Monday, July 29, 2013


TIL that Neil Sedaka's name is derived from "Tzedaka," the Hebrew word for charity.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

old top of the pops covers

I've always found these interesting -- cover versions of hit songs that are packaged in such a way as to let the consumer believe he or she is buying the hit recording.:

What I find really impressive is that the no--name singers they recruited to sing were versatile enough to do passable impressions of a wide variety of artists.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

the next nick lowe album

Nick Lowe has a new album coming out this fall. I found that out about it a little bit (a week? two?) ago when I was kind of browsing through Amazon and saw the title. At that point, AMazon didn't have the artwork up, and the title appeared as Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for, I was a bit confused.

Now I'm not confused anymore. Amazon still lists the title the same, but they have the cover art, so you can see that it's Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family.And it's a Christmas album. Generally speaking I'm not big on Christmas albums, but if the music's good then I'm game.I was able to hear the entire album a couple of days ago when Yep Roc (his label in the US) hosed streaming of the full album for 24 hours. As of now you can still hear samples of each song, but not the whole things.

The album sounds pretty much like his last two albums (At My Age and The Old Magic). Mellow, vocals forward in the mix. It's the crooner Nick. Some numbers are kind of bouncy. Not a bad effort.
I have fun, though, thinking about what the late-1970s era Nick would have said had he been told that he'd eventually be doing a Christmas album -- and not songs like the Kinks' "Father Christmas" or Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run."

In a bit of crass commercialism, Nick is also selling a Nick Lowe snow globe, and Christmas cards that say "'Tis the Season for Peace, Love and Understanding." That last item seems all the more cynical given that the song "What's So Funny 'bout Peace Love and Understanding" was really meant sarcastically, and it's only in the past decade or two (especially since 9/11) that he's reinvented that as a serious plea.

Whatever, I can ponder the crassness all I want. The bottom line is that I'll be pre-ordering it. It is, afterall, a Nick Lowe album.

Oh yeah, the 7th track keeps sounding to me like "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

the violent femmes owe bobtown for this one

A few postys ago, I talked about a Bobtown concert in Southold (which is a town about 140 bajillion miles East of me on Long Island. One of the things I mentioned was their performance of the Violent Femmes' song, "Jesus Walking on the Water," and how I am likely to buy the VF's CD with the song.

That's the background to mentioning that I bouight Hallowed Ground, the Violent Femmes' CD with the song. I just finished my first listen, and it'sw an enthusiastic thumbs up. The album is kind of an alt-country effort -- though it dates back to 1984, before the term "alt-country" had been coined. At the time it probably would have been described as cowpunk -- though it's slower than most of what I think of as cowpunk (bands like The Beat Farmers, Rank & File and E*I*E*I*O). It has a kind of haunting sound that I probably wouldn't have liked when it came out, but which I really appreciate now. But "Jesus..." is by far the best track on thealbum -- It would have easily been at home on a Beat Farmers album (especially one of their later ones where they were venturing more into sacrilege (remember "Are You Drinking with Me, Jesus?"?) or one by Mojo Nixon (though it's not up to his raunchiest efforts like "Tie My Pecker to My Leg").

What's funny about all this is that, in the last few months I've had a kind of awakening regarding the Violent Femmes. Their existence has been one of these things that I've known of for years, but I have been completely unaware of -- perhaps "mistaken about" is a better phrase -- their style. I kind of assumed that they were something like, Everything But the Girl or 'Til Tuesday. Post-New Wave bands that don't interest me. But I've had to rethink this. One of the big Freecycle hauls I got last year included Viva Wisconsin, a live album of theirs. I particularly liked "Blister in the Sun." There were opther tracks I liked, but "Blister..." was the standout. Now there's this. My conceptions have been blown.

That said, I still like Bobtown's live version better.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

parodies of my past

I've been on a mini-jag about parodies recently, so -- what the-hey-- let me mention a couple parodies that schoolmates wrote years ago.

The first mention goes to Matt Ruff -- I am not changinmg the name since he is a public figure. Matt is a novelist whom I knew in high school. Maybe that's too strong. Matt and I were mutually aware of each other's existence. We were in at least one class together -- a creative writing class taught by Frank McCourt (who would go on to win a Pulitzer prize for his memoir, Angela's Ashes. I doubt that Matt would remember me.

Anyway, many of the school's clubs published annual or semi-annual magazines (I was on the staff of The Straphanger, which was published by the school's subway club). One of the magazines -- I think it only published one issue -- was a creative writing compilation called The Mag Bag because it was distributed as loose sheets of paper in a plastic bag. What I mean is, if you bought a copy, you got a clear plastic bag with a stack of paper in it.

That one issue contained a few (song parodies that Matt wrote. All of the parodies were of Billy Joel songs. I remember one of them, a parody of "Don't Ask Me Why," was titled "Don't Ask Me Why." I remember nothing alse about it. There was at least one that I recall nothing about. The one that I have some real memory of was "Only The Smart Die Young," which was a parody of "Only The Good Die Young." By way of background, this was Stuyvesant High School, and the conceit at the school was that we were the smartest kids out there. Admission was granted via exam, and we, the students, were told from day one that we were the best. I wish I could remember all of the words to "Only the Smart..." but -- 30-plus years later, some elude me. I do remember the following:

Come out Virginia, don't let me wait.
You Stuyvesant girls start much too late
Ah, but sooner or later it comes down to fate.
I might as well be the one.

Well, they showed you a classroom and told you to learn
[something something] or you're gonna burn

You might have heard that I run with a neanderthal crowd.
We ain't too pretty, we ain't too proud.
We might be cheating a bit too loud.

She never cared for me
But did she ever fix a grade for me?

They say there's a college for those who will wait.
Some say it's better but I say it ain't

You got a nice black gown and a party on your graduation.
You have a brand new school, and a golden rule.
But Virginia they didn't give you quite enough education.
You didn't count on me.
You were counting on your SAT.

You get the picture. It was really a well-done parody.

I'm not quite sure what would be an appropriate video to accompany the post above, since Matt never did record this song (to the mest of my knowledge). So, what the heck, here's a video of Frank McCourt (mentioned above), sharing his memories of me.

The second song parody I want to mention was from my college years. Every year the Student Association would have a talent show. I had a friend, Steve, whom I had known since high school, who liked to put together a song-and-dance routine centerred on a song parody. During our sophomore year he (and the two others he got to perform with him) won first prize. But they had some kind of dispute over how to divvy up the cash prize. One of his coperformers thought it should be split evenly. He, having written and choreographed the routine, felt that he should get the lion's share. I have no idea how it all turned out in the end.

At any rate, during our junior or senior year (I forget which), Steve asked me to be part of his act. It was three of us in costumes (I was the milk carton), singing  a medley of "You Give Lunch a Bad Name" and "Living on Bayer." These were parodies of the Bon Jovi songs "You Give Lunch a Bad Name" and "Living on a Prayer." These parodies were about the food in the cafeteria. The parodies were very well-written, though I can't remember any lines. Unfortunately the sound system wasn't loud enough, so wehen we went on I couldn't hear the background music, and that threw us off. We recovered, but that false start cost us points and we didn't win.

At least there was no prize money to fight over.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

trout fishing in heckscher park

This past Wednesday was another free concert -- this time Trout Fishing in America at Heckscher Park in Huntington. It was part of the 48th Annual Huntington Arts Festival. Every year Huntington puts on a series of free concerts in the park. I've seen TFiA there a couple times before. Others I've seen there include Carlene Carter (country music royalty), and Mallory Lewis (daughter of Shari Lewis).

One thing I noticed was that it was an unusually short set. I don't know if that was because of the heat, or their exhaustion (they had driven down during the day from Mohonk Mountain House). Yet they hung around afterwards to sign autographs and take pictures. They were playing with some of the kids in attendance. Ezra marvelled at the bullfrog that my daughter (or was it the younger of my sons?) had caught in the pond. In a way I'm glad he was off doing something else when the kids came back fifteen minutes later with the duck they had caught.

Most of the set consisted of the songs one might expect from TFiA. "My Hair Had a Party Last Night," "18 Wheels on a Big Rig," "Pico De Gallo." It was great when they played "Simon Says," since we were at the show with a HelpXer named Simon. I was surprised that they didn't play "100 Little Ducks." Keith seems to really hate that song -- I honestly don't know if that's real or an affectation for the act. I do have two comments (one positive and one negative) about the set list.

The negative: They played "Don't Touch My Stuff." This is a recent song that Keith and Ezra wrote in response to their van being broken into (and many of their musical instruments being stolen). It's an angry song -- and I certainly understand that -- and it just doesn't fit properly in their show. Their songs are happy and playful. Or wistful. But not angry. That angry chorus and that loud driving bass line sound jarring in one of their concerts. I realize that it's cathartic, but I'll be happy when they retire it from their regular set list. That said, I would like to hear a studio version of the song. Just not on one of their albums, where it will sound similarly out of place. Maybe they can release it as a non-album single?

The positive: "Lullaby" was the penultimate song. That is one of those Trout songs that I love. When I hear it I just close my eyes and think "This is my favorite song of theirs." Of course, there are quite a few songs that I react that way to -- "King of My Mountain" and "No Matter What Goes Right" come to mind -- so the word favorite kind of loses its meaning. But still. That's just one of those perfect songs that I wish I'd written.

Following are live videos of "Don't Touch My Stuff" and "Lullaby." Neither is from the show we were at, but enjoy them anyway.

Three more notes regarding Trout:
Fred Bogert doesn't tour with Trout anymore, which is a shame. I still like the music, but they had more freedom with a third person on stage. On the piano, Fred made "We weary Deer" something special. Of course, they don't do that song anymore, so I guess that's not an issue. I also really appreciated Fred. After one of their shows (more than five years ago) I spoke to Fred about music, songwriting and making demos. He was wonderfully gracious, and even gave me his email address. After a few emails he recommended a studio in Nashville that he said could produce good demos. County Q Studios produced my demo of "Jackpot," and that is by far the best-quality demo I have. But I believe Fred stopped touring in order to devote more time to his wife. I could be wrong about that, but I have a vague recollection of Keith or Ezra telling me that. At any rate, I wish him well, even if I miss seeing him perform with the others.

They are now working on their next album, Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers, which is slated for release later this year. It can be preordered from their website,

Keith and Ezra definitely seem to recognize my family at their New York area shows. I'm not narcissistic enough to think they know our names or anything, but still... Actually, I have mixed feelings about their apparent recognition. As a fan, I am gratified by a connection that I feel as if I have with the musician. On the other hand, I wish they would get more of the recognition they deserve. It would be great if so many New Yorkers would realize how great these musicians are that they would never recognize us within the huge crowds that are swarming to see them.

Monday, July 15, 2013

on the difficulty of writing parodies

In a recent post I presented the lyrics (as best as I remember them, anyway) of the one parody song I ever wrote.

I was talking about parodies with a co-worker (whom I will call Aryeh because I feel like it) who thinks writing a song parody is easier than writing an original song. I disagree. Aryeh says that writing a parody provides structure. I think it's more accurate to say that it imposes structure.

A good parody is more than just a song written to the tune of another song. For a parody to be any good, there have to be other elements elements that evoke the original, be they parallel structures or words that sound similar to words in the original -- particularly in the title. Part of what makes Allan Sherman's "Harvey and Sheila," "Won't You Come Home, Disraeli" and "My Zelda" work is that the titles sound similar to "Hava Nagila," "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey" and "Matilda." And I think the parts that work best in my "Game of Pac Man" parody are the ones that clearly remind the listener of the original song. For example, "And the sign said the score that is highest is written on the Pac Man screen" which is similar to "And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls."

But while a good parody should be similar to and evocative of the original, it can't be too similar. If a parody has too few words changed, then there's not enough payoff. I remember once hearing some performer in a comedy club doing what she introduced as a parody of Cyndi Lauper's ""Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." But it just consisted of replacing the word "fun" everytime that title line appeared. The first time it was "Girls just want to have sex." Then "Girls just want to have cock." Then...well, you get the idea. There just asn't enough to make it funny. I suppose if she had ended it with "Girls just want to have a chance to be taken seriously and paid the same as a man would be paid for doing the same job in the same circumstances and with the same experience," then it may have been funny in a kind of anti-funny way.

So it's a tight rope to walk. And it's never been my thing. I much prefer the freedom of writing something original. I can vary the melody as needed, or put in just the right number of verses. And if one verse is shorter, then I have the freedom to be clever with it and just make that part of the song.

But my hat is off to Allan Sherman and Weird Al Yankovic who could write damn good parodies.

I sign off with one video of each.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

in the church of bobtown

Another Bobtown concert, though this one was on the east end of Long Island -- about 85 miles away in Southold.

It was supposed to be one of those free outdoor concerts -- part of the town's summer series of shows, so it seemed like good venue for the whole family. The kids could wabnder around and alleviate their boredom in a way that wouldn't be possible at a conventional indoor venue. And I was looking forward to enjoying the music with my wife. After the last show, when I eagerly played the Bobtown CDs I had just purchased, she was impressed by the quality and originality of the music.

But we got a late start -- the HelpXer staying with us wanted to come, but we had to meet him at the subway. His train was delayed, so he didn't get in the car until almost 6:00. So we set off, hoping to get to a concert set to start at 7:00 while the GPS estimated a trip of over an hour and a half, and we knew we'd run into heavy rush hour traffic.

So we're driving there, and I'm going nutsoid with frustration -- after I missed their last performance in the area (due to my own brainfart), I was annoyed at the prospect of missing this. Especially knowing that it would be months before my next chance to see them. Ihen we're getting closer. It looks like we'll get there at around 7:30. So I'm thinking maybe if they started late I'll get to see the end of the show. And damn. The road is closed. Detour. Fuck! This is going to add another ten minutes to the trip.

We get to the park, and it's deserted. Empty. But there's a small sign. Due to the potential for rain, they've moved the concert to the First Presbyterian Church of Southold (a few blocks away), and it's at 7:30. Whew! The long drive has not been in vain. We get to the church, and decide that the kids at this venue would likely be disastrous. So I go in alone. My wife and kids (and the HelpXer) go the beach. The show's already underway, but it doesn't look like it's winding down. Maybe I missed a few songs, but there's still more show to see.

First (or is it too late for "first"  given that this is like the sixth paragraph?) a word about the venue and the audience. Bobtown were clearly not doing a hometown show. I wasn't the only one there familiar with them, but it appeared that most of the people hadn't heard of them. As I was going into the church, a family walking up asked if this was where the concert was. I said "I hope so. It's Bobtown, right?" They seemed puzzled, and said that it's Southold, and that they didn't know where Bobtown is. I shrugged and went in.

Between songs I heard lots of comments along the lines of "how interesting" and "they have such great harmonies." It was an older crowd, and I gathered that it was mostly locals who worked the weekly concert series into their schedule, without knowing who was performing.But they went over very well. People were into it -- including the old guy in the row behind me who was keeping the beat on the back of my seat. Not that I'm complaining about that -- I had too good a time for something small like that to bother me.

The venue, an old church (it was established in like 1640), actually seemed somewhat appropriate for the band (notwithstanding the few songs that have a sacrilegious tone). Gospel is a strong influence on the Bobtown sound, so the music didn't seem out of place. And the stagey area (I don't know what you call it) served to frame them very nicely.

Of course, the music was very similar to what I saw the first time I saw them play (back in April), but this time I had heard the songs before, so I could follow along (even if I couldn't sing along). There were too many highlights to list them all, but a few follow:

Mama's Got the Backbeat: Jen McDearman has an incredible set of pipes. This is one song I didn't really like when I first heard it -- after learning that Alan Lee Backer was in this band, I found them on the web to give a listen and this was the first song I tried out. It has grown on me since then, though I will say it's better in concert than on CD.

Magilla Lee: This is my favorite from their two albums. It's just such a catchy melody. For some reason I think of Carlene Carter when I hear it. Not sure why.

Jesus Walking on the Water: This is a fun little number that sounds like something Mojo Nixon would have recorded. After running through this, they offered a free CD to whoever could identify the band that did that originally. Without thinking I called out "The Violent Femmes" in what was sort of a cross between puzzlement and triumph. It seemed like they kind of heard me say something, but didn't know what I said. I then realized that the reason I knew it was a Violent Femmes song was that they did the same thing back in April. Since it doesn't seem cricket to get a free album that way (using the knowledge of the answer that I gained by hearing the same question last time), I clammed up. They announced that it was the Violent Femmes and moved on. I'll note that the Violent Femmes will get one extra sale on Amazon because I heard Bobtown's version of their song.

Rattle Them Bones: Or some similar title. This is sort of a playful variant of Jim Carroll's "People Who Died." Fred Stesney's Fred Schneider-like vocals are perfect for this. It's too fast for me to pick up on all the lyrics. I was happy to hear that this is likely to be on their next album.

And that is one difference between this show and the one back in April. They specifically talked about working on songs for the next album. I asked Katherine Etzel afterwards if they are looking for material. Sadly, they're not. I understand even if I'm disappointed. It wasn't really professional of me to ask her that, but, well, nothing ventured nothing gained. I did suggest that "Poor Ellen Smith" would be a good song for them to cover. But looking on Youtube, I can't find any renditions as good as the Milner Brothers' on their album Haven't Lost a Thing (which, coincidentally, has my composition, "Music No One Else Can Hear." And now we have come full circle. Katherine confirmed that they'll be back on Kickstarter, so I'll be able to pledge and get them to record one of my songs. Presumably I can then use that recording as a demo to shop the song around.

The band was selling CDs, but they decided to let the customers pay what they felt was appropriate. I already have copies of both discs, but I did buy another copy of each, which I plan to give to my friend, Tall Judy. She plays in a contra-dance band, and I think she'll like these albums.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

a band name i'd like to see

Cold-Blooded Animals with Limbic Brains

That was a phrase my daughter uttered when she was asking me about biology.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

the one parody i wrote

Listening to Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence," I had a vague memory from 30-plus years ago. I was in high school, writing songs. That was my most prolific period as a songwriter, if you don't consider quality. Translated: I wrote crappy songs, but I wrote a lot of them. Anyway, I recall one of the songs I wrote was titled "The Game of Pac Man." It was a parody of "The Sounds of Silence." As best as I recall, it was the only full song parody I ever wrote. Oh, I wrote isolated lines or phrases of parody here or there. And I have written a few verses of parody here and there. Not that I committed them to paper. But I wrote them in my head. An example is John Hiatt's "She Don't Love Nobody." It was, however, obscene, so I'll not recount the lyrics here and now.

I wish I could recall the exact lyrics to "The Game of Pac Man." Following is the best I can recall:

Hello Pac Man my, old friend.
I've come to play with you again
Because a gremlin slowly creeping
Ate me up while I was sleeping.
And the gremlin that is driving me insane
Still remain
Within the game of Pac Man.

In the arcade I walked alone.
In the aisles I still roam
Beneath the bright glow of a Pac Man screen
I turn around and let out a scream.
When my eyes were stabbed by the pills of enourmous size
That energize
Within the game of Pac Man.

And in the naked light I saw
10,000 Pac Men, maybe more
Pac Men chasing without catching
Pac Men eating without retching
Pac Men eating dots that gremlins never shared
No one dared
Disturb the game of Pac Man

"Fools" said I, "you do not know
Obsessions like a cancer grow.
Give me the stick I beseach you.
Watch my play that I might I teach you."
But my words, like silent Pac Man fell
And echoed in the well of Pac Man.

And the people stayed and played.
And the little pills they ate.
And the screen flashed out its warning
'Cause many points they were scoring
And the sign said the score that is highest
Is written on the Pac Man screen
And that would mean
You've beaten the game of Pac Man.
Whether it was a good parody or not is up for debate. Certainly there were good elements.

But I'm not really into writing song parodies. More about that in a nother post if I ever get around to it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

no justice in the world

Today I learned that, while Tommy James' "I Think We're Alone Now" peaked at #4 on the charts, the cover version by Tiffany went all the way to number 1. There is no justice in the world.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

latest order from amazon

Today saw the arrival of a couple of albums that I ordered on Amazon. I hjaven't been able to listen to either one yet, so I can't comment on the music.

The Album After the Last One by the Toy Dolls is (to my knowledge) the band's most recent release. The one before it was called Our Last Album. Looks like their sense of humor is holding up. The song titles are classic Toy Dolls: "Credit Crunch Christmas," "Dirty Doreen" and "Don't Drive Yer Car Up Draycott Avenue." None of them matches my favorites, but they're pretty good. Also, the booklet insert includes lyrics and some great crisp clear concert photos.

Life on the Line by Eddie and the Hot Rods is a CD-reissue of the second-generation pub rock band. It has most of what is the band's strongest material -- "Quit This Town," "Telephone Girl" and their best-known track, "Do Anything You Wanna Do." As with other reissues on the Captain Oi! label, there are plenty of bonus tracks. A couple of them are listed as being "with Robin Tyner," so I'll have to look up who Robin Tyner is. Also typical of Captain Oi! rereleases, this has liner notes that are at once interesting and annoying. I'm surprised that I hadn't bought this reissue before now -- especially since I have a couple of compilations on CD that are really just inferior to this album. FWIW, their first album Teenage Depression, was also a great disc.

Here's a video from the Toy Dolls album:

And one from Eddie:

And, for the record, my favorite song titles from The Toy Dolls are "The Ashbrooke Launderette (You'll Stink, Yer Clothes'll Shrink, Yer Whites'll Be as Black as Ink)" "If You're in a Pop Group You'll End Up Paying a Fortune Practicing at Peter Practice's Practice Place" and "Queen Alexandra Road is Where She Said She'd Be, But Was She There to Meet Me…No Chance"

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

music for the chief actuary

My employer recently hired a new Chief Actuary. For the purposes of this post I will refer to her by the initials IL because that's the abbreviation for Illinois, which is one of my fifty most favorite states.

Anyway, IL has been having a series of one-on-one meetings with the actuaries. During her meeting with me, I mentioned that I write songs as a hobby. It came up because we were discussing some of the regularly scheduled actuarial-wide meetings, and I mentioned that I spoke at the last one. My topic was a song that an employee wrote (and recorded on a 78-rpm record) some 65 years ago. My presentation was the light portion of the afternoon's program. Anyway, I explained to IL that it was natural for me to present that topic since I write songs. That led to some obvious questions. "Anything published?" I was able to proudly note that I wrote a song that was recorded on a dozen-selling CD. "What style?" I explained that I generally write country music of one sort or another.

And that's true. I don't try to write C&W. But somehow everything I write sounds country. "Jackpot"? That's modern Nashville. "Five Missing One"? That's old style Western. The idea I have been toying with now (without going into detail, it's a novelty song)? Sounds like something ray Stevens would have penned.

As luck would have it, IL is a country music fan. So we talked a bt about music. She also likes Bruce Springsteen -- which I was able to relate to Dave Edmunds via "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)," a song that Bruce wrote for Dave.

By the end of the meeting I had promised to make her a CD of some of my demos. She said she'd bring it into her car and give a listen. I casually suggested three as the number of tracks to put on the disc, making it sound like I was being considerate in not wanting to overwhelm her with dozens of demos. In reality, I only have three demos worthy of getting spread around. Gee, I hope that if she reads this blog she doesn't figure out it's me.

I also hope that, if she likes my songs, she has connections in the country music world.

Monday, July 1, 2013

some videos from wilko's career

The last thing I posted was my goodbye to Wilko Johnson. As a followup, I figure I should link to some videos of him. Here goes:
Wilko as part of Dr. Feelgood (he was the guitarist)

Doing "Cairo Blues," after he left the Feelgoods

Wilko explains his guitar technique, and performs "Goin' Back Home"

Wilko on British television, discussing his diagnosis