Fairly eccentric artist who walked away from the industry before he needed to. He is as respected as a singer-songwriter as he is an R&B artist, and wrote some fantastic, funky and lasting songs. Wouldn’t mind seeing him go in at all, and I’m a little surprised that this is only his first nomination.

So there they are, your nominees for the class of 2015. Assuming there will be five inductees this year…

Dez’s Ballot:

Stevie Ray Vaughan
The Smiths
Lou Reed
NWA or Sting
: I cannot decide yet on my final slot. I don’t listen to NWA much, but they are hugely important. See my Sting discussion above.

Dez’s Predictions:

Stevie Ray Vaughan
Green Day
Lou Reed
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
(I hope I’m wrong here)

What do you think? Predictions?

Monday, October 6, 2014


JMW was disturbed by being confronted with Phil Spector's frightening mug in the post below whenever he checked in at GNABB. So per his request, I have posted something less scary.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Scariest Elf in Prison

Below is the recent mugshot of a well known person. Can you guess who this is? Hint: he once pointed a gun at John Lennon (but he's not the guy who shot him, of course).

A Sign That It Is Time To Retire

I had tickets for a co-headlining show featuring Jeff Beck and ZZ Top in Houston for earlier this month. I'm a fan of ZZ Top circa 1972-85 or so, but obviously I got the ticket to see the still amazing Jeff Beck. I was all set to go to Houston and meet up with my friends to go to the show when I get an e-mail from ticketmaster stating that the show had been postponed nine months. Researching online, I discovered Dusty Hill (bass player for ZZ Top) had tripped on the tour bus and broken his hip.

I ran into Dusty once many years ago. I was at Dolce and Freddo (gelato place) in Houston one evening, and he walked in wearing a dark suit, shades and his trademark beard tucked into his shirt. On his arm was a busty, blonde, scantily clad 20 year old (or so).

ABOVE: Dusty es viejo

’75 vs. ’78 Boss and Amazon Shenanigans

In Bruce Springsteen bootleg circles, the debate rages whether his finest live year was 1975 (Born to Run tour) or 1978 (Darkness on the Edge of Town). As one of the greatest live acts in rock history, you cannot go wrong with either year. The difference? Both years feature shows of unbridled energy, new discovery (in ’75 he was on the brink of breaking out, in ’78 he had just won freedom after a prolonged legal battle with his first manager), marathon performances. I would say that there is more joy and fun in ’75, but more intensity in ’78. I personally go for ’78 as his finest touring year.

I researched various lists of “the best Springsteen bootlegs” (Rolling Stone magazine even has a Top 20 Springsteen Bootlegs list). Springsteen, like many artists, has had a complicated relationship with bootleggers over the years. At times he has fought them (sometimes in court), but like many prolific artists, he has grudgingly accepted their existence and activities. In fact, on several of the more available bootlegs out there (like from radio broadcasts of shows from both ’75 and ’78) he even addresses them. From a ’75 show before he launches into a rare song, he even says “alright bootleggers, get your tapes ready…” and from ’78: “I am sure this will be available via bootleg.”

In a sense, bootleg music serves the artist. Loyal fans want everything they can get, and I don’t think these recordings cut into the artists’ sales. One who buys Springsteen boots is also going to buy whatever next studio record he puts out. I, for one, would happily buy these shows from Bruce and Columbia Records if they would put them out. But other than the Hammersmith Odeon London ’75 concert, they have not. There are some bands that have completely embraced bootleggers. The Grateful Dead, for instance, famously reserved a section at their shows for bootleggers to sit where they could get the best sounding recordings, and actively encouraged the trading of Dead tapes. Bruce was never that generous, but I think he has accepted their existence. He has had more of a problem with the bootlegs containing unreleased studio tracks vs. live shows. I can understand that. Bruce has also had a much more vicious battle with ticket scalpers (who are true scum bottom feeders) as opposed to bootleggers.

Anyway, I own probably about a dozen Springsteen bootlegs of varying quality. My prized possessions, though, are the ’75 and ’78 shows. The ones to get are:

1. ‘Live at the Main Point,’ 1975: Small club show that was broadcast on the radio, so the sound quality on most boots of this show is superlative. Highlights include a gorgeous piano/violin opener of “Incident on 57th Street,” a blazing and swinging version of “Kitty’s Back,” a stunning 20 minute “New York City Serenade” (notice this is a peak for tunes from his sophomore record, my favorite of his) and the first live performance of what would become “Thunder Road” (here called “Wings For Wheels,” with substantially different lyrics). It is funny to hear the crowd get much more excited when he launches into tunes from his first two records than from the new one. Usually the “new songs” at concerts are a time to go get a drink, right? Songs like “Thunder Road,” “Born To Run” and “Jungleland” are just new tunes to sit through while waiting to hear “Rosalita” and “Spirit in the Night,” and not the institutions that they are now. ***** out of *****.

2. ‘The Bottom Line, 1975. Also a club gig that was also broadcast on the radio. The boot is fun too because you hear the DJ’s interject between songs and they are just slackjawed at what they are hearing and witnessing. It starts good, but about halfway through the first disc (of two) it kicks into classic territory, when he goes into a groovy, lengthy, playful “E Street Shuffle.” **** out of *****.

3. ‘The Roxy’, 1978. Absolutely legendary show, about 10 tunes from this show ended up (in edited form) on Bruce’s Live 1975/85 box set. Bruce is particularly talkative here, with long narratives before and during songs, some very humorous. Highlights are many, but a spirited “For You,” a fiery (and rare) “Adam Raised a Cain,” an emotional “Backstreets” (here about 15 minutes, a six or seven minute edit was on Live 1975/85), and a rumbling, primal “Mona” into “She’s The One.” Essential. ***** out of *****.

4. ‘Winterlands,’ 1978. Holy grail for me. The greatest live recording I’ve ever heard. Three and half exhausting hours that are superhuman. Almost the whole thing is a highlight, a blistering “Streets of Fire,” swinging “Spirit in the Night,” epic “Jungleland”, “Racing in the Street” and “Backstreets,” joyous “Rosalita,” definitive versions of “Candy’s Room” and “Because the Night,” a killer rarity like “The Fever,” and the pinnacle of Brucedom, the 15 minute “Prove It All Night” that has more energy than any live recording of any song I’ve ever come across. (How did he not put a version of that on his box set from his ’78 shows?!? Idiot.) It just does not get better than this for live rock and roll. ****** out of ***** (that’s right, six out of five stars!)

The funny thing is that a few weeks ago I found all of these for sale on Now, you couldn’t find them on the first or second page of Bruce items. But once you clicked to about the 16th or 17th page of Bruce stuff, way into the muck of old t-shirts and bumper stickers, lo and behold were a bunch of bootlegs onsale. Now they were not labeled as “bootlegs.” They were “imports” of quality “soundboard recordings.” Bootlegs. And they were onsale for about $20 a piece. I have seen these go for $60 or $80. Too good to be true. I ordered about four of them (already owned Winterlands, but got a better sounding version. Also picked up Roxy and Bottom Line. Also a 2007 show when he closed Giants Stadium right before it was leveled and played the Born in the USA record from start to finish…that is still on the way). They have been all that I had hoped.

Looking back a couple of days later I found this, no other way to describe him, tool of a guy who had given all of these boots one star reviews raving that his wife had ordered these live records for his birthday and they turned out to be CD-R discs that wouldn’t play on his ancient stereo. He was shocked, shocked! He complained to Amazon and Amazon told him they were “investigating.” He said there is no way that Bruce authorized these to be released. He was very proud of himself, looking out for the “unsuspecting customer.” I went off on the guy. I told him if he was really “unsuspecting” he was one of the dumbest music listeners I’ve ever come across. I wrote responses and counterreviews to every one of his reviews (and there were about ten of them). The description said “sound board recordings” and said CD-R! He had to be an idiot if he did not know what these were! Of course they were illegal. But these were a treasure trove at unbelievable prices, and if Amazon chose to sell them (even though they shouldn’t), he needed to keep his trap shut and let the fans get the Bruce that they need. I quickly placed more orders. As I feared, within days, all of these “imports” were taken off Amazon. I got lucky, because I had already received the “your orders have been shipped” e-mails before they were yanked.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Should Scotland Vote For Independence?

Should they break up the UK? Bowie says no. Sean Connery says yes. What do you think?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dez Reviews U2's Songs of Innocence, 2014

First let's dispense with the circumstances of the release. As I posted Tuesday, I opened iTunes and saw a big ad for a new U2 record. I clicked it and the album was there, available for download for free. Since then, I am now aware that U2 was a part of Apple's annual 'Here's All of the Amazing Stuff That You Will Not Be Able to Live Without' convention. They performed their new single, and then announced, with typical Bono drama, that their new record was available on iTunes RIGHT NOW!!!!! For free! It is for the people! I heard that supposedly it was automatically added to everyone's iTunes library? Didn't happen with me, I had to click to download. If that was the case, I am less pleased that Apple and U2 decided that everyone wanted it in their library. Again, though, so U2, right? Of course all 12 gazillion iTunes users want the new U2 album. So we'll save you the trouble and just insert it in your library. I guess it is the next step in surprise releases. Bowie came out of retirement and announced a record coming out the next month. Beyonce put her record out one day without any warning. Now U2 does it and gives it away for free. They have been working on this record for several years (it was to be titled Songs of Ascent, but the sessions have been troubled, and most people did not expect a new record until next year).

ABOVE: Bono and The Edge unveiling their new record along with Apple's new phone and watch

Anyway, on to the actual music. This is unlike any other U2 record. It is far and away the most personal and autobiographical lyrically. Although all lyrics are credited to "Bono and The Edge," in many ways it feels like a solo Bono record. It is a loose concept album, and thematically comparable to The Who's Quadrophenia (if not comparable in grandeur and kick-assedness). Many of the songs explicitly deal with Bono's growing up and the early days of the band. "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" recalls the teenage U2 sneaking into a Ramones show in the late 70's that was supposedly a crucial moment in U2's early formation and bonding. (In a bittersweet irony, "The Miracle" is about U2 being born, in a sense, at a Ramone's show while it is a widely reported fact that the last song Joey Ramone listened to before drifting off into the Great Beyond was U2's "In a Little While"). "California (There Is No End To Love)" recalls U2's first visit to California on one of their first tours. "Song For Someone" is an ode to Bono's wife, whom he met as a teenager, while "Iris (Hold Me Close)" is about Bono's mother who died when he was also in his teens. The terse "Raised By Wolves" recalls a bombing in Dublin that occurred on a street that Bono traveled almost every day at the time, and "Cedarwood Road" shares the name of the street where Bono lived growing up.

To me, all of this would sound promising. Unfortunately, the music is a letdown. Where the hell is Edge? This is the least guitar that I have ever heard on a U2 album. I do admire that Edge strips away almost all of his effects and plays with a more straightforward sound than we've heard since War. But, there is precious little guitar, and more importantly, Edge-y textures, to be heard. Sonically, they do seem to be traveling that same road that they have been on since 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind. What was nice in 2000 has by 2014 gotten pretty formulaic and old. As one review that I read said, "the new U2 record is absolutely gorgeous and absolutely boring." Agree.

There are a couple of highlights. "Every Breaking Wave" and "California" have the modern U2 single sound down of soaring and melodic choruses, plenty of "woa woa's" that will translate nicely in arenas, crescendos of emotion in all the right spots. They sound like U2 trying to be The Killers, which makes sense, since The Killers really want to be classic U2. There is only one song that echoes the thrilling experimentation of the early to mid-90's, and that is the brooding "Sleep Like a Baby Tonight."

There are no bad songs here. But no truly great ones either. Each song flows into the next with those emotional swoops that U2 can by now do in their sleep. While I appreciate the personal lyrics here, there is no adventure or stretching in sound. You listen to it and it all sounds good and nice while you are listening, but then when it is over you cannot pick out any individual song that really stands out from the rest. It sounds like middle of the road Coldplay or Killers. I like Coldplay and Killers, even middle of the road Coldplay and Killers, but I've always expected more from U2.

By the way, in the files of the absurd: this is the second U2 record in a row that Rolling Stone magazine has given *****, their highest rating, stating that "...even by the standards of transformation on 1987's The Joshua Tree and 1991's Achtung Baby, Songs of a triumph of dynamic, focused renaissance..." Uh huh.

*** out of *****

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

This Is Cool

Go to iTunes today and out of the can download the new U2 album for free. That's interesting. No warning, no build-up. It is just there. And did I mention it was free? I guess they were trying to up the "surprise" stakes, trying to outdo the Beyonce and Bowie surprises earlier this year. Haven't listened to it yet, just downloaded it. Oh, it's free, by the way. Songs of Innocence is the title. Review soon.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Dez Record Guides: Fleetwood Mac

When you talk about Fleetwood Mac, you are really talking about at least three different bands, connected only by the constant presence of their namesake rhythm section of John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums. The interesting thing is that Fleetwood Mac, through its different incarnations, is really defined by the other members who gave the band guidance through different periods. British blues guitar legend Peter Green, blues acolytes Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwin, the unjustly forgotten Bob Welch, pop mistress Christine McVie and the dynamic duo of quirky genius Lindsey Buckingham and gypsy Stevie Nicks. But the constants have always been Mr. McVie and Fleetwood.

I don’t think any major band has had as many major transformations in sound. Most fans of Rumours would scarcely recognize the Mac of Then Play On. Even the reclusive Peter Green felt no connection with the latterday Fleetwood Mac, so much so that when Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Green chose to perform his famous “Black Magic Woman” with fellow inductee Santana vs. his own old band, which made some sense since Santana had made the song famous. Still kinda awkward.

For the sake of clarity and because I find it interesting and because with Fleetwood Mac the personnel on each record is so crucial to the sound, I have noted the personnel on each record. The letter in parentheses corresponds to a key at the end of the post with the personnel. If you are counting, the band has gone through 11 distinct line-ups.

Here is the Fleetwood Mac labyrinth unraveled…

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac:
Peter Green’s version of Fleetwood Mac is still revered amongst hardcore British blues rock fans. Green is held in the same esteem as a blues guitarist as Clapton, Page, Beck, etc. As far as I go, I feel like you can cherry pick from this era and find incendiary, bold, incredible performances. But there is also a lot of generic blues. They were just getting really interesting with Then Play On when Green went off the deep end, left the band and became an acid casualty for several decades, a la Barrett or Erickson.

What I have done below is try and make some sense of the Peter Green era. Discographically speaking, it is a mess primarily due to several record labels owning the music. There have been countless budget compilations and collections of rarities and live tracks, many of dubious recording quality. I’ve waded through the muck and below is what I believe to be the core Peter Green era discography. You’re welcome.

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (1968) (A) ****
The debut is viewed in many circles as one of the seminal blues based rock records of the 1960’s. There are definitely some burning performances here, but my complaint remains that much of this does sound like generic, if very well played, blues with a rock and roll energy. I know many people would take me to task for not giving this five stars. I just can’t. It is hard to best the “Shake Your Moneymaker,” here, I admit.

Mr. Wonderful (1968) (A) **
Some more well played blues, but even fans of this era acknowledge that there is a lack of inspiration on the follow-up.

English Rose (compilation, U.S. only) (A, B) (1969) ***
The Pious Bird of Good Omen (compilation) (A, B) (1969) ***

Many of Fleetwood Mac’s most famous songs from this era were released as singles only. These compilations collected many of those singles, as well as random album tracks. The gorgeous “Albatross” and signature tune “Black Magic Woman” can be found on these compilations/releases.

ABOVE: The talented but troubled Peter Green

Then Play On (1969) (B) ****
Now here is where things get really interesting. With the three guitar/vocalist/songwriter line-up of Green, Spencer and Kirwin, there is a lot of firepower (although word is that Spencer by this point was contributing little). But what is really great is that they finally seem to be expanding beyond being mere blues acolytes and forging their own sound, incorporating some folk and rock sounds as well for a potent mix. If this line-up had been able to stay together longer and continue to explore these paths…wow. It is a tantalizing “what if.” Kirwin’s “Coming Your Way” features a fantastic groove from the McVie/Fleetwood rhythm section, and Green’s “Showbiz Blues” and “Rattlesnake Shake” show that he was finally moving beyond honoring others and writing his own, quite original, blues. But the centerpiece is Green’s stunning nine minute opus “Oh Well,” with the opening minutes featuring a riff so huge it stands tall next to the best of Led Zeppelin. But then the song suddenly veers into an acoustic folk meditative piece. Utterly brilliant, and if only Green had not soon after gone nuts and become a recluse, we could have had more of this.

Live in Boston (aka Boston Tea Party) (live) (1970/1985/1998) (B) ****
The Peter Green era Mac is famous for its incendiary live performances. There are several poorly recorded releases out there, I chose to represent the live material with the best sounding of the lot. Released in various incarnations over the years, this is worth having, featuring the three guitar Green/Spencer/Kirwin line-up in all its glory. There is a lot of blues here, but the energy crackles through the speakers, and a 25-minute “Rattlesnake Shake” stands as one of the great extended live workouts of the genre.

Transitional Years:
Kiln House (1970) (C) ***
Future Games (1971) (D) **
Bare Trees (1972) (D) **
Penguin (1973) (E) *
Mystery to Me (1973) (F) ***
Heroes Are Hard to Find (G) (1974) **

After visionary leader Peter Green left, the band went through five years of transition. How do you get from Peter Green’s British blues to Rumours? That shift can only be understood through an understanding of this period. It is virtually forgotten these days, and while the records as a whole were quite uneven, there are some fantastic songs scattered about. Bob Welch was crucial during this time, and he was criminally omitted from the list of inductees when the Mac were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Quite simply, without Welch, there would not have been a Mac for Buckingham and Nicks to join by 1975. He and Christine McVie kept it afloat during these transitional, lean years. Christine is a huge presence during this period as well, and does not have to compete with Ms. Nicks.

Classic Mac:
This is the Fleetwood Mac most radio listeners know. With the addition of California folk duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, the magic formula was finally found. Compare Rumours or Mirage to the Peter Green years, and you’ll see why I said this is the most drastic transformation in rock and roll by any major band. Buckingham and Nicks bring such distinct sensibilities, and neither are rooted in the blues. It is Southern California pop mixed with a healthy dose of Nicks' hippie/gypsy ethos. Buckingham is the one who gives the band its unity in sound. He is an incredible guitar player, fantastic songwriter and singer, and genius producer/arranger. Add to that Christine McVie’s continued evolution as a top notch pop songwriter/singer, and you can understand why for a decade they were a constant presence on the charts.

Fleetwood Mac (1975) (H) ****
Rumours (1977) (H) *****

From the outset, it was clear that this was a new Fleetwood Mac. Appropriately titling their new record simply Fleetwood Mac, this might as well have been the debut record of a brand new band. Look at the hits/well known tunes from these two records: “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me,” “Over My Head,” “Landslide,” “Dreams,” “Don’t Stop,” “Go Your Own Way,” “The Chain,” “You Make Loving Fun” and “Gold Dust Woman.” Rumours especially was filled from start to finish with a-list material. Most are familiar with the soap opera drama going on behind the scenes (and played out often in these songs) during the recording of Rumours. Nicks and Buckingham were breaking up, Nicks had a brief affair with Fleetwood, John and Christine McVie were divorcing. Amidst all of this, they managed to produce one of the biggest selling records of all time.

Tusk (1979) (H) ***1/2
Far from attempting to just recreate past glories, the band really tried to do something different on the follow-up to Rumours. Lindsey Buckingham took the production reigns over on this sprawling double, throwing in some very experimental tracks (the title track, for instance, featuring the USC marching band). Like many doubles, this could have been trimmed to make a stronger single, but there is some fantastic material here nonetheless. Stevie Nicks’ “Storms” is gorgeous.

ABOVE: The always beautiful Stevie Nicks also possesses one of the most unique and powerful female rock voices

Fleetwood Mac: Live (live) (1980) (H) ***
Excellent live record from their peak. Not a lot of surprises here, but energetically played.

Mirage (1982) (H) ***
They step back from the experimentation of Tusk and produce a straightforward pop/rock record. Some good songs here (“Hold Me,” “Gypsy”), but the most forgettable record from this era.

Tango in the Night (1987) (H) ****
This record had some big hits, yet I still feel it is often overlooked. It was Lindsey Buckingham’s swansong with the band until he returned a decade later. The production is meticulous and representative of Buckingham’s over-production-as-artform. But mainly, this is a hell of a set of songs from all three songwriters. Christine hits the mark as usual with a couple of killer pop songs with “Little Lies” and “Everywhere.” Nicks’ “Seven Wonders” is one of her best and Buckingham really delivers with “Big Love,” “Caroline” and the title track. It is definitely of its time with heavy 80’s + Buckingham production, but it is also fantastic.

Behind the Mask (1990) (I) NR
Time (1995) (J) NR

Without the visionary production leadership of Buckingham, the Mac were adrift. These are justly forgotten, although Time has a rather intriguing line-up of has beens. Had this group of people joined forces in the 70’s, they could have done something really cool.

The Dance (live) (1997) (H) ****
Say You Will (2003) (K) ***
Fleetwood Mac: Live in Boston (live) (2004) (K) ***
Extended Play (EP) (2013) (K) ***

The reunion of the classic Rumours line-up was surprising considering the apparent animosity within the ranks of the band. You do have two ex-couples, afterall. But the live reunion and subsequent record were a hit, with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks both returning to the fold in top form. In fact, with the jawdropping acoustic “Big Love” and a burning workout on “I’m So Afraid,” Lindsey Buckingham emerges as an extraordinary guitar player. After the triumph of The Dance, Christine McVie decide to go into semi-retirement, so they have been a quartet since then, although there are rumours that Christine may be rejoining the fray soon.

ABOVE: Lindsey Buckingham's incredible solo performance of "Big Love" from 1997's The Dance. That guitar playing!

The Best of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (compilation) (2001) (A, B) ****1/2
Greatest Hits (compilation) (H, I) (1988) ****
25 Years – The Chain (compilation box set) (various) (1992) ****
The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac (compilation) (2002) (H) ****

It took awhile, but finally a professional, good sounding, well put together compilation of the Peter Green years is available. Most everything that is essential is here, including some of their best songs that were only released as singles, like “Black Magic Woman,” “Albatross,” “The Green Manalishi,” “Dragonfly.” If you want a one stop for the Peter Green years, here it is. The Mac have so many hits that it is hard to screw up a compilation covering the Rumours line-up. All of these above contain most of the essentials, although the box set (now out of print) was somewhat of a lost opportunity with its haphazard programming.

Solo Work:

Many of the current and former members of FM also released solo work. I am only familiar with Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. McVie's records prove an interesting thing. Her songs work so well within the larger framework of an FM record in part because her tunes offer nice, pop contrast to the more intense, insular work of Buckingham and the gypsy/hippie/mysterious vibe of Nicks. But listening to her three solo records shows that full albums of just McVie pop songs gets old pretty quick.

As for Buckingham, I've got all eight of his solo records. With him, it depends on how you feel about what some consider his strengths as a producer and others view as self-indulgence. The meticulous and quirky production on FM's Tusk and Tango in the Night...that is basically what his solo work sounds like. Then add that he has even less restraints, as he is not really worried about keeping a brand going. I think Live at the Bass Performance Hall (live) (2008) **** may be where to start, as it features some choice solo tunes, great renditions of some Mac cuts and several showcases for his jawdropping acoustic guitar playing. Everything else is hit and miss, but almost all of his records feature some stellar tracks.

Not surprisingly, Stevie Nicks had the most solo success. I don't have any of her studio records, although I understand several are quite good. Crystal Visions - The Very Best of Stevie Nicks (compilation) (2007) **** is a fantastic sampling of her solo hits. Interesting story behind her killer song "Stand Back." If you listen closely, notice the chords are the same as Prince's "Little Red Corvette." That is no accident, as Prince co-wrote "Stand Back" with Nicks. She told a funny story in an interview that has always stuck with me about Prince's strange genius. He came to the studio to lay down that pounding synth part. As Nicks told it, he hardly said a word, not even "hello," walked in and nailed that rhythmically complex and awesome synth line, and then walked out. Again not saying a thing.

(A) Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood
(B) Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwin, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood
(C) Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwin, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood
(D) Bob Welch, Christine McVie, Danny Kirwin, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood
(E) Bob Welch, Christine McVie, Bob Weston, Dave Walker, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood
(F) Bob Welch, Christine McVie, Bob Weston, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood
(G) Bob Welch, Christine McVie, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood
(H) Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood
(I) Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Billy Burnette, Rick Vito, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood
(J) Christine McVie, Dave Mason, Bekka Bramlett, Billy Burnette, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood
(K) Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood