Tuesday, November 03, 2020
Alice Cooper - “Reflected”
Some rock ‘n’ roll urban legends are salacious, like the Rod Stewart/emergency room/stomach pump story. Others are curious: Bruce Springsteen supposedly wrote “Billie Jean”, this is backed up by a photo of Bruce mimicking that song’s video on the back cover of the “Dancing in the Dark” twelve-inch. Some are hilarious: In the late eighties a story swirled that Depeche Mode played concerts with backing tapes instead of real instruments, one time the tape machine malfunctioned, and the band had to start the concert over with the tape rolling from the beginning. My favorite of these legends is the “evil rock act has origins in something harmless from your youth” genre. I first heard one of these during my childhood in the early seventies. Alice Cooper was taking the nation by storm (documented in “Elected”) with a double-punch of their horror-movie-influenced live shows and a concurrent takeover of the radio airwaves with hook-filled teen anthems like “School’s Out” and “No More Mister Nice Guy.” A rumor circulated that lead singer Alice was none other than Ken Osmond, the actor who had portrayed Eddie Haskell in the sixties sitcom Leave It to Beaver. Turns out in reality Ken Osmond went on to become a cop in Los Angeles, was shot in the line of duty and survived, which may have been the genesis of the other rumor involving the cast of the show: That show star Jerry “Beaver” Mathis had been killed in action in Vietnam.
The next variation I heard on this legend was in the mid-eighties. My brother said that our cousin had told him that he had heard that the members of Motley Crue used to be the band Bread. To be honest, I love this one more than the Osmond/Cooper rumor. Purporting that Bread, known for a run of saccharine AM radio hits in the seventies, went on to become PMRC bad boys Motley Crue is rich. In The Wonder Years, Winnie Cooper gave Kevin Arnold a Bread album. Kevin feigned enthusiasm (because Winnie, woo woo) but in voiceover admitted his disdain for the band. Which would explain why a fading David Gates knew that the typical teen male wouldn’t go for his songs. So he turned to Tom Werman to punch up some tapes he had sitting around ("they’re like ‘Mother Freedom’, only more rockin"), convinced his bandmates to wear makeup and change their names, and start paying attention to this thing called “MTV” ...
Speaking of The Wonder Years, in the nineties a rumor circulated that Josh Saviano, the actor who was Kevin’s best friend Paul Pfeiffer, grew up to become Marilyn Manson. I didn’t hear of this one in typical urban legend third-hand such as “my sister’s neighbor’s friend told me ...”, instead I read it while surfing the Net via AOL. By this time I was in my thirties, had an interest in urban legends, and spotted the motif instantly. At a family reunion, a teenage cousin was into Marilyn Manson and tried to present his whole shtick as shocking. Her mom, a fellow child of the seventies, simply chuckled and said: “Oh yeah, Alice Cooper.”
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Van Halen - “Dancing in the Street”
Per Wikipedia, the David Bowie and Mick Jagger cover of “Dancing in the Street” had two lead singers, three guitarists, two bassists, one drummer and a variety of other hangers-on who participated in that absolute mediocrity. But three years earlier, Van Halen made some seriously great white funk with the same song using just the four guys in the band being produced by the irreproachable Ted Templeman. The Bowie/Jagger song was produced by the duo of (seriously, I’m not making these names up) Alan Winstanley and Clive Langer, who no doubt were paying more attention to their black pudding and/or bangers and mash than to bother working with a couple of fading postage-prepaid superstars and put out anything that anyone would want to listen to decades later. Some didn’t want to listen to it the following week back in ‘85, either.
RIP Edward Van Halen, 1955 - 2020
Tuesday, October 06, 2020
The James Gang - “Funk #48”
The James Gang debut Yer Album has an interesting side one. “Take A Look Around” is a possible influence on The Who’s “Pure and Easy,” as they share a similar keyboard part. As recounted by John Swenson in The Eagles: Headliners, Pete Townshend was blown away by the Gang as openers for The Who in 1970. It also features covers of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird” and the Yardbirds’ “Lost Woman.” Not to mention the side starts with a classical-to-folk move and the “funk” song is preceded by a beatnik rap.
Said song is “Funk #48”, because you can’t have can’t have a “Funk #49” without a “Funk #48,” that’s just the way numbering works. As to what happened to Funks one through forty-seven, I haven’t heard. At one of my elementary schools in the seventies, the principal’s name was Mr. Funk and I could have asked him, but I was unaware of The James Gang at the time.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Husker Du - “Whatcha Drinkin”
I miss bars. Specifically I miss sitting in Morrissey’s Irish Pub, the Bulldog, or the Blue Door Pub mid-afternoon with a book, taking breaks from reading to check Twitter or text a friend. And while bars are now open in Minnesota in a limited capacity, the damn virus still has me too freaked out to go hang out anywhere in public. No coffee shop, no patios, no bars. Upside, maybe: I have found the five optimal (and given that it’s a one-bedroom, likely only except in bed but that’s too damn depressing) places to drink in my apartment:
- Recliner: Classic. Kick back with a martini or beer on the end table, streaming Mad Men, Workaholics, or one of the many, many games that are suddenly available.
- Writing desk: Old-Grand Dad bonded neat, typing notes or rewriting and revising. You see, it adds “atmosphere.”
- On floor in front of the stereo: Grain Belt or PBR + headphones while (takes a quick glance at recently played in Apple Music) blasting the Yardbirds, Run-DMC, Boston, the Commodores, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Bob Seger, Faces, Screaming Trees ...
- Standing by the kitchen window: Bonded bourbon here as well, staring at a clipboard with a work in progress locked in it, reading it aloud to see how it sounds. Alternately, poignantly looking out, hoping the muse arrives. (Okay, actually hoping some crows show up.)
- In the shower: Canned beer only!
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Big Joe Turner - “Shake, Rattle and Roll”
At some point during quarantine, I decided that it would be a good idea to get reacquainted with some of the classics. So I grabbed Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n Roll: The Birth of Rock in the Wild Years before Elvis by Nick Tosches, first published in 1984. I have the 1999 reissue from Da Capo Press. The book covers R&B and country artists in the forties and early fifties, some who recorded things that could be considered rock ‘n roll before “rock ‘n’ roll” had become the term for this music. Tosches confides in the introduction, ”You and me, pal, in our mutual quest for worthless knowledge,” Not all of it worthless, of course, as among others this Tosches insight is brilliant:
“Within a year, Bill Haley had gone from being one of the first blue-eyed rockers to the first decadent show-biz rocker. In other words, he played out the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll about two years before anybody ever heard of rock ‘n’ roll.”
The lockdown-pertinent song I came across was Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, with its Fauci-endorsed opening line of : “Get out of that bed, wash your face and hands.” It is regarded as one of the first big rock ‘n’ roll hits, but Turner later stated: “It wasn’t but a different name for the same music I been singing all my life.”
So it’s been enjoyable the past few weeks to grab this Tosches book, pick out an artist, and fire up their music on Apple Music and get a glimpse into those wild years before Elvis. Faves have included R&Bers The Clovers and the smooth blues of Charles Brown. Recommended reading also: Any Tosches you can read, but if you’re looking for music books Country and Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story are both breathtaking. The Nick Tosches Reader gives a great overview of his writing up until 2000.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Cream - “I Feel Free”
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s best album, Second Helping, is also arguably the best rock guitar album of the seventies. On “The Needle and the Spoon,” Allen Collins unleashes a brilliant Clapton-in-Cream-like wah-wah solo. That handiwork got me back into listening to Cream — guess I (ha ha) needed a break from the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, and the original Jeff Beck Group ha ha. Whew, some of those songs: “White Room,” “SWLABR,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” “Deserted Cities of the Heart” are incredible. Most fascinating lately for me is “I Feel Free”, the first song on the US version of their debut album. It’s short on guitar histrionics and has more of the great weirdness of Jack Bruce. The opening bomp-bomp-bomp scatting I did one night repeatedly weeks ago while walking around my apartment when lockdown boredom had hit full effect. Then Twitter pal @bennyc50 pointed out one could sing “quarantine” instead of “I feel free.” Genius. So, of course, I moved on to singing THAT all the time. Boredom lifted, at least for a bit.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Bachman-Turner Overdrive - “Roll On Down the Highway”
I was going to write this as a short ramble:
While this song celebrates a road trip, blasting it while on the elliptical or out for a walk makes me want to hit a dive bar, order a PBR tallboy, put some BTO in the jukebox, get a cheeseburger and fries, and thank the Lord that despite some bad habits I don’t have the physique of the BTO guys ...
But then I decided to look at the lyrics to see if I might glean some insight (as one does with BTO lyrics) and hoo-boy came across this ...
“I’d like to have a jet but it’s not in the song”
Oh man, just like Alice Cooper in “School’s Out” (”we can’t even think of a word that rhymes”) — they broke the fourth wall! That BTO pulled this off along with the self-employed anthem “Takin’ Care of Business” and the straight-up weirdo “Hey You” just amps up my respect for these guys. Time for another tallboy.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Shoes - “Capital Gain”
I had plenty of majors in college, started out with engineering undecided as my dad had said: “The world will always need engineers and accountants.” The calculus was too tough so I switched to undecided then to business undecided, then to management. My brother said: “You’ll end up managing a Kmart in Mandan,” so I went with banking and finance, then because I was having trouble with Intermediate Accounting 302, I slid over to economics which meant no more accounting and more reading*. This was especially true with Economics 400: The History of Economic Thought, a class I rallied around. The professor was a youngish bearded man lecturing about heavily influential economists of the past and their theories: Smith, Veblen, Marx, Malthus, Keynes. The class-ending assignment was to meet with the professor in his office for thirty minutes, tell him which school of historical economic thought you’d like to write on, and he’d advise you on reading materials and give you guidance on how to start and outline your paper.
I said I’d like to write about Marxist economics. Oh yeah, he said, as his eyes lit up a little. Nobody else was writing on this. He listed countries that used Marxist economics: the Soviet Union, Cuba, China ... then mentioned that the prior night he had had some Chinese beer and asked what us kids drank these days. I said I was a Schmidt man and then couldn’t resist taking a shot at the frat boys and their Corona** and limes. He dismissed Corona as a poorer man’s Miller High Life. We spent the last half of our session talking beer, then as time was wrapping up he gave me a reading list and an idea of how to to tackle my paper.
I spent hours at the library with Marx, Engels, and Lenin interpretations and dissertations, along with other assorted light reading. Then I sat at a table and typed and typed and typed. I wove all that Marxist economics stuff together and also managed to rip Soviet-leaning authors of one book for never mentioning the USSR’s 1939 invasion of Finland. I hesitate to dig around and find this paper now, it is best romanticized and left in the past. Then again I should pull it out for the parts where I quoted Bruce Springsteen, U2, and Megadeth. I figured I would either get a C+ for the effort or an A for the audacity, I got an A. Hooray.
*And now I earn a living from my day job of running my own bookkeeping business of twenty years.
**One of my roommates that senior year was a bartender at Whitey’s in East Grand Forks. He told the tale of how some afternoon regulars starting ordering bottles of Grain Belt Premium with a slice of lime in them to mock the frat dorks. They referred to it as a “Green Preem.”