Archive for July, 2010

Psycho? Killer!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 18, 2010 by pulmyears

Photoshop simulation of Psycho at Davies Symphony Hall.

Last night, Liza and I went to the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco to hear Donato Cabrera conduct the SF Symphony as they performed Bernard Herrmann’s riveting score for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 suspense classic, Psycho, accompanying a full screening of the film.

"... Bates? (Tony Perkins), ...wouldn't even harm a fly!"

Having only ever seen the film on television, with commercials, I had never even remembered to rent it on DVD so that seemed reason enough to see an unedited (save for the prescribed Intermission) print of this iconic film, which I’m afraid had been so iconic that I had neglected to examine it fully. Until last night, that is. Forgive me being late to the party, but what a masterpiece! Tony Perkins was masterful as the titular psycho, Norman Bates, his dancing eyes and quivering jaw only hinting at the murderous delirium of his tormented inner dialogue, in contemporary comparison, his look is a cross between Eric McCormack and a Mark McKinney characterization from The Kids In The Hall. You cannot take your eyes of his for the whole time he is on screen. Janet Leigh, also, wowed with her sharp eyed frowns and longing stares, in fact, her Marion Crane spends a great deal of her screen time staring at mirrors or looking out windows, wordlessly conveying a lonely, desperate woman in need of an exit strategy. Sadly, in lieu of a strategy, Bates helps her with the exit part. Martin Balsam expedites the pace as a nosey Private Investigator and Simon Oakland is (perhaps unintentionally) hilarious as an overly expository police psychologist whose post mortem analysis fills in any of the remaining blanks for the audience in a speech that goes on and on but never seems less than entertaining. About that unintentional  humour. The campness of some dialogue, or at least their perceived irony owing to the changes in times and the stilted tones of movie acting, give the film some unexpected comic relief but the tension builds and builds and even though we all know what’s going to happen (shower? Why not?), it’s still shocking by the time the main plot points are unraveled. Joseph Stefano’s screenplay,  adapted from Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel (a fictionalization of the crimes of real-life serial killer Ed Gein) moves along perfectly, and Hitchcock knows how to pace everything masterfully (of course, we now expect that of him, but its nice to know he actually earned his reputation!). He works in tandem with cinematographer John Russell and their use of full screen facial closeups and intrusive camera angles, and the revolutionary idea to shoot in black and white so that the blood would be more evocative than gruesome, add up to a visual treat. But that’s just the pictures, what of the sound? Academy Award winning composer Bernard Herrmann, of course, was one of the great innovators in the field of film music and, in addition to Psycho, he worked with Hitchcock on North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo, but he also lent Orson Welles some sonic majesty for Citizen Kane and scored The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Cape Fear, and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. I would venture that his tendency toward  stabbing cellos inspired John Williams in his own iconic score for Jaws.

One thing I noticed last night, with the San Francisco Symphony, was that no matter how chaotic Hermann had written certain dramatic sections, there was still a lot of space and minimalism. Tension and dynamics. The mark of a composer in control, who knew not to overwhelm the image on the screen. Note how Hermann holds back the music entirely in the famous “shower scene” until the entry of the killer, before it’s suddenly all shrieking violins and funereal cellos…

I now want to go out and get the DVD of Joshua Waletzky’s documentary Music For The Movies: Bernard Herrmann , which was on sale at Davies last night but which I decided to wait and see later. Here’s a clip of that documentary, where other composers discuss the genius of Herrmann’s work.


Laurie Anderson’s Expertise

Posted in Uncategorized on July 15, 2010 by pulmyears

It had somehow slipped my mind, but last night I was reminded that Laurie Anderson is back on the pop scene. The archetypal New York based performance artist, singer songwriter and social commentator (and main squeeze of Lou Reed) first emerged from the gallery world, where she’d toiled since the late ’60s when she debuted her car horn symphony piece, to the pop stage with her still jawdropping single “O Superman” in 1981.

The album, Big Science, released in  1982 slightly after  NY art rock’s coming out party (post Talking Heads), was “smash” of the new genre (in the Billboard Top 200, at least). But whereas David Byrne publicly appeared (at the time) to be awkward or aloof, Laurie Anderson was (and is) witty, arty, intellectual, but overall she was friendly as hell, even folksy, despite her high tech presentations. There’s humanity in her work. That’s something a lot of the other performers had forgotten, if you want your audience to share the big ideas while you’re dropping the big science, “you’ve got to”, as Kurt Vonnegut Jr once advised, “be kind.”

It was natural that she’d collaborate with Peter Gabriel, and here it is… “Excellent Birds (This Is The Picture)” from her 1984 album Mister Heartbreak (this time going to #60 in the US).

Her concert movie Home of The Brave (1986) is a must-see, and marked the end the first “pop” era for her multi-disciplined and ongoing career.

She has continued to make records – Strange Angels (1989), Bright Red (1994), a spoken word record called The Ugly One With The Jewels in 1995 and Life on a String (2001).

Big Science meets Big Love. Lou and Laurie, sitting in a tree...

Now At 63, after playing to the side stages of pop for the last while, all the while continuing to do great original work, in addition to become the first and only NASA Artist In Residence, writing the official Encyclopædia Britannica entry for New York’s “cultural character” and even narrating a documentary about Andy Warhol, she has come out of hibernation with a new album called Homeland.

The album features a timely message about our current world and as always, a unique take on the problems of the day. Part of which is our reliance on so-called “experts”, on “Only An Expert”:

Of course, since there’s a fine line in her work between talking and singing, a lot of her interviews are just as fascinating as her performances. Here she is talking politics with Amy Goodman, on Democracy Now!.

Talking politics is one thing, but Laurie can make even Lunch Menus seem like Television At Its Best…

Performance art is cluttered with hacks and poseurs, but Laurie Anderson is not only an innovator of the field, she’s an expert. Welcome back to the pop world.

More Cowbell (Unsung overdubs series #1)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2010 by pulmyears

Nazareth - they had a cowbell AND a talk box.

We were driving yesterday, up near Napa and Sonoma, and the NPR signal was going in and out to a frustrating degree. Reluctantly, we switched the channel to another station and, having a stronger signaled classic rock station called The Bone programmed into the dash, we decided to go classic. The first song that came on was an old Nazareth tune, “Hair Of The Dog.

We used to cover that song in my first teenage garage band Nighthawk, jamming in the back room of The Advent Lutheran Church, located on an isthmus in the middle of Don Mills Road in North York, a land mass known as “The Peanut” for its supposed shape when seen from above. Dave, our other guitarist, was the son of the minister there, so we got to rehearse in what would have been a church basement, if it had been downstairs. Hearing the Nazareth tune on the radio, a couple of thoughts immediately came to mind. One, you hardly ever hear the phrase “Now you’re messing with a son-of-a-bitch” in polite conversation, and secondly, “Hair Of The Dog” is time-capsule worthy as an excellent specimen to illustrate a perfect 70s rock single. For one, it features a Manny Charleton solo where his guitar is run through a Heil Talk-Box , a mouth-assisted, verbal phasing effect made famous on signature records by Peter Frampton (“Show Me The Way”), Bon Jovi (“Livin’ On A Prayer”) or Joe Walsh (“Rocky Mountain Way”) wherein the screaming lead guitar signal is diverted, by a stomp box, up through a length of clear plastic garden hose which is strung up the microphone stand and ends up in the mouth of said guitarist who then moves his mouth around, vaguely “verbalizing” his solo.  Very seventies.

The other element of “Hair Of The Dog” that makes it archetypal 70s, is the predominant use of quarter note cowbell.

Ah yes, the cowbell. Now a hallmark of kitsch after being celebrated (and mocked) by Will Ferrell in the famous Blue Öyster Cult  “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” session sketch on SNL, which also starred Christopher Walken as the record producer who demanded “More cowbell” on the track.

That phrase, in itself, has become a cottage industry of shorthand rock humour, on T-shirts, posters and conversations between musicians.

Okay, then, the cowbell has got a bad rap, but I want to stand up for it here. Like the mighty tambourine (the unsung hero of repeat choruses and middle sections everywhere) or the magnificent “group handclaps” overdub, the cowbell is the magic metal that makes a song clang and rock in all the right ways. Of course, the origin of the cowbell was in Afro-Cuban and other latin percussion, a little bit of syncopation dancing among the timbales, congas and bongos, well before its more “four-on-floor” application in 70’s rock. Sometimes you can clearly hear that, in such seventies cross-over acts like War, who used it to great effect in “Low Rider”...

But it really sounds good in rock and roll, such as on “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones (excuse the dumb video, it’s got the audio track nice and clean!)

Or “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain

There’s cowbella magnificence in the verses of “Hey You” by Bachman Turner Overdrive

Don’t forget “We’re An American Band” by Grand Funk

and when you go back, the cowbell really isn’t all that prominent in the mix for the song which started all of this talk, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by the aforementioned Blue Öyster Cult

Rock Docs And Biopics Fridays: Dylan On Film (One More For Mimi)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 10, 2010 by pulmyears

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for my semi-regular column here on The Pulmyears Music Blog, where I recommend some movies about music that  you can buy or rent on DVD, and watch over the weekend. This week, as regular readers have noted, I lost a good friend from the Toronto music community, Mimi Braidberg the head chef at Mimi’s Restaurant, a frequent morning hangout of certain of us from the music scene in that town (particularly in the 80s and 90s). Mimi  was not a musician but as I discussed earlier this week, she loved music. Since one of Mimi’s most cherished artists was the former Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, MN, and since this Friday column is about movies, I thought I’d make a plate, if you will, of Bob Dylan titles currently available on DVD (films and documentaries that feature Dylan or Dylan music extensively). This one’s for you Mimi. (PM).

BOB DYLAN: DON’T LOOK BACK (1967 ) Directed by DA Pennebaker

Shot in pioneering cinema verite style on tour in the UK in 1965, as Dylan prepared to “go electric”, D.A. Pennebaker documented invents the handheld documentary in this iconic film released in 1967.  His stark, high contrast black and white footage of Dylan’s often mundane road life – planes, limousines and hotel rooms – are all here, warts and all, including discussions with his then manager Albert Grossman. Also features appearances by Joan Baez, Donovan, Marianne Faithfull, John Mayall, Ginger Baker, Allen Ginsberg and Alan Price (days after he quit The Animals) . The DVD has commentary with Pennebaker and Bob Neuwirth. What became the “music video” for “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, (a/k/a “the cue card clip”) is included.

FESTIVAL! (2005 ) Directed by Murray Lerner.

Starting before Dylan went electric, Murray Lerner began documenting the Newport Folk Festival, over four years, and came up with this compelling compilation featuring an astounding selection of artists including Dylan, Donovan, Johnny Cash and the Georgia Island Sea Singers, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Judy Collins and, of course, Joan Baez. If you only want the Dylan stuff, Lerner also put together this next compilation…


An 83-minute film,  featuring around 20 tunes  represented, short over three  years in a row at Newport, Rhode Island.  “Chimes of Freedom,” a 1963 take of “With God on Our Side” (featuring accompaniment by Joan Baez), “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Maggie’s Farm”, “Like a Rolling Stone” featuring ace noodling from Mike Bloomfield.

BOB DYLAN: NO DIRECTION HOME (2005 ) Directed by Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s amazing documentary, over 200 minutes in length, follows Dylan from his beginnings to later life, and is probably one of the best studies of Dylan out there. It’s a freewheelin’ travelogue from Minnesota snows to Greenwich Village sugar shacks and the inevitable Newport footage, and that aforementioned 1966 British when the man was on fire. Scorsese had unfettered and unparalleled access to unseen archival  footage, rare performances, press interviews, and album sessions and draws on Dylan acolytes and even Bob Dylan himself, who actually, to contradict Pennebaker’s advice, looks back. Usual suspects include  Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash. Joan Baez and good old Allen Ginsberg. DVD bonus features includes cool extras.


Organized by George Harrison to raise funds for UNICEF’s relief efforts for victims of war in Bangladesh, this concert movie (shot in New York at Madison Square Garden on August 1st 1971) was one of the first to feature an all-star lineup for world aid. George is joined by his friend Bob Dylan,  old bandmate Ringo Starr, along with other close friends Eric Clapton, Leon Russel and Ravi Shankar, the man whose anguished phone call triggered the whole event.  and more.  Dylan songs include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

THE LAST WALTZ (1978) Directed by Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s send off for The Band, at least their last performance as this lineup, with many, many special guests, including his Bobness, the man who had played with them early on. Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Paul Butterfield, Neil Young, Ronnie Hawkins and even Neil Diamond also show up.

MASKED AND ANONYMOUS (2003) Directed by Larry Charles

Dylan portrays a wandering troubadour named Jack Fate, whose ex-manager (John Goodman) bails him out of jail to put on a final concert that could jumpstart his failing career and heal a nation divided. With Jeff Bridges, Penélope Cruz, Jessica Lange , Luke Wilson, Reggie Lee, Laura Harring, Angela Bassett, Christian Slater, Steven Bauer, Mickey Rourke, Giovanni Ribisi, Ed Harris, Chris Penn, Val Kilmer and Cheech Marin

Bonus Bob

If you can find them…

RENALDO AND CLARA (1978) Largely unavailable, at Bob’s request, film which originally had scenes written by Sam Sheperd and Allen Ginsberg but was later culled down to feature the over 45 minutes of concert footage from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour of 1975.

HEARTS OF FIRE (1993) Directed by Richard Marquand

Bob Dylan co stars with the European singer Fiona and actor Rupert Everett, in this wisely forgotten film written by Joe Eszterhas and Scott Richardson. Strictly for Dylan die-hards.

and a film ABOUT Bob but not starring Bob…

I’M NOT THERE (2007) Directed by Todd Haynes

Dylan’s persona is, um, personified by six different actors, including Christian Bale, Richard Gere, the late Heath Ledger and an amazingly androgynous Cate Blanchett, covering Bob’s  rise from unknown folksinger to international icon. “The first biography ever approved by the singer-songwriter,” (according to the label copy) and Kris Kristofferson narrates. Other performers include Ben Whishaw, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marcus Carl Franklin, Bruce Greenwood, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, David Cross and Kim Roberts.

I Scan The Horizon For You, Mimi

Posted in Uncategorized on July 6, 2010 by pulmyears

Mimi Braidberg, on the last day of Mimi's Restaurant, September 27, 2007.

Her given name, in the memorial announcement for the Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel, was Miriam Braidberg. But everybody knew her as “Mimi“.

But there it is in the announcement: Miriam (Mimi) – April 1956 to July 2010. Suddenly at home on Sunday, July 4th. Dear daughter of Pearl and the late David. Beloved sister and sister-in-law of Ann and Gary Posen, and Shelly and Gerry Merovitz. Wonderful aunt to Sara and Russell Posen Johnston, and Leslie and Daryl Parat. Former colourful proprietor of Mimi’s Restaurant and recognized as Toronto’s Blintz Queen. A graveside service will be held at Holy Blossom Memorial Park, 40 Brimley Road. (south of Eglinton) at 1:00 p.m. Shiva, 3600 Yonge Street, Suite 424 on Thursday evening only.

And when I say everyone knew her, I mean practically anyone who was in a Toronto band in the 80s and 90s, knew Mimi’s Restaurant.

Mimi, who died way too young, at 54, from a heart attack Sunday, used to feed us most mornings back in the day. Her restaurant – oddly set in the lower right side of the Oak Leaf Steam Baths building at 218 Bathurst – was our clubhouse, our breakfast club, the place where we regaled each other in band stories, commiserated over petty band jealousies and most of all bathed in the approbation of the beret wearing chef behind the counter, hitting play on the VCR clips of Pee Wee Herman, stirring the chili, slamming down the challah toast and pouring out the second, third, fourth and fifth cups of coffee – all without letting the joint fall from her lips (well not always, but I have seen her do it countless times).

She loved the boys in the bands, and was an early supporter of Blue Rodeo, for whom she named her Chili, and would always decorate her walls with posters for gigs by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, she always swooned when tall drink of water Brian Connelly, guitarist from the “Shad cats” (her nickname for the band), came in. Russell De Carle of Prairie Oyster was “Woofy”. She loved Stan Ridgway, Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, Kevin Quain, Fred Eaglesmith, Leonard Cohen, Bobby Wiseman, John Hiatt, Bob Dylan, and more Bob Dylan. She got to know Jonathan Richman, whom she lovingly called “Jo-Jo” and whom I think she wanted to fatten up like only a Jewish mother would. And it would have been easy to do that, too, what with all the high calorie, high carb delights she was dealing in. The BR Chili, the New Wave-os Rancheros, the Corn Beef Hash and Eggs, the Challah French Toast or her world famous Blintzes. Set a spell, what’s your hurry. Eat. I’ll make you a plate.

Before she was the matron of the musicians morning  scene, Mimi was a house mate. In the 80’s, I used to live in a house with her and three other people (one of whom was musician Chris Houston), at Bathurst and Richmond, just south of where she would eventually open the restaurant. I remember the week she opened, we all went over to see what she’d done to the place (which previously been run by the bass player from local art rockers The Government).

Mimi made it her own, a combination East Village art house, Betsey Johnson kitsch couture and teenagers bedroom. Plastic toys, a Pee Wee Herman doll, photos of Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood and El Vez on the walls.

It became my morning routine to stumble up the street and plant myself on the counter.  Soon enough her nine counter seats and three four-seater booths were packed with various Cowboy Junkies, a few Prairie Oyster folks, The Skydiggers, Greg Keelor, Jim Cuddy, or Bobby Wiseman and Jane Siberry (we always wondered if her songs “Mimi On The Beach” or “Waitress” had been inspired by her).

As her reputation grew, Mimi’s was a key location in the local alternative music scene, kind of like a Toronto breakfast equivalent of CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City. Oh bands didn’t gig there, we just got our heads together there and rapped with Mimi, who would cue up cool songs on the boom box, or VHS tapes on the little portable TV above the pie fridge.

Mimi in action (with furry friend) behind the counter.

It felt a little exclusive at times and often I was embarrassed when Mimi played me as a favourite ahead of the people in line, but it was her own private club and be damned if she didn’t like you. She loved originals who were genuine, like Al Mader (“The Minimalist Jug Band”) or Jaymz Bee from the Look People, Moe Berg from The Pursuit Of Happiness. Meryn Cadell. Mary Margaret O’Hara. If you were in, you were in. Luckily, she liked me, and even though I was never famous, it didn’t matter. We got each other. Not that we ever saw it as Studio 54 or anything, but Mimi’s smile was the velvet rope that let you know if you deserved one of her three booths or a coveted spot on the counter.  It wasn’t about what THEY thought, it was all about her own exquisite taste. All I knew was, phew, I was in. It felt good. We talked about tunes while she stirred the Blue Rodeo Chili. She started doing Cafe Au Lait when I mentioned that I preferred it (Coincidence? probably, but I felt like she was doing it for me). Also, I don’t think I ever paid full price for a meal ever.

I’ll never forget one time when I thought I might have an ulcer and my doctor said I should lay off the fried foods for a while. Mimi went out and bought a box of Cream of Wheat and kept it behind the counter just for me.  She was so stoked when Lyle Lovett came in, even if she was pissed that he asked her to extinguish the joint while he ate. She also loved the lady musicians, like saint Joni Mitchell, kd lang, Nina Hagen, and especially Rickie Lee Jones (I think she cooked for her).

And she loved Laura Nyro, and played me lots of her music. Hey, I seem to recall that Mimi flew to New York and saw one of Laura’s last shows…

She discovered Neko Case and Carolyn Mark long before many of us. When my wife Liza and I were leaving Toronto in 1997, we asked Mimi to make some food for the party at the Horseshoe and she lovingly complied. When I got fired from one of my day jobs, I headed right over to Mimi’s and we talked about what the hell I was gonna do next. She loved music. I loved her like a sister and I know she loved me too.

Any great scene runs on the passion of a few committed souls, and Mimi put more than food in our bellies, she put passion into her life and, by example, inspired us all.

If  Toronto was London, I’d vote for one of those blue plaques on the side of her old building. We’ll never forget Mimi, and whether you play guitar or just play your iPod, the next time you play music, send some out to her soul, she loved that.

PS – it’s really sad but I just went to her Myspace page, which she updated up until only last week. On there somewhere, she had shared a few thoughts about having hung up her apron in 2007:

“I can’t say I miss the restaurant so much, but I do miss my Monday Hockey Boys, and feeding my favorite musicians when ever they hit town. I feel so naked not being able to offer breakfast favors in exchange for CD’s and concert seats, my goodness y’all have no idea how far a girl can go on a little good french toast karma! I’m not sure where I’ll end up next, but hope to bump into you soon, the good lord willing and if the creek don’t rise!”

The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads…

Posted in Uncategorized on July 2, 2010 by pulmyears

“Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse,” says gangster Nick “Pretty Boy” Romano in the 1949 Humphrey Bogart crime drama Knock on Any Door, and as bands go, Talking Heads recording career is the embodiment of that notion. From 1977 to 1988, Talking Heads – David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison – made few artistic mistakes and by the time they ultimately announced their breakup in 1991, they had left behind a back catalogue of seven studio albums, plus various live and solo recordings, that not only defined their era but influenced the next generation in a way that only a true “source band” can.

From their primitive, minimalist approach on early independent single “Love → Building on Fire,” and their subsequent landmark debut album, ‘77, this band of art school chums steadily developed a sculptural approach to studio craft that further flourished when they met producer and likeminded conceptualist Brian Eno. Eno and Talking Heads together created a trio of fresh and inventive records, beginning with More Songs About Buildings and Food in 1978,

They continued with Fear Of Music in 1979…

…until finally the record that would bend the river of popular music, Remain In Light in 1980.

With funk, afrobeat and open ended song structures now supplanting their initially Velvet Underground-ish rock band beginnings, the band had turned a corner and it seemed that they had a choice to make about how far they could next take it. As Byrne and Eno would demonstrate on their side project My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Talking Heads, while experimental for a pop group, were less happy about purely esoteric wanderings.

They shed Eno for on their next records, Speaking In Tongues (1983),  Little Creatures (1985) and True Stories (1986), the latter an accompaniment to Byrne’s foray into feature film.

Having done almost everything they had set about to do, the band made one more studio album in 1988, but far from going out with a whimper, Naked, co-produced in Paris with Steve Lillywhite was as good as anything they had achieved in the previous eleven years.

In 1991, Byrne, Harrison  Frantz and Weymouth went their separate ways – Byrne as the Andy Warhol of his generation and a leading proponent of worldbeat, Harrison as a successful record producer in his own right while married couple Frantz and Weymouth with the wildly successful dance project, Tom Tom Club and productions with Happy Mondays and others – replete in the knowledge that they had indeed left behind a beautiful collection of recordings.

One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we do tend to judge a band by its box set, and Talking Heads Brick compilation, released in 2005, makes a strong case for a band whose journey through sound represents a once in a lifetime event, and quite a story in itself.

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