Archive for April, 2010

DEVO: Freedom Of Choice, Use It Or Lose It!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 29, 2010 by pulmyears

Although I’ve been missing the recent reunion tours, I’m still pretty pumped about Devo and their return to active duty…

Something For Everybody, their first new studio album in 20 years is released on June 15, 2010 and I, for one, welcome them back.

They were on Jimmy Kimmel Live about a week ago and first got a peek-a-boo at their new blue Energy Domes (making the red ones of yore somehow obsolete) and their new molded matte gray plastic headpiece/masks.

I was happy to stumble upon the Club Devo website and Facebook pages where you can actively participate in the narrowing down of the song choices for their upcoming album,

Devo are all about focus grouping and surveys to make your experience more enjoyable. Why, Devo’s Scandavian statistician “Jacob” was even side-stage at Coachella, gauging audience reaction:

Jacob greets you when you go to the Song Survey site: and choose from the sixteen song snippets that stream on the site…they need twelve.

While you’re listening, Jacob listens along with you, takes a phone call and at one point enjoys a glass of milk…

And when you’re done, (and you give them all your data and a photo for their data mine!) they’ll show you photo collage of the voting data!

The Jimmy Kimmel Live YouTube Channel has a JKL performance of another of the new DEVO songs, “What We Do”

For more DEVO fun go to



Two Different Stage Events With Great Songs At Their Heart

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 by pulmyears

Lately, I’ve been to a few non rock and roll events, both held in soft-seat theatres and both concerned the use of music in another medium.

Two weeks ago, Liza and I attended a performance of Girlfriend a new musical based on the 1991 Matthew Sweet album Girlfriend (with a couple of songs added from 100% Fun and Altered Beast) at Berkeley Rep Theatre. Now, I’ve been a massive fan of Matthew Sweet and the Girlfriend album since its release so I was dubious and skeptical about seeing the album I loved (and still love) adapted to the dreaded musical stage. I’ll cut the suspense and first tell you that I loved the musical, but let’s go back to why I was dubious. To say that one likes a musical theatre stage adaptation of rock and roll music isn’t to say that they are the same beast. Even if you saw a rock video by Matthew, your experience of the album would depend entirely on the handmade sound of the recording and the intrinsically personal qualities of Mr. Sweet’s intimate and compressed lead vocals. Rock and roll isn’t theatre. Theatre isn’t rock and roll. So the best we can hope for is an original work that merely begins with the songs but goes to the sorts of places that theatre does well and which rock and roll generally does not. (As theatrical as Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell album was, it was not a musical play, it could be adapted as one but that’s not the same thing.) I had this epiphany when I saw Berkeley Rep’s other musical adaptation, Green Day’s American Idiot, in Berkeley last year (it’s now on Broadway). The feeling was that this was a collection of songs – luckily pre-tied together as Billy Joe Armstrong had written it as a concept album in the first place – that were being elaborated upon with an exuberant cast of young adults, kind of a post-millennial, slacker Hair for the era when the M in MTV no longer stood for Music (I think it stands for Montag now). But back to their current musical production, Girlfriend, directed by Les Waters.

Scenes from the merch table at Girlfriend.

I’ll tell you why it doesn’t matter that it isn’t the same experience as the album (which we listened to full blast the next day, reaffirming its greatness!). Music is a mirror. A songwriter can begin writing from whatever their own perspective and life experience is but after the song is complete, the best ones are open to your own interpretation. Archetypes and other imagery of the collective unconscious are one thing but in most pop songs the main images are negotiable in value. Thus I will give away, if you haven’t already heard it, the central awesome thing about Girlfriend, the play, written by former Nebraskan Todd Almond is the pivotal paradigm shift; he’s taken songs into which I’d always insinuated my own heterosexual experiences and transformed them into songs of yearning between two young gay men in the wilderness of a small Nebraska town called Alliance (not entirely coincidentally as Mr. Sweet is himself a transplanted son of Lincoln, Nebraska). So now these songs of youthful longing add up to more than a coming of age story, it’s also a coming out story.

Ryder Bach (in foreground in left picture) and Jason Hite in Girlfriend.

The alienation that infects the best Matthew Sweet songs now seems perfect for a life in the closeted shadows where songs like “I’ve Been Waiting” or “Sick Of Myself” become diary-like confessions from from Will (played with puckish animation by Ryder Bach) and “We’re The Same” becomes a tentative duet between Will and his reluctant baseball jock boyfriend Mike (enacted with believable anguish by Jason Hite). Since the songs aren’t written as dialogue, they are used more like a greek chorus to explain the interior feelings the boys experience in their journey out of the closet and out of Alliance, Nebraska itself. Band leader Julie Wolf’s live four piece, all women ensemble rocks out at the back of the stage for the entire show and their arrangements stick very close to the two guitars, bass and drums rock sound on the Sweet albums.  It shouldn’t work for me, but damn if I didn’t smile when they finally hook up. My only niggling complaint is that they have split the piece into two acts, but most of the tension builds to the two-thirds moment in the play, then after a brief and needless intermission, it’s back for a short second act in which very  little new happens. Maybe it should have been either one long act or they could have had something else happen in the last section (perhaps one of the boys could have been sent to one of those “pray-away-the-gay” camps and sing “Divine Intervention.” Still, I’d recommend the show, just remember, it’s not the same as the album – it’s an altered beast.

Next, on Saturday April 24th, Liza and I went down to the Kabuki Sundance Cinema to see songwriter/producer and music supervisor T-Bone Burnett in conversation with film critic (and general pop culture commentator) Elvis Mitchell as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

It was a relaxed but lively discussion, touching on the motivations and thought processes involved in many of Burnett’s best known and best loved film soundtracks and scores from his very first, The Big Lebowski for the Coen Brothers, up through his other Coen soundtracks including O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Ladykillers as well as other memorable films he’s done like the Johnny Cash/June Carter biopic Walk the Line, the Lennon/McCartney fantasia Across the Universe, Anthony Minghella’s U.S. Civil War drama Cold Mountain up to his recent Academy Award winning work on the Jeff Bridges film, Crazy Heart for which he also produced the Best Song, “The Weary Kind.”

He also talked working with Wim Wenders on the film Until The End oOf The World. One of the things that made the event so special, besides the exceptional hosting job from Mitchell, who kept the whole thing moving nicely and never seemed to not know what was being discussed, was the use of selected “film clip package breaks” illustrating certain score moments from Burnett’s projects. There was this gospel chorale scene from The Coen’s O Brother Where Art Thou:

And this scene from Julie Taymor’s film, Across The Universe featuring Jim Sturgess singing “Strawberry Fields Forever”:

He talked about how The Coen’s approached to work on the very first film he worked on with them, The Big Lebowski.

The Dude (Jeff Bridges) gets his milk on in The Big Lebowski, Burnett's first gig as music supervisor.

One package was devoted to a few clips of films that had influenced Burnett – for good or ill – in his work. Among these the 1957  Elvis Presley jukebox film Loving You, for the kinetic use of realistic performance on film in the song “Got A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do”:

Rita Hayworth faking the guitar (badly) on “Put The Blame On Mame” in the 1946 film Gilda:

and Lauren Bacall “singing” along with Hoagy Carmichael in the 1944 film To Have And Have Not.

Forgive me, but I was sort of proud of myself that during the Q&A portion, I asked T-Bone if the 1967 film Bonnie & Clyde, with its bluegrass Flatt & Scruggs soundtrack, had influenced him in his own soundtrack choices.

T-Bone seemed genuinely caught off guard by the question, but Elvis Mitchell perked up and jumped on it, explaining the rural music connection and why my question made sense. After that, T-Bone “got it” and I sensed that he’d forgotten just how much he had in fact been influenced by Arthur Penn’s  gangster film until that very moment. Like I said, forgive me for making this about me, but I left the theatre a little proud to have helped Mr. Burnett remember that. It was a great seminar and both he and Mr. Mitchell made the time fly by. Thank you San Francisco International Film Festival for making it happen.

Your Name Here: Part Two! More Namesongs (With YOUR Suggestions)

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27, 2010 by pulmyears

Yep, it turns out that a heckuva lot of songwriters name their songs after somebody else. So we’ve moved into Part Two country.

In Part One, published yesterday, we featured around fifteen or twenty of them, and thanks to you the readers (most of my Facebook friends) we have tons more. And hey, keep ’em coming but to this blog and not my Facebook page, I’m going to curate them in groups, so don’t fret if your suggestions don’t make it on today’s list. This could easily be a recurring feature, do note however that one of the factors that makes it easier to include a title here is the availability of a YouTube posted video for the song mentioned, so there’s that to consider.


Why doesn’t every band have theme song, imagine a jaunty “We’re Led Zeppelin” or a bouncy “I’m Wayne Newton”?

Well some bands have either named their song after their band or their band after their song, as did Big Country, who gave us

“In A Big Country” (I chose the audio only clip because the quality was awesome)

Talk Talk “Talk Talk

They Might Be Giants “They Might Be Giants

Wilco “Wilco (The Song)”

The Beatles “The Ballad of John & Yoko” (which is, after all, John singing about himself, albeit with only Paul from the other Fabs).

The Clash of course went out on the airwaves, “interrupting all programs,” to proclaim “This Is Radio Clash”

Todd Rundgren’s Utopia did the prog rock epic “Utopia Theme”

and a more scaled down lineup did “The Road To Utopia”


The Specials AKA gave us one of the best, and you can dance and get free to it!

“Free Nelson Mandela”

Which reminds me, Peter Gabriel and “Biko”

John Vanderslice has a nifty little song about Microsoft founder Bill Gates, called “Bill Gates Must Die”…

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark sang a little ditty about “Joan Of Arc”:

They Might Be Giants once again seem to have a knack for this sort of thing,

“Meet James Ensor” a song about “Belgium’s famous painter!”

“James K Polk” (former U.S. President a/k/a “Napoleon of the stump!”)

And TMBG side project Mono Puff continues this presidential fervor with “Nixon’s The One”

John Lennon, in full protest song mode wrote about both Angela Davis, “Angela”, and the jailed White Panther and former MC5 manager,  “John Sinclair”

Paul Simon has been known to immortalize a name or two in song, one of my faves (I can’t find on YouTube) is “Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War” but I did find this clip for another name song by Simon:

“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”

Good old Jonathan Richman, and the Modern Lovers, sang of “Pablo Picasso”:

And The Cult appear to be channeling The Scorpions on “Edie (Ciao Baby)”, their power ballad tribute to Andy Warhol’s ill-fated starlet, Edie Sedgwick:

With her usually ethereal indecipherability, Elizabeth Fraser and her fellow Cocteau Twins sing the praises of 4AD c0-founder Ivo Watts-Russell in “Ivo”

The Eagles rocked the rebel with good cause in “James Dean”

Ex Velvet Undergrounder and producer John Cale has a few name songs, including one about author “Graham Greene” (couldn’t find a clip) and this epic one based on Henrik Ibsen’s title character, “Hedda Gabler”:

Hirsute rock and roll deejay Wolfman Jack has been amply recognized in song:

“Wolfman Jack” by Todd Rundgren


“Clap For The Wolfman” by The Guess Who

Madness paid homage to fellow cockney “Michael Caine”

And since this had to end sometime, I’ll leave you with the harmlessly charming  Bananarama and “Robert DeNiro’s Waiting”

Like I said, there’s tons more so don’t be surprised if this segment is TO BE CONTINUED…


It may not be the most up to date music site on the web but it is the only one that is hand made, fresh daily, by me, Paul Myers.

Your Name Here: Songs Named After Other People, Part One

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26, 2010 by pulmyears

The other night, MGMT was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live .

For their first song, they chose “Flash Delirium” from their new album, Congratulations, but in their second song slot they went with “Brian Eno,” a kind of trippy tribute song with the lyrical tag “We’ll always be a step behind him, he’s Brian Eno!”

This made me think of all the songs I know where a musical artist sings about another musical artist (or a personal hero from any field) in the title. Recently, after the death of Alex Chilton, I think we all heard The Replacements song, “Alex Chilton” quite a bit, but it’s a good one so here it goes again…

This always makes me think of how They Might Be Giants had a song called “We’re The Replacements”:

Here’s a Lala link to that song

We’re The Replacements – They …

And if that link doesn’t work (and I’ve been told that it might not in Canada), here’s a live clip from a Barnes & Nobles instore…

TMBG also did a song called “XTC vs. Adam Ant” but I can’t find a good video (seek it out for yourself) for that so let’s move on…

Years back, David Bowie latched on the whole cult of the famous name drop with his song “Andy Warhol”, ever the progressive Bowie updated that in this 1996 tour clip:

and of course Bowie also gave us “Song For Bob Dylan”

The Dandy Warhols reckon they always wanted to be as “Cool As Kim Deal”

I’d never heard of the band Crash Into June but Amy, on Facebook, suggested their song “Pete Ham”, which is of course about the late songwriter and singer from Badfinger

Who could forget Billy Bragg’s “Levi Stubbs’ Tears”?

Then there’s Scissor Sisters who dance about and sing of “Paul McCartney”

Here’s a very drunk Ian Dury doing “Sweet Gene Vincent” allegedly from The Old Grey Whistle Test…

“I never liked George Michael much,” sang Wham! fans Black Box Recorder, “although they say he was the talented one…” in this lovely little song about the other one, “Andrew Ridgley”

Half Man Half Biscuit sang about “Joy Division Oven Gloves,” which sort of fits here…

Teenage Fanclub love singing about other people first it’s Neil Young in “Neil Jung”

and then about The Byrds’ “Gene Clark”

And while Robyn Hitchcock’s “Queen Elvis” and “Madonna Of The Wasps” sorta count, I’m playing “The Wreck Of The Arthur Lee”:

House Of Love crossed off two bands at once with “Beatles And Stones”

Oh and Living Color want to remind you that “Elvis Is Dead”


Finally, before we go, my pal Chris Wardman told me about this song, “Stephen Hawking” by The Year Of, and while I couldn’t find a YouTube clip, I did find another Lala link, hope it works on your end:

Stephen Hawking – The Year Of

NEW FRIDAY FEATURE: Rock Docs And Biopics!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 by pulmyears

Yesterday, when I was going on about the new Ian Dury biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, I touched on the subject of rock documentaries (factual non-fiction) vs. biopics (dramatic recreations). It reminded me that I’m always making suggestions of rock films (in both categories) to my friends as the weekend comes up. So I have decided to begin my first weekly feature, Rock Docs & Biopics, to throw out a few titles as the weekend approaches. Your video store may not have them in time for the weekend, you may have to use Netflix or whatever service to order them for NEXT weekend, but hopefully these features will give you something to look for – and look forward to seeing – on the weekend. (One caveat, all titles discussed must be commercially available on DVD, although I will from time to time give a little shout out to a relevant out of print or unavailable title.)

I think it would be useful to group certain titles by broad thematic links, this way you could make mini-film festivals and really have fun with it.

Today’s feature: Exploding Drummers and Stock Guitar Solos – Tales Of Dysfunctional Bands

Academically, it could be successfully argued that all bands are dysfunctional, so this category may be misleading. But what I’m going for are films that show a band (sometimes fictional) either breaking up or at least breaking down. 


Seeing as one of the greatest “warts and all” rock documentaries ever to capture a band in mid-breakup is still not available on proper DVD release, I’ll only refer to it in passing here. Paul wants George to play it a certain way, George wants to be anywhere but here. Ringo goes AWOL and John visibly rankles everyone else by making every day Bring Your Conceptual Artist Wife To Work Day. Culled from over a hundred hours of tense footage, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg still managed to cobble together a happy ending of sorts with the famous Apple Studios rooftop concert sequence, truncated by the arrival of the Five O’s, but not before John leave us with what will be his last ever words uttered from a Beatles stage, “On behalf of the group and myself, I hope we  passed the audition.” You did, John. You did. Suffice to say, it was the gold standard for many years in terms of uncomfortable moments mixed in with musical numbers. Come on Paul and Ringo, you KNOW we’ll buy it (haven’t we proved that with the box sets last year?) so get on it, guys.

The only non-fiction film that comes near it has to Rob Reiner’s celebrated “mockumentary”…


“Yes,” intones Christopher Guest’s Jeff Beck-like lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel, “but this goes to 11…so it’s one louder!” It’s funny because it’s true. Musicians were among the the first to latch onto this uproarious ensemble parody of the rock and roll music industry –Reiner’s directorial debut –but like the slow and steady rumble of the bass lines from Tap’s “Big Bottom”, word soon spread to fans of comedy films at, um, large. The Tap, as fans came to know them, were a fictional band, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t real for it’s creators, Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, all of whom had grown up loving rock and roll, but being comedy writers, they could never take rock excesses too seriously. Reiner’s Scorsese-ish onscreen director character Marty DiBergi (his visible  fan worship a clear homage to Scorsese’s in The Last Waltz) attempts to interview the Tap on the eve of their Smell The Glove tour, as everything goes pear shaped around them from the all black album cover,  “It looks like death,” opines McKean’s David St. Hubbins, to comically incorrect Stonehenge models and mysteriously changing herpes sores. Underneath it all, however, is a heartfelt tribute to the enduring fantasy of rock and roll brotherhood and the enduring friendship of Tufnel and St. Hubbins.

It seems almost ironic then, that the closest real life comes to Spinal Tap is a non-fiction documentary featuring a drummer actually named Robb Reiner.


Director Sacha Gervasi captures a band, Toronto’s Anvil, who missed their big break and in the process somehow bends the river of fate, giving them something that most band’s never get, a second chance. You start out laughing, just a little, at leader guitarist/singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow, whose never-say-die attitude steamrolls his band, particularly his drummer and best friend for life Robb Reiner, ahead to a future that increasingly only he can see. And yet, we begin to root for these metalllic Seabiscuits and can’t help but fall in love with Lips and as he refuses to put aside his rock and roll dream. Never has a feel-good picture felt so sweaty and cold in the “all hope is lost” sections, but Gervasi does a deft job of turning it around just when it all gets too Tappish. By the end of this film, you’ll be air-shredding along to “Metal on Metal” or “Thumb Hang.”

Which brings us to a non-fiction metal doc from the entire other end of the success spectrum.


Imagine if, instead of breaking up before our eyes in Let It Be, The Beatles had instead hired a California “Life Coach” and hugged and clawed out their differences on film. Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky had previously worked with a trio of complicated siblings in their documentary  Brother’s Keeper, but to be fair that film –which deals with a trio of mountain men hillbilly brothers who sleep together – was a lot less in-your-face! Beginning with the departure of Metallica bassist Jason Newstead on the eve of the band’s rehearsals for what would become their St. Anger album, Some Kind Of Monster follows what happens next as amiable producer Bob Rock fills in for the sessions, trying to forestall the inevitable pink elephant in the room. The long layover has turned into a bad hangover as drummer found Lars Ulrich begins to challenge guitarist singer James Hetfield for control of the band. Meanwhile, Hetfield comes to terms with his chronic alcohol abuse and while he’s getting sober, he’s not having Ulrich’s intensity. A clash ensues, leaving pacifist third member, lead guitarist Kirk Hamnett to try and make peace like the innocent child of a messy divorce. Enter corporate relationship therapist Dr. Bruce Towel, who insinuates himself into the band’s working dynamic while taking in a $40,000 a week for his open-ended services.

It all culminates in Metallica’s live comeback show, with new bassist Robert Trujillo at San Quentin Prison, a fitting metaphor for a band trapped by their own mega-success. The same could not be said for our last band today…

DiG! (2004)

What happens when you’re the most important band on earth, but hardly anyone else thinks so? Well, if you’re Brian Jonestown Massacre‘s messianic leader Anton Newcombe, you fight with your bandmates, you fight with your friends band, and you fight with yourself. Ondi Timoner’s documentary was shot over seven years and culled, she says, from over from 1500 hours of footage. It chronicles, in painful detail, Newcombe’s erratic behaviour and dealings his bandmates and his love/hate relationship with his rivals band, The Dandy Warhols, who are climbing to (temporary) major label success and driving Newcombe insane with jealous rage in the process. Touchingly, this is a source of chagrin for Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor, who loves the Massacre so much that no matter how much Anton calls him a sellout he still cares, enough so that he narrates the film. Fascinating stuff.

Get viewing.

Please use the comments section to share your thoughts on any of these films, or to tell me about a dysfunctional band movie (hopefully available for rental) that I haven’t mentioned, and tell me why I should see it.

All My Brain And Body Needs: Movie Night With Ian Dury

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 by pulmyears

“There are a couple of ways to avoid death…one is to be magnificent.” – IAN DURY (1942 –2000)

Last night, Liza and I watched the recent Ian Dury biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, starring Andy Serkis, who gives his Dury a theatrical cheeky chappy intensity pitched somewhere between Joel Grey in Cabaret in John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

First I just wanna say that I’m becoming increasingly dubious about biopics. On the one hand, if you care about the life and music of an artist (Johnny Cash say, or Joy Division) it can be fascinating to watch dramatic recreations of the life of that artist, with contemporary actors bringing those stories to life. On the other hand, if you care about the life and music of the artist (Buddy Holly say, or The Runaways) you may not want to see contemporary actors attempting to impersonate those artists and may do better with a well-made documentary instead. Still, the real power comes from what we’ll call “sympathetic liberties”, meaning that if a team of filmmakers (writer, director, actors and music supervisors) can come up with a depiction that not only tells the straight story (as a documentary already handles quite well, thank you) but goes further and somehow implies more meaning about the story (using  arty cinematic diversion and impressionistic images) maybe these films become a deeper window on which to contextualize the music itself. Which is after all why we show up for these things.

I think this all dates back to Bob Fosse‘s jazz-handed auto-biopic All That Jazz (1979), which appears to have, indirectly or otherwise, established a new template for macabre and impressionistic biopics. That template was reconstructed with Michael Winterbottom’s 2004 feature, 24 Hour Party People, which merely begins as the biography of Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson before taking a comic detour into The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour land, and has forever derailed the strict narrative form of biopics.

“People like me don’t want sympathy, they want respect,” Ian Dury.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, directed by Mat Whitecross from a dark fantasia of a script by Paul Viragh, will first make you grit your teeth before taking you on brutal and fast-paced ride (in a transit van) through the life and career of rock poet, lothario, genius, idiot and polio survivor (the word “victim” could never apply) Ian Dury, who died from complications due to cancer ten years ago. Here’s the trailer for the film:

The first jarring image is that of Andy Serkis, who looks and sounds like Dury, or rather a dramatically enhanced Dury. His gruff tone, his limp, his bawdy music hall banter, it’s all there as the spotlight opens on a smoky burlesque soliloquy and quickly moves to a brilliant, but disorienting, animated title sequence (by Sgt. Pepper cover artist Peter Blake) which rushes us through shrieking saxophones, whizzing smash cuts and various band member sackings, all of this to convey that our protagonistic is “Not A Man To Be Admired”. That’s right, it turns out Ian Dury could be a right selfish bastard. Apparently this is well known, and elaborated on in depth in Will Birch‘s new and critically acclaimed book, Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography. “Love the art,” my songwriter friend Bob Kemmis once sang, “Not the artist. It’s safest, it’s smartest.” And this is true of Whitecross and Viragh’s films, which goes to Felliniesque lengths to demonstrate that Dury was a bad husband, a dictatorial band leader with mood swings as mercurial as his flair for wordplay was brilliant. Apparently, though, besides an on again off again working relationship to his musical foil Chaz Jankel (played amiably if two-dimensionally by Tom Hughes), a few moments of artist peer tenderness with his estranged wife Betty (wonderfully realized by Rushmore’s Olivia Williams) anda combustibly passionate relationship with his mistress Denise (Naomie Harris), his strongest relationship appears to have been with his son, Baxter, played with depth and subtlety by Son Of Rambow star Bill Milner. Baxter, who has endorsed the film, was there for all of it. In fact, we have photographic evidence of this as he was the little boy standing beside Dury on the cover of his iconic New Boots And Panties album, the shoot for which is re-created in the film (See Serkis and Milner, inset).

I have to admit, I hated this film for the first thirty minutes. Then I just hated Ian Dury. Then, because I have the patience of Job, I stuck it out and started to realize that I was learning a lot (through chaotic images) about the life an underappreciated artist (and prick) who’s story was being told in a wild and crazy style befitting a man who not only wrote the song “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” but also wrote “Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3.”

In Nick Hornby’s excellent book, 31 Songs, released in North America as Songbook, Dury’s  “Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3” comes in at Number 22, and the author goes as far as suggesting that the song would be an appropriate replacement for the British national anthem: “Dury’s song is a reminder that there is (was?) a different British heritage, something other than Cool Britannia and Merchant Ivory. [The song] mentions Health Service glasses (we still have a Health Service), and the Bolshoi Ballet (we never had a Red Scare) and singing along to Smokey (we love, have always loved, our black American music – indeed, we have turned into its curators – and we never thought that Disco Sucked)… and when Ian Dury gives thanks, in that art-school Cockney voice, for ‘something nice to study’ it almost breaks your heart: self-teaching, too, is part of our twentieth century history…” Summing up, Hornby declares that, “For a piece of funk whimsy,’Reasons To Be Cheerul’ is culturally very precise, if you listen to it closely enough; whether it refers to a vanished golden age, only time will tell.”

Only time will tell if I loved this film or was just stunned into submission (it’s only been 18 hours since I saw it), but I have to admit, Andy Serkis’s performance made a strong impression on me and key plot points (the whole scandal over Dury’s “Spasticus Autisticus” being banned by the BBC) made me hanker to read Birch’s book and re-listen to the original albums. Maybe that’s all you can hope for from a biopic. But of course, now I want to seek out a real life documentary.

What about you? Do biopics work? Do you prefer documentaries? What are your favourite biopics or docs? Who got it wrong? Let me know in the comments section.

And now, here’s the real Ian Dury, for your musical enjoyment:

The Kids Are Alright – Part 2: Hand Me Down Genes

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 by pulmyears

Welcome to Part 2 of our look at the musical offspring of well-known musicians, which I call The Kids Are Alright (click here for Part One). Yesterday, I chose to focus on the children of the Beatles most of whom have opted to follow in their father’s Abbey Road troubled footsteps.

Today we broaden the scope to include a few notable non-Beatles kids.

Ziggy Marley, Damian Marley, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright

It’s almost hardly worth devoting new time to the likes Ziggy and Damian Marley (Bob & Ritas boys) or Rufus and Martha Wainwright (children of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle), all of whom appear to have stepped well outside the shadows of their respective parent. Although it is worth noting that Rufus Wainwright, still reeling over the loss of his mother to cancer (clear cell sarcoma) in January of this year, has just released an album, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, that was partly dedicated to her. One song, “Zebulon,” written during the time Kate McGarrigle’s decline, contains the matter-of-fact share “My mother’s in the hospital, my sister’s at the opera.” Here he is on my friend Jian Ghomeshi’s CBC show, Q, performing “Zebulon”.

As a big fan of Split Enz and Crowded House, it’s been a treat to get to know the sons of Neil Finn, Liam and Elroy. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a rather low key and intimate gig by Neil Finn at Largo, along with my brother Mike. Me a somewhat familiar face to the Largo management and my brother a somewhat famous person, we found ourselves lingering upstairs in Flanagan’s office and the band dressing room after the show with Neil, his wonderful wife Sharon and the rest of the family, including Liam and Elroy. Conversation ranged from music to politics to travel, but this is where I first learned that the boys were likely to be following their dad into the business.

Liam Finn. I learned that Liam, the older boy, was already in a band called Betchadupa but I had never heard them. Cut to 2001, and Liam was up there with his Betchadupa band members as part of the Neil Finn & Friends line up on 7 Worlds Collide, recorded at St James Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand. Other players included Johnny Marr, Eddie Vedder, Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway of Radiohead, Lisa Germano and Liam’s uncle Tim Finn.  The kid could play. Cut to 2007, and the newly reformed Crowded House are playing in Oakland with support act Liam Finn, showcasing songs from his then new , and impressive, album I’ll Be Lightning, recorded at his dad’s place, Roundhead Studios. He was doing a lot of live looping, similar to what Jon Brion does over at Largo in L.A. most Fridays, building the drum track himself and then walking over the to various instruments before picking up the guitar and singing his songs. The gimmick is countered by the fact that the kid can write songs! Subsequently, Liam has toured in support of Pearl Jam (at Cousin Eddie’s request) backed by his vocalist pal, Eliza-Jane Barnes.  Here’s the Angus Sutherland directed video for “Second Chance” from I’ll Be Lightning:

and here’s one for “Better To Be” also from I’ll Be Lightning.

Neil and Tim Finn, along with Liam and Elroy Finn, joined in on Neil’s Oxfam charity  record, The Sun Came Out, released last year, which is a continuation of the 7 Worlds Collide team – Johnny Marr, Ed O’Brien, Sebastian Steinberg, Phil Selway, Lisa Germano, Tim Finn and Liam Finn; as well as Don McGlashan, Bic Runga, Glenn Richards, KT Tunstall and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche and Pat Sansone.

Elroy Finn, a drummer, has been coming along as well, having similarly grown up in the wings of Crowded House, and on some of dad’s and brother Liam’s stages too. His band The Tricks, with his friends Anthony Brownson (Guitar), Barney Chunn (Guitar) and Chris McDonald (Bass and Vocals) appear to be on something of a hiatus now, on their Myspace page they describe themselves as a band and write that that they are a psychobilly band, just “four boys from Auckland, New Zealand who enjoy. They’ve played around Auckland at various parties and other events and had a swell time at all of them. Unfortunately their Bass player and singer has moved to Melbourne so could temporarily halt shows and advancements on behalf of The Tricks.” Keep an eye out for Neil’s boy Elroy, Tricks or not.

Here’s a link to The Tricks Myspace page.

Before we move from the Finn family, I want to share with you this a poor quality home movie of sorts, a live bootleg of brothers Neil & Tim singing their old Split Enz hit “I Got You” backed by a rhythm section comprised of brothers Elroy & Liam on drums and bass respectively.

I am also a longtime superfan of XTC, and so it has been fascinating to watch the development of their offspring.

Lee Moulding. Last year, when I was looking to find XTC bassist/songwriter Colin Moulding, to discuss the making of XTC’s Skylarking for my upcoming book A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio (Jawbone Press, Oct 2010), my friend Todd Bernhardt suggested I contact Colin’s son, Lee, in hopes of finding his dad. Well, he did help, but along the way I discovered Lee’s band, The Sunday Dogs, on Myspace. The only YouTube clip I found, for their song “Hicks” starts slow, and doesn’t really kick in until the drums do. Don’t let me put you off, judge for yourself:

Holly Partridge is, like her father Andy, something of an extrovert, which is all the more surprising since most XTC fans still remember her as the Alice in Wonderlandesque little girl described in the charming “Holly Up On Poppy” from XTC’s Nonsuch, or the child singing on “Playground” from XTC’s Wasp Star: Apple Venus Vol. 2. A few years ago, Andy told me about her band The Shebeats, who were just starting out.  They seemed rather good, a sort of post new wave Girls Together Outrageously, as this little promotional clip demonstrates:

Holly appears to have shed the SheBeats, or at least for now, because I just saw this new clip on YouTube credited simply to Holly Partridge. The song is called “In Your Attic” and it really is quite a firecracker. The oranges and lemons haven’t fallen far from the tree, but I hear notes of Sparks and Transvision Vamp in there too. Have a listen to this audio only clip.

Harper Simon, son of Paul Simon and Peggy Harper, is another late-bloomer (see James McCartney from Vol. 1), having only arrived on the scene in the last couple of years. His father’s career and music punctuates his own, and key events in his life are marked by certain albums, he was born the year that Simon & Garfunkel disbanded, 1972, and his parents split up in 1975, just as dad released Still Crazy After All These Years. That’s a big shadow to live under, so forgive him if his own voice bears a mild resemble to dad. Nothing in his life has been ordinary. His childhood friend was Sean Lennon. He had a cameo in a Martin Scorsese film. You know, everyday stuff. After hearing Elliott Smith, Harper Simon, a graduate of Berklee Music School began to seriously look for his own voice. Having collaborated with Edie Brickell and Carrie Fisher, and his dad, it seems that Harper is now fully comfortable with his lineage, enough so that his eponymous album was co-produced by Bob Johnston, who had worked on Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (although he did get Elliott Smith’s old cohort Tom Rothrock to mix it).

He recorded basic tracks in Nashville, he also added stuff in Los Angeles and New York with pals like Inara George, Aaron Espinoza of Earlimart, Petra Haden, Sean Lennon, Yuka Honda, Adam Green, Eleni Mandell and Joan Wasser, Steve Nieve, and veteran session drummer Steve Gadd. And his dad.

Here’s a couple of songs from that album, first up “Berkeley Girl” from an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live.

and here he is doing “Wishes And Stars” on The Late Show with David Letterman.

That’s it for today, in Volume 3 of this special two-parter (I under promised!) we’ll look at Jakob Dylan, Sting’s boy Joe Sumner, Benjamin Taylor and more.

The Kids Are Alright – Part 1: Here Come The Sons

Posted in Uncategorized on April 20, 2010 by pulmyears

I must have written about this before, but it’s fascinating to me to see the offspring of rock people I admire, carrying on the family business. Sometimes it’s literally that, as I wrote about Frank’s son Dweezil Zappa, a couple of years ago, and his Zappa Plays Zappa band that does wildly accurate and respectfully Frank-like covers of dad’s back catalogue.

In this special two part look at rock genes, I’ll start by looking at the fab musical offspring of The Beatles. Since fashion designer Stella McCartney never went into music, it’s strictly here come the sons.

Julian Lennon was the first of John‘s boys to go into music and peaked early, commercially anyway, with a slick Phil Ramone produced record, Valotte in 1984. Perhaps you recall the wistful and vaguely reggae-tinged single, “Too Late For Goodbyes”. While several people whom I talk to speak very  highly of his subsequent albums, The Secret Value of Daydreaming, Mr. Jordan, Help Yourself, I missed them entirely, sad to say.  Some of my friends particularly enjoyed Photograph Smile from 1998, where Julian did not seem shy about the John Lennon blood running through his veins, particularly on this single from that album, “Day After Day” (not the Badfinger song).

I’ll admit that I haven’t kept up with him, but I hear he has a new album called Everything Changes, and is very present on the web these days. Maybe we’ll hear something soon.

Sean Lennon has enjoyed both high-profile and indie cred as a solo artist, one time boyfriend of Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda and as a side man for his mama Yoko Ono. Coincidentally, right around the time that Julian was withdrawing, in 1998, Sean Lennon’s debut, Into The Sun was rising. He’d signed to the Grand Royal label, run by the Beastie Boys Adam Yauch, because, as he told the press at the time, “they were the only label on the planet who didn’t care who my parents are…”

Here’s the song “Home” and a clip directed by Spike Jonze.

His has been a much more divergent path than his half-brother, probably owing to growing up around Yoko and hanging with arty friends like Cibo Matto. He’s been quoted as being more into Brian Wilson than John Lennon, but what is he gonna say?

After 1998’s Half Horse Half Musician, Sean also withdrew for a time but re-emerged in 2006 with a critically hailed album, Friendly Fire, said to be a breakup album (apparently he’d been linked to both Bijou Phillips and Lindsay Lohan). Here’s the expensive looking and cinematic video for “Dead Meat”:

Zak Starkey is not only a drummer like his dad, Ringo Starr, but he’s also a successful one having been a key player in many a “BritPop” act like Oasis, Johnny Marr and the Healers as well as  The Semantics. Additionally, Zak has been  the long time drummer for The Who as well as stints with The Icicle Works, The Waterboys, ASAP, The Lightning Seeds, Face, and even in dad’s  All-Starr Band. Apparently, The Who gig is not a stretch as he was mentored by his “Uncle Keith” as a lad. As you can see in this short excerpt, Uncle Pete reminds the crowd that Zak learned well.

Dhani Harrison continues to soldier away in his L.A. based indie duo, Thenewno.2, and if you can get past him looking and sounding like his dad, and you really should, he’s quite interesting on his own. After his father’s death in 2001, Dhani worked with Jeff Lynne to get George Harrison’s Brainwashed album finished posthumously. He also  played a prominent role in the Concert For George at Royal Albert Hall, on November 29th, 2002. He even played an uncredited role on two unreleased track for dad’s Traveling Wilburys project.

I guess the first time I heard his collaboration with Ollie Hecks, known as thenewno2, which I assume gets it’s name from a running gag on TV’s The Prisoner, was when they released their indie video for “Choose What You’re Watching.” I rather liked the full album, You Are Here, which had been available as an online download for half a year before getting a physical release in August of 2008. A quick search for some video content turns up quite a few audio only clips, but there is this one for “Another John Doe”:

and this one for “Yomp.”

James McCartney , son of Paul only made his live debut last November, at a relatively late age of 32, but seems to have finally summoned the courage to walk in his father’s non-leather shoes. According to various reports, James spent most of his early life “living in a roadcase” (not literally) with Wings until that band folded in 1980. Another interesting side note is that he was almost swept out to sea on a family vacation in 1993. He played drums and is credited with co-writing some songs on Paul McCartney’s Flaming Pie (1997) and Driving Rain (2001) albums and added a guitar solo to a song on his mother Linda McCartney’s posthumously released Wide Prairie (1998). Perhaps due to baldness or an attempt to physically differentiate from his dad, James now goes completely chrome domed, as evidenced in the still shot accompanying this audio only YouTube clip of his song “Angel” from an as yet unreleased debut album.

According to his own press materials, James has spent much of the last two years writing and recording for his forthcoming debut album with producer David Kahne, who worked with his dad as well as Sugar Ray, The Bangles and Fishbone. His own music, James says, “was inspired by The Beatles, Nirvana, The Cure, PJ Harvey, Radiohead – and all good music.  It is basically rock n’ roll, clean sounding and vocal.  We are mixing our album in Sussex and New York.  The words on the album refer to spirituality, love, family, trying to sort out one’s life, and many other things.  I have written the songs over a 10-year period.

James McCartney & sister Stella McCartney

For more information on James McCartney you can click on this link to James McCartney’s official website.

That’s it for this episode. In part two, we’ll look at a bunch of non-Fab children, including Neil’s boy, Liam Finn and Andy’s girl, Holly Partridge.

How I Spent My Record Store Day With Amoeba, Ralph and Jónsi

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2010 by pulmyears

One last word about Record Store Day.
To be honest, this was the first year that I actually celebrated it in public at a Record Store…never too late to start right?

At Amoeba "Some of my best friends are records..."

And I couldn’t have been happier to be living in the Bay Area where we are blessed to have so many great (and world renowned) independent record stores. Naturally, the place to be was Amoeba in the Haight.

Then I got an email from my friend Ralph Alfonso, beat poet, impresario of the indie label Bongo Beat, music industry veteran and more, who was breezing up through San Francisco with his wife Alison E Rogers on their back to Montreal after a week in Steinbeck country, Monterey. And so it was that Ralph and I (with our wives nearby) met up at Amoeba for our Record Date In The Haight.

Ralph and I got caught up as we browsed the bins, naturally he was more concerned with the vinyl jazz and I followed and took iPhone snaps while he became the jazz detective (thumbnails).

Here’s a little Hipstamatic™ collage of the first part of the event (click on thumbnails to enlarge)…

I wasn’t the only one taking pictures.

Although we missed the 12 noon instore by Charlotte Gainsbourg, I was somewhat delighted that we were early for the 2:30 instore by Sigur Ros lead singer Jónsi, there to perform four songs from his achingly beautiful solo album, Go. You could mostly hear a pin drop as Jónsi’s ghostly, vibrato-less falsetto was punctuated with the click clacking of CD security plastic as browsing patrons persisted, like gambling addicts at a bank of casino slot machines.

I couldn’t get very close with my little iPhone…

But YouTube had this video from the show…

I picked up a copy of the Jónsi CD along with that new one by The Living Sisters, called love to live…

Get this music: The Living Sisters is Inara George, Eleni Mandell & Becky Stark

After a day of patronizing one of the best record stores in the world, Ralph and Alison and Liza and I had lunch at Cha Cha Cha and looked over our stuff. If I made just a little more money, I could make every day Record Store Day.

Just Say Yep: The Reasons I Love Yep Roc Records

Posted in Uncategorized on April 16, 2010 by pulmyears

Things are cooking over in Haw River, North Carolina, the headquarters of indie label Yep Roc Records (yes, they have the word “records” in their company name, not Ltd, not the generic Music, not Ent., but records).

“Yep Roc,” says their website, “is a record label for music lovers. Rather than focus on one genre or niche of music, Yep Roc strives to put out records that feature some of the best, most soulful music of any kind… we hope you’ll agree that this is, simply put, unbelievable music. Yep Roc Records believes in the vision of each of our Artists. We strive to serve each project based on its unique characteristics. Through strong promotional and marketing efforts, our goal is to reach as large an audience as possible with each new release.”

Apropos of Record Store Day, I thought I’d just take a minute of your time to shine a little pocket Mag-Lite on YepRoc’s roster and tell you why I like the cut of their jib, mister!

Reason One: They know that mature and vital talent doesn’t have an expiry date.

Are you familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s notion that greatness in any field comes from logging 10,000 hours to perfect it?   Yep Roc get it, and in addition to somewhat newer artists like Liam Finn, Bell X-1, The Sadies, Apples In Stereo, Sloan, and Peggy Sue, they release great music from relative “old timers” like Dave Alvin, Robyn Hitchcock, Nick Lowe, Peter Case, Grant Lee Phillips, Young Fresh Fellows, Apples In Stereo and Paul Weller.

Reason Two: They put out great records.

Here are only a few recent Yep Roc things that have stuck with me over the last year or so.

Robyn Hitchcock: Propellor Time

His new solo album, recorded four years ago at his London home, the album nonetheless features  The Venus 3, Scott McCaughey, Bill Rieflin and Peter Buck plus John Paul Jones, Nick Lowe, Morris Windsor (Soft Boys/Egyptians) along with the Mancunian candidate himself, guitarist Johnny Marr who collaborated on the track he plays on, “Ordinary Millionaire”.

Paul Weller: Wake Up The Nation

This is coming out here on June 1st 2010. A little more chaotic and gritty than some of his more recent stuff, I for one am excited about this return to edgy from The Modfather. Speaking of which, he has enlisted The Jam’s bassist Bruce Foxton on a couple of songs and has an equally curious roster of other guests including, but not limited to Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine), old school session drummer Clem Cattini and the mighty tom toms of Electric Light Orchestra/Move drummer Bev Bevan.

Grant-Lee Phillips: Little Moon

Released last October, this was one of my faves of the year from a frankly under-appreciated L.A. singer/songwriter who has become better with time (10,000 hours?).  Little Moon was exactly like the title, both small and intimate and yet otherworldly all at the same time. In his bio, Grant-Lee admits that he had become increasingly comfortable stripping away most of “the artifice that comes with making a record. My albums are becoming more stark, more unguarded, and more vulnerable. This is the most unselfconscious record I have made – ever.” Recorded in a mere four days (his next should take even longer!), Little Moon was assisted by producer and bassist Paul Bryan, Jamie Edwards on keyboards, drummer Jay Bellerose (Alison Krauss / Robert Plant’s Raising Sand), and drummer Sebastian Aymans.
The string arrangement, by Paul Bryan and played by The Section Quartet, lends a Harry Nilsson-esque quality to my favourite song on the album, “Older Now,” cut live all together with Phillips. In the bio, again, he discussed a “profound change in perspective” in his life after his daughter was born: “I became a dad at 44 years of age,” he says, “My days are different now – there’s less time. I don’t have the luxury of anxiety anymore. I just have to get on with things – write a song, go with what feels good, don’t fret so much over it…that’s a part of why this album was done the way it was. For me, fatherhood also reaffirmed the necessity of play.”

Peter Case: Wig! (releases June 29th, 2010)

Peter Case’s moody new album doesn’t actually come out until June 29th, but I have an advance of it and think it’s pretty cool. This eerie blues-tinged rock record, a detour from his usually more acoustically inclined recordings (which you should get a hold of by the way) and appears to me, in my first listens, to be Case’s distant cousin to Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night. The spectre of mortality lurks deep in the reverb soaked room sounds of this nearly live recording, and for a good reason too. Surviving a near fatal heart scare, and uninsured – in America! – Case’s doctor told him last year that one of his coronary arteries was 99% blocked and he would require immediate open-heart surgery. “I had no idea how I’d pay for it,” Case says in the promotional materials for Wig!, “but the doctors just took great care of me and asked no questions. I owe them my life.” After a double bypass operation, plus a five day hospital stay, he was left with a ” six-figure medical bill later.” But luckily, for him, music makes a lot of friends and many of his – T Bone Burnett, Loudon Wainwright III, Dave Alvin, Richard Thompson, Joe Henry, Van Dyke Parks and many more –  rallied around him to appear at benefit concerts in Austin, Houston and Nashville, plus a three nighter at the legendary McCabe’s in Santa Monica. “My fans and friends,” Case proclaims in the bio, “really bailed me out and came through for me helping with my medical bills. I have a lot to be thankful for.”
The activity and momentum lead to Case writing a new song cycle that was darky, swampier than a lot of his other stuff but somehow a continuation of redemption themes found in all of his work. He even revisits “Old Blue Car” a song which first appeared on his 1986 self-titled debut (which was produced by Burnett). He is joined on Wig! by drummer DJ Bonebrake of X and guitarist Ron Franklin of Gasoline Silvers.
Highlights for me, so far are “House Rent Jump,” “My Kind of Trouble,” “Somebody Told The Truth”, the latter of which sound like a Tom Waits cover of Nilsson’s “Coconut”, tee hee!

I don’t have any Wig! samples to show you yet. So I’ll give you some older Peter Case and send you on your way.


and take a night walk down Pico Blvd.


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