All posts by Stephen Macaulay

“Black Hills that I ain’t never seen”

As long-time readers of this site may recall, there was once a tagline used to describe the ethos of Glorious Noise: “Rock and roll can change your life.”

And now I must report with some sadness that it can change lives in a way that I’d prefer not to imagine.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Ray Davies becoming knighted by the Queen.

And a couple weeks before that I wrote about how Roger Daltrey was working with Rolls-Royce to create a bespoke version of the Wraith motorcar.

Now the two subjects have come together.

The Who version of the Rolls Wraith has come out. It features the artwork of Mike McInnery: the album cover of Tommy is painted on the hood and the birds that are also part of the cover art flit about on the fenders and C-pillars.

But that is but one of nine “Inspired by British Music” cars that has been developed.

Continue reading “Black Hills that I ain’t never seen”

To a Musician Not Dying Young

Recently I was with a few people from southern California who had come to musical maturity in the ‘70s. I learned that there is a robust “tribute” or “cover” band scene there. One of the women I was with had been a backup singer in a Segar tribute band. It seems, she explained, that many of the people in these bands are unsuccessful in getting their own music to break and so they perform—or could that be “pretend”—as others.

So there are bands like the Dark Star Orchestra, the Australian Pink Floyd Show, The Fab Four, Nervana, and multitudes more.

In many cases it is not enough to have a note-for-note rendition of the original band in question, but some of these tribute bands cover themselves in the clothing and the hairstyle of the individual musicians making up the bands in question.

(Of course, the Iron Maidens have a look that doesn’t duplicate the original for obvious reasons.)

We will not see the Beatles again. Not Pink Floyd or Nirvana. And while the situation with the Dead is uncertain, Jerry’s not going to be on stage.

And the music created by the originals is often so good that it exists independently of the people who made it in the first case, so it could be the case that there are several people who go to the clubs who have no idea of what’s being covered and when they leave they go home and download “Katmandu.”

Which is certainly a good thing for all concerned, be it the tribute band, the listener or, in this case, Seger.

But there was a comment that one of the people made that struck me as being odd and in some ways unsettling, a comment that was agreed to by the others in attendance: “Well, we can’t see the originals any more so this is just as good.”

Is it? Really?

Without going all Walter Benjamin and “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical [Digital] Reproduction,” doesn’t authenticity matter?

Continue reading To a Musician Not Dying Young

Jack White in Detroit

Jack White was born in Detroit. He went to Cass Tech High School, which numbers among its alum people including Diana Ross, Alice Coltrane, Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell, and Regina Carter. Good company.

Although White moved to Nashville, once a Detroiter, always a Detroiter.

In 2001 White established Third Man Records. In Nashville.

But what may be more important is the establishment of Third Man Pressing. In Detroit.

Jack White’s company is producing LPs in Detroit. It is a 10,000-square foot factory that “officially” opened on February 25.

It is a production facility that presses hot vinyl between a set of dies into discs that has a capacity of 15,000 records a day.

Although “Detroit” is known for cars, in actuality, there are only two automotive plants in the city limits proper, the Jefferson North Plant where Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos are produced, and the Conner Avenue Plant, where the Dodge Viper is manufactured. Viper production ends this year. So there may be just one car plant.

Detroit. One car plant. Imagine.

(And the company that runs that plant, FCA US, is a part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which is owned by Fiat, which is based in Italy. That car that Eminem drove in that Chrysler commercial a few years back? It was built in Sterling Heights, Michigan, not Detroit. Close though.)

Continue reading Jack White in Detroit

The Pepsi (Non) Challenge

While there may have been some consternation or disappointment that Lady Gaga didn’t take the opportunity at the Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl Halftime Show (PZSSBH) to make a political statement of some sort regarding the Muslim ban, the dissing of two U.S. allies, nominations of an array of Wall Street billionaires to the Cabinet, throwing shade on federal judges, making outlandish claims about voter fraud, or comparing American citizens with Vladimir Putin, did you happen to notice that this was the Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl Halftime Show?

There’s no business like show business and something like the PZSSBH is the biggest business of them all each January on screens across the planet.

It has long been a mystery to me why there are performers like Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. But it is less of a mystery when you figure that there are those who are going to watch the Super Bowl because they like football and so they’re going to watch the Super Bowl, or those who are going to watch the Super Bowl because they are at a party where there are so many and so large screens that it is impossible not to watch the Super Bowl, and then there are those who might click over every now and then to see if they can catch a commercial. Or if there is some performer playing at the stadium with a stage set that is only dwarfed by those used for the Olympics Opening Ceremonies.

You want to sell those people some Pepsi Zero Sugar. You hire Gaga.

Continue reading The Pepsi (Non) Challenge

Is Past Prologue?

For the past several years rock and roll has become profoundly apolitical, particularly vis-à-vis the 1960s when, largely because the war in Vietnam, there was considerable engagement of performers.

There were two signal albums of that period, one that came out in 1969 and the other in 1970, and both have Paul Kantner in common.

In 1970, Kantner formed Jefferson Starship. And at this point I can imagine a sufficient number of eyerolls among all of you reading this such that the centrifugal force could spin an LP.

But before there was “Find Your Way Back” and “Jane” and “Count on Me” and Grace Slick-as-Kim Cattrall in the Mannequin “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,”* there was the original Jefferson Starship, which was arguably what came to be known as a “supergroup.”

Joining Kantner and Slick there were Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Cassady, plus Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, David Crosby, Graham Nash, and David Freiberg.

They came together and created Blows Against the Empire. The Empire in question was pre-Darth Vader. While the album does have a science fiction theme, the whole idea behind it was that the American Empire was something that needed to be escaped from.

But just before that album, Jefferson Airplane released Volunteers, an album that, in effect, was calling out for volunteers not that would join the military and go to Southeast Asia (it is hard to conceive of the fact today that your best friend or your uncle or your boss or your father or yourself could get drafted and sent thousands of miles away to a jungle hell where death was not an unusual consequence), but to get out in the streets. The marches that occurred in Washington and around the world on January 21 were far more common back then. Volunteers were needed frequently to protest against the war.

Continue reading Is Past Prologue?

Bowie Gets Posted

One thing that probably isn’t thought about a great deal—or at all—is the subject of postage stamps. If they’re thought of, it is in the context of suddenly finding oneself in the need of one.

But they can be thought about in relationship to music.

That is, the U.S. Postal Service actually has a broad list of musicians that it has put on stamps over the years. This includes:
• Louis Armstrong
• Ray Charles
• Elvis Presley
• Johnny Cash
• Sarah Vaughn
• Janis Joplin
• Jimi Hendrix

Now it seems that while there is a number of philatelists who collect the first-day covers and press sheets (with our without die cuts), there are plenty of people who, when going into their local post offices in need of stamps and are faced with the choice between a pickup truck and Janis make the Mercedes-Benz choice.

Back in the day when comic books ran ads for things like “X-Ray Specs,” there were sometimes ads for stamps that were—and are—printed by small countries that were trying to cash in on celebrities, whether it was a stamp with a superhero on it or some voluptuous Hollywood star that happened to be in the news. One could argue that that was probably a more sensible approach financially for putting ink on paper than plenty of other alternatives. They’d seize something of topical interest and turn it into a stamp that would certainly never be used.

It used to be that in the U.S. someone had to be dead (see previous list) before they’d get their face on a U.S. Postal System stamp. That changed in 2012.

Which explains things like Harry Potter stamps. After all, the U.S.P.S. isn’t immune to a need for revenue, and presumably a whole lot of Muggles would be more than glad to have a Potter collection stashed away in an album.

Meanwhile, over in the U.K. the Royal Mail has announced that for the first time in its history it is devoting a stamp issue to an individual artist or cultural figure:

David Bowie.

That’s right, there is a set of 10 Bowie stamps that will go in sale on March 14, that include:
• The covers of Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, Heroes, Let’s Dance, and Blackstar
• Four stamps showing Bowie in live performances (The Ziggy Stardust Tour, 1972; The Stage Tour, 1978; The Serious Moonlight Tour, 1983; A Reality Tour, 2004).

Incidentally: the Royal Mail, after 500 years, was privatized in 2015. Clearly its motives are not unlike those of the aforementioned small countries. Or the U.S.P.S., for that matter.

What Do They Know?

One of the things that often happens when a performer—be it an actor or a musician—makes a political point is that there is a degree of dismissiveness among some—even among that person’s fans—, a reaction that has it, in effect, “Oh, she’s just an actress, what does she know?” (Or, as our President put it about Meryl Streep, “one of the most-overrated actresses.”)

We can allow these people to move us in their performances, but somehow that has nothing to do with their intelligence or capability or thoughtfulness. They are “just” playing or singing or acting. What do they know?

Of course, when it comes to the campaigning part of politics, it is all good to have the actors and musicians to come on stage with the candidates to lend support, be they Gary Busey or George Clooney, Wayne Newton or Bruce Springsteen. (Yes, I’ve made loaded choices of supporters of the candidates in the last presidential, but they are no less true.)

When Madonna says “Yes, I have thought an awful lot of blowing up the White House, but I know that this won’t change anything,” you’d think that the 58-year-old performer was going to be in charge of life-altering policies for literally hundreds of millions of people; when a presidential candidate says in a speech of his opponent, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know,” it gets pretty much treated as though, “Oh, it’s just him being him.”

Actors or musicians, the thinking seems to be, really don’t know more than their crafts. Lawyers and real estate developers—they know lots about everything.

Don’t they?

Continue reading What Do They Know?

“A Little Bit Rock and Roll”

Last week I had an encounter with someone whom I never imagined that I would meet—not that I ever even thought about meeting with him. Ever.

I was flying from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas. While in the scrum-turning-into line to board, I paid no attention to the person in front of me until I heard the woman who was scanning the tickets say to him, “I saw your show last week.  I really liked it!”

His back was to me. He was about 5’10”.  Medium build.  Wavy reddish-brown hair.  I glanced at his bag and saw a monogram: “DCO.”

And given where I was and where I was going, it struck me that I was next to Donny Osmond.

As a colleague had been upgraded to first class, and as I was boarding, as was Osmond, in coach, I said to Osmond that I was surprised that he wasn’t flying in the front of the plane. Which led to a bit of good-natured banter between the two of us about flying.

Osmond, of course, is an entertainer. He has been for the greater part of his 59 years, having appeared at age 5 on the “Andy Williams” show.

Continue reading “A Little Bit Rock and Roll”

Queen Elizabeth Catches a Cold

Let’s face it: given that dragons have, so far as we know, all been slain, there isn’t a whole lot left for knights to do. And given that there aren’t a whole lot of functional tasks left for royalty, there are basically symbolic actions for them to perform, such as participating in parades and making unusual hand gestures that are interpreted as waving.

So knights: not a whole lot of call for defense of the realm.

Queens: not much more to do than being royalty.

One thing that has been occurring in Great Britain for nearly 100 years is that the person wearing the crown celebrates the new year with honors—or honours—during which time people who are otherwise known as “commoners” get elevated in rank.

Some people become knights.

Nowadays, it seems, defending the realm of Great Britain is all about financial defense. Sir Paul McCartney is probably not going to be called upon to draw his sword. Chances are, it is more about how he’s helped out the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the past many years.

Let’s face it: when it comes to popular music, the Brits have clearly been doing a better job of coming up with new acts, and sustaining old ones, than any other country on earth, at least from the standpoint of their having achieved popularity and/or visibility. That is, based on statistics alone there are probably Chinese analogues of the Beatles and the Stones, though those of us in the west don’t know about them.

Continue reading Queen Elizabeth Catches a Cold

Drive: John Lennon’s hearse up for sale

With the exceptions of Jan and Dean (well, Dean, anyway, as Jan moved on in 2004), The Cars, Gary Numan, and Sammy Hagar, I find the seeming fascination with and apparent love of automobiles and rock musicians to be somewhat incongruous. Sure, the Futurist Manifesto hailed the automobile as the symbol of something that is more dynamic that those things preserved from the past and would leave them covered in its dust—“We declare that the world’s wonder has been enriched by a fresh beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car with its trunk adorned by great exhaust pipes like snakes with an explosive breath … a roaring car that seems to be driving under shrapnel, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace”—but (1) Marinetti wrote that in 1909, years before Bill Haley saw the light of day in Highland Park, Michigan (which, curiously enough, is where the second Ford Motor factory was located) and (2) there is evidently a deep longing for many rock musicians, both practicing and arthritic, to be entombed in a museum near Lake Erie.

We recently saw that Roger Daltrey is working with Rolls-Royce. And we cited a Rolls that had been owned by John Lennon.

Now we learn of another Lennon automobile, a 1956 Austin Princess Type A135 that will be going on the auction block at the 46th Annual Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction, to be held Jan. 14-22, 2017, which is essentially the auto auction of all auto auctions.

The vehicle was extensively used in the 1972 documentary Imagine.

It is a somewhat bizarre car in that unlike most ordinary Austin Princesses (note: Austin was a British car manufacturer; this is not a reference to some cotillion in the capital of Texas), this one was fitted out by coachbuilder Arthur Mulliner Ltd. of North Hampton (if you were to draw a line like this: \ from Birmingham to London, North Hampton falls in the middle). . .with the body of a hearse.

Mind you, this wasn’t some Lennonian prank or tweak; the vehicle was built as a hearse and operated as one by Ann Bonham & Son mortuary.

Continue reading Drive: John Lennon’s hearse up for sale