Friday, April 30, 2010

I sat down and lit a cigarette, and a tough-looking black dude about thirty years old bummed one from me. "What are you in for?"
"Being ahead of my time."
He just looked at me. For a second I thought he was going to laugh, but he didn't. "Yeah," he said. "Me too."

Lester Bangs died on this day in 1982, and it occurred to me that I should write something in his honor. But I did that a few years back in Exiled #37. All I can add is that anybody who loves great writing and/or great rock 'n' roll needs to read Lester Bangs. If you haven't, you're missing out big-time. Here's to you, Lester.


Bangs' "Jethro Tull in Vietnam", from Creem magazine May 1973. If you don't read all of this, at least scroll down and read the second half, subtitled "Postlude: After the Fall."

Bangs' "Astral Weeks", from Stranded in 1979.

Commentary on Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, from Creem March 1976.

Robert Christgau's Bangs obituary from The Village Voice.

The brilliant, I-can't-gush-enough Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. Hoffman is in a few more short-yet-crucial scenes in this great movie.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday Tuneage
Wall of Voodoo - "Mexican Radio"

In high school, I was pretty much a classic rock fan. Who/Stones/Zep/Floyd/etc., meaning I graduated in 1983 about ten years behind my time. Part of this was not really getting into music until the summer I turned 15; before that I had liked it, but that summer I became obsessed. Also in Grand Forks we didn't have any station that played great rock 'n' roll. There was a classic rock station on the FM dial, but it switched to Top 40 early in my high school days. So there really wasn't any way to hear lots good music, especially anything new. During this era, there was lots of new wave-y stuff on Top 40; much of it bad, some of it odd, and some of it that I still get a kick out of hearing like this catchy ditty by Wall of Voodoo. Though I'm sure back in '83 I probably stated that I hated it, while eventually secretly digging it.

I proceeded to largely forget this song but in the early nineties it showed up on KJ104, which was the Twin Cities alternative rock station that eventually sunk into playing lots of bad British dance-y music. Shades of high school Top 40! Which meant that "Mexican Radio" once again helped brighten the day on the FM dial. I remember a coworker and I went through a short phase where whenever we would pass in the hallway, we would quote the song by saying "what did he say?" to each other. Come to think of that, that sounds like something out of high school too.

Friday, April 23, 2010


The great David Halberstam passed away in 2007, victim of a tragic car crash. He wrote numerous books on history, most notably The Best And The Brightest, about America's entry into the Vietnam War. A couple of years ago I was captivated by The Coldest Winter, his history of The Korean War. Halberstam also wrote many books on sports, using the same methods - quotes and anecdotes from first-hand sources - as his history books. In my opinion, the finest of these that I have read is October 1964, about the 1964 World Series between the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals.

I am glad to report that at least two authors have stepped up and have recently written great sports books in the Halberstam tradition. A couple of years ago Mark Bowden (author of the excellent Black Hawk Down, not to mention the also-excellent Guests of the Ayatollah) came out with The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL. From the title you can guess what that one is about.

And I recently finished Perfect: Don Larsen's Miraculous World Series Game And The Men Who Made It Happen by Lew Paper. Larsen was a journeyman pitcher and Paper doesn't go into a lot of inside baseball as to how the Yankee pitched that perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. But he does tell the life stories of each man who was on the field that day in 1956. All of them had lived through the Depression, and many of them served in World War II. Not they talked much about their war experiences. Dodger great Gil Hodges served in the Pacific Theater. He earned a Bronze Star, but his wife didn't know this until after they had been married three years when a sportswriter told her.

The Dodgers, of course, were the team that integrated the major leagues with Jackie Robinson in 1947. The Yankees, as was the American League, were slow to integrate. This would lead to the Yankees' slump in the mid-sixties, with the 1964 World Series their last try for glory as they faced a younger Cardinals team that had been quicker to integrate and had such black stars as Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, and Lou Brock. Halberstam's October 1964 finely chronicles the Series and the individuals who played and managed in it. Congrats to Lew Paper for pulling off something Halberstam-like with Perfect.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday Tuneage
Tarney-Spencer Band - "No Time To Lose"

My barber is just a few years younger than me and always has The Jack FM on in his shop, so invariably we come across some blast from the past music-wise while he's cutting my hair. A couple of years ago it was "No Time To Lose." I didn't comment on the song at the time, being blown away that I was hearing it for the first time since high school and quietly racking my brain trying to remember the artist who sang it. I rushed home after and went to The Jack's website to look up their playlist and found out: Tarney-Spencer Band. A quick download ensued and two years later I've listened to it a couple of thousand times. Or so it seems. Love the chorus, love the moodiness, love the Cosmic Slop vibe it gives me.

See, the thing is, when I look back on songs I heard on the radio back around 1979/1980, I find the majority of them depressing. Not that they are neccessarily depressing, but I think I was filled with a lot of anxiety and dread at the time because a lot of that music does not bring back good memories. But "No Time To Lose" doesn't hit me that way even though it has a slight downer vibe. Maybe a girl randomly smiled at me the day I first heard it. I don't know, and at this point I don't care. I just love that I was able to download the song and didn't have to go searching through the used LPs bins to pay four or five bucks for what is probably a crappy album overall.

(As for the video ... well the frontman has a Jackson Browne thing going looks-wise: Browne haircut, sporting a leather jacket and boots when everybody else is going for the "regular guys" look of jeans and teeshirts, for some reason roller skating at what looks to be Venice Beach is featured, the drummer is having way too good of a time for such a serious-sounding song, and it's nice that they brought in the background singers for the video. Oh, and the YouTube link from above sounds like it was recorded from that four dollar slab of vinyl I mentioned above. Weird.)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

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