Sunday, September 30, 2012

Monday, September 24, 2012

picking a nit re an otherwise-great song

One of Nick Lowe's recent songs is "Lately I've Let Things Slide." It's off the 2001 akbum, The Convincer. It's a really good song of depression. One of the better works from his reinvented phase. I have been having trouble recently getting it out of my mind. I do, however, have one complaint about the lyrics. There's a passage:
I go to the bin
I throw the laundry in
And pick out my cleanest shirt
The singer is explaining that, having failed to do the laundry, and having no clean clothes he has to go to his dirty clothes and do the best he can with them. But because of the meter of the song, my mind keeps hearing it as if he is describing a series of thee actions: 1) he goes to the bin; 2) he throws the laundry in; and 3) he picks out his cleanest shirt. That's not what Lowe was trying to convey in the song, but I can't help hearing it that way.

You judge:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

am i destined to be a stephin merritt fan

Stephin Merritt is not a household name*. That's fine. Some of my favorite musicians never quite made it to "household name" status. Many had brushes with it, but are long past it. So that's not a  big deal. Merritt is the lead singer and main songwriter for The Magnetic Fields. I'd never heard of him or the band before I met my wife. When she and I met, she was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was a big fan. Se used to go to Magnetic Fields concerts and sit on the side of the stage. And he'd make fun of the way she dressed. That from a man who only wears brown.

I've tried listening to their music, but never quite got into it. Merritt's voice is haunting, a fact that's enhanced by his deadpan delivery. I sometimes find it fascinating to listen to, but I never got into it.

But over the years, there have been what I will, for lack of a better phrase, call the intrusions of his existence into my consciousness. Given his stature in the music world, it would be easy enough to go through life rarely if ever hearing of him and not taking note when I did. But because my wife is a fan, that doesn't happen.

Early this year I was reminded of him by a CD in a big box of disks I got through Freecycle. I blogged about that back in February.

Another time, I listened to one of his songs and found it kind of good. But then when I went to Amazon and listened to samples from the album, I just didn't like it.

This time it was a film screening hosted by The Modern School of Film. The school is having a series of film screenings. In each, a musician (Neil Finn of Split Enz is up next) is asked to pick one movie to screen. Then, after the screening, there's a conversation and Q&A between the musician and the host. Last night, the musician was Stephin Merritt.

As a film, Merritt chose The Black Lizard, an odd Japanese mystery from 1968. In case you want to see it, here's part 1 (of 9 on Youtube -- I have not checked to make sure all 9 are there, so watch at your own risk):
 When asked why he chose that movie, Merritt explained that he picked it because he wanted to see it -- he hadn't seen it in 18 years and it's not available on DVD.

But getting away from the movie pick, after the film, they showed a Magnetic Fields video for "Andrew in Drag," from their latest album. That was great. Here it is:
I also found the Q&A interesting. Merritt, while not unfriendly, seemed kind of uncomfortable onstage. I couldn't tell if he was angry or bored (after the fact, that's my guess). But at times, he almost seemed to be daring the host to ask him a question.

At one point, and I forget what question prompted this, he said that he's incredibly bored when he sings. He purposely does take after take until he's wooden, because he doesn't believe singers should emote. This, by the way, explains what I observed above about his deadpan delivery. At any rate, he wants to get the emotions of a song from lyrics and the melody -- not from a singer emoting. I was amused by his observation that one of the problems in music is that everyone wants to be Aretha Franklin. He clarified that Aretha Franklin is a good thing, but everyone wanting to be her is a bad thing.

The point here, if there is one, is that with each Merritt encounter I find myself drawn more and more to liking his music. Maybe someday soon I'll be buying his albums?

*A note on my "household name" comment. Originally I wrote "big star." My wife disputed that by noting all the stuff he's done, and at venues like Lincoln Center. He is, she argues, a big star. It's just that he's a big star who few people would recognize. Rather than split hairs or argue semantics, I figured I'd change it to "household name." 

Friday, September 21, 2012

good guy dylan

Rolling Stone magazine has yet another interview with Bob Dylan. I should note at the outset that I haven't read it -- it seems to be behind some subscribers-only firewall. So my comments are based on an article, in Reason, about the interview.

Interviewer Mikal Gilmore devotes an inordinate amount of energy to trying to get Dylan's endorsement of President Obama. To his credit, Dylan demures. Telling quote:
This gives Gilmore his hook: didn't Obama change all that? And isn't it so that people who don't like him don't like him because of race? Gilmore takes five different swings at getting Dylan to agree. Some of Dylan's responses: "They did the same thing to Bush, didn't they? They did the same thing to Clinton, too, and Jimmy Carter before that....Eisenhower was accused of being un-American. And wasn't Nixon a socialist? Look what he did in China. They'll say bad things about the next guy too." On Gilmore's fourth attempt, Dylan just resorts to: "Do you want me to repeat what I just said, word for word? What are you talking about? People loved the guy when he was elected. So what are we talking about? People changing their minds?"
It's particularly ironic given that Dylan made his name in political music.

The thing for me is that I get tired of hearing the show business crowd pushing their opinion as if they know better than anyone else. I even remember reading of one star (I can't remember who) going so far as to say that actors know better because they are trained to play roles and so have more empathy. Now, accepting that claptrap for the sake of argument, it says nothing about understanding whether policies are likely to work or what the unintended consequences may be.

But I digress.

Certainly, celebrities can endorse politicians or policies. But at some point I find it a turn-off. One of the reasons that I lost interest in Christine Lavin (New York-based singer/songwriter who was, in the 1980's, one of the cool breed of "new" folksingers) is that I got tired of her adding politics to her act.

I'll admit that, to some degree, my feelings are a matter of whose ox is being gored. I'd be less bothered if the Hollywood set were endorsing views that I shared. Hey, I'm only human. But even so, when I hear about Hank Williams Jr.'s latest diatribe, I roll my eyes and wish he'd shut up. And I tend to be more sympathetic to his views than to, say, Peter Yarrow's.

I just want to add, with regard to the above quote, that I was particularly glad about Dylan refusing to blame opposition to Obama on race. There are lots of political arguments that I think are wrong. But that one -- that opposition to Obama is about race -- isn't just wrong. It's aggressively wrong, and offensive to boot. Remember, half a decade ago, when we were told that dissent is the highest form of patriotism? Now, judging from some of the rhetoric from some prominent left-wing celebrities (including Dylan's interlocutor), it's the lowest form of racism.

Friday, September 14, 2012

rhyming: "spoil it" and "toilet"

I have now come across a second instance of a pop song rhyming "spoil it" with "toilet."

Not earth-shattering, but an odd enough rhyme that I find it interesting that I';ve come across two instances by very different artists.

The second instance is from "Weid Al" Yankovic's "Wanna B Ur Lovr:"

You're absolutely perfect
Don't speak now, you might spoil it.
You're eyes are even bluer
Than the water in my toilet

The first instance, as all will recall, is from Ian Dury & the Kilburns' "You're More Than Fair:"

A tender moment,
Don't let nothing spoil it.
I shall caress your clitoris
As we reach the toilet.

I'll note that the above video is of an Ian Dury tribute band performing the song. Every video I could find of Ian Dury performing this, or of a studio version contains a (slightly cleaned-up version with the clitoral reference replaced by something slightly less risque. But I still have the original 45 with the lewd version.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

the basher comes to port washington next month

I'll be sseing Nick Lowe in concert next month. He's performing at a small theatre in Port Washington, on Long Island.

It's kind of fortuitous that I found out about it. A few weeks ago I was having dinner at a diner on Long Island with my family and another family. For some reason (probably because I was being a smartass) I mentioned Nick Lowe twice during the dinner conversation. Caryn, the other mother, noted it in puzzlement since she'd never heard of him. Well, my smartassery paid off. Caryn and her husband are mebers of the small theatre in Port Washington, so when the calendar came out and she saw Nick Lowe on the schedule, she called my wife to let me know.

So I have ticket to the show -- sadly, I don't know anyone who is interested enough in Nick Lowe to go as well. But I'll be in seat J109. That's tenth row, near the center. Not bad. I'll be close enough to see his face in detail as he performs.

Maybe I'll be able to nick an autograph after the show.

Funny thing is that I had a chance to see Nick earlier this year. He was opening for Wilco. I didn't bother, since the tickets were kind of expensive, and I have no interest in Wilco. I've had mixed feelings, since one never knows how much longer he'll continue to tour. But now I feel better. These tickets are a little cheaper, the venue is more intimate, I'll be closer, and I won't have to sit through an act that I'd rather not bother with.

I am, as of this moment, a very happy boy.

To give a flavor, here's some recent vintage Nick:

Monday, September 10, 2012

singing about the evil chickens

Like a lot of people, if I'm alone I'll absent-mindedly sing lyrics to songs I know. The other night, for example, I was waiting for the bus, and started singing "I Still Miss Someone." But for some reason I have a habit of replacing the lines with assertions about evil chickens ruling the world. So pretty soon I'm singing sopmething like

I never got over those blue eyes
And evil chickens rule the world

But gradually I start replacing more and more of the lines with the evil chicken references. Eventually, I'm just singing:

Evil, evil chickens
Evil chickens rule the world
Evil, evil chickens.
Evil chickens rule the world.

I hope nobody is listening.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

chatting at the amy and eric show

I had gotten to the Wreckless Eric concert early. The information I had said 7:00, and even though I didn't expect the show to start at 7 on the tick, I didn't realize that the doors weren't scheduled to open until then. So I left and came back a few slices of pizza later. At 7:00 the doors still weren't open, but I was free to hang out at the bar for happy hour. At 7:15 I was kind of lurking around the entrance to the stairs to the show, wanting to be the first (or nearly the first) to go down so I could secure a good spot. There was another guy obviously having the same thoughts. My new nemesis. I sized him up -- about my age. Not as bald as me (damn him!), but his hair was grayer (Ha ha!). Then the doorkeeper explained to us that they were still doing soundchecks and the downstairs bartender still hadn't shown up, but he'd let us down when he could.

So my nemesis and I started chatting. His name was Stuart. It still is, I suppose. He lives in Washington and had come to New York specifically for this show (and was therefore staying around for the Saturday show at Hastings on-Hudson).

What I found interesting is that his interest in Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby had a different origin than mine. I had been a longtime Wreckless Eric fan. So when he started recording with Amy Rigby (whom he had, by that time, married), I bought those albums. I'll note that I may or may not have heard of Amy Rigby before that. She had been married to Will Rigby of the dBs. I think (though I'm not sure, and I'm too lazy to chack) that he recorded for Diesel Only Records, which put out a bunch of great truck-driving singles a couple of decades ago. In my own little music cocoon, it had never occurred to me that others might have started as Amy Rigby fans. But that's what Stuart's story is. He had, he volunteered, listened to Eric in the eighties. But not beyond that. He was a big fan of Amy's and had attended many of her concerts.

In fact, Stuart was enough of a fan that Amy recognized him and chatted with him. And he had gotten to know Eric through the association. So once we were downstairs discussing music before the show. Eric came over for a little chat. I stood up dumbly not knowing what to say, or if I hould say anything. Hummina hummina hummina. Here's one of my big musical idols standing right here in front of me for a conversation. OK, it's not like he's Justin Bieber and I'm some 16-year-old-girl. But still -- Wreckless. Eric. Talking to me.

Actually, it's not the first time we'd talked at one of his shows. About 20 years ago, when Le Beat Group Electrique was still new, I saw him perform at The Knitting Factory. I remember being so proud in my Stiff Records T-shirt. I didn't know at the time that there had been acrimony when he left Stiff. So I asked him to autograph my copy of the new album. He looked at my T-shirt, and said "Oh, you're one of them." I felt really embarrassed. He signed the album, inscribing "Hope I live up to it all," which I thought was clever. That copy of the album is now in Somerville, where my wife's friend Patti lives. She borrowed it a long time ago. Maybe I'll get it back someday. In the meantime I bought another copy used on the British version of Amazon (for like $100).

The second time I talked to Eric was during the early or mid oughties. I'm not sure what year. But he was playing in New York. During that show I was chatting with Amy Rigby (though I didn't know who she was). She simply described herself as his girlfriend. The two of them talked for a while. I  talked to him briefly and put my foot in my mouth.

So, what could I do? I had to follow tradition. Stuart and Eric greeted each other with a brief hug. I said something like "I take it you've met?" Then proceeded to gtell Eric that he and I had met but he wouldn't remember it. Damn, I have a way with words.

During and before the show, Stuart and I talked a bit about music. We agreed that Nick Lowe is still putting out good music, and that a Rockpile reunion would not be a good idea. We agreed that Kaye's opening opening act was a bit odd, and that Rebecca Pronsky was very good. And, of course, he loved Amy's and Eric's performance.

After the show, and after buying merchandise (a T-shirt, a copy of Eric and Amy's new album, their 7-inch vinyl single, and the two CDs that Rebecca Pronsky was selling), I set out getting autographs. Eric was busy moving equipment, but Amy was friendly. She signed the album and the single. I asked about the Kickstarter reward. She's emailed in July, and I emailed right back, but never got a response. Then, last week I got another email. This had a link to the digital version of the album, which was part of my Kickstarter reward. But her email seemed to read as if she had never gotten mine. She said that sometimes Eric gets emails that he wants to craft a response to, but he ends up putting it away for later and forgets about it. I can believe that. She said to try emailing again. I will.

Eventually, Eric came up to chat with people. I got his autograph, talked a little about music. I mentioned the Kickstarter campaign, and he also said to try emailing again.

Part of me wanted to stay, but I was exhausted and had a family to get home to. So I bid a hasty farewell...

eric and amy in concert

Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby did a show in the East Village Friday night.I meant to blog about it earlier, but life got in the way.Anywho...

The one advantage of following an artist who is not among today's biggest stars is that you get to be close up. The venue was the basement of Bowery Electric, a small bar on the Bowery. No assigned seats -- actually, it was mostly SRO, but I was the first one down (or second -- waiting for the doors to open, I was chatting with a guy named Stuart, and he and I went down together) so I snagged one of the few chair-like things (a cushion on wheels). The stage was small ("intimate," I suppose, is the polite word), and very close. Being upclose like that is a very different experience than seeing a bigger name in a big venue. It was very much like the house concert where I saw Janey Street play, although the setup was more elaborate.

But the point is that I was watching musicians perform, but I wasn't much fartehr away from them than I would have been if I had been having a normal conversation with them. At my day job, I've had plenty of meetings in which I've talked to people over a farther distance. You can see the emotion on the singer's face, see the strings vibrate on the bass guitar.

The show was billed as Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby, with Rebecca Pronsky as an opening act. As it turns out, there was a third act -- sort of an opening opening act. I didn't catch her name. Kaye something?

Kaye's performance was a bit odd. Just her and a ukulele (which she sometimes played with a bow, like a viola). She did, however, have a digital loop effect so she could make it sound like there were several people playing ukuleles (or viola-ukes). I couldn't help wondering if this was her first time performing onstage in front of an audience. A couple of times she would have to restart a song because of some mistake she'd made. Also, she was reading either the lyrics or the chord progressions from a sheet of paper that she kept on a chair beside her. Her choice of of material was also a bit odd. I think it was all cover tunes, though I only recognized one of them -- Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls."

And that, I guess, gets at the heart of the song. There's a certain incongruity in hearing a Queen Song performed on a ukulele. And, of coouyrse, that wasn't the only song she did was writtne from the point of view of someone appreciating the female form. Her first song, the title of which I didn't catch, was also from that poerspective, and explicitly identified the singer as male. So I, as a heterosexual male, couldn't help but wonder if Kaye is gay, or if she just likes those particular songs?

Kaye was followed by Rebecca Pronsky, who was much better. Pronsky, whom I hadn't heard of, is part of Brooklyn's music scene. She was accompanied by her guitarist (and, I suspect, significant other), Rich Bennet. She seemed, in some ways, to be a country singer, though the arrangements were more Duane Eddy-ish. I suppose a big part of that is due to the Bennet's haunting guitar twang. It was a short set, that I wished would go on longer. It was enough to convince me to buy copies of both CDs that she was selling.

When Eric and Amy started their set, there was an immediate shift in energy. Rebecca's set had been subddued and measured. Then Eric and Amy start in, quite loudly with electric guitar and electric bass. Suddenly the prior set seemed constricted. They concentrated on material from the three albums they did together (the third is just out), which is understandable, though a bit dissapointing. My knowledge of Eric's music is encyclopedic when it comes to his Stiff Records years, and reasonable for the years after. But I'm not as up on all the material he and Amy did together. And they didn't do "Men in Sandals" or "Astrovan," which are possibly their best know material from recent years. I think the highpoint was "I Get Out of Breath," (from Two-Way Family Favourites), which I recognize as a Turtles song, though I don't think they were the original performers of it either. I also really enjoyed "Zero to Minus One" from the new album, and a song which they described as being about how they met, but which I don't recognize from any of their albums. I'll have to look into that. I would have loved to hear them do "The Downside of Being a Fuck Up" from their eponymous album.

They pretty much eschewed their pre-coupling material for the show, though for an encore they did one song from each of their prior careers. For him it was "(I'd Go the) Whole Wide World," and from hers it was "Dancing with Joey Ramone." Then, they closed with "I Still Miss Someone."

I left elated. As I've noted in prior posts, I've been a big fan of Eric's for 30 years or so. Watching him now isn't the same as it would have been back in the eighties, during the peak of his career. He's pushing sixty, and doesn't have the same energy. The music isn't the same anymore. But damn if it isn't fun to watch him.

The following video of "Dancing with Joey Ramone" isn't from the concert in question. But it should give you an idea...
I have a lot to say about chatting with them, and with Stuart (whom I mentioned above). But I'd like to leave this post as a simple discussion of the concert.