Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bob Dylan has a new album out.

Dylan has a new album out, "Together Through Life." I think I might go get it this week.

The artistic re-emergence of Bob Dylan this decade has been nothing short of remarkable. Easily the comeback of the decade (sorry, Prince), and possibly the greatest comeback by a popular music artist ever. This is a guy who, during my entire childhood, was a stand-up comic's punchline, good for a throw-away run through "Rainy Day Women" once a day on the oldies station.

Of course, when I got to college and got Blonde on Blonde, I was blown away. Getting into Dylan's peak era material was something like a religious conversion for me. It completely changed the way I listened to music, what I listed for in music, how I listened to music. Dylan completely changed my idea of what it means to be "hard" in music. "Idiot Wind" for example, is "harder" than anything the crop of mediocre grunge bands I was listening to in 1992 was doing, just in a very different way.

But still, Dylan was an above average folk singer during most of my childhood and teen years. I could safely file him in the same mental category as Randy Newman and James Taylor. He wasn't doing anything as important as his '63-'70 peak, or even his brief '74-'76 revival.

Until the turn of the Century. (Oh sure, Time Out of Mind was a nice forecast of things to come, and the Travelling Wilburys was a pleasant diversion in an ensemble setting..)

To cite his three albums (Love and Theft (2001) and Modern Times (2006), in addition to the new one) to come out in the 00's is to understate the sheer amount of art Dylan released in the decade. Numerous vital archival releases, three movies, a couple books, soundtrack work, a radio show... The fading icon became a music machine, the American Bard, once again.

Love and Theft and Modern Times aren't all that different in general feel. Both comfortable mid-tempo blues rock, with elements of swing and folk all lying under Uncle Bob growling out well-groomed wit and wisdom. Smarter people than me can go over the meaning of the various songs. But the general feeling of joy despite age permeates both discs. Remembrances are bittersweet, rather than bitter, and life right now is pretty good and will remain pretty darn good as long as there's still a bit of tail to chase, no matter how much the politicians try to screw it up.

Or, as Dylan himself says in “Spirit on the Water,” “You think I'm over the hill, You think I'm past my prime, Let me see what you got, We can have a whoppin' good time.”

I give Love and Theft, the more mellow of the two albums, a slight edge, with “Sugar Baby” being my favorite, a wistful song that I imagine is a father singing to his estranged adult child.

Here's hoping Mr. Dylan has another couple of decades of music to give us. Once I've had a chance to listen to Together Through Life, I'll let you know what I think.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Things you learn when listening to Little Steven's Underground Garage on satellite radio (ch. 59 on XM, ch. 25 on Sirius):

Richard Hell and the Voidoids' classic punk anthem "Blank Generation" is a re-write of beatnik poet Rod McKuen's self-satirical "Beat Generation" from 1959.

Who knew?

And by the way, if Little Steven would throw me a little heavy metal bone every once in a while, it'd be the perfect radio station.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I've been completely obsessed with this song lately...

"Across the Shields" by Torche

(Although, I must admit the video is pretty f-ed up.)

I'm considering adding it to my list of perfect songs.

Said list is quite short. While I will not post the whole list at this time, it includes such songs as...

"Hate to Say I Told You So" by The Hives
"Touch Me I'm Sick" by Mudhoney
"Milk Cow Blues" by The Kinks

And for the record, my top five albums of '08 (that I heard, and I didn't hear a whole hell of a bunch, so take this with a grain of salt)...

1. Meanderthal by Torche
2. Electric Aborigines by Awesome Color
3. Traced in Air by Cynic
4. Watershed by Opeth
5. Consolers of the Lonely by The Raconteurs

Friday, April 10, 2009

At the risk of getting political, this has been on my playlist for about the last year.

EDIT: A little less relevant at this point in time, but this one, too. (Really listen to the lyrics.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'm belatedly digging Interpol's first album right now.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Favorite 80's throwaway lite metal song

It's Kingdom Come's "Get It On".

It's so endearing in so many ways. Of course, I thought it was a joke back in 1987.

When it came out, album rock radio, re-christened classic rock radio, was making a big come-back. Which means, of course, that all things Led Zeppelin were also making a big come-back. This radio trend then started making its way into contemporary music, with Whitesnake and Great White being the most popular two examples.

But Kingdom Come was a whole 'nother thing. They were a glorified Zep cover band. "Get It On" was their big hit. It had a "Kashmir"-ish verse and a "Black Dog"-ish chorus, and a drum coda a la "Rock 'n' Roll." Better still, were the Spinal Tap-ish, "worship us" lyrics. The vocalist was basically like me doing a Zep song at karaoke. I can do all of Plant's little vocal tics, you'd know who it was that I was imitating, but I can't actually, y'know... sing.

Of course the song was roundly criticized for being exactly what it was. But there's just something I find about it now that fascinates me. Kingdom Come had no hint whatsoever of irony in what they were doing. No nod. No wink. The tongue was nowhere near the cheek. They were just doing what they do (to paraphrase the song) in their lunkheaded earnestness, not because they cynically thought that's what the audience wanted, but because they thought... They'd written the greatest freaking song of all time, dude!

They were not unlike all those great 60's American garage bands that were reproducing the Beatles note-for-note, not to try to cash in, but rather because the Beatles and their ilk were really the only music they'd ever listened to, so that's what they thought music should sound like.

So, I find it just as charming as, say, the Knickerbockers' "Lies." And much like the music of the Knickerbockers and their ilk were rehabilitated with rock compilations, beginning with Lenny Kaye's Nuggets compilation in the 70's, "Get It On" was recently included in Rhino's Heavy Metal box set (about which I might write a lot more, later).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bad Mood - requiem for a record store

I went to Chicago this weekend. I stopped by MY old record store, Rock Records on the corner of Washington and Wells. Right off the elevated train. The first record I ever bought there was Slayer's Live Undead EP. It was a gloriously gross picture disk. That was probably back in 1988-ish. The last CD I got there was Napalm Death's 2 disc Noise for Music's Sake compilation, maybe a year ago. The store was right on the way between my law school and some of the firms I clerked at. So, while I went there as often as I could when I didn't live in Chicago, when I was in Chicago from 1999 to 2002, a huge portion of my music collection was purchased there. Rock Records was an independent shop, but nonetheless survived while chains like the Virgin Megastore and Tower Records disappeared from Chicago.

So anyway, there I was, just off the L, walking through my old haunts... There was the old familiar primary colored sign... It wasn't on. Well, I thought, it's Saturday, maybe they're just closed for the weekend, or maybe they don't open until 1:00. Let's go check the store hours... Bars. An empty storefront. "For Rent." Sad.

Downtown Chicago has a great independent jazz record store at about State and Grand. In retrospect, I should have immediately gone to that store and put down $15 on "Sketches of Spain" or "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady" or something like that. But I was too depressed. To my knowledge, there are no other music-only stores left in downtown Chicago. Instead there's a couple Borders and a Best Buy "Coming Soon!!!" in the Hancock Building.

I later went to one of the Borders and tried to find something to interest me, but was in such a bad mood, I quite literally put down the Dead Kennedys cd I was looking at and said, "Fuck this corporate pablum!!!" (I'm sorry, Jello. I didn't mean it.)

I bought Hannah Arendt's "Origins of Totalitarianism" instead. In that book, Arendt points to personal isolation and loneliness as being one of the main causes of people submitting to totalitarian governments... and instead of going to record stores - and, y'now, talking to another human being about their taste in music - people are now going on line from their bedrooms and downloading things off of itunes or ordering from

But then, I predicted the downfall of the brick and mortar music store the day I went into a Coconuts in a mall and asked the clerk if they had anything by the MC5. He asked if I'd looked in the rap section.

Hey, look at that... I'm still in a bad mood!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Well, it's been, what? 2-3 months. I really need to write more. Anyway, I'll finish up my ruminations on KISS by listing my track list for "The Untitled 1978 Album by KISS." That's a track list culled from the solo albums of 1978. As a whole they're a singular unimpressive lot. The band essentially tried to stretch an album's worth of songs into four separate albums with predictable results.

So, here's my hypothetical album in a somewhat logical track order, with a play length that would have fit on the old 33 rpm LP back in 1978:


Radioactive (Gene)
Move On (Paul)
I'm in Need of Love (Ace)
Ain't Quite Right (Paul)
Snow Blind (Ace)
Tunnel of Love (Gene)

Rip it Out (Ace)
See You Tonight (Gene)
Wouldn't You Like to Know Me? (Paul)
What's on Your Mind? (Ace)
Burning Up With Fever (Gene)
Love in Chains (Paul)

It would have been an album not too different from 1979's "Dynasty" and 1980's "Unmasked," although a bit harder hitting. Like those two albums, the highlights would be Paul's and Ace's songs. Gene would have a few decent numbers with Peter being basically absent. I suppose, it's unrealistic that Peter wouldn't have had at least one vocal spotlight, but I don't know whether the band would have tried to salvage something from the tracks on his solo album, or given him the lead on one of Pauls's or Ace's songs. I think he would have sounded pretty good on "Love in Chains" or "Rip it Out." Also, the biggest hit from the solo albums, Ace's cover of "New York Groove" didn't make my cut. And if my hypothetical album were reality, it probably would have been included. Maybe replace it with "Snowblind" and try to imagine Peter singing "Love in Chains" to get what the hypothetical 1978 album would have really sounded like.

For what it's worth, I've always thought Peter was the secret weapon of KISS's original incarnation, a great drummer with a wonderful Rod Stewart meets Bob Segar voice. I think a lot of his songs were the highlights of the early albums (admittedly, many of these were written by Ace or Paul). However, if Peter had done a solo album of songs of the quality of, say, "Hooligan" or "Baby Driver" (both of which were written by him and his frequent co-writer, Stan Penridge), his album would have been fantastic. Unfortunately, according to Black Diamond, the Unauthorized Biography of KISS by Dale Sherman, Peter was still recovering from a severe auto accident and was not able to write any new songs for the solo album, using some songs from an old pre-KISS project that was decidedly un-KISS-like.

I'll get back soon, with my last guilty pleasure, and then start posting much more regularly.