Ray-covery: A Ray Davies Birthday List of Some Kinks Covers.

Posted in Uncategorized on June 21, 2012 by pulmyears

Happy Birthday Ray Davies.

A year ago to the day, I posted a similar blog greeting to Mr. Davies and I added a very basic sampling of Kinks recordings that I like (too brief, because there are really too many great songs). And I’ll repeat what I said then, for it holds today; Ray is considered, by musicians and songwriters like myself, to be a master storyteller (lyric-wise) and an expert melodicist. Unlike many of his contemporaries, save for Pete Townshend of The Who, what set Davies apart from his British Invasion compatriots was that, while all of the bands looked to American (and Black) R&B for their predominant influence, Ray (and to some extent Pete) put not just a London accent on it, he put a London essence into it.

Today, I am posting a brief selection of notable Ray Davies / Kinks cover versions. Call it “Ray-covery” (or  not). So Happy Birthday Ray, and thank you for the days, and the songs.

Note: These are no particular order nor do they constitute the ten best ever Kinks covers, they’re just ten versions that I like. Your own list may differ (Comments section please!) because I’m not like everybody else.

1) “Days” Performed by Elvis Costello.

2) “Waterloo Sunset” Performed by David Bowie

3) “David Watts” Performed by The Jam

4) “All Day And Of The Night” Performed by The Stranglers

Yes, I know and dig the Van Halen and Oingo Boingo versions of this next one, but how about we take the road less traveled?

5) “Victoria” Performed by The Fall

6) “Lola” Performed by Madness

7) “Stop Your Sobbing” Performed by The Pretenders

8) “Sunny Afternoon” Performed by Bob Geldof

9) “Big Sky” Performed by Yo La Tengo

Respect The Duck: Grooving on McLemore Avenue

Posted in Uncategorized on May 14, 2012 by pulmyears

Donald “Duck” Dunn (November 24, 1941 – May 13, 2012)

In light of the passing of a the great bass player Donald “Duck” Dunn, at age 70, I thought I’d share with you what I was thinking about the Sunday morning after the Saturday night when I heard the news.

First, how fitting that I heard about it on a Saturday night, the night of great parties, great groovy music and great friends. That’s because the story of Duck Dunn incorporates all of those elements. Wherever Booker T and The MG’s (Dunn, drummer Al Jackson Jr., guitarist Steve Cropper and fearless leader, keyboard wizard Booker T. Jones) played, it was a party filled with groovy music. And foremost, their story is one of friendship; literal and symbolic.

Dunn and Cropper, were joined at the hip, and they were the white half of the hippest bi-racial band in Memphis. Their vanilla chocolate swirl taught both ends of a divided south about harmony and brotherhood, especially during the night of rioting after the assassination, in Memphis, of Dr. Martin Luther King. I once saw a documentary, I think it was called Soulsville, where Cropper recalled how he and Dunn felt more comfortable with their black friends on that turbulent night and how they mourned along with them for their slain civil rights hero.

I’m a sucker for a story of brotherhood, especially in the light of racial chaos. And to have their brotherhood be based on a mutual love and understanding of soul music, well that’s sweeter still. Maybe the sweetest thing.

As has been previously noted here on The Pulmyears Music Blog, I’m a huge Beatles fan. So were Booker T and The MG’s. In fact, only a few months after the Abbey Road album came out, in September of 1969, the Memphis crew set about learning, or rather absorbing the essences of, Abbey Road for a tribute album, McLemore Avenue, which was eventually released the following April, 1970.

Just as the Beatles had named their album after the London street outside EMI’s celebrated Abbey Road studios, the MG’s christened their album after the address of Stax Records, a/k/a Soulsville, U.S.A., at 926 East McLemore Avenue in Memphis. And they even posed for an album cover in direct homage to the Fabs zebra crossing.

Duck Dunn’s passing this weekend ended the long partnership he had with Steve Cropper, but it probably will never end their friendship or their legacy. Today, I spent a couple hours exploring that legacy, thinking of all the great sides they cut with Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Sam & Dave, and later, their victory lap in The Blues Brothers and recording & touring with Neil Young.

But I found myself coming back to, and kind of meditating on, McLemore Avenue; the one where they put their hands across the Atlantic in a statement of both solidarity and individuality.

It’s pretty special.

The original album featured three extended Abbey Road medleys and a sweet soulful take on George’s “Something”. As I was listening to it, I recalled that in 2011, they re-issued the album with six bonus tracks: “You Can’t Do That”, “Day Tripper”, “Michelle”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Lady Madonna”, and an alternate take of “You Can’t Do That”.

I realized that I didn’t have a copy of the extended album in the house so I ordered it from Amazon, such was my panic. It’s in the mail, as they say, but for today I was content to groove on the original, recalling one of the finest crews of their era, and one of the best, most rock steady bass guys ever.

Respect the Duck, and know ye the master of the bass.

Cutting The Mystery Lawn with The Wizard Of Sunnyvale, Allen Clapp

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2012 by pulmyears

In my last blog entry, I spoke about a lovely day I spent in my old hometown, Toronto, making musical discoveries with old friends and some new ones within my old and not-so broken social scene there. It was nice to make new memories up there because, since 1997, I have been away from that world, mostly here in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I first moved here, there wasn’t much of a “scene” to speak of, and I’ll never forget the first time I enquired about it with Wes (John Wesley Harding) and CVS (Chris Von Sneidern) over at some cafe near the Castro that first year there.

“If you’re looking for a scene [like the one you had back in Toronto], you’re out of luck,” said Wes, um, helpfully. “And If you want to make it in the music business, go south to L.A., that’s what everyone here does.”

Now I’m not sure if Wes would remember that conversation, but it was kind wet blanket epiphany for me. I had really grown to enjoy the sense of community that the Queen Street West scene (in Toronto) had given me. And now I was being told that, while art can flourish here in the Bay Area, it’s pretty much every band for him (or her) self. So I had my friends, and we all kind of quietly kept tabs on each other, while probably never being conscious of what it was we were doing. What we were doing, was finding each other. Not a cult. Not an exclusive and hard-to-get-into clique. But a community.

One of the first bands I really liked here in this “scene” was The Orange Peels (above), lead by Allen Clapp (lower center). Slowly, over several years, Allen has been refining his skills and perfecting his home studio, the Mystery Lawn in Sunnyvale, California, down the peninsula from San Francisco. Out past where the big planes land, and the Neil Young roams. Full disclosure, of course, I am working with Allen on The Paul & John, and I did the cover artwork for John Moremen’s Flotation Device debut.

Allen is the mastermind and center of what I have dubbed the Mystery Lawn Scene, having produced, done graphics for, played on, and released a slew of the acts who hang around with us, most of whom will be appearing at the Bottom of the Hill, on Wednesday April 25, 8pm ($8) in a marathon show that includes Allen Clapp & his Orchestra, Alison Faith Levy, The Corner Laughers, John Moremen’s Flotation Device, William Cleere & His Marvellous Fellas, The Hollyhocks and Agony Aunts. And because we’re family, The Paul & John will do a song too!

Perhaps self-servingly, therefore, but mainly because I love, I decided to interview Allen for this blog, and get him to demystify some of the Mystery Lawn’s, um, mystery. I began by asking Allen to tell me the story of the name “Mystery Lawn”.

ALLEN CLAPP: “‘Mystery Lawn’ is the first thing I released on The Bus Stop Label back in the early ’90s, the title track to which I wrote and recorded in an afternoon while home from work with a high fever. Somehow, the whole song got written and committed to cassette tape via Tascam Porta-One four-track before I really knew what happened. The phrase “Mystery Lawn” was total gibberish that just happened to fit the four-syllable gap in the chorus. The tune became a fairly popular number in our live set, and The Orange Peels re-recorded it for our second CD, So Far in 2001. An entertainment lawyer in New York at the time was convinced the song should be re-done with strings and a big production (which was probably a good idea), and he suggested calling my publishing company “Mystery Lawn Music.” From then on, Mystery Lawn just sort of became the umbrella for all things creative, and an example of how something unexpected and totally spontaneous can kind of change your life.”

Paul Myers: Talk about how Mystery Lawn went from being just for the Orange Peels to having other “label artists”. Is it basically a label for work that you produce? Would you like to expand the label someday?

Allen: “After completing  So Far, in the early 2000s, Orange Peels multi-instrumentalist Bob Vickers asked if I would produce his solo album. I wasn’t honestly sure if I was up to the task, but I heard his demos, and was just kind of knocked out. So I told him I’d do it. That album, The Incredible Vickers Brothers was the first thing I produced that wasn’t under the Orange Peels or Allen Clapp banner. And the thing was, I really, really enjoyed doing it. The next band to approach me was The Corner Laughers. Again, I was reluctant but their lead singer, Karla Kane, is very persistent. Finally, after seeing them live I knew it was going to be a great project, and their album Ultraviolet Garden was the result. As more production opportunities started coming in, it just kind of made sense to try and help artists get the word out. I’ve been on several record labels and have had experiences with everything that goes on in that world; from song licensing, touring, album design, publicists, whatever . . . and I figured I could probably help out. So Mystery Lawn Music was born. I get requests from artists who would like to be on the label, and I’m still not sure how to go about making those choices. For now, it’s a boutique label that’s very specific in its output and its client list, but I could see it growing into something bigger.”

Paul: Talk to me about this idea of a “Mystery Lawn Scene” in the city and discuss the concept of like-minded artists banding together.

Allen: “There are a few reasons it happened like this . . . for one, I’m incredibly picky about the artists I produce. I don’t make a living as a producer, so the last thing I want to be doing in my spare time is working on music I don’t absolutely love. The other reason flows from that one: Because I love the bands I work with, I naturally have an interest in helping them get their music heard by fans. And the third thing is that a lot of these bands end up knowing each other because there’s something cool happening with their music in the first place. They play shows together, they play on each other’s records—they are mutual fans! After a couple years of making albums with this group of bands, it just kind of became clear that we were already part of something special, and the decision to call it Mystery Lawn and make it official was the easy part, because it had already created itself.”

Paul: Is there something “Californian” about the diverse acts on the “label”?

Allen: “Geographically, yeah. . . I mean the bands on Mystery Lawn literally circle the San Francisco Bay in their membership, so there’s sort of a vibe that just naturally springs forth because we’re all living here, making music here and being inspired by some of the same things. I think there are other unifying factors, too . . . everyone on the label has a certain obsession with songcraft in addition to a focus on a kind of sound. I think a lot of modern groups focus too much on their sound, and not enough on their songs; the net effect of which leaves you feeling kind of in love with new bands for a very short period of time, but forgetting them quickly. For me, it’s always the bands that can really write a song that win out in the end. Sounds come and go, and sound is obviously important, but when you’ve got a band that can deliver a unique sound and a timeless song, then you have something special. I think that is the secret underlying recipe for the music on Mystery Lawn.”

Paul: Thank you for inviting me and John to do a song at the big Mystery Lawn night (April 25, Bottom of The Hill), and thank you for helping us finish The Paul & John debut album, Inner Sunset, which will grace the Mystery Lawn label as soon as we can get it delivered. Tell me a bit about the main featured bands that night, including your own.

The Hollyhocks

Allen: “Architectural pop music from Oakland, featuring airy female harmonies, walls of atmospheric guitars and roomy beats. The intricate interplay between the four of these musicians is the key to their sound. They spent 5 years placing notes along the timelines of their songs to achieve something organic and exciting. Their new album, Understories features the best Def Leppard cover ever (although it’s almost unrecognizable as “Photograph”) and features SF-based Magik*Magik Orchestra.”

Alison Faith Levy

Allen: “Just because she’s a famous Kindie-Rock artist (former member of SF fan faves The Sippy Cups) doesn’t mean she can’t pen an album that adults won’t love. This is like mind-expansion music for kids built on solid songwriting and Alison’s larger-than-life voice. Alison and I played just about every note on that record ourselves, and finished the album in record time. Love it.”

The Corner Laughers

Allen: “We just finished our second album together—Poppy Seeds. These guys love to experiment in the studio! The new album is like a sonic sightseeing trip up and down the California coast featuring handbell choirs, string sections, thunderous doubled-drum tracks and copious amounts of harmonies, chimey guitars and chickeny ukuleles. I think it’s tremendously ambitious and original.”

John Moremen’s Flotation Device

Allen: “John—who is also the lead guitarist in The Orange Peels—is too ridiculously talented. Everyone knows this. So when he started suddenly making these instrumental recordings last year at the rate of one each week, it was a very good thing. Flotation Device is like what it must be like inside John’s head—Thelonious Monk, Robert Fripp, Jimmy Page all hanging out on the San Francisco coast, drinking Blue Bottle Coffee as the fog rolls in. I understand that Moremen and a friend who shall remain nameless will be performing a track from their nearly-completed Mystery Lawn album called Inner Sunset, so that should be interesting.”

William Cleere & The Marvellous Fellas

Allen: “Piano rock done right. My earliest musical memories were those of early ’70s Elton John, and one of my favorite albums from the day was his live trio album, 11/17/70. When I saw Bill and his band playing these songs live, it just made sense to try and record his album in a single, marathon session at Mystery Lawn. The band liked the idea, and it happened! With minimal overdubs, it’s the energy of a band bashing through a set of impeccably crafted songs and Bill’s amazing voice anchoring the whole thing. We’re already talking about making the follow-up album.”

Agony Aunts

Allen: “The psychedelic alter-ego of The Corner Laughers, Agony Aunts was the first non-me, non-Orange Peels release on Mystery Lawn, and it wasn’t even recorded here! These fanciful tunes percolated at KC Bowman’s Timber Trout studio in Oakland, and feature alternately stilted and lilting melodies to the accompaniment of what sounds like a Northern California sunshine rock revival during a total eclipse. Irresistibly catchy, brainy and ridiculous. They have some sort of a conflicted good vs. evil thing I can’t totally figure out, which is probably good.”

Allen Clapp & his Orchestra

Allen: “I usually write and record my tunes with The Orange Peels, but every once in a while I end up with a batch of songs that just begs to be recorded and performed solo. So I putter around in the studio for a while and emerge with something like Mixed Greens, which just arrived on vinyl here last week! It’s nice to be able to just arrange and produce stuff without anybody else’s input sometimes—there’s nobody to argue with you and nobody to rein you in, but also, nobody else to play any of the parts. For the live band, I’m using a combination of Orange Peels and Corner Laughers for a 7-piece “Orchestra” that really brings the new and old tunes to life.”

Mystery Lawn Music Night at Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, Wednesday April 25, 8pm ($8) The Paul & John will also make a cameo appearance. So there’s that.

1233 17th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 (415) 621-4455  www.bottomofthehill.com

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.

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