Radiohead vs. Steely Dan

Why you gotta do the Dan like that, guys? Arguably the best drug rock band of the 70s (other than Camel, right Phil?), with a sound that is always amazingly contemporary, even now. As we all know, Mary Jane never goes out of style. Sure, they didn’t deserve a Grammy, but who gives a shit? Those prick fucks in Radiohead wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the Dan. Maybe, I think, you guys just haven’t smoked enough ganj when you’ve been in the presence of a really expensive, really good stereo system. What do you say we all go over to Tom’s dad’s place with a phat sack: An infallible recipe for changing your mind about Fagen and Becker.

Pussy Does Rule – Stroker Ace

Stroker Ace, opening for Ko and the Midnight Intruders

The Gold Dollar

Feb. 22, 2001

Is there anything better than going out to see a great garage band and getting all fucked up on a Thursday night? Well, yeah, there is: Doing it when a deadbeat friend owes you money and he’s picking up the bar tab. And here in Detroit, chances are, you’ve got at least one deadbeat friend. Mine decided that last night would be a good one to pay me back for some money stolen from my wallet last weekend.

And that’s how I met Stroker Ace. No, not Burt Reynolds and not Bill Neely and Bob Ottum, Stroker’s creators. Not even Curtis Turner, the real Stroker, as he’s been dead for years. I’m talking about Jackie O and Melody Licious (and their boy Dougie Tangent, but I’m not really interested in him because he’s a dude and I’m relatively straight where that’s concerned). This loud Detroit femme trio makes the kind of noise that, if it must be classified according to mainstream taste, goes into same riot grrrl bin as L7, Hole, and the Runaways. But who cares about that—this is the type of shit that, when sitting in a bar with a head full of beer, sounds like fucking Beethoven.

You want power chords, you got ’em. Licious blasts her Gibson SG through some distortion pedal that makes it sound as good as the best guitar rock guitar can. O, despite calling her bass-playing “Sid Vicious-inspired,” is far better than that. She’s no Mike Limbert, but hey, I already told you where I stand where dudes are concerned. Watching Jackie (I can call her that because I introduced myself to her after the show; she gave me a sticker) slouch her Fender Squire. . . Oh man! Let’s just say that between the several cans of Stroh’s and her “Pussy Rules” T-shirt (Which she just had to draw attention to, in the finest rock star fashion, by asking the crowd what they thought of it. I mean, what did she think we thought of it?!?! It was totally awesome; it turned me into a groupie the instant I saw it!), I was feeling all warm and fuzzy inside like some sick sort of puppy love. Except that this puppy is a rabid street mongrel. Funny how the canine metaphor also works for “doggy style.”

The point here is that chicks with guitars rule. Yeah I’m a sicko because I get turned on by every woman who’s ever picked up an axe. Yeah, go ahead and let the feminists bash me, but sometimes it’s nice to be exactly like the little 12-year-old girls who swoon over the Backstreet Boys. It feels good to embrace the kind of love/lust that you know is totally without merit, because dammit, we all want to bed a musician after we’ve seen him/her on stage. Didn’t you read/see High Fidelity?

Who knows whether I’ll dig Stroker Ace quite this much the next time I see them. This was certainly no one-night stand—I’ll be back to check them out again. Maybe the music will overwhelm the sex appeal next time, it certainly has the potential to do so. But I am realistic. I know that deep down in my heart, I don’t care one way or the other, because there will always be girls with guitars and me standing in the audience with a dreamy look in my eyes. These girls, however, seem special right now. It feels like more than just a good loud chick band. Could be just the immediacy of the crush, or it could be the start of something bigger. Do you ever really know? Is there such thing as everlasting true love at first sight?

I don’t know. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how this one turns out. But I did e-mail O this morning…

You think I give a damn about a Grammy?

So it appears that I have missed the Grammys again. Not to get all Woody Allen or anything, but I’m going on a pretty long streak here. Like, I think the last time I tuned in, George Michael was getting something—and it wasn’t just a sloppy kiss backstage from the Pinball Wizard. No, I think it was one of those little Victrolas (talk about a perfect representation of the relevance of the awards) for his seminal work with Wham!, but then again, I might be wrong.

Doesn’t matter really. (Though I know someone out there’s going to be shaking their fist, railing about how the Wham! Rap never got the propers it deserved.) Sex-is-fun George could have even been a presenter that last time I watched, but I don’t care and you really shouldn’t either. What are the Grammys, other than a bad TV show and a useless collection of mediocre music? Why watch, when you could be listening to something good? Or doing the goddamn laundry.

But no, we live in a society where we have to give out “awards.” Where we are so damn worried that we won’t receive the “recognition” for our hard work that most of our “hard work” is directed at things like awards and tributes and garnering praise from others. Internal motivation? Screw it, why do anything just to do it, just because you can? There’s no point if there’s no payoff, right? It’s this attitude that’s a cancer on our society, and it’s this attitude that’s responsible for the never-ending parade of musical clowns that occupy the limelight of our public consciousness.

And I don’t care if the Monkees were a good band (they were), because they’re still guilty of putting the PR ahead of the music. Not everyone is that lucky. (N Synch comes to mind, but maybe I’m just in a pissy mood today.)

Remember Milli Vanilli? Those poor suckers lost their Grammy in a wretched attempt to pretend that there was some sort of integrity to the awards. But why? Take their Grammy away, but let the other similarly talentless who win keep theirs? All because these guys didn’t actually sing? Who cares! It’s not about the singing, it’s all about the award itself. Gettin’ it in the first place, that’s the objective. Playing the music is secondary, it’s just a consequence of the desire to get that little record player statue. These guys did it just the way our society says to do it—worry about the accolades, get them in place, then work on your game. And they were punished?

Rather than being the Grammys’ eternal patsies, they ought to recognize the Vanillis as the true patron saints of the Recording Academy. Hell, how about renaming the award after the late Rob Pilatus, getting rid of the little Victrola and replacing it with a nice two-turntables-and-a-microphone setup?

Girl, you know it’s true.

Come on, Steely Dan?

The following comments re: The Grammys are from ML (extracted from an email to Johnny):

I mean come on, Steely Dan? Are you kidding me? Just because people were overlooked when their music was contemporary (meaning in the category of unlistenable 70’s music) doesn’t mean we need to go giving them awards 25 years later. Oooh, they’re soooo visionary man. Shut up. If the Spin Doctors get back together in 20 years and release an album should we give them the award in 2021? Who wins next year, Bread?

Come on, these two trolls don’t serve any purpose today but to drive arguments in bars about what is good music. I would venture to say that there isn’t anyone who is really into music who doesn’t run hot or cold on these guys. Sure, we all know people who say, ‘yeah, I like that one song’, but you know they don’t know what they’re talking about.

If you really like music you either give them a Grammy or you wish they’d just go back to their hole, and take that awful vocal sound with them.

Bottom line being anybody who cares about music feels strongly about them, great. But aren’t the Grammy’s supposed to be about a little more than that. Isn’t popularity and impact supposed to weigh in there somewhere? I’m sure [someone somewhere will] crow on and on about how that record has changed her life, but do you really think anybody will ever say, “man – that Steely Dan album from 2000 – that was it man. I heard that and everything changed.” Bah!

Elton John vs. Eminem

Jolie was hoping that Elton John and Eminem would do “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” God, I wish!

Check out what Phil’s roommate Moby had to say. Interesting point about extending boundaries, no?

AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT A G THING, BABY

Tragically, the Grammy viewing audience found itself asking all night, “Where’s Soy Bomb?” The utter lack of anything more controversial than another plunging neckline made even host Jon Stewart’s bits about a gay Eminem seem watered-down. The cavernous Staples Center was nicely decorated in shades of purple. But so is a baby’s nursery. After all, it’s the Grammys. It’s like watching a Soviet awards show – always 25 years behind.

2001’s Grammy Awards made an attempt at diversity. Throwing bones to vocal jazz, classical piano, and the Native American community was weak, but at least it was more sincere than last year’s Carlos Santana blow job fest. Unfortunately, whatever momentum gained from these gestures got lost in the shuffle of a poorly produced show with plenty of weak live elements (memo to Jon Stewart: a sardonic smirk doesn’t count as a punchline).

A bizarrely coifed Macy Gray beat out Madonna (nice accent!) in the best pop female vocal category for “I Try.” But hey, do we really need to hear the song again? I wonder if the blue hairs in NARAS thought they were watching another performance by Lauryn Hill. In the role of Britney on Wednesday night was Christina Aguilera, who could have hid behind her mic stand if she hadn’t been lip-syncing. Boring blonde braids flitting about, the JV-squad diva gave us a sneak peek of her Branson future by arriving in a flying Love Toilet and performing (in Spanish?) with an orchestra. Back up the RV, sister, it’s over. Another orchestra helped Faith Hill’s “Breath” sound like the AAA/Adult Contemporary tripe that it is. Looking like an all-growed-up Jessica Simpson, Hill’s 93Lite-FM performance didn’t exactly give some big ups to her Nashville peeps. Shocker: she later won for best country album (Emmylou Harris to waiter: “Get me a drink!”)

U2 performed “Beautiful Day” capably, helped along by a nice light show and Bono’s trademark histrionics. Picking up record of the year honors, The Edge – normally numb – unveiled his Appalachian comedian side. Sounding like an Irish Harry Callas, Edge gave the first documented shout-out to Jubilee 2000, 3-blade razors and frozen pizzas. No one questioned whether his black ‘3’ shirt was related to Dale Earnhardt. After some filler featuring more bad live cueing for Stewart and unlikely celebrity pairings, not to mention about the millionth Unnecessary Carson Daly Siting, Moby took the stage with Jill Scott and Blue Man Group. It’s just like the unassuming Moby to stand back, playing the bass while the Blue Men and Scott conducted an odd re-version of his “Natural Blues.” But those pesky Intel hucksters became annoying about midway through the song, and that was BEFORE they started firing confetti from their drum cannons. Too much percussion, not enough Moby.

While an artist being an afterthought in his own song would be re-visited later during Eminem’s “Stan,” the night’s best performance was its simplest. Sheryl Crow warmly strummed an acoustic guitar as she harmonized with best “new” artist Shelby Lynne. My pal Phil and I were waiting for the moment to be ruined by an orchestra or 18 backup singers. But for once, it didn’t happen. A lone electric guitar player joined with Crow’s acoustic towards the end of the number, giving it a nice Nashville-meets-Tom Waits feel. Some of Waits’ boozy energy was no doubt conveyed by two of the hardest (and hottest) partiers in the business in Lynne and Crow. Roll out the drink cart, boys – Shelby’s in town.

As the show was winding down, most of the fidgeting crowd seemed to be longing for something, anything to be excited about. Honestly, where’s ODB when you need him? After a self-serving speech by the smarmy president of NARAS, who no doubt cornered some unfortunate soul at the after-party and talked her ear off like your smelly Uncle Ned, Eminem took the stage for his fateful pairing with Elton John, King Of All Gays. Em’s rapping during “Stan” was fine; he showed off his unique flow while keeping it street enough for his homies back in Cell Block 6 (But what was with his right hand? It kept fluttering around like Gene Wilder’s shootin’ hand). As “Stan”‘s chorus arrived, John made his appearance, emerging from behind a set piece castoff from the last stage production of “Star Wars.” The song continued with terrible censoring, and ended without fanfare. The two men raised each other’s arms in triumph, looking like a homophobic Reagan greeting a gay Gorbachev at Camp David for a photo op. Meanwhile, somewhere in England, a forgotten Dido cried in her soup.

After such an anti-climactic event as the Elton/Eminem Peace Accords, the record of the year went not to Marshall Mathers, Beck, Radiohead, or even that over-produced fossil Paul Simon. Instead, the cutting-edge trend-setters over at NARAS went with NYC art-rockers Steely Dan, who evidently released an album in 2000. While cheers could be heard in coffee houses full of goatee’d grad students, no realistic music fan could really give a shit about Steely Dan’s triumphant return to our public consciousness. And yet, in a move similar to the Academy giving “Howard The Duck 2” the Best Picture nod, Donald Fagen, et al took home record of the year. I swear, even Steely Dan looked bewildered about their victory. Someone get Jethro Tull on the line, quick! But that’s what happens when an out-of-touch, thick-as-a-brick group of old voters is confronted with a potentially challenging decision. Whatever you think of Eminem, or even Radiohead and Beck, it’s obvious that these artists’ music was a just a LITTLE BIT more vital in 2000 than a bunch of aging math rockers from Greenwich Village.

See you next year. I’ll be over here in the bread line.

JTL

Lester Bangs on Chuck Berry

Here is the latest installment in the series of reviews by Lester Bangs that have remained unpublished since their original magazine appearance. This one is also from the August 9, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone. This time it’s a Chuck Berry review.

Continue reading Lester Bangs on Chuck Berry

Dale Earnhardt vs. Eazy-E

My response to Hunter S. Thompson’s column on Dale Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt’s death has really bothered me a lot. It has affected me personally in a way that seems at first rather trite, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it is totally apropos. The last time I recall feeling this shocked by someone dying, it was Eric Wright. Don’t laugh, but the similarities are there: I was a big fan of both of them and had expected to be enjoying their entertainment for a lot longer. Granted, probably no one else in the world would ever put Eazy E and Big E into the same hero-pool, but I’m an eclectic guy. And it hurts just the same to look at my autographed picture of Dale or hear Eazy bust one of his wack-ass rhymes. But with Earnhardt, it’s much worse. He died with honor, doing something heroic.

That said, what can we take from Earnhardt’s death? What can we learn? Well, most importantly, racing is fucking dangerous. But unlike a lot of dangerous things, it doesn’t become less dangerous the more you do it, but actually more dangerous. Novice racers aren’t allowed in the biggest, fastest cars. Novice racers just physically can’t get the car to perform at its most dangerous level, what is referred to as 10/10ths. But Dale Earnhardt wasn’t just a 10/10ths driver, he drove at a Spinal Tap 11. The guy was the hardest-charging, most talented and driven driver out there. He would do anything to win. That’s why he was my favorite. That’s why meeting him and having lunch with him in November was one of the coolest things I have done in my life. That’s why I am so upset about his death.

But I’m also upset because the guy was a classic horse’s ass who raced in the classic horse’s ass series. He wore an open-faced helmet. He refused to wear a HANS device (neck and head support). Yeah, they were restrictive. Yeah, they would change his field of vision. Yeah, they weren’t part of the “good old days.” But neither are the cars, the restrictor plates, the aero package, or the entire show. The sport has changed and some of this new stuff might have saved Earnhardt’s life, just as some of this new stuff is probably what contributed to killing him. We’ll never know if an unrestricted engine with full horsepower would have allowed him to get the traction or miss the bump and not crash. We’ll never know if his head injuries could have been prevented by the safety equipment he wasn’t wearing. It really doesn’t matter anyway; he’s still dead.

People die racing. They always have and they always will. But this time, it feels different because it is. To understand, you have to understand NASCAR in a way that the mainstream media will not report. NASCAR is a redneck organization. These guys are not terribly smart, they are not business people, they are not professionals, they are not even city people. The motherfuckers at FOX are. So are all the others that form the financial interests in this sport—they’re also cold-hearted business people and they’re also motherfuckers. The people that run NASCAR do it because they love racing—you would too if you had the chance to drive a car at over 150 mph. (It’s the most exciting thing in the world to race cars, even to watch them in person. Go to a race and see for yourself.) Thing is, racing cars isn’t cheap so you need money to pay for it. That’s where the motherfuckers come in and they’re slowly but surely ruining the sport—shifting the focus away from what made it great, the racing. They want more, always more—more greed, more control, more stupid fascination with numbers and quantitative bullshit at any cost, even the cost of sport, fun, and life. They’re doing the same thing to the NFL, the NBA, etc., but that’s another story entirely.

Sure, despite the redneck nature of NASCAR, there are a lot of smart people within it, mostly talent and genius on the race teams. The smart people, like Dale Earnhardt was, say things like “Restrictor plate racing ain’t racing” and speak out about the fact that 40+ races per year are too many. Smart people like Roush driver Jeff Burton push for mandatory use of the HANS device and the same high-tech seats that they use in open-wheel cars. But these guys are not the people who make and enforce the rules. These guys aren’t the ones that ink the deals with the motherfuckers. These guys aren’t the ones that see their job as protecting the financial interests so that there is a NASCAR. These guys are just the people who are dependent on NASCAR for everything in their lives. It’s like working for a boss that treats you bad, but there’s no other job in town. NASCAR drivers can’t just go somewhere else to race—there’s no other stock car series with any money to support a guy.

So what do I think about Thompson’s column? Well, he’s right on. The WWF crap, the Street Fighter mentality, is certainly to blame, but as you can see from what I’ve written, it goes a lot deeper than that. There’s a lot of factors that make Dale Earnhardt’s death tragic. Whether the motherfuckers are directly to blame, no, I don’t think they are. But Earnhardt’s death is a symptom of a bad scene that’s brewing. Where safety, driver consideration, fan consideration, the honesty of the sport, and the rules are all being held up to the wrong God. It’s not NASCAR’s history or the feeling of riding the high bank at 180 mph that’s going into the decisions. It’s how many times can they say DuPont in an interview and how much it’s going to cost the network that’s driving things. It’s crap like Fox’s digital erasure of sponsorship on the cars in the broadcast of the Twin 125’s that’s giving everybody headaches, instead of suspension setups. It’s the inability of an organization of people just plain out of their league to deal with the bloodsuckers and vampires. Because this scum will pounce on anything good and new and honest and real and make it packaged for the masses, selling this now-unreal reality to people who don’t even know what real is because they’ve grown up with nothing but TV fakery all their lives. It’s sad too, because if anyone needs something to believe in, it’s NASCAR fans. And it’s being ripped away from them by the motherfuckers.

So what will/should happen now? I don’t know. But I really believe that people know—even the WWF fans know—that life is precious. That life and death aren’t something that you fuck with, that you sponsor, that you market, that you sell. NASCAR fans may be rather uneducated. NASCAR fans may be unpolished. But they aren’t sickos. They’re hurt and a lot of them are going to walk away. A lot of them are going to say that this has gone too far. A lot of them are going to want the motherfuckers to back the fuck off and let the sport be what it is, not continue to try and twist it into Survivor in Cars.

One of the biggest reasons why NASCAR is so popular is that it hadn’t become a made for TV crap-spectacle in the same fashion as other pro sports leagues. Not as bad anyway. It was still somewhat honest, in that the people who participated in it were real. The owners were real. The cars were real. It wasn’t the WWF, the XFL, the NBA, or something created to make people rich. It had pure motivations—a love of thrills, speed, danger. So when you hear people explain Dale’s death away with that famous phrase of his, “That’s just racin’,” ask yourself if that’s really true. Is NASCAR just racin’, or is it a bunch of motherfuckers lining their pockets with whatever they can get their hands on?

Lester Bangs’ Cat Mother

As I mentioned yesterday, here is the first in a series of otherwise unpublished reviews by Lester Bangs. This one is from the August 9, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone, the one with Brian Jones (who just died) on the cover. The band is Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys (who?), and Bangs gives them a positive review.

My favorite part is this paragraph:

“Can You Dance To It?” affirms once again, atop a great chugging funk beat, the perennial Rock and Roll tradition: “If you feel alright/ You know you’re gonna dance, dance, dance all night!” Right! Some of those zombies seen slumping around at rock concerts trying to maintain their cynical, bored cool should be forced to listen to this song again and again until they get the message, the original and essential message of our music, which is: “Shake yo’ asses, people!”

It took me a while to scan this, fix the scanning mistakes, and minimally html-ify it, so while there are more to come, it might take some time. So enjoy!

Continue reading Lester Bangs’ Cat Mother

LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE HIGH-PITCHED

On Monday night in Chicago, Coldplay’s Chris Martin proved that you don’t have to sound like a bear to tear the roof off the sucker.

It’s appropriate that Coldplay’s energy runs through the conduit of Chris Martin. His pale, frail appearance matches the fragility of his band’s lovely pop music. And it IS lovely: plenty of acoustic guitar, and prickly melodies that showcase Martin’s cracked-china falsetto. But the music (and the singer’s) balsa wood appearance belies a muscular center. Monday night, it was Will Champion’s drums that provided the muscle. While Guy Berryman (bass) and Jon Buckland (guitar) hung on in quiet desperation, Champion and Martin made it okay for fat Americans to like pretty music. Hearing a crowd of kids, yuppies, and glum Midwesterners sing along with the gospel-tinged set closer “Everything’s Not Lost” was a sublime victory for what The Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot has called the “soft parade” of new British pop.

From the moment Coldplay took the stage, Martin made it clear that they were sick as dogs. His polite stage banter undercut by coughing and gulps from his water bottle, Martin did his best to hit the high notes that ring throughout Parachutes (EMI/Nettwerk America). And he largely did. Running between his acoustic guitar and keyboard like a skinny, British Buster Keaton, Martin was almost a one-man band. Luckily, Champion’s hard-hitting drums came through with the assist. And with the help of a spectacular light show, the band tore through “Don’t Panic” and “Shiver.” But they never substituted Arena Rock American Style for what they do best: simple, earnest songs that take their own sweet time getting to the rock. This is why it was so great to see The Riviera sold out, and so many people digging Coldplay’s polite brand of voodoo jive. If this show, as well as recent sold-out Midwest appearances by Travis, Richard Ashcroft, and Stereophonics are any indication, The Heartland just might be willing to trade in its aggro-rock and growling lead singers for a bunch of friendly fellows from the UK.

All that aside, the show was still sponsored by Chicago’s modern rock mouthpiece Q101. So a significant contingent – we’ll call them The “Yellow” Brigade – were making their presence felt, lurking in the back by the bar. Despite its popularity, “Yellow” is still a beautiful song, and when it arrived midway through the set, Martin tried his damnedest to pull it off. But his voice was failing, and he broke a string on the acoustic 20 seconds in. Jon Buckland’s utter lack of distortion couldn’t pick up the slack during the song’s quiet verses, so the song suffered. But again, Martin’s nervous energy took over. Discarding the wounded guitar and jumping onto his monitor, he clapped along with the audience as they sang “Yellow”‘s final verse. “Turn into something beautiful,” indeed. And the lighters, they were flicked on throughout.

After two deserved encores, Martin shuffled out onto the stage one last time. And after playing a brand new song, “never played before, anywhere, honest,” the lone blue spotlight followed him as he made one more guitar-to-keyboard transfer. Standing up, Martin slowly sang “what the world…needs now…is love…sweet love…” and with that homage to a like-minded crooner, he waved and was gone. American Badasses take note: wimp-rock’s here to stay, and the kids love it.

JTL