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.

I Really Want This! Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams – Various Artists

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Back in ’93 I was given an album to review that became a best friend of sorts. Surprisingly it was a compilation record (which usually just don’t stand up due to inconsistency) of songs by an artist whose music was only known previously to musicians and music geeks, but it knocked me over. One song after another caught my imagination with vivid imagery and music that could be both morose and uplifting within the same moment. It was brilliant, which is something you usually can’t say for a record recorded by “various artists.” However, what holds it together is the artist to who the album was benefiting – Victoria Williams.

“My sister got bit by a copperhead snake in the woods behind the house” is the first line that pops out the old speakers as Soul Asylum breaks into “Summer Of Drugs” and I as listener was hooked. By the…

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Circumstances & Connections: Music Memories or Vic Chesnutt – Drunk

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Fucked up beyond all recognition, I pace the floor wildly with pen in hand, scribbling indecipherable notes for a movie script I’m writing. Thirteen types of prescription medication, ten of which are treating my “so-called depression” (depression caused by the painkillers themselves) and three for the nearly severed sciatic nerve in my back (depression caused by the painkillers themselves). My thought processes are in all places at once, perhaps I’ve reached cosmic enlightenment, or maybe I’m just screwed. Vic Chesnutt is in the background singing “Supernatural” and I’m wondering how to incorporate my own scene of waking up in a hospital bed after surgery, with my push button for morphine drip in my arm and nothing else. That is to say, completely naked because apparently I’m a “bleeder.” I catch the lyrics “Out of body experience / I flew around the hospital room once / On intravenous Demerol / It weren’t…

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What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Spider-Man Up A Lamp Post? or Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Armed Forces

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I’m willing to bet you didn’t realize that Peter Parker, you know – Spider-Man, is an Elvis Costello fan. Seriously, way back in 1981 the Purple Man, who has hypnotic abilities, told Spider-Man to climb up a lamp post and recite Shakespeare. Unable to recall any, he asks permission to sing a song and breaks into the Elvis Costello classic “Oliver’s Army.” Honestly… it took place in Marvel Team-Up Annual #4. Here’s another little bit of geek trivia for ya (whether you want it or not), that issue was written by Frank Miller; one of the biggest names in the comic business.

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Anyway, Armed Forces was adored by critics, fans, and Peter Parker. It has also appeared on lists as being one of the greatest all time albums. With those accolades you would expect that Armed Forces would have given the deluxe style treatment… and it has, sort of, but not to extent that perhaps it deserves.

The original 1979 UK release came with a bonus 7” named Live From Hollywood High which contained “Accidents Will Happen”, “Allison” and “Watching The Detectives.” Plenty are available on the resale market, but finding a copy that has both the bonus postcards and the 7” in good condition is a bit more difficult.

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In North America, the same offer was given, but the cover art and song order were different. “Sunday’s Best” was replaced with a cover of the Nick Lowe penned “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” Interestingly, it is the Costello version that became most famous and has appeared in the Rolling Stone greatest songs of all time list.

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It wouldn’t be until 1993 that the Armed Forces got a significant upgrade in the CD format. Rykodisc in the US did a complete remaster of the Elvis Costello catalogue and released it with bonus material. In this case, the original UK cover was restored and both “Sunday’s Best” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” were included. The bonus material included the Live From Hollywood High EP plus a few extra tunes.

In 2002, Rhino and Edsel released another remastered Armed Forces on two CD’s. This version brought back differing covers for North America and Europe as well as separating the album proper from the bonus material. The extras also expanded the Live From Hollywood High material to include 9 songs from that event.

Finally, 2010 saw Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab do a half speed 180 gram vinyl remaster with the original UK cover and the full 13 songs including “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” I’m hoping that by 2019, we may get both the album and the complete Live From Hollywood High concert on vinyl… but that is wishful thinking.

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I wonder if Peter Parker still has his original copy on vinyl and if Aunt May ever became a fan.

With hand claps and horns announcing that the Lords Of Austin have returned… or Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

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There was a point a few years ago when I was pretty well convinced that the only American ‘rock’ band left that really mattered was Spoon. Starting with 2001’s Girls Can Tell, Spoon put together a string of four back to back records on Merge, with each new brilliant album being slightly better than the last. Their sound wasn’t based on 60’s surf, 70’s classic, 80’s synth, or 90’s alt-rock… it was, just a groove that made your head nod and forced you to pay attention. You see, Britt Daniel and Co. are more subtle than to give you an obvious influence and instead channel elements of opposing song writing giants to play off of. You get a bit of Costello, a smidgen of the Clash, a hint of the “wall of sound” with a touch of Bowie and then mix in a heaping of original creepy grooves and the…

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Superchunk: I Hate Music … (Just Kidding, because no one can hate music and do it this well)

My 11 year old was mentioning how much he loved “FOH”… so I thought I’d reblog, the video he loved so much.

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There were quite a few bands that my roommate was into that took a bit of time for me to agree on. Usually it was pretty back and forth; I introduced him to Dinosaur Jr, he replied with Urge Overkill; I put on the Lemonheads and he replies with Sugar, but some stuff didn’t really stick.

Superchunk was one of those bands for me. I could appreciate what he was hearing, but other than the odd song (“Slack Motherfucker” is a frickin’ anthem of undeniable proportion) I just couldn’t get beyond the throwing then into a mix tape. Full albums just kinda slipped by me and never stood out in the collection as more than filler space.

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So here we are more than twenty years later and Superchunk has me re-evaluating my attitude with an awesome frickin’ record, that even makes my kids play air guitar. Of course their excitement might…

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A Grand Illusion? Paul McCartney & Wings – Wings Over America & Rockshow

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The fire would crackle and the camp director would pull out his guitar and play. Three songs would ring out of the gulley or over the lake and drift through the air toward nearby Waterloo… the songs were always moving. He would start with Simon & Garfunkel’s “Punky’s Dilemma” switch into an original called “Heroes” and finish with the Beatles “Blackbird.” Those songs have lingered in my memory for 35 years, and I suppose they’ll be with me for the rest of my life – it was just that powerful.

It’s also telling that I have always identified with McCartney’s live version over the Beatles original because of the illusion of immediacy; the idea of an acoustic guitar being played directly to you rather than through a set of speakers. Of course the reality is somewhat different.

Wings Over America/Rockshow is a performance piece, the show that solidified the conceit…

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