Give Me Crap If You Must… or… Temple Of The Dog – Eponymous

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Right now… as I’m writing this, I’m feeling an epic moment of personal nostalgia. Looking over at a recently purchased purple piece of vinyl spinning on my turntable I can’t help but reflect back nearly twenty-five years. Usually when someone says that an album changed their life it is pure hyperbole. It is something said by someone to say they connected in a deep way to a certain record. In my case it literally shaped my entire university experience and the lifelong friends I made.

Let me explain. In the summer of 1991 I found myself really getting into an album that almost no one had heard of – Temple Of The Dog. Remember, this was before Soundgarden released Badmotorfinger; before Pearl Jam had released Ten and even predates Nirvana’s Nevermind. Hell, Soundgarden’s most commercial song to this point was probably “Big Dumb Sex” which had Chris Cornell screaming fuck enough to get the old “explicit lyrics” sticker on the front of Louder Than Love.

As school resumed in September I had started taking a film course and was regaling a new acquaintance on the perfection that was Temple Of The Dog. After a few moments, he interjected with… “Why don’t you review it for me?” I must admit, I was more than a little dumbfounded and probably had that “um, yeah, um, ok” look in my eyes until he explained that he was the entertainment editor at the campus paper. The next day I showed up with a hand written review and from that point on, I became an arts critic during a very interesting time in the musical universe.

Little more than a month after that conversation Pearl Jam was playing an industry gig at the Rivoli in Toronto. Trust me when I say this… the Rivoli is small, very frickin’ small. Ten had been released, but no one was caught up in it yet, and I retold the story again to my friend trying to sell him on the idea of an interview. Mike, who has a bit of a poker face, didn’t seem to think it would be a problem. It would be the first time I would stick a microphone in front of a band, so I was a little nervous and started checking my schedule the next day. My memory at this point gets a bit fuzzy on certain details, but what I remember with absolute clarity is this – I had an exam the morning after the interview. So I returned to Mike and let him know I wouldn’t be able to do it. Casually… between two friends, I cancelled an audience with Pearl Jam before they were “PEARL JAM.”

It wouldn’t be until the next summer I’d do my first interview with The Skydiggers, and from there I did have chats with a lot of great bands. Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Cracker and the Lemonheads all come to mind. However… um…, what can I say? I did well on the exam.

Now many years later I found myself searching for a vinyl copy and apparently it is a very hot commodity. Discogs has selling the original 1991 LP for $1000 USD with the average of past sales coming up at over $200 and a recent sale over $500. The same record made in Europe goes for a much more reasonable $80.

That same year a limited edition picture disc was released but I couldn’t find any for sale to fix a price point.

In 1992, with the success of both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, the album was given a huge push behind the release of the single “Hunger Strike.” Several European editions were released on red vinyl and all seem to go between $50 and $100.

Eight years later, a vinyl reissue hit the market on clear vinyl that has a history of selling under $50.

Jump to 2013 and Music on Vinyl did a complete remaster of the record on 2 pieces of black 180 gram vinyl with an etched side 4. Simultaneously, they also released a limited edition hand numbered purple LP set. A&M also reissued the record on a single red platter.

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Finally, last year, Music on Vinyl reissued 1200 copies of the purple set on 180 gram vinyl to be sold through Newbury Comics. The two, while described as purple, are differing shades, making it slightly cooler than the last batch. However… it seems to have already sold out. You can find copies through Discogs or e-bay for under $50 USD, or just grab the regular black vinyl which is still widely available at the usual retailers.

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The Volume is a Little Lower: Goodbye Glenn Frey

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Identity and youth is such a strange thing. What one is willing to grasp on to in order to fill a void can seem like a whim but have implications that last a lifetime. For whatever reason, the music of the Eagles was what attached itself to me, and I in return, clung to them for more years than they themselves remained together in their initial run.

I remember hearing them from the crackling transistor AM radios that my older siblings owned and through the fuzz of the car stereo on the trips up north as a child. There was something that made them stick. I wasn’t even 10 when Hotel California was released, but it was the first album that I didn’t just want to buy, but somehow be a part of. More than the Beatles or the Stones, the Eagles were who I identified with. Of course, as a kid it was an oversimplified Scooby Doo type community I craved, but at that age you’re allowed to project those desires into your favourite tunes.

As I became a teen, my notebooks and textbooks would have the lyrics of their songs hand written into the covers. I knew that J.D. Souther was a frequent collaborator and that Jackson Browne had co-written “Take It Easy.” I was familiar with previous bands too; that Randy Meisner had once been in a band called Poco, that Bernie Leadon had been a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, that Joe Walsh had opened for the Who as a part of The James Gang and mostly, that Glenn Frey and Don Henley were members of Linda Ronstadt and ultimately the masterminds behind my favourite band.

This wasn’t in the days of Google and Wikipedia. Every bit of information you got about the artists you loved was from careful study of an LP’s liner notes; gathered from magazine articles you were lucky enough to have picked up; or even books you searched for in the library… which was strange, because I only seemed to be there for this very reason. I learned about these artists from the radio itself. For years, I was tuning into Q107’s Six O’Clock Rock Report to get any little scrap of information about all my favourite bands. Before I even hit high school, I was a huge music fan with a doctorate in The Eagles. I could wax poetic about tons upon tons of rock bands; bore you with details about groups from the Beatles to Barnstorm, but the kings of the Southern California sound were my first love.

To that end, the passing of Glenn Frey hits home and hits hard. No, I never met him, and to be honest, his image as seen through History of The Eagles is that of someone who is wrapped in arrogance… but that doesn’t mean much to me. What mattered was that he helped provide a soundtrack to my life. His music gave me a reason to socialize and interact in a world that I felt desperately alone in during those early formative years. When I later lost interest in their music, it was still that initial connection that drove me to take a further interest in the sounds of other bands. Even as a music journalist, I would hear artists through a lens, that for better or worse was established with the same enthusiasm I had for The Eagles when I was child. As an adult now, I can both sing their praises and slam them in a single breath… but the truth is; every record from their debut to Eagles Live is sitting just a few inches from my turntable. In the basement, where an old stereo with a cassette deck is ready to resume work with a single button push, my old Eagles/Don Henley/Glenn Frey/Joe Walsh and James Gang cassettes wait to roll.

Earlier in the week, as I was discussing the death of David Bowie with an acquaintance, I said to him that “I’m hitting a crappy age.” It’s a time when the heroes, friends and mentors of our childhood start to disappear; a time when we seemingly attend more funerals than celebrations. Glenn Frey will live on through his family and his music… but platitudes seem rather empty at the moment. Today another part of my youth died, and no matter how much I wish for it, life will never sound the same. Still great sounding, but the volume is forever a little lower.

RIP Glenn Frey

Aimee Mann: She isn’t the Ramones… but she is pretty damn cool! (A first concert story)

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Back in university there was only one major thing I was envious about regarding my roommate/friend – his first concert. The first band he ever saw live was the Ramones; only the ‘coolest’ band to have ever graced the planet earth. Oh, you can mention ‘better’ or ‘more popular’ bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Smiths, the Cure, etc and so forth… but unless you can tell me you saw James Brown live at the Apollo, or the B 52’s in an Athens dive as your first show, he had you beat.

Of course, his first concert outshone mine easily. I’m embarrassed to say, but that first for me was in the freezing cold at Nathan Phillips Square featuring Platinum Blonde. Sure, there are many bands that could rank worse as a first show, and it wasn’t a bad night either, but “It Doesn’t Really Matter” isn’t exactly “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” A few years later, with one four year old at my feet, and another child on the way, I vowed to make sure that my kids would get a cool first concert; something ‘worthy’ of telling college roommates about in a childish game of ‘mine is better than yours.’

So it was that in 2008, a couple things had lined themselves up. Local record store Sonic Boom (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World filmed a couple scenes in there) had acoustic concerts every so often in the basement of their Bloor Street location. I attended a Nada Surf show with the ‘former roomy’ and when it finished I saw the bands singer/songwriter Matthew Caws hanging out with some kids. Not ‘kids’ as in a middle-aged definition of people of the teenaged variety… but honest to goodness children. Not being the most perceptive of individuals, it only dawned on me right then, that… well, um, a record store is a safe and… dare I add, perhaps even ‘cool’ place to see a concert.

!!!LIGHTBULB!!!!

Five months after watching Nada Surf, and barely 8 weeks after my second child was born a quick e-mail announced that Aimee Mann was going to be playing a set at Sonic Boom. Since the early 90’s I had become a pretty big fan of Mann’s music. She had put together a consistent string of outstanding records that caught a great balance between power-pop (Big Star), new-wave (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe), and the alt-rock scene of the times. Bachelor #2 was a staple in my house as the new millennium began and 2005’s concept album The Forgotten Arm seemed to be just more proof that she should be a household name. In other words, Mann had become an essential part of my life’s soundtrack. Alas, critical praise doesn’t always result in record sales. Of course, and from a purely selfish perspective, it also meant that seeing a ‘bucket list’ artist in a strange different style venue was about to happen.

So it was that during the early evening May 9th, 08 my wife and I took the boys out to see Aimee Mann. Needless to say, the youngest was in a car seat hanging out with my wife just in case he expressed any discomfort with the noise level. However, my 4 year old and I were sitting cross-legged in front of the small riser where he began to ask me a thousand questions about the small soundboard and the instruments on stage. He had a poster clutched in his hands and was smiling from ear to ear. Since his birth he had seen me playing guitar and singing songs and was now completely enthralled by the prospect of seeing a real music artist. Mann didn’t disappoint. Playing a few selections from @#%&*! Smilers, which was due for release a couple weeks later, she had everyone in a great mood. By the end of the set my son was convinced that Mann was the world’s greatest songwriter, and that she was smiling at him between songs. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him she was looking at where she was placing the capo on her guitar… and that the neck of the instrument was pointed in his direction.)

After the set, we waited around for about 30 minutes to see if we could get the poster signed. I’m not usually one for signatures, but I figured a momentous occasion like a first concert would be a great opportunity for my kids to have a keepsake. So we looked at the vinyl and cassettes which shared the basement with the stage, and kept an eye on the door for her exit. Unfortunately, whoever was interviewing her after the show was getting a really good chat, because she just never came out of the backroom in time for my son to get it signed. The baby needed to get home, and so we jumped into the rusty old minivan with a poster, our memories and a great first concert story.

Eighteen months later, my first born would get his second concert poster signed by a confused looking J. Mascis and a very gracious Lou Barlow after a Dinosaur Jr. acoustic set at Sonic Boom. (I mean come on, how many times do alt-rock legends get five year-olds walking up for an autograph.) Since then we’ve been to a bunch of small sets or shows. Both my boys (now just about to turn 12 and 8) enjoy going to shows at Sugar Beach where they can play in the sand before a band breaks into song.

Over the years, I’ve seen Mann perform a couple times, each time more impressive than the last and yet she still remains on my bucket list for a couple reasons. One, I’d eventually like to get to one of her annual Christmas shows. But, even more importantly, I’d like to have the kids go to a full concert that they’ll actually remember without daddy reminding them of when playing music on the stereo. When she last came to Toronto with The Both we were away on holidays and missed the chance. All joking about bragging rights aside, taking my kids to a concert isn’t about bravado, it is about bonding. Doing those things that allow memories to grow and be sustained.

So my old roommate has the Ramones… and that is pretty cool. But, on some future day when they’re at college and a friend asks “what was your first show?” both my children will be able to give a sly grin and reply – “Aimee Mann… and I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet.” The older one can even add “and, it’s on youtube. You can see my dad and I on the floor waiting for the music to start.”

Thanks for the memory Aimee

A personal reflection on David Bowie!

Recently, I lost a childhood friend. Going through his online memorials I was struck by a thought. The relationships we have when we’re young always seem to be the most powerful; having influence far beyond nights spent looking at stars. The memories linger as a reminder of who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.

Like the news of my friend, the news of David Bowie’s passing hit me with a great deal of force. Through a challenging adolescence, his music had been a soundtrack, a lifeline, a confidant and a means of reassurance to me that things could get better. Like many, Ziggy Stardust had been my entry point; it was a record steeped in mythology, despair, futility and ultimately, hope. Although, I fully admit that I projected my own life’s trials onto his music, like the best albums, you connect to it on some kind of transcendent level. It didn’t matter that I really didn’t understand Bowie’s depth at this point, it only mattered that somehow I didn’t feel alone for those minutes the cassette was running through my Sony Walkman or the crappy 80’s tape deck on a no-name 60’s stereo.

The magic of Bowie was that his genius wasn’t temporary or fleeting. Not only did he reinvent himself every few years, but his artistic vision remained intact. Even when he went in directions that were less accessible for many fans to follow, no one ever believed it was due to a loss of talent. He was the king of ‘other’, a person who revelled in the fringe and gave voice to the weird and disenfranchised with heroic nobility; his personas all broken and in vivid technicolour. He took influences from all directions and warped them into something very much his own. Sure, he was a sponge, taking the sounds of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and mixing them with soul, funk and tunes that were genre defining in the moment; but he also added colours and textures that outshone his contemporaries.

For my part, the best example of this was found not in those classic albums hailed as the greatest LP’s of all time, but in his covers record Pin Ups. Bowie took the artists who had inspired him and turned their songs into something new. While most covers done today retain much of the tone of the original, Bowie sought only to capture their energy while honouring the artists with a piece of his own vision. The original Kinks version of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” is full of angst and confusion. Bowie turns it on its head, adding a sense of vitriol and sarcasm. If the original was despair, Bowie brought to it a sense of sanctimonious anger. It was the last line used against the person who made you feel like shit in the first place.

In the last few hours, I’ve found myself reading the memorials to David Bowie; articles bestowing accolades on the importance of his artistic achievements. They mention his music, his style, his accomplishments; all playing into the personification of a genius. It is well deserved and you’ll get no argument from me. However, as I sit back, those things are not what draw my hand toward the volume on the stereo. They are not what I think of as I watch the record spin. When I listen to Bowie, I hear the possibility of individual growth. I see the idea that even the most fucked up amongst us can accomplish something meaningful… beautiful even. Listening to Bowie, I’m not content to look at the stars. I want to reach for them. And should I fall, then let it be spectacular. Let it be epic. Let it be with that sly smile, a wink, and the gracious goodbye that one has after a life well lived. I mean come on… did you see “Lazarus”. How can you not be inspired?

Thank You David, for just sharing a bit of your life with us.

Ten Anti-Christmas Blasts (that will make you laugh, weep or see red…)

http://www.edge.ca/2015/12/23/ten-anti-christmas-songs/

Everyone has a holiday saturation point; that place where good cheer can turn to outright hostility.  Perhaps it is the crowds, or maybe someone stole that long awaited parking spot. It could be that you’ve heard “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas” just a tad too much; whatever the case, it’s at that moment when something… anything… is needed to shake up the insanity of the season before you just scream and possibly punch someone in the nose. When things have come to that particular breaking point, I put on the anti-Christmas songs guaranteed to get you on the naughty list.

Holly Golighly – Christmas Tree On Fire

Released a couple of years ago, “Christmas Tree On Fire” tells the story of someone just too damn lazy to throw out that old, dried up holiday kindling. Essentially the tree is ablaze and the whole frickin’ house burns down around them. Golightly sings in a first person tale filled with humour, horror and little chance of a happy ending.

Clarence Carter – Back Door Santa

Nothing ends goodwill quite like having a back-stabbing, marriage-ending friend sneaking in to make your significant other happy while you’re out at work. It’s one thing to catch ‘mommy kissing Santa Claus’, but it’s a whole different issue to be caught up in this kind of soap opera.

Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)

Sure you want chestnuts roasting by the open fire, but chances are good that X-mas stress will bring out the worst in someone you know. So take some advice from the Ramones and just try your best to de-escalate the situation with a good mix of music and begging.

Aimee Mann – You’re A Mean One Mister Grinch

Take the animation away and this song is rather sinister. Taken from Aimee Mann’s One More Drifter in the Snow, the combination of Grant Lee Philips narration and Mann’s near croon has “You’re A Mean One Mister Grinch” sounding downright diabolical.

De La Soul – Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa

Christmas 1991 was gifted the hip hop horror story of “Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa.” Not for the faint of heart, it’s the fictional account of a girl facing down… well, I don’t want to give away the whole story if you haven’t heard it. Let’s just say it’s as far away from the holiday spirit as one can get.

Sufjan Stevens – That Was The Worst Christmas Ever

The magic of the holiday season loses a bit of luster when expectations are met with earth shattering reality. Stevens has the Christmas music matched with that depressing moment your dreams crash into the earth.

Pogues (featuring Kirsty MacColl) – Fairytale of New York

Nothing brings out the anti-Christmas spirit quite like a duet between a drunken couple throwing nasty barbs at one another on the streets of New York. You know what ‘they’ say about the very fine line between love and hate…

Neko Case – Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis

Some Christmas cards have more than sentiment; and when you’re dealing with the dreams of the down and out… well, they can be both beautiful and heartbreaking. Covering the classic Tom Waits “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis”, Neko Case will haunt your dreams.

Killers – Don’t Shoot Me Santa

Santa catches a serial killer who begs for his life. Only The Killers could come up with such a demented little saga of holiday destruction. Funny thing is, the song is so twisted, you’re kind of hoping neither Santa nor ‘the killer’ gets out alive.

 

Oscar The Grouch – I Hate Christmas

No Christmas list is complete without an appearance from a muppet… even an anti-Christmas list. With that in mind I give you Oscar the Grouch doing his best to destroy the holidays on Sesame Street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My First & Last Word on the Subject! or Original Jimmy Page Listening Event Article

Ok, so I’ve written a post here before on this same experience. It was full of all kinds of stuff only fit for my blogging audience. However, the first thing I wrote was for publication… except that – it didn’t get published. So, here is the original Jimmy Page Listening Event Article. Hope You Enjoy!

 

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An Intimate Listening Event: Hosted By Jimmy Page

Under the eerie red lights of the Freemason “Red Room,” there are medieval style thrones lining the walls. In stark Twilight Zone-like contrast, the centre of the room is filled with those “hard on your ass” chairs you would expect in a public school library. There are chandeliers with incandescent bulbs where candles once burned hanging from the ceiling; velvet drapery on the stage hiding a screen for the video projector; middle ages-type mason symbols on the wall with camera men standing directly below them. It’s a bizarre spectacle populated by aging rockers, business types, contest winners and music journalists mingling in the surreal dance of ‘who can rub elbows with the rock god.’

Honestly, it’s rather easy to lose perspective.

Everyone has a lanyard around their neck, mimicking the illustrious backstage pass of teenage dreams past. Multiple conversations float in the air about instruments lying nearby in case Jimmy wants to jam. Some guys have brought guitars to be signed while others jockey for aisle seats in hopes of shaking the hand of Jimmy Page.

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And who can blame them…

When Led Zeppelin last convened for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert back in 2007, 20 thousand tickets were sold, with 20 million more fans requesting tickets. On this night, there are 200 or so people in the room listening to a selection of songs handpicked by legendary guitarist/producer Jimmy Page, showcasing tunes from Presence, In Through The Out Door, and Coda.

Things quiet down quickly as Q107’s Jeff Woods welcomes the Zeppelin architect to the stage. A standing ovation greets Page who tells us we are about to depart on a “musical journey.” It’s at this moment that the surreal nature of the evening is lost and everyone remembers why they are really here – the music.

While there have been a few jaded critics claiming “cash grab” after multiple reissues of Zeppelin material over the decades (1990 Box Set, 1993 Complete Recordings, 2008 Definitive Collection and the 2014 -2015 Remasters), hearing the results of Page’s remaster and companion audio causes a fan to re-examine just how damn brilliant Led Zeppelin were back in the day.

Leaning heavily on the supplemental material from the deluxe edition of Coda, we hear alternate versions of “Friends”, “Desire”, “Poor Tom”, “Fool In The Rain”, “Bonzo’s Montreux” and “When The Levee Breaks” under it’s working title of “If It Keeps On Raining.” It’s staggering. Familiar tunes are given new life, and nuances previously missed are pulled out with sonic clarity. “Bonzo’s Montreux” is portrayed as a “mix construction in progress” but it sounds more like a drum symphony, with individual sounds given more clarity. The perceived steel drum sound that was a highlight can be clearly heard as a Page studio effect meant to emphasize John Bonham’s abilities.

Previously unreleased “Sugar Mama” is a playful example of the band’s 1968 musical prowess. Recorded during the Led Zeppelin I sessions, it was left off the album because it didn’t fit with the feel of their spectacular debut.

“If It Keeps On Raining (When the Levee Breaks)” is a whole different recording, with Robert Plant’s vocals taking on a ghostly tone over a new menacing rhythm that places emphasis on the song’s darker nature.

As the last notes of “If It Keeps On Raining” ring, the Woods and Page interview portion of the evening begins. At once Page’s personable storytelling grips the audience, with various anecdotes conveyed on the Led Zeppelin mythos.

Woods then pulls out the question that everyone wants answered – why did it end? We all know that Bonham died, but Woods goes further, using the example of the Who continuing after the death of Keith Moon.

Page replies with an explanation that continues to build on the legacy of Zeppelin as both a unique and influential band, suggesting a “synchronicity” “synergy” and a virtual “ESP” that existed between band members. That if you look back at concert bootlegs, you see that the band’s penchant for improvisation made it so that fans never got the same show twice. The result was a group of musicians who had fun and remained relevant for their entire duration. His voice begins to drift off a bit as he finishes “ten years of these concerts, all of the improvisations, that when you have lost one of the key members of it, you wouldn’t be able to continue.” Snapping back, he then jokes about training a new drummer on the many ways to play a single Led Zeppelin song.

A few minutes later and it is all finished. Page offers a smile to the crowd and then vanishes. On the same Masonic Temple floor Zeppelin played 45 years ago, an offering of hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine is served to attendees… there are shared reminisces about the evenings events and smiles all around. It might not be the epic “Rock ‘N’ Roll backstage pass party” of a bygone era”, but it is a good way to end the night.

The Led Zeppelin remasters of Presence, In Through The Out Door, and Coda hit store shelves on July 31st.