Archive for August, 2009

h1

Back up to heaven all alone.

August 28, 2009

CONFESSIONS OF A ’90s SURVIVOR

osborne

Joan Osborne – One of Us
From: Relish

I was raised as a Catholic. I never had to do time as an altar boy growing up, but church was pretty much an unspoken requirement on Sunday mornings throughout my adolescence. Of course, my attitude toward Mass today isn’t very much different from what it was when I was about 8 years old — kind of a waste of my Sunday morning.

I know that’s not a nice thing to say, and I’m almost certain my mother will read that and the next time we talk on the phone it’ll be a topic of discussion, but I’ve never really gotten the religious charge I’m apparently supposed to get by going on Sunday mornings. Or Saturday nights.

And it’s not just Catholicism — I’ve been to Vineyard masses, those great big Christian super mall places, I’ve been to a Buddhist mass and a Lutheran one. I’m still not too sure about the idea of the big man upstairs, but it’s not out of any need to be different or controversial — I honestly believe religion is one of the most divisive things ever put upon mankind and we’d all be best not to judge or question the next guy over. Belief is a pretty strong thing, and it’s something people don’t take being questioned about lightly. You look at most major wars throughout history, and religion has a pretty big hand in most of ’em.

Of course, having passed through the sacraments one does when one is young and being brought up in the Catholic tradition, my mother especially didn’t take my ambivalence toward God and the Church too well. One year as a Christmas gift from an aunt and uncle I received a subscriptions to a teen Christian magazine, that — like youth fests and WWJD? wristbands — was designed to make Christianity seem like the coolest thing since sliced bread.

Suffice to say, it didn’t really sell me, but every month they had a music review segment in the magazine where they’d basically say that all the popular music out there was pretty evil and they’d also let readers write in and ask writers’ opinions on popular artists, songs or albums that didn’t fall in the review’s pages. At 13 years of age and already grossly obsessed with music, I found this fascinating. Someone could wax a bit with me about tunes I was digging. I remember sending in letters requesting thoughts on Beatles and Oasis records. The letters or responses never made it to print, but the writer was always nice enough to send me a letter back telling me that while there was worse music out there than the Beatles and Oasis, there were also plenty of evil messages lurking in their lyrics and I might be better off getting the new DC Talk album.

When Joan Osborne released Relish in 1995, and “One of Us” became an almost hourly fix on MTV and VH1, obviously I had to write this Christian magazine to garner its thoughts on the record — something with a significant amount of religious heft that was also dominating popular radio and music television. Not an often occurrence at any time, but certainly not in the liberal and decadent 1990s.

That letter never got published either, but it elicited the longest reply ever from the music writer, who basically said the song was deceiving, because while it says things like, “Yeah, yeah, God is good, yeah, yeah, God is great” it also posits Him as a slob.

The general idea was that this song was bad news — one should never question God for a start, but if we were all so lucky to experience His presence on Earth, why the devil would we think he’d be as horrible as the everyday people that ride the bus?

See, the idea is that questioning simply doesn’t jive with believing. Believing is about having faith. Questioning is about being skeptical. Faith and skepticism are a bit like oil and water… as your suspicious ex-lover can attest.

The fact that kids are simultaneously taught to learn as much as they can and the human mind has an unquenchable desire to know why things are the way they are is going to present problems with religious beliefs at some point. Are all the animals walking the Earth today really here because some old dude managed to get a male and female each of ’em on board a wooden boat thousands of years ago? It seems to me to beg a little more questioning.

But when it comes to Christianity, a lot of Christians have big problems with that kind of questioning. While it seems fair enough to me to ask what would it be like if God actually hopped on the #30 in downtown Milwaukee (and may I say I think the comedic possibilities are endless), you might want to ask Joan Osborne how far that question got her.

A lot of airplay? Yeah. A lot of tickets sold? Yeah. An audience with Pope John Paul II? Yep, that too.

Also got her a few death threats, the ire of the Catholic league president (who termed it “awfully close to the line of Catholic baiting”) and general resentment from a whole league of church-goin’ Americans that didn’t like the fact that the Big Guy was being theoretically brought down to their crummy level — much less by a blonde with a nose-ring whose album also included song titles ranging from “St. Teresa” to “Let’s Just Get Naked.”

Of course, if you make the catchiest song on your album about God, it’s also kind of asking for a bit of flak. I suppose Osborne shouldn’t have been singled out the way she was — lord knows her guitarist Erik Bazilian (who actually wrote the song) probably didn’t get the same heat in the spotlight that Joan did, but my problem with the song was it seemed like a very open call for a stir of holy furor.

One Sunday during my teenage years, I got particularly annoyed by having to accompany my mother to church — my resistance toward something she’s always viewed as one of life’s necessities immediately raised tempers between the two of us that morning, and while I’ve very seldom sang Catholic hymns, I kind of decided to air my displeasure at being at church by making it obvious to Mom that I would not sing and also sulking about like a typical teenage idiot.

Mom grew increasingly agitated, and turned to me and said, “If you don’t want to be here, then you shouldn’t be here.”

All I needed to hear — stood up and walked right out of church. My mom gave chase — we had a big screaming match in the parking lot and I ended up getting grounded for a week or two.

I knew I was risking some trouble when I did what I did. And surely Joan and Erik knew what they were doing with “One of Us.” Sure, it’s always a laugh to point out the hypocrisy of Christians that preach about brotherhood and loving all as God would until one of ’em questions whether, if in human form, God would be a slob, and they come at you with some fire and brimstone.

But the thing is, “St. Teresa” was the other big single from that album, and I’ll bet you don’t even really remember how that one goes, do you? And what has Joan done since? Rerecord “One of Us” for a television series? OK.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think someone might’ve sold their soul for a popular song in 1995…

h1

It’s a good job you don’t count on me.

August 23, 2009

NOTES FROM INDIANA, DAY 3

Aug. 21
6 p.m.
Dinner with a few friends I’ve made here — writers from Arizona and New York and an editor from California. Between the four of us, I think we have every major region of the country covered (especially since California dude is from the northern half of the state and not SoCal). Arizona and New York dudes are most highly opinionated and seem to find it existentially prohibitive to ever stop talking about any aspect of newspapers. We’re at a bar with Brett Favre’s first start with the Minnesota Vikings playing, the little league World Series, a few baseball games… and certainly not minding the fact that we’ve already been talking shop all day, these guys just forge right ahead with it. This kind of disappoints me, and I revert to that state that all my close friends hate about me when I’m at bars… idly agreeing to whatever’s being said while my eyes stay fixated on any nearby television. If they didn’t think I was rude, then certainly they thought I’m not cut from the proper journalistic cloth, but… meh.

9 p.m.
Dinner having ended, the four of us revert to our hotels, but I pop back out and head out to a local nightclub called Harry & Izzy’s where I find tons of my other journalistic colleagues, very few of whom seem to be talking about newspapers. Whatever newspaper chatter is going on then drops off completely when Peyton Manning and his personal entourage enter the premises. A lot of people freak the hell out. I don’t. I don’t know why, really. Probably because I have no affinity whatsoever for the Indianapolis Colts, but I think more because this is downtown Indianapolis. This is very likely the only place in the entire state where you can find a hint of action at night, so it seems like good odds that the most popular guy in the state would show up around here sooner or later. I do love the fact that journalists — national ones, mind you, the ones that are supposed to be infallible in any situation — all stand around mouths agape and looking at each other with “OHMIGOD DOYOUSEEWHATISEE?” disbelief as they scramble for camera phones and whatever loose scraps of paper or napkins that might be autographable. Good note to end Friday night upon.

Aug. 22
8 a.m.
There’s something really inhumane about making journalists convene for a panel discussion at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. That’s all I’m saying. Of course I lose sympathy for a lot of my colleagues who all seem to rant “I don’t have to be in this early on NORMAL days.” Punks.

12.15 p.m.
Lunch and a panel from writers in New York, Illinois and South Caroline who all had some great gubernatorial stories to cover over the past year. Le sigh. I wish my governor was grossly corrupt. No, not really… or do I?

6 p.m.
All panels/sessions having ended, it’s time to soak up the free booze for happy hour, dinner and the awards banquet. I put a lot of wine down my neck. I’m easily the most talkative I’ve been all weekend, but everyone’s laughing at my jokes too. If I weren’t as smart as I am, I’d say this could be the trigger to problematic behavior from here on out. But I am as smart as I am. Of course, they all say that, don’t they? Whatever. I won a t-shirt at the banquet and started screaming “OHMYGOD! OHMYGOD!” Big laughs. Then an AP writer won a book a few goes later and did the same thing. Not as big a laugh. Originality, folks. Originality.

It’s Sunday morning now, and I’ll be heading to the airport. I must say, when I started all this on Wednesday night, I figured I’d be a lot more unimpressed with the city than I was. Thank you Indianapolis, for giving me the best hotel room I’ve ever stayed in, and a marginally enjoyable downtown life. Don’t get too bigheaded, though… I’ll still take Madison as a place to live and a whole slew of other capital cities to visit next time out.

Paul Weller & Graham Coxon – This Old Town
I still prefer this to Ocean Colour Scene’s reading of Weller’s first incarnation of this song, “For Dancers Only,” cos I think Coxon brings a little more rock angularity to the verses. Plus, who can argue with a rhythm section of Zak Starkey and Mani?! Anyway, I’ve never been able to suss out if this song is a positive or negative view of the town in question. It’s good, but it’s not all good. And it’s bad, but it’s not all bad. Much like this old town here…

h1

You say that you know, but you don’t know.

August 21, 2009

NOTES FROM INDIANA, DAY 2

Aug. 20
5 p.m.

Thursday evening saw all the editors and reporters descend on the Indiana Capitol Building (er… State House, I’m sorry) a few hours after I’d already given it a once-over and dismissed it. The tour actually improved my opinion of it a little bit, although I will say that taking a tour of such a building with a gaggle of reporters is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. First off, you have Capitol reporters from the East Coast just blown away by the fact that state offices and three branches of government can exist in the same building, but more hilariously, they want to turn every fun fact into a breaking news story. Our tour guide shows us one of the paintings of an Indiana governor, and says that state law actually requires the governor to have their portrait painted before leaving office. On a normal tour, you’d probably just nod and quietly wonder what a painted portrait of you would look like. On a tour for reporters, there are outstretched arms and vociferous demands to know whether the taxpayer must pay for this and just how much it runs them. I kind of feel sorry for the tour guide, who’s never had to face this kind of questioning, but then again, I can’t help but laugh.

7 p.m.
Booze/meet and greet at Shula’s Steakhouse. I don’t know why they picked one of the nicest steakhouses in Indianapolis to have us meet each other and drink a few complimentary bottles of wine. Not that I’m complaining, but going to a steakhouse NOT to eat just seems superfluous to me. There’s no nice wine bar in town? Well, I suppose there’s no McDonald’s… Interesting to talk to reporters from all over the country try to share ideas and thoughts and nervously skirt the topic of the torrential erosion of the printed word in this country trying to pick a million different ways of nicely saying, “I think we’re f*cked.” Well, it can’t be that bad right? More than 100 of us showed up for this conference, at least.

9.30 p.m.
With the Philadelphia Eagles having vacated the premises to lose to the Colts over at Lucas Oil Stadium, my room is finally free and ready to check into. I must say, I think I got the nicest hotel in Indianapolis, and I don’t mean that in a backhanded compliment kind of way. I’m on the 19th floor, with a nice view of the Indiana Repertory Theater, the Hilton and one of the city’s more prominent skyscrapers (can’t be bothered to identify it for you… but it has two antannae). The walls at the head of my bed have this modern Eastern-style  padding separated nicely into evenly measured green squares. I get an HDTV with 50 channels, one of those radios that you can plug your iPod right into and a copy of Wine Spectator magazine (which I really just like for the conceit of holding). I think this is the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in in my life, actually. Now, down to the pool.

9.45 p.m.
Pool sucks. Drastically undersized and only 4-feet deep the whole way round. Not a tread-water kind of pool, nor a lap-swimming pool, so exercise is kind of out of the question. They have a hot tub, though.

Aug. 21
7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Conferences on workdays are not to be treated as off-days. They have you up early and running through a full day of panel discussions that kind of remind me of days in college in terms of going right from something really interesting into something that you tune out to day dream or see if that woman a few rows up is sporting a ring on that left hand. There’s some very interesting stuff — including a panel by the reporters from Illinois that broke the Blago stories (and even one of Blago’s press contacts, who handled all our questions and laughter with fabulous humility). We also meet Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, who I’m a fan of, despite his political leaning. He’s an earnest guy and he doesn’t duck from any of our questions. Coming from a state where our governor holds his cards very close to his chest and says things such as, “I’m not going to speculate on…” with entirely too much frequency, this is kind of a treat.

5.30 p.m.
Blogging for you fabulous people before meeting some folks for dinner and hopefully getting some more interesting/semi-funny stuff to share.

Music? Sure why not.

Black Grape – Marbles (Why You Say Yes…?)
Black Grape’s 2nd album, 1997 album, Stupid, Stupid, Stupid wasn’t even a quarter of a patch on their 1995 debut, It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah, but it had a few inspired moments. This is one of them — it’s pretty formulaic by Black Grape standards, but it’s got a good groove (especially for a Friday night), and the refrain seems highly a propos considering I’m one of more than 100 people that ask that very question of SOMEBODY on an almost daily basis. Then again, I don’t think any of us have ever asked somebody about swapping a kidney for a phone. Still…

h1

And now I’ve got some time to kill.

August 20, 2009

I did a travelogue of a vacation to Florida earlier this year, which seemed to be rather well received. Now I’m in Indianapolis on business for the rest of the week (and part of the weekend), and as anyone who’s from/in/heard of/thought of Indiana in general could probably assume, I’m really excited.

Damn, the Internet just does not translate sarcasm well.

Anyway, I’m here for a conference that involved reporters from all over the country who cover business in their respective state Capitols, and I’m sure that’s REALLY exciting for all of you, but I thought I’d give you some side notes on my trip and observations thus far.

NOTES FROM INDIANA, DAY 1

Aug. 19
Indianapolis, 10.34 p.m. (local time)
My flight arrives in Indianapolis more than an hour late because of a strong sweep of storms moving through the Midwest. This wouldn’t really be a big deal, except it meant me spending WAY too much time at Gen. Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. I actually flew from Madison to Milwaukee for the first time. That was interesting. I think we spent as much time moving from the gate to runway (and vice versa) at each airport as we did in the air. 15-minute flight time. Holy hell, am I gonna hate doing that 1-hour, 15-minute drive from here on out. Originally, I was supposed to spend a few hours’ layover in Milwaukee. That was a little frustrating to begin with (I could’ve driven back and forth between the two cities twice in the time scheduled for layoff), but then the storms pushed it to a 6-hour delay. A lot of people waiting for the Indy flight were pissed off about the wait, and there was a lot of grumbling, but the fact of the matter is we were flying one of those little pond jumper planes that seemed like it might come apart as it accelerated down the runway. If a couple hours’ delay saves me from getting rocked in the air by a thunderstorm, I’ll take it. I sat in the back row of the plane, by the way, which I’ve never done before. Since it was so small it didn’t matter, but I immediately thought of Tommy Cooper’s old joke about always sitting in the back row — “You never hear of a plane backing into a mountain.”

11:15 p.m
Check in at the Omni Severin Hotel downtown. Apparently this is one of the nicest hotels in the area (and the prices they’re charging me to stay there seem to back it up), but I ask you this. Why at shitty hotels can you get free Internet access, but at nice hotels where you’re paying hundreds of dollars per night should you pay for internet? That seems backwards. Downtown Indianapolis (like downtown Madison) has free wireless access, but of course the hotel (or maybe just my room) is right out of a range. F*ckers.  You even have to pay to use the internet in the business center! How badly does this state need money?

11.35 p.m.
Letterman. I don’t watch enough Letterman anymore. I’m too tired or busy nowadays it seems. His main guest is Mike Myers, who, unbeknownst to me is in Inglourious Basterds, or however Quentin spelled it. I’ve been a bit wary of Myers ever since he pissed on the Austin Powers franchise by making two absolutely superfluous sequels. Never saw the Love Guru flick, read a lot of stories about what a megalomaniacal control freak he is and — quite honestly — it’s even made me reassess some of the SNL work he did that I always loved. Nevertheless, I find myself laughing pretty hard during his interview. Damn you, Myers. On that note, I go to sleep.

Aug 20
11.30 a.m.
Check out of the Omni. Ridiculously, I only stay there one night, because the rest of the weekend is booked. However, at the hotel I’m staying at tonight and through Saturday night — even though its hosting three or four conferences, there are rooms available. So I walk two blocks and drop my bags off at the Hyatt Regency. Can’t check in until this afternoon, you know… they gotta clean rooms.

12 p.m.
Walk around downtown, check out the mall down here. I don’t know why. I hate malls. I really do. I walk in and I always feel out of place. Like everyone’s judging my hairstyle and what clothes I’m wearing. I will say — I look pretty f*cking awesome today, but I still feel like I’m being judged. It’s not a long stay. I find an Indiana Pacers store. I want to see if they have Travis Diener jerseys. Not that I would buy one, but I want to know if he’s merited jerseys at an Indiana Pacers-only store. He hasn’t. Does he still play for the Pacers? They do have Tyler Hansbrough jerseys though. Which makes sense. Cos he’s done a lot for the Pacers, hasn’t he?

1 p.m.
Check out the state Capitol. Unimpressed. Wisconsin’s is way cooler. The interior dome here is just some basic stained glass pattern. The halls are have only a marginal amount of grandeur. An engraved stone on the building’s interior says work began in 1878, finished 10 years later and cost $1.98 million. Looks like it. By the way, I’m a complete “Wisconsin’s Capitol building is superior to all others” kind of guy. If you couldn’t tell.

1.30 p.m.
Walk around central downtown. When I say “It’s impossible to find a McDonald’s here,” I’m sure you’re thinking, “That’s not a bad thing,” but when one hasn’t eaten yet and has a hankering for a classic chicken sandwich and fries, that’s a bit annoying. I check a downtown directory. No McDonald’s to be found. I happen across two professional sports stadiums before I happen across a McDonald’s. How f*cked up is that, seriously? Settle on a pepperoni pizza at Rock Bottom brewery. Good. Maybe even better for me than McDonald’s. Maybe. But when you’re craving classic chicken sandwich and fries, it doesn’t compare. The Colts are hosting the Eagles tonight for a preseason game. Colts fever is high in the air. The big news is Peyton Manning wants more playing time. He only played one series in the Colts first preseason game. Every paper has a front page story about this. As a reporter, I honestly find it hard to see how this story could go longer than a 200-word brief. Starters naturally play a little longer as the preseason progresses. Coaches don’t want to risk injury. Peyton Manning is Jesus. Christ, that’s three sentences and 20 words, and I’ll BET that’s exactly what all those papers took 500+ words to say. (Can you tell I’m obviously in snobby reporter mode?)

3 p.m.
Return to the Hyatt for check-in. Still can’t do it. “We’re hosting a football team and we still need to clean the rooms.” They’re hosting the Philadelphia Eagles. What the hell do football players do to hotel rooms? The mind boggles. By the way — in case you’re wondering, Mr. Vick is not eligible to play yet, so he’s not in the hotel. My mind also wanders at the thought of what would happen if I bumped into him. I mean, I can barely watch those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials without tearing up. Part of me likes to think I’d call him a “f*cker” or wish a Rottweiler attack upon him. I mean seriously, I couldn’t even read or listen to all the reports about what he did to dogs. Upsets me way too much. Then again, he’s a professional athlete. And could probably… no, no… he COULD kick the sh*t out of me. He’d have a lot of explaining to do to the Indianapolis Police and national media of course (and I might get rich out of it… HMMMM…), but the reality is I’d probably just see him and look the other way. I’m such a tough guy. Lot of youngsters in McNabb and Westbrook jerseys roaming the halls however. Have they begun printing Vick jerseys yet? Would a Philly fan buy a Vick jersey? I wonder if there’s more demand for a Travis Diener Pacers jersey than a Michael Vick Eagles jersey? I seriously do.

At the moment, that’s about it… conference stuff for the rest of the night, but a bit of city-roaming planned too, so maybe there will be more to report later.

Since this is a music blog, it’s only right that I post a tune. You’d think it would be Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” wouldn’t you? If you would, you give me too little credit. Have I ever been that obvious? I mean, ASIDE from posting “Witch Doctor” in the last Friday Five?

Lyle Lovett – Up in Indiana (acoustic)
This is from Lyle’s most recent (and typically magnificent) LP, It’s Not Big It’s Large. I haven’t met a girl named Rose here, I don’t think I’ve ever thought of a girl named Rose, but I’ll say this — there are some fine looking business ladies roaming the streets of downtown Indy. First time I heard this song, I thought, “Aw, come on…” But as a matter of fact…

h1

Everybody needs a little help sometimes to seal the deal.

August 14, 2009

What is it about doctors that make them such good fodder for songwriters? Their abilities to provide medicinal or psychiatric help? The tribal doctors with strange practices? The white lab coats? The fact that trying to rhyme something with “PhD” is always going to pose a challenge?

I don’t know. I’ve never been a big fan of doctors. Or dentists. They like to tell me what I’m not doing right. It’s never a good self esteem exercise to visit a doctor. Or a dentist.

By the way, you suppose that dentists get offended there aren’t as many songs written about them? I think there are more songs about novocaine than there are about dentists, come to think of it. That’s gotta suck for dentists.

Anyway, my personal feelings, doctors provide great inspiration for popular music — if not in songs, then certainly in stage names (I’m looking your way, John and Dre). For this month’s Friday Five, we take a look at five solid rock ‘n’ roll doctors.

lucy

The Friday Five
The Doctors Are In

Aretha Franklin – Dr. Feelgood (Love is a Serious Business)
Well, what? You didn’t think I was gonna post that f*cking Motley Crue song did you? Aretha’s 1967 album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, is probably her best and is far more renowned for carrying “Respect,” but from a soul standpoint, it’s hard to argue there’s anything on the album better than this. The song moves along at a wonderfully soulful trudge, with a blissed-out organ wailing away behind the piano, bass, drums and horns. Dr. Feelgood doesn’t appear to be a licensed practitioner, but someone who can makes his lady feel particularly good in the morning, which… let’s face it, can be like brain surgery sometimes.

The Beatles  – Doctor Robert
Who the actual Doctor Robert has never been completely verified — speculation holds that it’s about a guy named Dr. Robert Freymann, a New York practitioner that supplied a lot of celebrities with amphetamines. John Lennon also said it’s an autobiographical song, since he was the band’s pill carrier in the early days. Regardless, the song is a not-so-subtle appreciation of someone who can prescribe the goods to leave a mid-1960s rock and roll star “feeling fine.” In terms of Beatles songs, it’s probably not their best, but that said, it’s still a pretty cool little tune and blends into their best album, Revolver, quite nicely.

Crowded House – Dr. Livingstone
The Crowdies cut this track back in 1989, and while it bubbled up on a B-side to a limited edition single here and there, it finally got a proper showing 10 years later on the band’s fabulous odds-and-ends post-mortem release, Afterglow. Livingstone doesn’t sound like a guy you’d go to visit in a suburban office, but instead a strange interloper in Africa. No idea what this song’s point is, really, but whatever the trouble may be, the good doctor holds survival in his hands.

Kula Shaker – Dr. Kitt
Dr. Kitt, like Dr. Livingstone, doesn’t seem to be the suburban office type, but unlike Dr. Livingstone, he seems a little more prone to cure whatever storm-induced ills befall his patients. Also a hell of a lot more philosophical — dude doesn’t seem to leave anything to chance. But why would Kula Shaker do a song about anything less cosmic? This psychedelic doodle is actually one of the finest and most underrated on Kula’s 2007 comeback album, Strangefolk.

Steely Dan – Doctor Wu
I admit that while I’m an admirer of Steely Dan’s lyrical abilities, I’m usually almost completely in the dark when it comes to understanding what the hell they’re going on about. For years I’ve listened to this song thinking it’s about a girl named Katy who two-times the narrator, and Doctor Wu is like a therapist that ends up being the dude Katy’s two-timing with. Seemed simple enough? Then I read an interview with Fagen in which he said “Doctor Wu” is just the personification of a dope habit. Of course. Why would I think the song would make any common sense in the first place? Nevertheless, a fantastic pull from the oft-overlooked 1975 album, Katy Lied.

And as a bonus for all you dear readers, I realize I’ve been a little lax in posting lately, so here’s ONE MORE fabulous song about a doctor.

David Seville – Witch Doctor
Give it another listen. It’s a lot of fun.

h1

I feel it’s time for us to make up, baby.

August 11, 2009

I have a general rule for my “Overdue Reconsiderations” series — the album in question has to be at least 10 years old, because I feel that’s an appropriate time for glowing reviews to turn positively nasty (see: NME or Q magazines’ evolution of mindset on Kula Shaker’s K). Of course, in today’s age of digital downloads and computer music libraries quickly amassing so much music that you might not well remember a song you downloaded last week, this time frame is exponentially shrinking.

My review today is spurred somewhat by the general aloofness of the public, but moreso because even among Paul Weller fans, his 2004 album Studio 150 is pretty much openly dismissed as a complete waste of his studio time and our collective earnings. And I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.

0000010639_350

Paul Weller
Studio 150
V2, 2004

01. If I Could Only Be Sure
02. Wishing on a Star
03. Don’t Make Promises
04. The Bottle
05. Black is the Colour
06. Close To You
07. Early Morning Rain
08. One Way Road
09. Hercules
10. Thinking of You
11. All Along the Watchtower
12. Birds

Ah, the covers album. Historically, is there a better way for any artist to publicly concede they’re fresh out of good ideas? Oh sure, they sugarcoat the promotional junket with easily digestible (and somewhat believable) quotes such as, “I just wanted to pay a bit of respect to songs that I grew up loving” or “I wanted to turn a few more people onto what a songwriter genius (insert said unknown/underrated/overrated artist name here) was.” Sure you did.

That’s why Paul McCartney did Run Devil Run immediately after his beloved wife’s death, right? Nothing to do with the fact that he’s an intensely private man when it comes to his emotions and he didn’t want a lot of people reading too deeply into his lyrics and analyzing his state of mind. That’s why The The followed the genius of Dusk with a Hank Williams covers album, right? Nothing to do with critical or self-inflicted pressure to top a universally well-received (if not well selling album) by reinterpreting songs everyone’s known for 50 years. I mean, nobody rates Hank Williams too highly, do they?

Bullsh*t. If a covers album is not an artist clumsily trying to hide the fact that they’re going through a particularly nasty case of writer’s block, then it’s an artist not-so-clumsily trying to find their way out of a recording contract they no longer find favorable. Unless you’ve already staked your claim as a covers act, there are three acceptable times and places for the odd cover:

  • On a single’s B-side
  • Tucked (very sparingly) into an LP

OR

  • Shrewdly inserted into a live set

You don’t rile your fans up with news of a new album, only to then announce it’s going to be a set of songs we could probably find elsewhere and build a DIY mix. The, “Oooh, I wonder how they’ll do THAT song” novelty only lasts so long.

And if you’re a Paul Weller fan, having THAT song be the f*cking Carpenters’ “Close To You” or an obscure Oasis B-side likely rubbed you the wrong way right from the first press release stating the album’s tracklist.

It’s not that the man is bad at interpreting songs. If anything, he’s actually really good at it. Most fans will have known that since his Jam days, when the 17-year-old Weller was cocky enough to put a punked up cover of the “Batman” theme on the Jam’s debut album. Their subsequent readings of the Chi-Lites “Stoned Out of My Mind,” Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and the Who’s “So Sad About Us” were all well appreciated and are still great to hear on any odds and ends collection. The Style Council’s whacks at the likes of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” turned out great, and Weller’s covers in his solo career have always been pretty damn good (I’ve always loved his version of “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”).

But the unifying theme of all the aforementioned tracks was that they showed up on B-sides or in radio or live sets. There were no proper cover albums to speak of, really, until Disc 3 of the 2003 solo Weller odds and ends box set, Fly on the Wall, compiled all his solo years covers for a playfully titled collection called “Button Downs” (for those of you who don’t get it, I’ll just cough and point you toward David Bowie).

And that’s probably what got Weller thinking, “F*ck me, these were actually fun. I should do a whole album like that. Lot easier than writing new stuff.”

So the Modfather headed to Amsterdam with his trusty crew of Steve White on drums, Steve Cradock on guitar and Damon Minchella on bass and whiled away a few weeks cherry picking his record collection.

And if any of these songs had ended up on B-sides, Weller fans likely would have snatched every copy before they went out of print and driven up after-the-fact eBay auctions to ridiculous asking prices. Weller buries “Wishing on a Star” in smoke-covered soul, completely annihilating the version Rose Royce made famous with smooth lounge tones. “One Way Road,” one of Noel Gallagher’s very best and most overlooked B-sides, gets a New Orleans treatment that somehow works and challenges the original in power, and he easily matches (if not betters) the groove Sister Sledge first found for “Thinking of You.”

To his credit, he tries to find a new direction with the aforementioned “Close To You” and lightly dismissed it in subsequent interviews as a joke for his kids’ sake (and your legions of fans thank you for that, Paul). Still, the fact is the couplet of “Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?” comes at anybody’s credibility with all the destructive force of a medieval battering ram.

“Black is the Colour” is the kind of moody cover better left to early 20-somethings with thick-rimmed glasses in coffeehouses and Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” should have been the first “Yeah, BUT…” that every journalist posed when Weller claimed he chose the songs on the album because he felt they could be done better (thus “gracefully” explaining the absence of any Beatles, Small Faces or Kinks material).

Had this album been released in some box set or tactless posthumous collection years down the road, it probably would be looked at in the light Weller wanted — a guy proving he can put a distinct stamp on a tune and make it his own. Problem was (and still is), he’s alive, kicking and writing strong material such as “Blink and You’ll Miss It” and “Cold Moments.” So releasing this as a standalone album is tantamount to jerking us around — even if the material is pretty good.

Why else would you have to revert to your own songs during the album’s chief promotional live appearance? And why do you think the song got THAT reception? Cos you’re GOOD, man. We’ll wait another year if it takes you that to clear the block.

I saw Weller perform in Chicago a year ago and he did a magnificent reading of “Wishing on a Star.” Everyone in the audience sang along and it slid beautifully into his set. Ahem, time and place, ahem. And yeah, if a track from this album comes up randomly on my iPod shuffle, I’ll likely turn it up and go, “Ah, listen to this one.” But for some reason, pulling out a covers album by Paul Weller to sit down and listen to seems dirty. I mean, Stanley Road is right there next to it. And Wild Wood is right next to that.

P.S. Don’t think the irony was lost on any of us that Weller had the balls to release THREE singles off this album (four digitally) and fill those B-sides with more covers still. The cover of “Coconut Grove” is damn good. DAMN good. I just wish it had backed an original track.

h1

Baby, baby, baby, have mercy.

August 7, 2009

The stack of bills on my dining room table tells me I mustn’t be a slouch like last month and put “Vs.” off until the end of the month now.

So this month, our confrontation takes us out of Motown and across the Atlantic to that great time in Great Britain prior to Britpop but a little on the afterburn of the whole Madchester/dance scene.

Heady days to be sure, but if anyone knew how to morph and find direction (as they always do), it was Primal Scream. A lot critics will say they were much better at shapeshifting and being all kinds of amazing back in the late 1980s, all the way through the 1990s and right up to 2000’s XTRMNTR, but I still contend the albums they’ve done since the turn of the century all have fine, fine moments.

This is certainly a topic I’ve covered on this blog before, but I think you can pin fandom or dismissal of Primal Scream on your personal feelings for Bobby Gillespie. If you see him as a drugged out copycat with pipes not properly befitting of a rock and roll lead singer, you probably loved the chance to lash a good critical tongue in the direction of, say, Riot City Blues, but for my money (and all his transgressions), I’ve found very few rock and roll singers to be as soulful on the incredibly unspectacular terrain that Gillespie inhibits. First of all, he was the drummer for Jesus and the Mary Chain. He’s got a voice, but he doesn’t got a very thick one. He’s stole his dance moves off Mick Jagger, his swagger from the Faces and most of his shades from the MC5. The guy’s easy to hate. But there are also few singers out there who seem as invested in the “Yeah”s they let out in a song. So I’ll always be a fan.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Scream’s definining moment came with the 1990 single “Loaded,” which barely featured Gillespie at all (and is still available on this blog’s summer mix, for all you slackers). It was supposed to be the new direction for Madchester and the E’d up dance music that had all but drowned northern England at the end of the 1980s. Primal Scream’s ensuing 1991 album Screamadelica is probably their most fondly remembered LP and a statement that they had the bravado to make an album strong enough to back the monster single that preceded it.

Hope was foisted upon the drugged up Scots, who then hi-jacked it, imbibed a lot of drugs and moonshine, couped themselves up in America for a year and made the greatest album of 1973 19 years too late. And from then on out, Primal Scream became Britpop fan’s favorite argument starter.

But what everyone forgets about their greatest moment, “Loaded,” is that that song is simply a remix of what arguably might be their truly greatest song, “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” (and how great of a title is that?!).

The song originally appeared on their self-titled 1989 record, and is a perfect examination of why I regard Gillespie so highly. This is a pure blues/soul song touched up with a bit of guitar flare and northern soul. And while maybe a voice like Paul Weller’s and certainly a voice like Steve Marriott’s or (hell, let’s just go for it) Solomon Burke’s could have put this song into entirely different stratosphere’s, Gillespie’s voice wavers through this in a comparatively mundane fashion.

But the thing is, Bobby BELIEVES what he’s singing. He may not be that much better of a vocalist than the guy who always rips the place apart at your local karaoke night, but he believes in the power of rock and roll and the pain of a broken heart. That’s why even though all those other names might have done unfathomnable jobs to “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have,” Gillespie made it the perfect little pop song it is here. It’s just too bad that a 7-minute remix that, while admittedly awesome, cut all the guts out of the song is what ended up launching the band.

Fortunately, there were some people that appreciated the song, among them Swedish starlet and former Andy Bell spouse Idha, who covered the song as part of her 1994 mini-album A Woman in a Man’s World. The song gets a lilting acoustic finish, that doesn’t even come close to matching the passion of the original, but it’s also played with obvious reverence to the original — and that untraceable personal magic that Idha puts in just about everything she lends her voice to. Heck, if I started strumming “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” and any woman started singing along, let alone one with the looks or voice of Idha, I’d probably be ring shopping the next day.

Still, the original is the ultimate for me. For you?

bobbyidha
Primal Scream vs. Idha
“I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have”

Primal Scream – I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have

Idha – I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have