Disaster Fantasies – Getting to know Selina Martin

Posted in Uncategorized on April 17, 2012 by pulmyears

I’m in deep like with the album Disaster Fantasies, by the Toronto based singer-songwriter Selina Martin. The CD has been out for awhile now, but since I live in the San Francisco area, I never really got a chance to hear it until Selina gave me a copy last weekend. I’ve sort of known Selina for a few years now, mostly online and mainly through our mutual association with Toronto music producer (and my lifelong BFF) Michael Philip Wojewoda. But on Friday, April 6, I happened to be in Toronto for my sister-in-law’s wedding that weekend (congrats Susan & Bhupindra) so Michael suggested that I come to a recording session at his studio, mainly to hang but also to “make art noise” (his words) with his sonic collective FFOB, formally known as the Faceless Forces of Bigness. Turns out that FFOB were to be creating a sonic backdrop for Selina, who would be singing a song she’d written for a collaborative project with them.

The few times I’ve met Selina in person, she made a strong impression. She’s one of those people with a dynamic presence, just in conversation, but when she sings she’s reveals powerful voice blessed with faultless pitch. I was stoked that I was going to be hanging out with her and Chris Stringer (her producer and a founder member of FFOB) along with Michael, for the entire day. On top of that, I was told that our mutual friend, the equally talented Kurt Swinghammer, would be dropping by later to add some “art noise” of his own. Win win.

After meeting up at the delightfully low-key and bohemian cafe known as Saving Gigi, we decamped to Michael’s studio two blocks away and began setting up the patches on synths to build the improvised backing.

I asked Michael if I could play a bass or a guitar, instruments I’m very familiar with, and he wisely warned me off, saying that it would be better if I played a synthesizer. I agreed, only I had not brought one.

No worry, says Michael, “Buy the Animoog app for your iPhone.” I think it was $1.99 or something like that, so I did and MPW (as we sometime call Michael) hooked me up to the board as I naively screwed around on my phone to find the right tone.

Selina produced a lyric sheet and tuned up one of Michael’s guitars to play the “song” part of the collaboration, a lovely tune about birds. We did a few takes, then Chris had to leave just as Kurt was arriving. We went and got something to eat at a nearby place, then it was back to work on a couple more takes this time with Kurt  playing the Mooger Fooger unit and some tone generators.

During the course of the day, I noticed a copy of Disaster Fantasies on the shelf in Michael’s studio. I asked about it. It had come out last year, but it was Selina’s most recent album. I wanted to hear it. There was going to be an impromptu hang over at Kurt’s and Selina was going to go home first and she told me she’d get me a copy. I offered to pay for it. I think I was supposed to actually but when she presented me with the CD, late into the evening at Kurt’s, I forgot. (I suppose I should settle this off-blog!) Anyway, I put the disc in my suitcase and waited until I got home, on the following Tuesday, to pop it in the car stereo.

Wow. Disaster Fantasies, produced by Chris Stringer, is a great record. Selina Martin is an incredible artist and more people outside of Canada should know about her. So I blog.

“Brace yourself for a subtle
Shift from private to public.
They come with altered landscapes,
dead eyes & wooden handshakes.”

From the first seconds of “Public Safety Management” (above) I was hooked, but then came “Always On My Mind” (an original and not the Willie Nelson hit) was followed by “No Form”

“Take this much, it ain’t much, all I’ve got is nothing, no form, no form.”

From there, things just build and build through eclectic and provocative songs like “Rape During Wartime” and the softer “Breathe In” which feels almost conventional (but don’t be fooled).

Those layered harmonies stand out, as do pretty much all the clever arrangements.

“If you need a spine, I don’t use mine, it’s made of homemade wine, it’s see-through, and it bends with time and pressure.”

She can write a lyric, and an original melody to carry it. All of this was evident before the album’s seventh track, “The Spirit of Radio” a Rush cover which she makes her own in a singer songwriter way that could have been ironic (in most people’s hands) but ends up showcasing the beauty of Neil Peart’s lyrics.

“Invisible airwaves crackle with life”

I think I always knew that Peart’s lyrics were a manifesto, as well as a nostalgic love letter to the altruistic notion of radio, as well as a lament for how music’s heart is often crushed under the wheels of industry. And yet there it is, a nugget of truth just long enough to be an epitaph, if too long to be a bumper sticker:
“One likes to believe in the freedom of music, but glittering prizes and endless compromises, shatter the illusion of integrity.”

And isn’t that what this is all about? The music that Selina Martin is making, with her fellow musicians, is all about honesty and the freedom of music.

On her own webpage, where you can find buying information for the album (from iTunes to vinyl!) Ms. Martin says, “I think collaborating with Chris Stringer was perfect for this collection of songs.  He seemed to know exactly how to realize my ideas, and the ideas he brought to the table were somehow intuitively perfect. This album is my most hard rocking & most accessible to date.”

I couldn’t agree more. Pleased to meet you, Selina.

5 Things That Remind Me Of Neil Young (That Really Shouldn’t)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 13, 2012 by pulmyears

I really love Neil Young. I love his music. I love his career choices. I love his lyrics, his guitar playing. His fierce originality and stoic sense of his values and convictions. I love that he is a fellow Canadian who, like me, once played guitar in the Toronto clubs. I love that his dad is famed hockey writer Scott Young, the man who wrote the classic A Boy At Leafs’ Camp my favourite book when I was ten. I love that he is currently trying to make the digital world safe for music lovers with a better file system than what MP3 offers. Sure he liked Reagan, but a lot of people experimented with bad ideas in the 80s. Sure he wrote one of the most risible if well-intentioned 9/11 tributes, “Let’s Roll”, but hey, the guy really meant it and who am I to judge the quality of another man’s grieving?

The point is, Neil is Neil. In fact, Neil is so Neil that thoughts of his work and worldview seep into my appreciation of things which have little or no relation to the former member of The Jades, The Esquires, The Classics, The Squires, the Mynah Birds, Buffalo Springfield and, of course, the Y in CSNY.

Here are some things that remind me of Neil Young, but really shouldn’t.

1) Quaker Harvest Crunch Cereal

Not named after Neil’s classic 1972 album, Harvest. Not that I know of anyway. Although, I can remember knocking on someone’s cellar door to get a little more Quaker Harvest Crunch…

2) Greendale Community College from Community.

Greendale is the name of the college on NBC’s Community. Now, I have not read anywhere whether or not series creator Dan Harmon is a Neil Young fan, but I can’t be the only fan of the show who always thinks of Neil’s 2004 rock opus, movie and album, Greendale every time I see the name on the wall of the cafeteria.

3) Springfield, home of The Simpsons.

Okay, so maybe this one is a stretch, but come on man, the Simpson’s live and work in Springfield, USA, but maybe (in addition to Springfield, Oregon as he has said) Matt Groening named it after Neil’s second most famous band, Buffalo Springfield, for what it’s worth. (See what I did there?)

4) The “Heart Of Gold” spaceship from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

This one might actually be influenced by Neil. I’m guessing that Douglas Adams was directly thinking of the denim one when he named the vessel which transported Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect (and Marvin the depressed robot) through time and space. Of course “Heart of Gold” was not only a great single, it was a fine 2005 concert movie by Jonathan Demme too.

5) Airport Safety Cards (and the adventure of  Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger)

This one works in reverse, ever since Neil used a similar image on the cover of his 1986 album, Landing On Water.

And of course, the only successful landing on the water I know of, Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson”…

This is Neil at most 80s by the way, but even amid the Album Radio Rock sheen, it’s still Neil up front.

There’ll probably be a volume II. Until then, Long may you run Neil, and long may things remind me of you that really shouldn’t.

R.I.P Davy Jones: Memorees From A Childhood Monkeephile.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 29, 2012 by pulmyears

Davy Jones is dead from a heart attack suffered in the early hours of February 29th, a day that doesn’t exist most years. It seems kind of a fitting day to mourn a pop star who is best known for being in a manufactured band, The Monkees.

Davy was the English one and the cute one, making him the Paul McCartney of the fake Beatles. He was, arguably, the best actor (at least at the start, Micky got really good too). He was pure showbiz, and appeared to have lived the suitcase life to the end (as evidenced in this scandalous blog post by Kate Flannery from NBC’s The Office.)

If you didn’t know, here’s a catch-up.

The Monkees was a TV show about a rock band, launched in 1966 by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider. After an exhaustive audition process, which included failed tryouts from Stephen Stills and (allegedly) Charlie Manson, Rafelson and Scneider settled on musicians Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork and musically inclined actors  Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones. Their premise, a Hollywood based American Beatles, with hooky songs plus comedic shenanigans in the tradition of the Marx Brothers, was a stroke of genius. Yet, besides the natural charisma of the cast, what made the series connect to the masses (me included), was the music, supervised (at first) by legendary publisher and producer Don Kirshner. Some of the best talent went into writing the songs that the band sang along to in the musical segments: including Carole King, Jeff Barry, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, David Gates, Neil Sedaka, Carole Bayer Sager, Chip Douglas, Harry Nilsson, John Stewart and many more.

The Monkees international hits include  “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m A Believer”, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Daydream Believer” and one online source tallies their accumulated album and single sales well over 65 million copies worldwide.

Mike, all knit-cap and Gretsch guitar, was the sincere troubadour and the least “pop star” oriented member of the group, but Davy was on the other end of the scale. Pure vaudeville. A song and dance man. The perfect foil for songwriters like Nilsson, who’s “Cuddly Toy” was given an innocent leer by Jones.

I would suggest to girls of my age group, that without the Davy character on The Monkees, there would be no Keith character on The Partridge Family. In fact, they must have recycled many of the “debutante falls for Davy” storylines as “debutante falls for Keith”, only by the 70s it was more “emotionally troubled eco-activist debutante falls for Keith”.

No one held a pair of maracas like Davy, the man who taught Axl Rose how to dance. Davy was the TV popstar dreamboat template and I don’t know a woman my age (and I suspect some of the gents) that didn’t melt for “Daydream Believer”:

If you know me personally, if you read my blog, or know me from Facebook or Twitter, you will already be quite aware that I am a huge Beatle fan. But what may surprise you is that, at a very, very young age, I would often argue in the schoolyard that the Monkees were the better group. As blasphemous as that sounds today, and believe me I know it’s wrong, but before high school, I responded to the Monkees, in a deep way. Probably because they were so hated by the older kids, who knew better. In a perverse way that only Ratt-loving Chuck Klosterman would understand, The Monkees spoke to me. This is not your usual revisionist history, by the way, I didn’t know about the cult movie Head until many years later. Wouldn’t have known a Wrecking Crew from  a racquet ball, and certainly didn’t have any idea who Gram Parsons was or that someday Nesmith would become an influential player in the birth of alt-country.

Nope, we’re talking naive pop worship. Pure and simple. But pure. Imagine that. Like their Beatle forerunners, The Monkees went psychedelic on their last season (the show was gone by 1968!).

After The Monkees went out on tour, and met their audience in the arenas, they became something akin to an actual band. The Frankenstein’s monster Kirshner had created in a lab took on a life of its own. The pre-fab four demanded (and claimed) ownership of their material. They wanted to become themselves. The result was an album that I bought with my own allowance, Headquarters.

Headquarters was the album that I fought for in the schoolyard. I recall it having equal importance on my tiny (tinny) record player with The Beatles Revolver. The band played most of the backing tracks themselves, even Davy, and the result was an actual group sound, perhaps less polished than on their earlier discs, but really cohesive. Songs like “You Told Me”, “You Just May Be The One” and “Sunny Girlfriend” are still some of my favourites, and in truth, the album is all about the Mike Nesmith parts. Perhaps we’ll talk about him on another day.
While Davy still wasn’t writing any of the song, and was by no means the best musician on the record (although that’s really his maracas and tambourine) he really worked it on his lead vocals on Headquarters.

He’s all breathless heart throb on:

“Forget That Girl”

And of course he does his soft-shoe thing on the (lightweight) Boyce & Hart number

“I Can’t Get Her Off Of My Mind”

Mild social commentary on Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil’s

“Shades of Grey” (shared lead vocal with Peter Tork)

Vaguely San Francisco vibe and major maracas work on Diane Hilderbrand and Jack Keller’s:

“Early Morning Blues And Greens”

And on the ridiculous, and dadaesque word piece, “Zilch”, Davy is the one who says “Zilch. China clipper calling Alameda” over and over again.

(Note you may know some of this piece, it was sampled by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien in “Mistadobolina”)

There goes Davy Jones, he died, too young for a song and dance man (age 66). He was a part of my own youth, which is now gone too. And while I evolved from my Monkees days, as we all inevitably do, I’ll always have a soft spot for the soft shoe guy.

On Bernal Hill (the view from there)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2012 by pulmyears

This March, it will be 15 years since we first left Toronto to move to San Francisco. When we first came here, I was at an emotional abyss. I had tried, and frankly failed to keep my music career for the previous two years. I had slowly started my writing career, doing freelance work for the lovely Impact magazine and a few key features for The Globe & Mail (including an interview with the late Robert Moog and what I believe was the first national feature on Ron Sexsmith). At the time, I didn’t know that I was about to evolve from being a “failed rockstar” (which isn’t to say failed “musician”) to being a writer. I felt like I was getting out of Toronto not a moment too soon. With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that Toronto wasn’t the problem, it was me, but at the time I felt, well, embarrassed. Humiliated. Defeated. Once in San Francisco, we first stayed at a temporary, finished apartment in the Wharf district, The Crystal Tower apartments. (I later read that XTC lived at this same building when they were tracking parts of Skylarking).

I wrote poetry. Bloody awful poetry. I played guitar, pretended that my concept album was coming. It wasn’t. I wrote songs with titles like “On Queen Street West (I Did My Best)” and other transparently self-pitying songs like “This Town Hates You” (for some reason I thought Toronto hated me, ugh, what was I thinking?) It felt dark. I was still a social drinker in that period, only now, having been ripped from my broken social scene back home, I was just a drinker. I would advise against this by the way.

A few weeks later, we moved into a rented place of our own in the Bernal Heights district of San Francisco. I played a few shows, I wrote a couple of things for the Bay Guardian. And I met some musicians, like John Moremen, Allen Clapp, Alison Faith Levy and Chris Xefos, with whom I am still friends. I had quit drinking for good by October 1997. A lot of good things happened after that. Gradually, but steadily.

In my new ‘hood, I found this one geographical spot where I could think, plan, reflect (even meditate sometimes). And it proved to be as transformative a place as any I’ve known.
Walking up to the top of Bernal Hill became a daily ritual, a place to hit “reset” and literally look at my future. I was also still new to just “being” in this historically life-changing city. I noted that, from up there, I could see Candlestick Park where the Beatles ended their last U.S. tour, and you could almost see the Cow Palace, the site of the first date on their first U.S. tour. (I didn’t say their first U.S. gig, purists). I picture my hill as the third point in a triangle. Stuff like that resonated with me at the time.

Some days I’d look out over the Mission District, or glimpse the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge, or strain my eyes through the haze toward the UC Berkeley campus, and dream the things I’d do. The things I’d be. I worked out a lot of stuff. San Francisco, and now Berkeley, has really been a great place to live. I love it here.
I’m a lot better now, lots of room for improvement but things are moving forward.  Still,  I’ll never forget those days up on Bernal Hill. A few years ago, I was writing lyrics for The Paul & John and thought it would be cool to capture some of this for one of our songs. The song hasn’t really stuck, and maybe it needs a new tune. And perhaps, these lyrics I wrote were too much “me” for the collaborative spirit that inspires the P&J. Still, I wanted to share them here, since this is, after all, my blog.

So knowing what you now know, go easy on…

On Bernal Hill by Paul Myers © 2012

On Bernal Hill

I could see my world unfolding

But I never knew

What the future might be holding.

From high up there

Where the rained out red clay ridge is

I’d sit and stare

At the tankers and the bridges

On Bernal Hill

Everyday was lost in finding

A life to build

And a lifetime of refining

My point of view

Of a city steeped in history

What would I do?

There was fear, but also mystery

On Bernal Hill

With the solitude to greet me.

On Bernal Hill

Would the city soon defeat me?

On Bernal Hill

I could see my world unfolding

But I never knew

What the future might be holding.

2011: My Year In Music (Part Two: The Deluxe Edition, with Bonus Tracks)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 10, 2012 by pulmyears

If you read my last entry, 2011: My Year In Music, I thank you. You have now earned an upgrade to the Deluxe Edition, with the second disc of Bonus Tracks. These are things that I either couldn’t fit on my  last blog, or that slipped my mind as I was wrapping presents and packing for our Hong Kong trip over Christmas. I’ll reiterate a little of the preamble from last time. I said, So many great people did so many great things in music or music related activities. It was really fun out there. As a musician, songwriter, music journalist and author, I always get a stomach ache when folks ask me “What’s the best new music?” or “What’s your top ten for the year?”. I mean, it’s not like I don’t have favourites. I guess I have a hard time quantifying ten things, and also recalling what I listened to only months ago. Also, I tend to think of books and films about music as part of my year IN music, along with concerts and, ahem, my own music making which I am constantly promising to get back to. So here’s what I’m doing. This blog (hopefully the first annual edition) is a collection, in no particular order, of things involving or related to music that touched me, informed me or made me sing, dance or play air (or real) guitar along with them. I call it My Year In Music: Deluxe Bonus Tracks, because, um, that’s what it is.

BONUS TRACKS.

Fixed Hearts by Bye Bye Blackbirds (Rainbow Quartz)

A beautifully recorded album of really catchy guitar rock songs by Bradley Skaught and his merry band of Oakland groovers. We played with these guys last year, on a bill with the legendary Tommy Keene, and now they’re part of our little patched together “scene” here in the Bay Area. The nicely recorded Fixed Hearts impresses with Skaught’s Tom Petty-ish via Dylanesque vocals sit handsomely over the BBB’s commanding jangle rock. It’s nice to have a band from the Bay that sounds so, like a band from the Bay! Honored to have these guys in our little community. I was looking for an album sample but only found this live YouTube of the band doing “Elizabeth Street” and “Open A Light” at The Makeout Room:

Mixed Greens by Allen Clapp And His Orchestra (Mystery Lawn Music)

Allen Clapp is the maven of what I’ve been calling “the Mystery Lawn Scene”. I got to know him because I’ve loved his band The Orange Peels since around 1997 when I first heard “Something Strange Happens” from their album Square. Full disclosure, John Moremen and I have bee working  with Allen (on and off) on The Paul & John debut album Inner Sunset, which is slowly gaining a kind of “Smile” like enigma due to its absence from completion (to us anyway, ha!). His Mystery Lawn Studio, in sunny Sunnyvale, California, is Clapp’s laboratory, where he measures the sonic mixtures and has songs boiling away in beakers everywhere. This year, Allen graced us with the long awaited (see? everybody waits years!) followup to Allen Clapp And His Orchestra’s One Hundrend Percent Chance Of Rain. This one, Mixed Greens, is a little more of the 21st century, still retaining his love of 60s and 70s chamber pop and California rock, but with more presence of synthesizers and programs (and stuff). I know he was reading my Todd Rundgren book around the time he made this so I’ll just assume that he was inspired by the Wizard’s studio experimentation to some degree. Here’s a track, “Downfall No. 3”:

The Corner Laughers, “Transamerica Pyramid” (single) (Bandcamp download)

Literate, hook-friendly and ukulele wielding, I root for The Corner Laughers  because they have a flair for melody and a bookish sense of humor. I also love concept songs about places and, like  They Might Be Giants before them, Corner Laughers have a couple of these arrows in their quiver. This one, “Transamerica Pyramid” would have been merely catchy and clever, combining tourist landmarks in San Francisco, but the emotional hook, what brought it into a human context, is the last line of the chorus, “But the Transamerica Pyramid is where I first met you.” Sing along folks.

CLICK HERE TO HEAR “TRANSAMERICA PYRAMID”.

Live At Montreux 1980 by Rockpile (Eagle Rock)

Recorded at their peak, Rockpile’s  Live At Montreux 1980 is probably the only definitive (official) live release (I’ll take note of any others, below in my comments section) from this pub rock supergroup lead by Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds. Drummer Terry Williams is an undisputed master of the back-beat, shuffle and swinging R&B, walloping and galloping and driving the machine. Lowe’s bass is right there with him, elegantly directing that rhythm toward the melodic instruments. Guitarist Billy Bremner is a fire cracker of lightning lead breaks unrivaled by anyone except perhaps his counterpart Edmunds, who not only plays a mean guitar, but sings with an authentic drawl and twang that belies his Welsh ancestry. And the set list for the Montreux show draws on the strengths of all four men.Opening with “Sweet Little Liza” followed quickly (maybe via editing) into “So It Goes”, “I Knew The Bride”, “Queen Of Hearts” and “Switchboard Susan,” you’re left as breathless as Nick and Dave seem by the time they hand off lead vocals to Bremner for “Trouble Boys”, with Williams sounding like a dog let off the leash.

The set reminds you that Rockpile actually had hits, together and apart, and their biggest collective single, “Teacher Teacher” is here too, along Dave’s hit “Girls Talk” (written by Elvis Costello), and “I Hear You Knockin’”. But there are literally NO dull moments here, “Crawling From The Wreckage”, “3 Time Loser” and “You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine” also stand out. While the recording is a bit squashed sounding, I suspect it was done for a radio broadcast, and the mix has a few errors (Nick’s voice is awfully quiet on “So It Goes” and elsewhere, lead guitars seem buried and under-mixed), but by the time you’re done with closing song “Let’s Talk About Us”, there is little doubt that this is a strong testament to the sheer performance energy of a seasoned, and well-oiled, rock and roll band. Here,

Which reminds me, several of my favourite musical moments were at Nick Lowe shows. Such as…

Nick Lowe at Great American Music Hall, October 10, 2011.

This was a great show. After a rollicking opening set by rockabilly songwriter J.D. McPherson, Nick Lowe entered to a simple stark stage, with only two tiny amplifiers and a wash of blue “mood” lighting. The Great American Music Hall is one of the finest venues I’ve ever been to as far as intimate music is concerned, and they don’t come much more intimate than the Basher. I’m always amazed that the man who gave us Pure Pop For Now People, the man who slinked around in Rockpile, the producer who gave us those classic early Elvis Costello albums, has matured into the elder statesman of song; you almost want to call him Sir Nick. Smooth, worldly and wise, today’s Nick Lowe doesn’t so much raise the roof as raise his eyebrows, knowingly, like a dirty old man  who’s too much of true gentleman to tell you everything, but enough of a poet to tell you how it felt. Viva Sir Nick. Since the YouTube clips of the gig are scarce and crappy, here’s the audio from his most recent recordings, “House For Sale”:

3:47 E.S.T. by Klaatu (Klaatunes), reissued in 2011.

In 2011, Klaatu reissued their 1970s albums, and I for one am happy. The Toronto based band had a dubious brush with global fame back in the day when a rumour began circulating, upon the release of their debut album, 3:47 E.S.T., that Klaatu (who never appeared in photographs) were in fact The Beatles in disguise. This rumour proved to be almost as sticky as the “Paul Is Dead” meme, and soon Klaatu were famous for the wrong reasons, probably. They really only sounded like the Fabs on a couple of tracks, notably “Sub Rosa Subway” and as they demonstrated on subsequent releases (also available), they were probably more of a prog pop band than a faux fab four.

A couple of years ago, you’ll recall I posted an interview with Dee Long from Klaatu.  Here’s a bit of that…

PAUL MYERS: Was there any conscious attempt, while you were making 347 EST, to “do a Beatles” or to infuse your songwriting or arranging with pastiche elements from the Fabs?

DEE LONG: There’s no doubt that we were, and are huge Beatles fans. When we started on the first album, there was just John Woloschuck and I. Terry Draper joined after a few songs had been recorded, one of which was “Sub Rosa Subway”. That song in particular was definitely an attempt to sound like the Beatles from the “Penny Lane” era, at least I saw it that way. I mean, John sings with a British accent, although he doesn’t have one normally! All the songs we did that had a Beatles influence were written by John. “Little Neutrino” or “True Life Hero” do not sound much like the Beatles. But in the early days people preferred to ignore that minor detail. I think one other big reason we sometimes sounded a lot like the Fab Four was our approach to recording. George Martin and John Lennon were always experimenting with new ways to record music. They were the first to put the microphone inside the Kick drum, and first to use EQ and compression as effects, or as part of their sound. The engineers at Abbey Lane were appalled when they started turning dials way past were they were meant to be turned. Klaatu also spent a lot of time experimenting with different recording techniques, and layering many overdubs. After all there were three of us, and most of our songs had a lot more than three parts going on. Brass overdubs, and string quartets were not at all unusual on a Klaatu album, as on a Beatles album…”

Here’s Klaatu’s most famous song, which was also covered by The Carpenters,  a (sanctioned) EDITED version of “Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)”:

The Sound Of His Own Voice by John Wesley Harding (YepRoc)

I have known Wesley Stace (a/k/a John Wesley Harding) on and off for over 15 years. We first met briefly in Toronto, then when I first moved to San Francisco in 1997, I looked him up and he advised me, frankly, that if I wanted a music career I’d best move to L.A. That was my welcome to the Bay Area! Anyway, since then, he’s lived in the Pacific Northwest, Brooklyn and now Philadelphia, where’s he’s an author of notable novels (Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer) and continues to make albums with stellar “heavy friends.” This year, he made an album up in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with some associates from The Decemberists (Jenny Conlee, Chris Funk, Nate Query and John Moen) plus Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, and “his beautiful assistants” Rosanne Cash, John Roderick (The Long Winters), Laura Veirs and more. They toured the album, the tour hit San Francisco late in 2011, and it was a great night of music in which  Buck (very in-the-news at the time, having just hung up R.E.M.), played the quiet sideman and McCaughey was given equal time to play some Minus 5 material. Here’s a picture I snapped at the Red Devil Lounge, SF, on November 5, (left to right: Scott McCaughey, John Wesley Harding, Chris Funk, Peter Buck).

Throughout The Sound Of His Own Voice, Wes is tuneful, lyrically clever but more direct than ever and his band provide a seemingly effortless counterpoint to his deft tunesmithery (he’d hate that sentence, and he’d tell me). Here’s a video Wes made, with his pal, comedian Eugene Mirman, featuring one of the better songs from the set, and one of the only songs I know that contains the term “explanitory mime”, “Sing Your Own Song”:

Esdel Records’ Todd Rundgren Bearsville Reissue Series.

In 2011, based on the “clout” of having written my Todd Rundgren book, Edsel Records in the UK, asked me to write all the liner notes for their reissues of all the Todd Rundgren albums on Bearsville (and three that were Warner Bros releases). That was a gratifying cherry on top of what has been two years of great times generated by this project. Val at Edsel is also my kind of guy, a music industry person who (wait for it) ACTUALLY LOVES MUSIC. His enthusiasm for these releases, and for my notes on them, was a highlight of my year. It was just one (more) victory  in what was actually a very good year for me.

Finally, a few quick live notes:

The Roots, Outside Lands, Sat. Aug. 13, 2011, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

The Roots were kind enough to put me on the guest list for their Outside Lands set, and special kudos to Questlove, Roots engineer Steven Mandel and former bass player Owen Biddle (this may have been one of his last gigs with The Roots). They were superbly funky, and put on a great, late afternoon set in the big park setting. Later, Owen and I walked over and watched Muse do their big light show thing. Impressive. Cold but impressive.

Robyn Hitchcock (with David Rawlings & Gillian Welch) Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2011 – Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

This year we lost Warren Hellman, the financier and philanthropist behind Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the annual FREE Festival in Golden Gate Park. Almost the opposite of the high priced Outside Lands (held in the same park) Hardly Strictly is truly a free, nobody pays for the music. And the acts seem to be determined largely on musical merit rather than buzz or chart success. As such, I’ve seen great sets over the years I attended and hopefully the news that Warren left enough “endowment” to ensure at least another decade will ease the reality of his passing. This year, one noteworthy show featured returning performer Robyn Hitchcock, this time accompanied by David Rawlings & Gillian Welch (themselves Hardly Strictly perennials) and it was wonderful. In the crowd, I thought I spotted Joe Boyd, legendary producer of Nick Drake and The Incredible String Band, and author of the fabulous White Bicycles (a must-read memoir). I was right, it WAS him, so I did what you do in these instances, took a picture.

And this one is for real,
The Haunting, Ethereal And Ultimately Brian Eno-like Theme From The Cialis ads. No one seems to understand that I’m serious when I routinely ask, all year, about this music. It’s the slide guitar in reverb thing, behind that psychedelic “transforming scene” ads, a barbecue turns into “an opportunity” etc. It’s starting to get on my nerves that nobody can answer me when I ask online. EVERYBODY either thinks I’m being “funny” or they themselves can’t stop giggling, Yes, it’s a boner pill ad. Done. Now, have you actually listened to it? It’s like it fell from Brian Eno’s Another Green World or something. I can’t even find a YouTube clip of it, if you search, you get, of course PARODIES of Cialis ads. Hardy har har. Anyway, anybody who reads this know the production company or ad agency behind this spot, I’d love to contact the composers – or find out what track they licensed (if feels commissioned though). I’m not kidding here at all, one of my favourite pieces of music all last year.

And finally, RIP Steve Jobs, as this sad photo of Stephen Colbert and his back-turned iPhone demonstrates, we all lost a visionary (complicated man, but a true visionary). And that’s the word.

If I suddenly remember other things from 2011, don’t be alarmed to find a Part III to this…

2011: My Year In Music

Posted in Uncategorized on December 24, 2011 by pulmyears

Above is from February 1, 2011, one of my happiest days this year, when Jimmy Fallon held up a copy of my book A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio as he was introducing Todd sitting in with The Roots on NBC’s Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.
What a year. So many great things happened to me in 2011. So many great people did so many great things in music or music related activities. It was really fun out there. And even my Todd book came out in Japan, in JAPANESE! So, Arigato to THAT good buddy!

As a musician, songwriter, music journalist and author, I always get a stomach ache when folks ask me “What’s the best new music?” or “What’s your top ten for the year?”.  I mean, it’s not like I don’t have favourites. It’s not like I only listen to old stuff (although I do tend to come back to the past a lot, I think I learn a lot from the past, is that wrong?). I guess I have a hard time a) quantifying ten things and b) recalling what I listened to only months ago, so it’s hard to say what my favourites of a specific time period are. For example, I really love Steven Page’s Page One but as I was looking at it, I realized that it was actually released in 2010, so does that disqualify it if I actually listened to it through this year?

Also, I tend to think of books and films about music as part of my year IN music, along with concerts and, ahem, my own music making which I am constantly promising to get back to.

SO. Here’s what I’m doing. This blog (hopefully the first annual edition) is a collection, in no particular order, of things involving or related to music that touched me, informed me or made me sing, dance or play air (or real) guitar along with them. I’ll call it My  Year In Music, because, um, that’s what it is.

The Beach Boys: SMiLE Box Set (Capitol Records)

Long the coveted speculations of many a music nerd, who have assembled their own compilations based on bootlegs, official leaks and rumour, this year Brian Wilson finally got his SMiLE on, and it was worth the wait. It was also worth the money (around $140 USD) to shell out for the box set version featuring 5 CDs of SMiLE material, rare outtakes, and related musical nuggets, as well as 2 180 gram vinyl albums, 2 7 inch singles (“Surf’s Up” and “Heroes And Villains”), a 60 page hardback coffee table book, a 24″ x 26″ colour Frank Holmes poster, and a colour booklet, all in a beautiful 2″ deep box with actual windows in it. Maybe it’s just for obsessive, archival pop-archeologists like me, but I can spend hours getting lost in the minutiae of Wilsonalia. Now, there’s so much of it here, that I’ll admit that I have dedicated myself to only one at a time, and only just finished all five CDs. Here’s one of my favourite moments, from CD4 “Tune X” (Carl Wilson)

Paul McCartney: McCartney & McCartney II reissues (MPL /Hear Music)

Two very solo solo albums, ten years apart, both at critical junctures in Paul McCartney’s long and winding career. McCartney (1970) was the sound of a damaged butterfly emerging from the fatally fractious cocoon of Beatledom. It’s also the exhilarating sound of a man taking baby steps to being his own boss. He still has Beatle sounds on his mind as he tumbles, in a comparatively roughshod, handmade manner, compared to, say, George Martin’s pristine sheen on the Beatles’ swan song, Abbey Road. Opening with a declaration to the love of his life, and confidant, “The Lovely Linda,” McCartney lets it all fly over a series of pure and spontaneous sounding songs, culminating in one of his best songs, with or without the Fabs, “Maybe I’m Amazed.” This year’s remastered reissue added a second disc of out-takes, demos and live tracks recorded in Glasgow, nine years after the album came out.

At the time of its release, I didn’t rush out to purchase 1980’s McCartney II, but over the decades since then, I’d grown curious as I heard bits of it. What I didn’t realize until very recently, was just how influential this album was to electronic pop in the 80s, and even now. “Temporary Secretary” blips and bloops it’s way into your heart with a manic vocal, and chromatic shifting chordal hook, while “Coming Up” is the sound of one man funking with himself to great effect. Much like on McCartney, ten years earlier, Paul was in a transitional phase and willing to reinvent himself, alone, and shake things up to see what fell out. What fell out, of course, inevitably contained chunks and chunks of his inimitable flair for melody, and songs like “Waterfalls” (did TLC ever thank him?) or the gorgeously unadorned “One Of These Days” attest to the fact that we will not likely see such a Mozart of pop in our lifetimes. The bonus CD is equally, if not more, intriguing as it contains the killer live band version of “Coming Up” (which I prefer) from 1979, “Secret Friend”, the wacky “Check My Machine” and “Mr. H Atom/You Know I’ll Get You Baby” and that most synthy of all holiday standards, “Wonderful Christmastime”. Classy essential reissues both .

Nile Rodgers Le Freak (Spiegel & Grau)

“We arrived in one piece at [David Bowie’s] beautiful Swiss chalet in the lovely town of Lausanne, on the banks of Lake Geneva, and immediately started the next level of preproduction on the album that would later be called Let’s Dance.”

Did you get a shiver reading that? How about this: “I was positive the first single had to be “Material Girl”, which I knew would be a smash. After all, I was hired to give her a smash. Madonna had an entirely different point of view. She wanted “Like A Virgin”.

This is the kind of stuff you’ll read, and you must read, in Nile Rodgers’ amazing memoir, Le Freak. Over pages and pages of candid commentary, about drugs, family, and music, music, music, Nile takes you on a tour of making great records such as the classic hits he wrote with Bernard Edwards in Chic, “Le Freak”, “Good Times” and Sister Sledge‘s “We Are Family”, to his work with Bowie, Madonna, Ms. Diana (Ross), Duran Duran and hosts of others. You’ll learn that the high concept for Chic was actually inspired more by Roxy Music and KISS than you’d imagine. You learn that Nile is one lucky muthafunker to have survived the heroic amounts of alcohol and cocaine he ingested during the golden years of New York clubbing and international tripping. This is not just one of the best producer memoirs, a subject I know a little about, it’s one of the best first-person biographies I’ve ever read. Trust me, you’ll be YouTubing and iTuning all the hits as they come up.

Fountains Of Wayne: Sky Full Of Holes (YepRoc Records)

I’ve always been a fan of this band, ever since the first album caught my ear with “Radiation Vibe” and “Survival Car”. Like all bands with a sense of  humour, they have often left certain listeners with the completely false impression that they aren’t a “serious” band. This would be your own mistake, as when you get close to their material, you’ll see that “Stacy’s Mom” was just one colour in their broader palette. Songwriters Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger surely love a turn of phrase but, particularly on this years Sky Full Of Holes, they use their words in total service to human feelings and songs like “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart”, “Cemetery Guns” and “A Dip In The Ocean” have an almost Ray Davies air to them.

Get a load of the light in the trees
And the sweet decay on the maritime breeze
The sun’s hitching on a weather balloon
And the heat off the tarmac
Burning a hole in a gold afternoon.

(“A Dip In The Ocean,” from Sky Full of Holes)

Here’s “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart”:

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder why your hipster friends can’t get with this. But Fountains of Wayne are for real, and this album is one of my favourites of 2011.

Sloan: The Double Cross (YepRoc)

Did I tell you that I’m a huge Sloan fan, and that years ago I befriended them, and that now they’re my friends of whom I am still a huge fan? Of course I did. Fandom seems to just suit this band, in some ways they’re like the Beatles, but the “White Albumperiod Beatles, when they were more of a four-member collective than a band with one leader. Anyway, I wrote about The Double Cross (XX) earlier this year for the late lamented Crawdaddyonline, and I wrote: “I was driving over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco with an advance CD of Sloan’s ridiculously hook-filled 10th album, The Double Cross. The title is a typically Sloan-ish play on “XX,” or roman numerals for 20, to mark Sloan’s 20th anniversary of arrested adolescence. The Double Cross opens with a stunningly segued trifecta of songs by three different Sloaners arranged as one big medley, and the effect is shock and awe—an intro which frankly slays all competitors. Somewhere past the toll plaza and heading up the bridge, I realized that while I had merely been tapping the steering wheel to Chris Murphy’s “Follow the Leader”, I was now singing along at the top my lungs to Jay Ferguson’s gorgeous power-pop anthem “The Answer Was You.” Similarly, the seamless transition into Patrick Pentland’s chunk rocker “Unkind” is smoothed over by a symphonic wash of E-bow guitars before its summer-driving-ready hook kicks in and a whole new anthem takes flight. It was almost too much for my little Toyota Echo to handle….

Sloan is a career after all, which makes it even more remarkable that they manage to sound so fresh after two decades of touring, recording, and raising families. (Andrew Scott is also an accomplished fine art painter.  Sloan has had a 20-year leap from the ersatz grunge of “Underwhelmed” on their debut. The four-headed monster lives, and thrives artistically, even as a new generation of Canadian indie bands eclipse them in the spotlight. Fellow Canucks in the Arcade Fire may have the heat (and the Grammy), but Sloan set that fire two decades back when they were mistakenly pegged as the Canadian Nirvana by Geffen’s A&R department. Perhaps the risk of fading into obscurity is Sloan’s double cross to bear, but for those of us who appreciate finely crafted pop-rock, made by a team of seasoned rock professionals, a new Sloan record will always be a cause for celebration. And defying the odds, The Double Cross may be their best yet.”

XX opening MEDLEY: “Follow The Leader” / “The Answer Was You” / “Unkind”

Guesting on CBC Radio 3’s Lanarama (Vancouver, BC, Canada)

I finally got to meet Lana Gay (whom I really only knew from twitter, she’s @LanaGay of course) and be a guest. IN PERSON, on her awesome Vancouver based CBC Radio 3 program, Lanarama. Little did I know that I’d be on the air one week before the show itself went off the air. Lucky for me, I suppose, and Lana’s staying with the CBC, but sad for the legions of listeners across Canada (and canucks like me down in California listening online). I was on for about an hour and we had a great time, I got to pick some of my favourite Canadian indies, my old standby like Sloan and Metric etc. But the really kicker was that she hipped me to a band that I actually will include in my year-end best of, Miracle Fortress.

Miracle Fortress: Was I The Wave? (Secret City Records)

So Lana asks me what I want to play next and I, being sort of out of it due to living away from Canada, do the appropriate thing. I say, “Pick something, Lana!” She said, “Have you heard Miracle Fortress?” I say, “No, but put it on!” And thus began my interest in Montreal-based composer, Graham Van Pelt, the one man fortress who makes musical miracles happen in his bedroom studio. (Miracle Mattress?) This may be post-rock and indie, and even bedroom rock, but it’s got plenty of signposts of familiarity. I detect notes of The Postal Service, Brian Wilson, Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem and even Phoenix (whether Van Pelt is a fan or not of these acts, the echoes are there). Try it yourself: Here’s “Everything Works”:

Jenny O: Home E.P. (Manimal Records)

My friend Tom DeSavia works for the music publisher, Notable Music Co. He has great ears and when he hears something, I listen too. One day this year, Tom said listen to this. It was Jenny O, a Los Angeles based singer-songwriter who had just self-produced an EP called, simply enough, Home. The first song was a funky little number called “Well OK Honey”

That was pretty cool, I thought, but what else ya got? Then I heard the title track, the gorgeous and intimate piano ballad “Home”, which couldn’t be more different than the other song.

So now I await her next full-length album. That’s how it works. Thanks Tom.

John Moremen: John Moremen’s Flotation Device (Mystery Lawn Music)

When John Moremen, my musical associate in The Paul & John, started knocking out track after track  of awesome guitar instrumentals, doing drums in a rented rehearsal room with a Zoom H2 recorder, then finishing off all the guitars and bass in his bedroom studio, I could tell he was stoked. And prolific. So it was no surprise when he announced that he was going to release a bunch of them as an album, the first of what promises to be many under the name John Moremen’s Flotation Device. What was a surprise, however, was that he asked ME to do the album package art and design. Now, I’ve dabbled for years with Photoshop and have practiced layout all over the place, but nobody has ever asked me to do an album cover before. I said yes, if only because I wanted to see if I could do it, and promised John that if I got stuck, I’d get Allen Clapp, whose label Mystery Lawn is putting this out, to help. I only really need Allen for a couple of things in the end, but his advice was important. But enough about me, you really should listen to this album. If Jeff Beck, Thelonius Monk, Dick Dale and Jimmy Page were all the same cat, and if that cat could also play the drums, you’d maybe, maybe, get this. It rocks the rock but Mormemen’s inherent melodic skills (the jazz mind here) keep the thing in a composer’s realm. I personally use this music in the car to make the scenery look like my own private Quentin Tarantino film.

Here’s a bootleg LIVE version of the Flotation Device band rocking out “Deep Fried” at their debut concert this fall at Hotel Utah.


Order John Moremen’s Flotation Device from iTunes here http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/john-moremens-flotation-device/id481345455

Jon Brion’s songs and score for Miranda July’s The Future  

I only recently saw the film The Future, written and directed by its star, Miranda July. I loved this little movie as I had also enjoyed  her previous film, Me And You And Everyone We Know. I was totally digging the music in The Future without even knowing that it was done by my friend Jon Brion. Sweet, I loved it without even knowing that. Here’s the trailer for The Future, which has moments of Jon’s score in it.

Daryl Hall: Live From Daryl’s House Web Series

I just wrote about Live From Daryl’s House, again, yesterday, in Fast Company’s new Fast Company Create site. click here —> Daryl Hall’s New Mobile Home, but I’ve been talking about this show for a while now. Still, great and despite the loss of T-Bone Wolk, Daryl’s true wing man and band leader, the show has (as it must)  gone on. Undoubtedly, the highlight for me this year was when Todd Rundgren guested for the second time. This time, Daryl came to Todd’s house and Hall’s band, set in Todd’s beautiful outdoor living room in Kauai, were hotter than a pig roasted under the earth. Here’s one highlight, Daryl & Todd going soul for soul on “The Last Ride” first heard on Rundgren’s Todd album.

SF Sketchfest Presents True Stories: David Byrne in Conversation with Paul Myers (Castro Theatre, San Francisco, Feb 5, 2011)

Another personal highlight for me was sitting down on the illustrious stage of the Castro Theatre to interview David Byrne (one of my cornerstone musical heroes) to discuss the Talking Heads film True Stories. It was the second time I’d done this kind of thing for SF Sketchfest (a great comedy festival here in the Bay Area, that you really should come here for), and I’d previously hosted a Kids In The Hall reunion panel with all five Kids. David Byrne came ready to talk, laughed easily and gave thoughtful informative answers, and he seemed receptive to my sense of humour, which made it a lot of fun. Pretty much a dream come true, and one of the reasons I do the journalism thing. Which brings me to another highlight…

Talking Heads: Chronology (Talking Heads Tours/Eagle Rock Entertainment)

This DVD features 18 clips of Talking Heads over their whole career: stuff from CBGB in 1975, from The Kitchen in October 1976, Montreux Festival 1982, Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley 1978, Letterman from 1983, and their reunion show at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2002. There’s also bonus interview with David Byrne, and commentary by all four Heads (Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison and DB). As impressive and vital as that stuff is, I’m equally charmed by the hardback book that holds it and its accompanying text, comprised of a long, rambling and genius essay by the late, great gonzo rock journalist Lester Bangs, written in August of 1979, ostensibly as a “review” of Talking Heads Fear of Music album. But readers familiar with Lester Bangs will know already that Mr. Bangs used such temporal, physical things such as vinyl LPs as mental catapults to shoot him into the stratosphere or to plumb the depths of the deep dark blue seas of counter culture. (I would type that last phrase to impress him, he would probably say I’m full of shit. Which is why we love Lester Bangs.) Essential reissue.

Elvis Costello And The Imposters: The Revolver Tour (May 22, 2011, Beacon Theatre,  NYC).

  It doesn’t hurt that my brother Mike put Elvis in his Austin Powers films, but way before that my two brothers were already HUGE fans of Elvis Costello back in our suburban home in Scarborough, Ontario. Add this to the dream come true file, but over the years I have had many conversations with Elvis and his wife, and fellow canuck, Diana Krall (thanks again for the hook up Mike) and on this fine evening in May, Liza and I found ourselves in NYC just as the curtain was going up for Elvis Costello & The Imposters’ three-night stint at the Beacon Theatre on The Revolver Tour featuring “the return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook”. We got the good seats. We got the backstage meet up. But this wasn’t just about that stuff, this was about music. Well written songs, played by guys who know their stuff, presented with a level of verve, panache and flair that typifies the “later” Elvis Costello era. I’ve never grinned so hard and so long in my life. I am STILL giddy thinking about this show.

Wizards & Stars LA: Paul Myers & Scott Miller A Literary Musical Event (Largo At The Coronet, Los Angeles)

Jon Brion hides.

Having already partnered with Scott Miller (Game Theory, Loud Family) in San Francisco last December, in a show produced by Alison Faith Levy who came up with the name, Wizards & Stars in honor of my book (Wizard) and Scott’s book Music: What Happened, we decided to take the show on the road this year, eventually agreeing to do it at Largo At The Coronet in Los Angeles. For the San Francisco event we’d had a roster of Bay Area guest stars doing Todd Rundgren covers (for my book) while Scott performed selections of songs he’d written about in his own book, then did a Todd song too (there’s one in his book!). We’d had Bye Bye Blackbirds, Alison Faith Levy, Chris Von Sneidern, I Love My Label, and The Paul & John (Moremen) up there at the Make Out Room in San Francisco. For the L.A. show Scott, John and myself headed down (separately) and we were joined by an impressive lineup of L.A. based folks.

 For Scott’s set, he was joined by none other than Aimee Mann. For my Todd set, I was joined by John who brought drummer DJ Bonebrake (X) and his bass playing former bandmate Peter Gilstrap. In the months leading up to the gig, I’d befriended Taylor Locke, of The Roughs and Rooney, and he was instrumental in putting together a linuep that included Rooney guys Ned Brower, Brandon Schwartzel and Louie Stephens, Roughs Chris Price, along with The Chapin Sisters. Taylor was also helpful in helping me pester the great Lyle Workman to come out and sing, and he brought Mike Viola (it’s nice to meet someone this way, what a great guy), but they had a big surprise for me. They brought a string quartet, The Section, and  proceeded to perform two Todd procuced tunes, Lyle’s “I Don’t Mind At All” (a Bourgeois Tagg hit) and XTC‘s “1000 Umbrellas” with full strings, the XTC charts were the actual charts on Skylarking, sent over from the UK by the man who charted them, XTC’s Dave Gregory.

Too much you say? Well how about Jon Brion himself, doing his electro-looping, one-man band thing on Todd’s “I Think You Know”? But wait, we ALSO had my old pal Dave Foley, who agreed to MC the evening, and he brought his guitar to do the legendary “string breaking” gag from Kids In The Hall. We even riffed back and forth onstage. (Dreams come true again). Thanks everyone and thanks to Largo for letting us go crazy there.

Jon Brion, hiding.

Todd Rundgren Musical Survival Camp (June 22 -23, Full Moon Resort, near Woodstock, NY)

Speaking of dreams coming true (a theme here), my book has brought me some interesting and wonderful benefits, one of which is that I am now something of a go-to guy for Todd Rundgren things, and this year, I was invited by the man himself to come and speak at his seminar in the Catskills, where much of the Todd story happened. I was on panels, and got to see Todd and his band play at the Bearsville Theatre (with Albert Grossman’s grave out behind it). I got to meet a whole lot of swell Todd fans who made me feel welcome and took me into their tribe. But the most incredible part has to be the first night I got to the Full Moon Resort. It was June 22nd, Todd’s birthday party. Todd did a couple of numbers, and then his band, including my friends Jesse Gress, Kasim Sulton, Prairie Prince and Cars’ keyboard player Greg Hawkes, (plus assorted musically inclinded Todd fans) were onstage supplying the backup as various singers did Todd songs, with Todd in the house smiling and having a few cocktails.  They asked me to sing one, I chose “I Saw The Light”. I summoned all my old instincts and what passes for “chops”. I believe I pulled it off. Todd seemed to think so, he leapt to his feet to high five me. (Dreams come true). So THAT happened.

Rob Tannebaum & Craig Marks: I Want My MTV (Dutton/Penguin)

Subtitled “The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution”, respected journalists Rob Tannebaum (GQ, New Yorker, Blender) and Craig Marks (Spin, Blender, Billboard), have compiled a massive collection of interviews with pretty much ALL the key musical players and told the story (which already feel nostalgic – remember music video on MTV?), of just what happened to your TV three decades ago. When I say all, I mean it’s a 600 page compendium of everybody from VJs like Martha Quinn and Downtown Julie Brown to artists ranging from rap stars like Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Public Enemy, and Fab 5 Freddy to rock staples like Tom Petty, Nirvana, R.E.M., Van Halen, Twisted Sister and Duran Duran, and pop acts like Wilson Phillips, Janet Jackson and Phil Collins. There’s also visual and TV voices like director Michael Mann, MTV executive Tom Freston, and Conan O’Brien and way more. In fact, they’ve got over 400 interviews, all laid out in an oral transcript that intercuts between these diverse voices to move the narrative along. It’s a thoroughly researched, ambitious and wide-ranging project and I’m just glad that I didn’t have to do it. Thank you Rob & Craig. Recommended.

Adam Levy: The Heart Collector (Lost Wax Records)

I first wrote about Adam in a column entitled My Talented Friends, but I did want to put his CD, The Heart Collector back in your face one more time. Working with producer Mark Orton, Adam has crafted an intimate, all-acoustic collection which showcases his nimble picking, warm voice and earnest lyrics.  Some lovely string arrangements pop up now and then, but it’s mainly a sit-down with an emotionally connected songwriter at the top of his game, communicating truth upon truth. One song that really spoke to me, having adopted California as my home, is Adam’s “A Promise to California”: “As soon as I crossed that state line, heard the harmony that never ends, in the echoes of the canyons, in the Santa Ana wind. In the crash of the Pacific, in the calling of the birds, I made a promise to California, and I never break my word.”

Liam Finn: FOMO (Yep Roc)
This year, I interviewed and really got to know Liam Finn a bit better. His newest album FOMO, is an acronym for “fear of missing out,” and is the product of a kind of walkabout year, back home in New Zealand, where he attempted to cut himself off from the wired world of media inundation and social networking so he could better concentrate on making music. The result is an unselfconscious and well-constructed album that breaks new ground for the hirsute songwriter and is at turns atmospheric, worldly and edgy. “I just put sounds I like in there,” Liam told me, “and partly that’s growing up in 90s with a lot of noise bands like Sonic Youth and Pavement and all those different influences have made up parts of my own thing, but at the same time no matter how much I try to be different I still get comparisons to dad but that’s probably in the voice, which is a bit like my dad, and my uncle Tim. But what people might forget, you’re not just influenced by your family, you are also influenced by the same things as your family. All three of us [Neil, Tim and Liam] would have grown up listening to The Beatles and Neil Young and David Bowie and Led Zeppelin.”

While the songs on FOMO are as melodically inventive as anyone named Finn has ever written, the sonic structures adorning them range from bleak and atmospheric to poppy and manic. The overall effect is that FOMO feels vaguely dreamlike, and at times dislocated. Loops, live drums and machine patterns anchor swirly psychedelic washes and deep reverbs. He even visits a kind of 60s pastiche on the catchy “Cold Feet”.

Brian Ray: This Way Up (WhooRay Records)

Brian Ray plays guitar and bass for Paul McCartney (when Paul puts down the bass, of course). Now that the elephant in the room is acknowledged, allow me to convince you that Brian’s own music is pretty damn special too. He’s also one of the good ones on Twitter, FYI. Evincing a pronounced tilt toward the power pop (think The Grays or Jellyfish), which as you know is my own comfort zone, Brian rocks on This Way Up with a journeyman’s skill, and a poets heart. He also plays a mean guitar. AND he’s socially conscious too, his “Very Happy Song” and self-made video, address the growing gulf between rich and pour and clearly show his sympathies with the 99%, despite the fact that his day job is working for a very cool 1%-er.

“Very Happy Song”

They Might Be Giants: Join Us (Idlewild/Rounder Records)
Yep, they’re still making music for grown-ups. Yep, it’s still smarter than you. Yep, I love it. On Join Us, TMBG really sound like they’re pushing boundaries again, in a way that they used to on the first few albums. In a few places, I’ve felt that it’s the update of Lincoln or Flood, but with a seasoned band that really play together well (unlike the loops and drum machines of their youth.) I’ve told John & John that I think they’re brilliant, but I bet they probably get that a lot. Join them.

Cameron Crowe: PJ20 (documentary)

Cameron Crowe gets music. You know? He just gets it. Passion and luck play a big part in his Pearl Jam documentary, PJ20, commemorating the two decade and counting career of the Seattle band that grew past their initial grunge tag to become a kind of Grateful Dead of their era. First, it’s lucky for all of us that Cameron sometimes shows us some of that musical love and passion in  film form. Second, it’s lucky that he was living in Seattle back when it all went down, twenty years ago. But the luckiest twist of all, in my opinion, was that Pearl Jam had the camera rolling from the very start, making it far easier (or harder) to show every single key moment in their career – as it happened. His unique access to the band helps Eddie and Co. lower their guard and share their story, which cuts deep down to the mother lovin’ bone.

Martin Scorsese & Olivia Harrison: George Harrison: Living In The Material World (Film & Book)

If Cameron has a brother in music and film love, it’s gotta be Marty DiBergi himself, the raging bull of rock and cinema, Martin Scorsese. Having covered The Band in The Last Waltz, Bob Dylan in No Direction Home, The Rolling Stones in Shine A Light and the blues in The Blues, he teamed up this year with Beatle widow Olivia Harrison to present a uniquely human look at the so-called, “quiet one” in George Harrison: Living In The Material World. The film aired over two nights and is divided up into Beatles era and after Beatles era. It doesn’t answer all your questions, nor does it promise to. What it does do is lay out the fundamental themes of a man whose life is still affecting anyone who ever knew him personally, and the millions who never even met him at all. The usual cast of friends and musicians are all here but this is slightly different than your run of the mill Beatlography. The closest comparison might be Scorsese’s Dylan film, which I’m sure left a few Dylan heads feeling like something was left out. Something may have been left out here, but hey one movie can’t get it all, and what you choose to dwell on, how you curate a life, is why we like certain writers and filmmakers. I say go for it, and choose to love this film.

P.S. I was also lucky this year, that my good friends Linda & Jack, in Boulder, Colorado, went to see Olivia at an event this year and made a special point of buying a copy of the book for me and having Olivia sign it. They told me that Olivia made a geniune effort to ask about the person she was signing it for, which is way above what is usual in these situations. Kudos Olivia, and thanks Linda & Jack.

Rush: Time Machine Tour (June 26, 2011, Sleep Train Pavilion, Concord, CA.)

I hadn’t seen Rush in something like 25 years, if that. This summer,  I was lucky enough to now know a sufficient amount of industry professionals that I managed to find a pass to see them just north of here, in Concord, California. Liza was, um, busy, so I  asked around and my good friend John Elliott (he’s the other guy in the picture below) told me that he was a huge Rush fan and that he would be very happy to get a free ticket and backstage pass for the show. So that was easy enough. He drove. Fair trade. I had a blast, Rush put on a great visual show and play superbly, and they have a surprisingly well-developed sense of humour (Canadian spelling) about themselves. So it was cool. After the show, we met up with Alex and Geddy and talked about the neighbourhood we both grew up in, a little subdivision called Willowdale, Ontario. Dreams come true.

BONUS HIGHLIGHT: Getting my Telecaster fixed up.

HAPPY NEW YEAR. DREAMS COME TRUE AGAIN IN 2012!

You’ve Got To Have Friends: R.I.P. “the Wizard’s apprentice”, Moogy Klingman

Posted in Uncategorized on November 17, 2011 by pulmyears

Todd Rundgren (with Furburger), Ruth Rundgren and Moogy Klingman (Lake Hill, NY, c. 1976)

This morning I heard that Todd Rundgren’s longtime musical associate, Mark “Moogy” Klingman had succumbed to the dreaded Cancer after a long decline, during which time he had remained active in music until he could no longer make it to the stage. In fact, it may be argued, and I’m inclined to agree, that he was kept alive as long as he was by his sheer passionate love for music’s redemptive power.

He loved music and it guided his life, right up ’til the very end.

Klingman was an early Todd Rundgren cohort, the two had met in Greenwich Village, on the sidewalk outside a jam session at the Café A-Go-Go in 1968. Moogy discussed their meeting when we talked for my book, A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio. I use some full excerpts here.

MOOGY KLINGMAN: “We were waiting for the Paul Butterfield Band to show up at the Café A-Go-Go cause he was taking guitar lessons from Elvin Bishop. Elvin was a friend of mine that I was jamming with a lot so we’re both waiting outside. We started talking and he told me that he had a band, Nazz, that was living in Great Neck that he had gotten this big advance with Atlantic. And at the time I was with a group called The Glitter House that was on Bob Crewe’s label DynoVoice, and Bob Crewe was a very big record producer at that time, he produced all the Four Seasons, and Frankie Valli and Mitch Ryder, Lesley Gore, he just had a lot of hits at the time I signed with him and so we were both working on our first original albums with our bands. When Todd told me he took the Nazz advance and moved to Great Neck, it was funny because he moved a few blocks from where I lived. I had grown up in Great Neck, in fact I had left Great Neck because I had created a riot at the high school during a concert, and the principal tried to force me out of the school. The vice principal would force me out of Great Neck so I could go to school in the city so I had left Great Neck because of music. I couldn’t understand why Nazz were out there when it was all happening in the city… but Todd had this vision of the Nazz as being isolated from everyone else and just them living in a house and dressing alike and looking alike and having the same hairstyle and just you know some kind of bonding thing.  [Later] when I went out to visit them there, they knew no one out there. We were both about 19 or 20 at the time.”

According to Moogy, the shy young Todd quickly bonded with him and was eager to meet some of his musician friends.

MK: “I was out there, and Todd told me he had been a nerd in high school and he played with his train set in his room when he was working on his music. I just think he was completely isolated in his town like his social skills were undeveloped. He saw me as a guy that could maybe help him at least with musicians, get him out to work with other musicians because about a year later we bumped into each other again… or maybe we stayed close… I’d see him occasionally at [Steve Paul’s club] The Scene which was a happening spot. Todd always wore British rock clothes, so he didn’t, like, fit into the village roots funky music scene so much, cause he looked like he came from London or something, you know?”

After Todd left Nazz, Moogy became his go-to guy for rustling musicians to play on his earliest record productions. Among these, was Ian & Sylvia’s Great Speckled Bird.

MK: “I think Amos Garrett was in the band possibly and then [Todd] had me play on some singles for James Cotton. Cotton was blues and Ian and Sylvia were country, and with Todd’s British influence… clothes, you know they were taken a little aback with him. For the James Cotton single he had me hire the rhythm section from the first time, which is what I would be doing with Todd a lot…  hiring all the musicians or finding musicians for his bands in many instances…  for the James Cotton sessions I got the McCoys… Randy Zehringer on drums, Ricky Zehringer’s brother, Rick became Rick Derringer, and Randy Hobbs on bass. They went to Johnny Winter after the McCoys broke up and became Johnny Winter Band. I was closer to McCoys, I was closer to a lot of musicians, I just made friends a lot with everyone from Jimi Hendrix and James Taylor to the McCoys and Traffic and Moby Grape.  I would just see their shows, I’d hang out with them, they’d invite me to their recording sessions. I was young and they just dug me. And I played some good harmonica and I play some good blues piano so I could always jam with people, pick up a harp, sit down at the piano. So I got the McCoys on the James Cotton sessions and we made some really good tracks. Todd wrote some horn charts, which were pretty amazing… he couldn’t really read or write music but he could do it enough to write these horn charts for some of the songs. And we recorded one of my tunes, Todd liked one of my songs so he had James Cotton record it. He was pushing me as a songwriter and I was helping him get the musicians and make the tracks. And then during his first sessions for Grossman.”

Rundgren continued to do productions for Bearsville, while Klingman set up his own band, Moogy and the Rhythm Kings. When Todd ventured back into recording his own material, he looked up his old pal Moogy for some help.

MK: “On Runt, I helped with “I’m in the Clique” I’m on one cut and he brought in the bass player and he hired this drummer Bobby Moses, who was playing with Keith Jarrett at the time, so he knew that Keith Jarrett was my absolute idol I had taken some piano lessons from Keith Jarrett and he booked Keith Jarrett’s drummer. And on “I’m in the Clique” with Bobby Moses, I think he did it as a favor to me because he knew I loved….

Around the time of Rundgren’s second Runt album, The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren, he enlisted Klingman, along with Tommy Cosgrove, Stu Woods and Norman Smart, to back him on tour.

MK: “The second album didn’t sell, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. There were no gigs to be had, so the thing broke after. We were all living in his house for a while which he liked that stuff. He liked his whole thing in his house, somewhere in the Hollywood hills and he was a horrendous driver, he would drive really fast, it was the round corners, up these you know in the hills where you turn corners really quickly it was just scary to be in the car with the guy. He drove really fast.”

After recording three sides of Something/Anything?, in Los Angeles, Rundgren booked himself into The Record Plant, in New York, for a Sunday marathon ‘live in the studio’ session to work on a live-ish “side four.” Once again, Rundgren contracted Moogy to pack the studio with the best players he could find on short notice. “Moogy would play organ on the sessions,” says Rundgren, “because I was playing the piano on that day. We did three songs in a row, over one 16-hour session; it was a busy day.”

Klingman recalls getting the call from Rundgren on the previous Friday night, to rope everyone in for Sunday. “He needed to get a full band by Sunday morning. He wanted horns, singers, everything, so I made a ton of phone calls. I got Rick Derringer on guitar, but he couldn’t come for the first song so I also called a guitarist friend I knew from high school, Robbie Kogale. Stu Woods played the bass but also couldn’t make it for the first song so I got my friend John Siegler. We had John Siomos on drums, and I brought in a great horn section – Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, and Barry Rogers – and any singers I could find.”

Klingman’s singers included Richard Corey, Cecelia Norfleet, Dennis Cooley, Hope Ruff and Vicki Sue Robinson (who later recorded the disco hit, ‘Turn the Beat Around’). The three songs recorded that day were ‘Dust In The Wind,’ a Klingman composition which, in light of his passing, takes on an a kind of a sort-of self-eulogizing quality:

That day, Klingman also helped Rundgren with ‘You Left Me Sore,’ a light-hearted paean to sexual transmitted diseases, and a radically updated arrangement of his Nazz near-hit, ‘Hello It’s Me.’”

“I was hearing the song in my head a different way,” says Rundgren, “more up-tempo with a different feel, so I thought I’d give it a try with this new arrangement. It was the first song I ever wrote, so I thought why the hell not. Maybe I could finally get it out of my system, all these songs about some fucking girl who dumped me in high school.”

The new recording of ‘Hello It’s Me’ would become Rundgren’s major league calling card and, for better or worse, the song most commonly associated with him. Given the caliber of the musicians assembled, Rundgren recalls giving them carte blanche to wail as they pleased.

“Despite whatever else made ‘Hello It’s Me’ a hit,” says Rundgren, “it was all live and we didn’t slave over it, you know? There were no charts written out, people were faking what they were playing, and all that horn business at the end was just an impromptu thing that the horn players just started playing. The singers just started repeating, ‘Think of me’ on their own, I didn’t tell them to do that.”

Moogy recalled, in our interview, the hectic atmosphere at the session.

“Todd would be singing and playing,” says Klingman, “ and still trying to engineer. He’d show people their parts and then go back and forth to the booth to get the sounds and levels right. He had [Dan Turbeville] in there working for him, but everyone knew it was Todd’s concept. I remember that, for putting the band together, I was paid triple time in contractor’s fees, because it was a Sunday. I got a check for $2,200, for one day’s work. That was a lot of money back then.”

By 1973, when Rundgren and Klingman began using Moogy’s mid-town Manhattan loft to rehearse and record, the two decided to convert the place into Todd’s first proper studio, Secret Sound.

MK: “I had a loft on 24th street that I had, it was a rental, I gave the guy very little fee money, I think around $250.00 in key money, and he had built a studio he had a studio room and a control room with the glass in the front half of the loft and the back half was more for living. You know I had to really work on the back half to bring it up to speed for living. But the front half was already a control room and a studio. We were able to play all night because it was an industrial building no one lived there. So my band Moogy and the Rhythm Kings would essentially use it for rehearsals. Todd said he wanted to build a studio in my place and he wanted me to start backing him up on Todd Rundgren tours and TV shows with my band. So we were doing both things. So we took like two or three months and Todd decided he wanted to wire up the studio all by himself. I didn’t really know anything about wiring so he would just actually come into the control room and he bought all home equipment, home equalizers, home this and that and he would wire it up. He made his own board, he bought the faders and he just spent months wiring while his record was number one, he was in this little room wiring away for months, he should have been out on tour. But he’d just be in that room by himself and I would be in the back playing my piano. I didn’t really help him with the wiring, you know other stuff whatever was needed in terms of muffling for the studio or equipment I would be working on stuff like that. He just had all this equipment brought in you know, sets of vibes, organs, other keyboards, a Stevens 16 track machine, it was one of the early sixteen tracks by an independent entrepreneur which was a sad thing because it was breaking all the time and this Stevens was the only guy who knew how to fix it. You’d have to try to get this guy on the phone and he would tell you over the phone how to fix the machine. That studio was really put together with band aids and bubble gum. It just barely held together.”

One of the first things they made there was Rundgren’s A Wizard A True Star album. Klingman recalled for me the birth of that now legendary album, right there in his loft.

MK: “So one day Todd said ‘Okay I’m gonna start recording. He was in the room by himself with the bass and he laid down the bass part to “International Feel” and then he started adding on to it and the first part was very noisy sounding you know I said wow he’s making some really weird noisy sound, he’d been wiring for months he had like a top three record, he spent his whole time just wiring making this really weird sounds which was the opening for “International Feel” and then he was overdubbing and it started to sound like something and he said okay Moogy I want you to bring your band in Moogy and the Rhythm Kings. And were gonna do the track, some of the albums gonna be me, and they came in the first track we, one of the first tracks we did was “Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye” but he’d changed it to “Da Da Dali” and it was about Salvador Dali. We spent the next month or so recording A Wizard, A True Star with Todd as the sole engineer. We didn’t even have an assist to just watch the levels and bring things down a bit, but that’s how he liked to work he was a solo guy, he was a hermit nerd.”

Since Todd was now using Moogy & The Rhythm Kings on a lot of the band tracks for his solo albums and productions for other clients, it seemed logical that they would become the core of  his progressive/near jazz rock concept, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. When I interviewed Moogy in 2008, I made the suggestion that Utopia were Rundgren’s version of Phil Spector’s backing group, The Wrecking Crew. Klingman shrugged it off though, because the analogy fails to consider that Utopia didn’t just make the records, they went out on the road as well.

 MK: “Phil Spector never toured, he didn’t have his own band called Spector’s Utopia you know?

Throughout the early months of 1974, Klingman and Todd Rundgren’s Utopia composed and recorded the selections that would appear on their debut album. Rundgren recalls that the band’s flexible and informal schedule was attributable to the fact that he and Klingman owned the studio. “We could get together whenever we wanted,” he says. “For the most part, our routine was to go out in the evenings and do stuff, to Max’s or some other musical venue, and then next afternoon we’d show up at Secret Sound and work out something and probably record it. It was like ‘Hey, anybody got anything?’ Somebody would have just a little idea they’d been working on, or somebody else would have a whole song, and we’d figure out if one part could fit into the middle of another.”

According to bassist John Siegler, Rundgren had built, in Utopia, “a playground for himself, where he could explore his musical ideas and go wherever he needed to.” To which drummer Kevin Ellman adds “While it was definitely Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, it wasn’t just the Todd Rundgren Show, either.”

Their all-hands approach culminated in the 30-minute opus ‘The Ikon,’ which, Rundgren recalls, presented unique organizational challenges: “The hardest part was figuring out how these fragments were supposed to segue together, and each of them had some internal things that were challenging enough to play. Once we’d learned them, we could start thinking about how they went into a larger context.”

“All those musical pieces were recorded separately,” says Klingman, “it was five or six different pieces we had developed by jamming. I had this piece called ‘The Conquering Of The West,’ then Ralph and John started writing material for it. Eventually Todd named the whole thing ‘The Ikon.’” (Excerpt below)

“There wasn’t a whole lot of actual jamming on the final record,” says Rundgren, “but in concert, that 30-minute piece was like an hour and a half. By the time all the keyboard players and I had our turns soloing, the songs would start to seem just endless!”

Klingman and Siegler worked up the music for the ten-minute long ‘Freak Parade,’ over which Rundgren added his Zappa-like call to all the freaks among us to “get off the sidewalk” and join in the parade. “It was extremely clever stuff,” says Klingman, “and he had encouraged us to write some weird, wild music. So I had some musical ideas and John wrote the middle section, which is the funky section that has the vocals over it. Todd helped us arrange the pieces, and then he put the vocals by himself.”

“When we came back and heard Todd’s vocals and words,” says Siegler, “I just couldn’t believe how great they were. At that point, Utopia was a real band. Anyone who had music they could think of could bring it in. Todd was totally up for it.”

Keyboardist Ralph Schuckett categorizes the band at this time as a benevolent dictatorship: “Todd had really good judgment, though, so I’m not complaining. It’s just that you couldn’t really call it democratic because he had the final word. But he’d let the band record our compositions, which was generous of him both artistically and monetarily.”

Klingman also worked with Bette Midler, producing her Songs For The New Depression album an co-writing her signature song, “You Got To Have) Friends”

Klingman was also instrumental in bringing Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf to Rundgren. It would become one of Rundgren’s most successful ventures.

MK: “Yeah what happened was Todd, right after I left the band I would still try to procure productions for Secret Sound. I had the Bette Midler album out and I wanted to do more production and I was getting certain calls to produce things but not any major albums. And then I would be listening to the acts and I went and I heard Meat Loaf sing at Reno Sweeney’s with Jimmy Steinman on piano, and they did the whole Bat Out Of Hell album with just Jim Steinman on piano and Meat Loaf and I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard I told them I wanted to produce. They said they already had a record deal they were looking for a producer, told them I had just done Bette Midler and I was playing with Todd and they said oh Todd Rundgren we love Todd Rundgren they said look if you can get Todd involved in the project we’ll do the album with you.”

Sadly, Steinman became more interested in working with Todd directly, and Klingman was quietly dismissed, a fact which hurt him for years. His relationship with Rundgren was chillier for a while after that, as business arrangements clouded their friendship. But they did work together around this time.

MK: “I left the album and then it took a year or two for that record to come out and it came out and it was starting to sell somewhat and Todd called me and invited me to do the Back to the Bars tour with them so I had toured with them with Back to the Bars. He let me do one of my songs on the show and then he was doing a song of mine called ‘Lady Face’ which was supposed to be on the album and I thought the song I was doing was gonna be on the album too and it turned out when the album came out neither of those songs were on the album. So that was that.”


It took many years for he and Rundgren to thaw out their relationship. Perhaps it took Klingman’s illness to expedite their peace treaty, but over the last year, he and Rundgren, and various members of the original Utopia began doing reunion shows, primarily in the Eastern States. Some of Klingman’s last gigs, onstage with a clearly energized Rundgren, were among his greatest moments. Playing may have even prolonged his life just long enough to squeeze out a little more music.

Todd smiles at Moogy, photo © by Chuck Madden.

So goodbye to Moogy, the Wizard’s apprentice. You were and remain a unique character, part foil, part Salieri, but a true original. The wheel of life keeps turning and we can’t stop the hands of time…

The Wheel:

Some people say life’s like a merry-go-round

I think it’s more like a ferris wheel

’cause sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down

Sometimes you just don’t know what to feel

And just when you think you’ve got the game figured out

And you say you’ve had enough

The mysterious mad man with his hand on the lever

Don’t seem to never ever want to let you off

You can’t get off this wheel of karma

You can’t stop the hands of time

We’ll leave you now with a live version of Utopia’s The Wheel, featuring Moogy, from the reunion show at the Highline Ballroom, NY, January 30th 2011.

Still Going Steady With Buzzcocks.

Posted in Uncategorized on October 10, 2011 by pulmyears

We were driving today in San Francisco with CD of a BBC 6music radio documentary playing in the car. The CD was burned for us by our friend Daniel Swan, who has been kind enough to send me several of these. He is like Netflix to me, so to speak. I thank him now and often.
Today we put in a BBC documentary about Buzzcocks. Not THE Buzzcocks, FYI, as they point out in the program,. just Buzzcocks, “because The would make it sound old like The Kinks, obviously!” Apparently,  the name of the popular British TV quiz show, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, really annoys them.

Anyway, the reason I am writing this little entry here is that I want  to confess that sometimes, when I think back to my golden punk and post-punk memories, I find myself forgetting to place Buzzcocks on the high mantle they so richly deserve.

This is criminal, and should not stand. As the documentary reminded me, the band had a string of catchy, original pop hits that were every bit as punk rock as the Sex Pistols, and they put Manchester on the punk map in a way that  caught the ear of Tony Wilson and directly influenced everybody in the textile city from Joy Division / New Order to The Smiths and Happy Mondays. Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle (and early singer Howard DeVoto) did it the old-fashioned punk way, because they couldn’t do it any other way. They used the limited tools at their disposal and cranked out songs that spoke to their bleak Northern existence.

Out of chaos and teenage angst they created beauty and joy. That’s worth something to me. Listening to a bunch of their songs in a row, I realized I knew every lyric, every riff and could tell you where I was when I first heard them.

So remember Buzzcocks. They reformed over a decade ago and are still going, making new stuff and playing the old faves.

If you’re curious about that early run of amazing singles, need I remind you to download or buy a hard copy of the 1979 compilation Singles Going Steady, surely one of the most important “hits” collection you’ll ever hear.

Here are just a few songs to prove the case for Buzzcocks, listen and learn and fall in love (all over again) with something you SHOULD.

“Boredom” (from Spiral Scratch e.p. 1977, with Howard DeVoto singing lead, note the “2 note” guitar solo).

“Orgasm Addict” (1977)

“What Do I Get?” (1978)

“I Don’t Mind” (1978) (Video from Top Of The Pops!) (Pete Shelley was so cute!)

“Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?” (1978) (TOTP again!)

“Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” (1979) (Maybe my favourite, but I love them all).

“Harmony In My Head” (1979) (A rare Steve Diggle lead vocal)

“Something’s Gone Wrong Again”

“I Believe” (1980)

BONUS TRACK

“Promises (Live, Peel Session 1978)”

Jobs

Posted in Uncategorized on October 6, 2011 by pulmyears

Wanna know how a little technology can make a difference?

In 2006, Liza and I moved back to the Bay Area after living in Vancouver for five years so she could accept an offer to work at publishing company she’d always wanted to work for. We’d settled on Berkeley, which meant that Liza would be commuting by BART into her new job, downtown in San Francisco.

It was July.

The previous Christmas, I had received an iPod as a gift from a family member. It was my first iPod to feature the colour screen and album graphic display. It seemed so sleek and futuristic and it made my first generation iPod look like a kitchen white toaster. Liza also admired it but was always less apt to desire tech toys than I am. She said she’d like to think about getting one for her new commute, which was only about 30-45  minutes but still the longest she’d had in a long time.

The night before her first day at the job, I made a decision.

After Liza had picked out her clothes for her first day, she went to sleep. I went to work. I cleared off all of my music from the new iPod. I meticulously went through my iTunes files and looked for songs that I was sure she loved. I even uploaded Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell in it’s entirety, and all of B-52’s Cosmic Thing, along with some Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Everything But The Girl and some Nick Drake. In the morning it was all ready.

I gave it to Liza as her “first day” gift. She put in her ear buds and went off into the unknown.

When she got to work, she called me. She said that “Love Shack” had been playing in her ear buds as she ascended the steps from the BART at Montgomery Station.

She was so happy she could cry. She had had a familiar sound in her head as she walked into a bold new chapter in her life.

I think we both teared up a little. Her. Me. And the re-gifted iPod.

So, Thank You Steve Jobs. I’ll bet you heard stories like this all the time, but I never got to tell you that one.

Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)

Why Sly Stone Matters.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 27, 2011 by pulmyears

Before I begin, take a listen to “Family Affair” (there may be an ad to get through):

This week the web was alive with the NY Post story that Sly Stone, mastermind of Sly & The Family Stone, had lost his Napa area home and has been living in a van on Crenshaw Blvd. in Los Angeles. *click here*

To casual fans of 60s and 70s pop music, it might just seem like another story of an old-timer who lost it all, another dead man walking from showbiz’s past. But if you have been keeping track of his career over the last year, in articles like David Kamp’s amazing Vanity Fair story from 2007 *click here*, you just knew that, like Gil Scott-Heron, the man was not out of the woods yet. His demons may yet kill his genius.

And that, to me, is a shame and a tragedy.

Because Sly Stone matters.

And not just because, without him, Prince never would have had a template for his own funky pop.

Sly Stone matters because, high or not, his music represented a joyful coming together of white and black in American music. A tuneful celebration of everyday people and having fun in the summertime. But he wasn’t blind to the riot going on in the hot streets of his homeland. Up front, Sly was always sunshine and stoned bliss, but his imagery and the integrated lineup of the Family Stone, told the story of a funky pop mosaic. Just like the mixed race unity of Booker T & The MGs in Memphis, Sly & The Family Stone made their statement with the music. It was inclusive. Everybody could feel it. Everybody was welcome. Different strokes for all kinds of different folks but we’re all together moving as one to Sly’s communal groove.

But he was always on his own planet.

The story, in the sleazy NY Post and dutifully picked up by TMZ and the world, is actually kind of touching in places. Apparently, a retired couple lets Sly shower in their house (he’s parked outside) and makes sure he eats at least once a day, and their son helps out as a de facto assistant and driver. Besides being the potential plot for an awesome biopic, this act of fan kindness speaks to the loyalty and gratitude we feel towards true artists whose art has made our lives better in palpable ways. And furthermore, the 68 year old Sly is said to have a laptop in the van and is apparently working on music.

So there’s that.

“I like my small camper,” he tells the NY Post writer, “I just do not want to return to a fixed home. I cannot stand being in one place. I must keep moving.”

Should we take him at his word?

According to my Google search, he put out an album in August of this year, yeah I didn’t hear about it either, called Sly Stone: I’m Back! Family & Friends. According to Amazon, the album features remakes of old hits with guests like Ray Manzarek, Ann Wilson, Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter, Bootsy Collins, plus some dubstep remixes. Anybody hear it?

As always here on the Pulmyears Music Blog, I have a personal (if fuzzy) memory of an encounter, of sorts, with Sly Stone.

Like so many of my stories, the place was Toronto in the 1980s and the venue was the Nickelodeon on Yonge St.  The Garys, the top punk and alternative promoters (who also knew their soul and R&B) had brought in an act billed as “Sly & The Family Stone Band”. That added “Band” turned out to be significant, for when we arrived at the upstairs club for the 8pm show, the “Band” turned out to be an anonymous (if talented) crew of musicians, what we might call a “showband”. The “Family Stone Band” vamped their way through a set of pop and R&B hits, none of them by Sly, including Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited”.

But where was Sly? I know the old showbiz tradition, probably handed down from James Brown letting the Famous Flames warm up the crowd before his entrance and all, but was this the same? Would he even show up at all?

Eventually, and I mean after a solid 60 minutes of frankly bland pop R&B, we hear a ruckus from the back of the club. Two bodyguards are leading a shades-clad man who is either really really high or legally blind. It’s Sly. He’s being walked to the stage, although it looked a little like “perp walk” as the two strongmen seemed to have some personal interest, more than he did, in him getting there. He made it to the stage. The band kicked in to the intro to “Dance To The Music”. Sly sang a couple of intelligible lyrics, barked out like a guy calling in on a cellphone from the best party in the world. The one in his mind. Then, they switched gears midstream and played two verses of “Stand”, then two verses of “Family Affair” and a quick truncated jaunt through “Hot Fun In The Summertime” and about six others. Then, just as things got cooking, the two men appeared again and perp walked him out of the room. No encore. No nothing. The set probably lasted twenty minutes.

Funny thing. While we were all rightly let down at this version of the man and the “band”, I don’t any one of us felt ripped off. We kind of felt like we were just there to say thank you to the man. We also knew he’d never be himself again.

I sure hope the attention gets Sly back to the audience who loves him, but then again, I saw Gil Scott-Heron almost come back and not quite make it.

I live in hope, but you know…

Dig the man’s music either way. I wonder if Prince can do anything?

Because Sly Stone matters.

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