Archive for January, 2012

Five Songs, Part 64

January 27, 2012

Hi. Time for Five Songs, where I condense some of the oddball selections in my mental jukebox once a week into one post so I don’t take up all of your Facebook wall space with musical posts.

Although sometimes, there’s definitely a healthy musical cross-pollination from other people’s posts.

Case in point: Last night, Jeff Shore (aka Platterpuss), an old friend from the New York garage scene, put up a song that fit my current state perfectly: “Tired of Waking Up Tired” by The Diodes (not to be confused with the Hoodoo Gurus song of the same name). I had never heard of them; they were from Toronto, from the early days of striped-shirt pop/punk, 1977-79. And somehow, I had never heard them until last night. So thanks, Jeff.

Anyway, enough. Go listen to tunes and go enjoy your weekend:

Sweet Lover — Aretha Franklin

All I Do Is Think About You — Tammi Terrell

Cowboys in Africa — Bush Tetras

Don’t Say That’s Just for White Boys — Way of the West

Tired of Waking Up Tired — The Diodes

The shitstorm returns, with a vengeance

January 20, 2012

Yesterday morning, I was awake early — I haven’t slept soundly in over a year now, so that, unto itself, is nothing unusual in my never-ever-normal world.

The way I dealt was a little different.

I was set to work on some resumes to send out; a friend had tipped me to a company looking to hire digital journalists in New York, which is one of the places where I’ve been looking for a job.

Normally, I would have dug right in and started tailoring my resume to what this company wanted, set out to writing dazzling cover letters so good that someone would be dumb not to hire me.

And then I thought about it. And I said, “Why the fuck should I even bother? They’re just gonna ignore me, too!”

It’s now been nearly three years since I’ve last had a steady job. I’ve sent well over 300 resumes to places famous and not-so — to websites, newspapers, universities, nonprofits, you name it, both in the Bay Area and back home, back East. And more than 99 percent of them, I haven’t even received a response. I haven’t even gotten the decency of a “you suck.” And the ones who have responded have treated me like shit.

And I still have been diligent about hitting the job websites daily. And in the first two weeks of this year, I sent out five more applications. Top-notch resumes, with all the experience and intangibles they wanted, with dazzling, never-let-’em-see-you-frantically-thrashing cover letters. Again, not even the decency of a single “you suck.”

And now I’m also at the point where the hours of my on-call job at my former employer have been cut to nearly nothing. Nothing personal; they’ve just been doing more budget-slashing.

But again, why the fuck should I bother anymore? I know full well by now what the result will be. Three years of this hatred, this taunting, from the universe — if I were as smart as I think I am, I would’ve bought the clue a long time ago.

Okay, I’ve finally bought it. I get the hint.

I give up. I’m done looking for work. Whatever happens, happens. If I end up out on the streets, I end up out on the streets. If I lose everything, I lose everything. If I die, I die. Big fucking deal. Decrease the surplus population.

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Five Songs, Part 63

January 20, 2012

Hi. Welcome to the latest Five Songs. Just as stormy as mid-winter should be. Anyway, nothing clever or witty or long-winded about it this week. It is what it is. Happy Friday …

I’m Lonely — Martha Star

Strawberry Letter 23 — Shuggie Otis

She’s Lost Control — Joy Division

After Closing Time — Hal Frazier

Going Underground — The Jam

What would MLK say? (Better yet, what would he do?)

January 16, 2012

Well, this year we get a rare Martin Luther King Jr. Day that falls close enough to the actual date (Jan. 15, 1929). I’ll keep this brief. It was a short hop of logic that stemmed from reading Paul Krugman’s New York Times column this morning.

Krugman, as one Nobel Prize-winner (economics) about another (peace), wrote of how, were King still alive, he would see a country burdened by economic inequality, a certain degree of which is rooted in racism. (Not all, of course — this economic fiasco has cut across a great ethnic and social cross-section of the 99 percent — but many of us were merely joining the minorities for whom economic opportunities haven’t been as plentiful for some time.)

And, of course, King gave his life for economic equality — traveling to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers — so this would have been near and dear to him.

But what about civil rights? And I’m not just talking about ethnicity and skin color.

Given the climate of some places in America changing for the better, yet some digging in their heels, I wonder where he would have stood on the current battlegrounds: gays and transgenders — people still legally treated as second- and third-class citizens in some parts of the Land of the Free. (I say “battlegrounds,” plural, because while we’re bonded by the same wretched variety of ignorance and violence, sexual identity and gender identity are, indeed, two different things.)

As a Baptist preacher, would King have been open-minded and understanding of our causes? Of course, gay and trans rights weren’t on the general radar when he died; Stonewall was still a year and change away. But would King, who would have been 83 yesterday, have been able to see and understand that, like skin color, sexual and gender identities are formed early on in the womb? Or would he have been so hidebound by religious dogma, and set in his ways by age, that he wouldn’t have been able to accept and embrace these fights?

After all, for example, as a group, transgender citizens suffer the highest rate of hate-crime violence of any group in the country — and trans African-Americans are killed more than any other group.

Black-on-black violence, white-on-black, whatever — people are still being killed for the way they’re born, and there’s still a significant number of people in America — especially in legislatures, such as Tennessee’s — who think gays are just a bunch of perverts, and transpeople are perverts running around in dresses, and that they should be punished.

Of course, the question is hypothetical. And, of course, I’d like to think that King would’ve been accepting and been advocating our causes. It’s probably a question that would have caused some sort of commotion had I brought it up as a talk-radio host. But it is one worth pondering.

Five Songs, Part 62

January 13, 2012

Well, Five Songs finds me still in a weird place after two weeks of 2012. But things have to change. Right?

The first songs that come to mind are all NRBQ, given the death of Tommy Ardolino a week ago. But we fans and friends have all given Tommy a good rocket-ride musical sendoff to wherever he’s headed. So back to the everyday world, for better and worse. Happy Friday:

Cracking Up — Nick Lowe

I Go to Pieces — Nils Lofgren

Show Me — The Pretenders

Slip Away — David Bowie

I Go to Sleep — The Kinks

That’s neat, that’s nice (Tommy Ardolino, 1955-2012)

January 7, 2012

The face of a cherub, the beat of a rock’n’roll giant.

Note: I corrected Tommy’s birth year/age from the original post. When I learned of his death last night, I hit Google looking for news. What I got were several news sites that had some future “today’s birthdays” stockpiled into next week, and every one of them said Tommy would be turning 55 on Thursday. However, Hartford Courant music writers present (Eric Danton) and past (Roger Catlin) listed Tommy’s would’ve-been age as 57 on their blogs, and now there’s a photo of him with “Tom Ardolino: 1955-2012” on the nrbq.com home page.

I have this weird psychic bond/sixth sense about death sometimes — not nearly the great disturbance in the Force that Obi-Wan felt when Alderaan was death-starred, but a sense, nonetheless. I just know it.

I first noticed it that March morning in 1975 when I woke up with a start at 8 a.m. for no apparent reason — two seconds before the phone rang to tell us my grandmother had died.

It also happened three times in the course of a week in February 2006 when my childhood friend Rick was dying of lung cancer. (Ran triathlons, never smoked,was an architect to the stars, had a great family. Life is not fair.) We had drifted apart quite a while back — last time I saw him was at our 20th high school reunion in 1999 — but he came in loud and strong three distinct times in the week leading into his death, the last time the day before.

Sometimes I just know without anyone telling me.

Well, I was hardly an acquaintance with Tommy Ardolino, NRBQ’s longtime drummer; we met a couple times after shows and I interviewed him once, as I did all the other band members, during my time at the New Haven Register. I knew he had been in poor health for a while, and the news came out that he went into the hospital the week before Christmas for what was to be a long stay.

It wasn’t so long.

I was just getting ready to jump in the shower late yesterday afternoon when a random thought hit me out of nowhere, and kind of in the form of a news flash: “NRBQ drummer Tommy Ardolino died today.” I just shrugged it off as an overactive imagination at work.

Last night, sitting at the coffee shop, a musician friend posted the news. He got it from one of the guys in the current NRBQ.

Sure enough, there was indeed a disturbance in my Force. Tommy, one of the best rock’n’roll drummers to ever sit at a kit, an eternal cherub-boy who never quite grew up, and who got to live a fan’s wildest dream for three decades, was gone. He would have been 57 on Thursday (Jan. 12).

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Five Songs, Part 61

January 6, 2012

Well, as if by magic — I waved a wand, exorcised the demons at the stroke of midnight, and 2012 was suddenly a much, much better place than 2011.

Not.

Back to not working (at least much), feeling I’ve somehow alienated some people near and dear to me, realizing I’ve been wearing out my welcome with everyone. Anger, sadness, confusion, an overwhelming sense of darkness. Feels like 2011 all over again. And I can’t do this again.

Oh well … Here’s this week’s Five Songs, for better and worse. At least the sun always comes out in Fresno, even if the sky’s polluted:

I Need You — The Beatles

A Hazy Shade of Winter — Simon & Garfunkel

Paint It, Black — The Rolling Stones

I’ve Got to Dance to Keep From Crying — The Miracles

Failure — Swans

My God, my God … The Beach Boys: “The SMiLE Sessions” (Capitol)

January 4, 2012

"Quiet, numbskull! We're making a masterpiece!" Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks are busy working on writing "SMiLE" in 1966 while the rest of The Beach Boys are out having fun fun fun.

Note, Jan. 2, 2012: I didn’t intend for this to be a long childbirth. I never do. I started this two months ago yesterday, the day the box set was released (which was the day it arrived at the front door). Things happen — having to scramble to buy a car, having to run around getting said car fixed, working pretty much a full schedule leading into Christmas, doing a couple of holiday things here and there. Besides, this long-awaited collection was my Christmas gift to myself, anyway, so I guess it was appropriate to wait ’til after Christmas to run this. And on the good side, this didn’t become an albatross that took 45 years to come out.

Nov. 1, 2011

All Saints’ Day. All Smiles’ Day.

This is the one luxury I’m allowing myself as I slowly climb back into the realm of the employed and the solvent. Today is my Christmas. And I can’t believe my gift to myself came early on the appointed day.

Sitting in the foyer this morning was a package containing the deluxe version of The Beach Boys’ “The SMiLE Sessions,” the final, long, looooooooooooong-awaited, shattered — then painstakingly restored and reassembled — jigsaw pieces of one of the most beautiful, saddening, maddening episodes in the history of popular music.

The deluxe five-CD version in a box with 3-D cover art, along with a two-LP version of the album with some extras, two 45s, a fancy hardcover booklet and a poster. There's also a much less expensive, less comprehensive two-CD version.

An album that was begun before I even started kindergarten, when Brian Wilson started working on “Good Vibrations,” finally, officially arrived in a completed form today.

Diehard Brian fans have heard many of the pieces in one form or another in countless bootleg versions through the years, versions of the album as compiled by fans; many shards were included on Capitol’s “Good Vibrations” Beach Boys box set in 1993 and, of course, there’s the fine 2004 studio version Brian recorded with his current band. (I was so scared to hear it that I didn’t buy it for three months, then finally gave in and listened and was stunned.)

But this is different. The 2004 “SMiLE’ was sung by a 62-year-old Brian, with plenty of help from his band, not the 26-year-old Brian at his creative and vocal peaks; it was a bargain I willfully accepted — and it was a brilliant piece of work — but it wasn’t The Beach Boys.

This is The Beach Boys — Brian, Carl, Dennis, Mike, Al, Bruce — as they would never be again. Granted, the album in this here box set was put together and sequenced by a 69-year-old Brian (along with his “SMiLE” lyricist, Van Dyke Parks, and his co-producers, Mark Linnett and Alan Boyd). But hey, it was his creation in the first place. This was, and is, his vision. And this is as close to what he might have been thinking at the time as we’ll ever hear.

My work schedule precludes me listening to the five CDs right now,  but I sat there at my desk today, I felt a strange emotion hit me as I was listening to “Do You Like Worms? (Roll Plymouth Rock).” Maybe, as a tune that taps into American history and the exploration of the West, it was a direct connection to “Rio Grande” and the absolute joy I felt when I first listened to Brian’s solo album in the summer of 1988. Except out of nowhere, I felt myself choke up. It was momentary, but its suddenness startled me.

And eight songs later, it was “Surf’s Up.” I thought it was beautiful the first time I heard it as a teenager — one of the most beautiful songs I had ever heard — with its melancholy piano, abstract lyrics (“Columnnated ruins domino/Canvas the town and brush the backdrop/Are you sleeping/Brother John?”) and Brian’s soaring, angelic falsetto. But sitting here today listening to it — remastered and cleaned-up, in the context of an officially sanctioned “SMiLE” masterminded by Brian? I started shaking. And then it became sobs.

My God, my God …

In my 50 years, I had never experienced the dichotomy of tears of joy until this point. The joy of both Brian and myself having stuck around long enough to see and hear this happen — and knowing what he had gone through emotionally to get to this point. Plus the sadness that comes with knowing this is the end of something.

I don’t believe in the concept of “closure” — to me, it’s a senseless word tossed around carelessly by outsiders — but if something comes close, I guess this is it. It’s the glorious end of a glorious chapter of music, of a story that’s full of what sells books: joy, pain, angst, sadness, loss, mystery, redemption, paradise lost and found. The conclusion of a book that’s been written in fits and starts most of my life. And as a fan, when you carry a book around for three decades, even just spiritually and emotionally, if not physically, it’s hard to let go.

And I thought back to the spring of 1990, when Garry Trudeau ran that incredible week of Pulitzer-winning Doonesbury strips — Joanie’s lawyer friend, Andy Lippincott, getting to hear the remastered “Pet Sounds” on CD (which, along with Capitol’s first CD remastering of the entire Beach Boys catalog, was a huge deal at the time) as he lay on his deathbed from AIDS. I’m not ready to die (well, I certainly hope not), but now I can die knowing I’ve heard an official, honest-to-goodness version of “SMiLE,” the great lost album. (more…)