Monday, July 28, 2003

Change of Channel 

For all of you whom have received joy or knowledge or taken a slight interest at all in my writing (which is many more than I expected), I am sad to say that The Devil's Radio will now cease to broadcast. However, all is not lost. The Big E is jumping ship, moving to his own website: Erik's Trip. This is going to be a blending of Devil's Radio with the politics and personal rants of Big E Thoughts. I do hope you will adjust your bookmarks accordingly, and follow my adventures into the land of Movable Type. For those who choose not to follow, thanks for the support and friendly greetings.

Goodnight. This is the Big E, signing off.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

New World Forming 

In another life, another time, Terence Trent D'Arby brought light and happiness to all with his angelic tenor, a seraphim in peg pants and finely braided hair. There was no other acceptable explanation for that voice, that honeyed sweetness of wildflowers and morning dew. Terence should have been my generations Sam Cooke - a fiery passionate man, a secular lover in the arms of the Lord. I still hear "Wishing Well" and feel the goose bumps rise on my arms.

A few months ago I found Terence under his modern guise of Sananda Maitreya. The short tale of this rediscovery is chronicled on Big E Thoughts, my original and still ongoing weblog. Well, I was transferring some things to my ipod and came across the MP3's of some of the Wildcard out-takes I downloaded at the time (Sananda has graciously made many out-takes available at his homepage). I decided to give them some eartime - my wholly unoriginal name for self-broadcasting (otherwise known as headphones) - and was just as impressed as at first listening. I'm particularly fond of "New World Forming", an acoustic guitar driven track that is immediately head-bobbing and smile inducing. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a little tambourine accompaniment, or joyous gospel influenced background singing, or for Terence himself.

What else explains my acceptance of bongos and lite-jazz noodling flute on "Glad She's Gone"? He sings over background music that wouldn't be out of place in a 70's Sesame Street montage - children spinning on a witches' hat, glaring oranges and rusts, overexposed shots of multi-culti families holding hands and dancing in a circle before a setting autumn sun - and I love it. Even the poorly done scatting.

I just can't deny that voice, even 15 years later.
If I say you'll live forever
It's because I've seen the light
I can see your transformation
Is a cause for celebration
I can see a new world forming

"New World Forming", Sananda Maitreya

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

The Dog End of a Band Gone By 

I was born in 72, which means that my musical tastes were formed by the 80's. From the first glimmers of my discriminating ear (I bought "The Tide Is High" 45 for my sister's 11th birthday. This was my first musical purchase of any kind) through the pivotal high school years, the 80's are the guideposts to my musical identity. Alas, I found out recently that some of those guideposts lead to some amazingly bad music.

I was, and am, somewhat of a loner. In high school I developed a small coterie of friends, far from even the periphery of popularity. Luckily, there were plenty of bands catering to my outsider status, and my nerdy sense of cool. I had Morrissey and Robert Smith to comfort me, I had Flesh For Lulu and Gene Loves Jezebel to get me dancing. I had Some Kind of Wonderful. I had an in with the coolest of cool; I had Love and Rockets.

Love and Rockets - the band that was the heart (if not the voice and mind) of Bauhaus, the band named for the greatest comic book of the 80's, the band with Daniel Ash and Daniel Ash's hair. I started the L & R ride with Earth. Sun. Moon, and it's Alterna-folk anthem "No New Tale To Tell". I arrived a bit late - a month or two before "So Alive" and their peak of popularity - and "So Alive" was redemption. A band I liked, a band appealing to freaks like me, were on Top 40 radio. This was huge. There was and is no alternative radio in the area I grew up in - no HFS, no KCRW to redeem the airwaves. We had classic rock, where the 80's were not to be found; we had a Top 40 all-white cheese-metal extravaganza; we had country. Love and Rockets had broken through the cheese metal onslaught.

Into college I had a weakness for the music of Mr. Haskins, Mr. Ash and Mr. J - even the solo efforts (I still believe "I'll Be Your Chauffeur" isn't half bad). Yet somewhere in the midst of Nirvana and Sonic Youth, of the Happy Mondays and the Clean, of Steven Jesse Bernstein and Meat Beat Manifesto, Love and Rockets disappeared. I never updated any of their albums to CD; I didn't pick up later efforts like Lift or Hot Trip to Heaven. Yet this spring they crept back into the periphery of my mind, and I decided to find out where they had been. I looked and found out a greatest hits album would be released June 3.

So, June 3 arrives, and I traipse down to my local independent record store (keep them alive!) and bought the only copy they ordered. They were surprised anyone was looking for it, and the clerk tilted his head to the side and looked at me, puzzled. Love and Rockets' Loaded, and a used copy of the special edition Singin' In The Rain DVD. One brilliant, a classic; one very much less than that.

I didn't realize just how bad this band was! My sister always hated that I put "Haunted When The Minutes Drag" on multiple mixes for her - she said it was so long that she just stopped the tape then and there and decided that was the end of that side. I'm sorry. I never understood, and I hope you believe me. It's crap. And so is most of this album. "It Could Be Sunshine" could be, but I tend to think it's just more crap, with bad music and bad lyrics. "Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot Man)" - the title is the best part. Don't let yourself get suckered by that opening riff - it's just "Haunted When The Minutes Drag" played at an appropriate speed.

The songs from the period of time when everyone thought they were dead (otherwise known as the 90's) are just as bad. "Holy Fool" even taints the mediocre legacy of Luscious Jackson with their background vocal contributions. Yet "Holy Fool" is the Holy Grail compared to David J's lyrics to the "record companies don't appreciate artists" diatribe that is the piece of shit otherwise known as "Shelf Life":
How many A&R men does it take to change a light bulb?
I'll get back to you on that
How many spells and dollars does it take to make the magic
of pulling legends from a hat
Well we'll take another sucker for another sell
Regarding them with compliments and muskatelle
A honeymoon in Vegas in a plush hotel
For that's a sad time in the morning light
That's the opening, and I'm surprised I got that much typed before I thought I would puke. So where did I go wrong? They were good once, right? I still think a CD EP of "No New tale To Tell," "So Alive," "No Big Deal" and "Ball of Confusion" wouldn't be too bad. Maybe not classic, but worth three or four bucks.

To wrap this up (I was going somewhere with this, I think), some guideposts and signs of the past are just that; indicators of where you've been, stops on a dotted line like the travel sequences of old movie serials. Some are safe havens, places you can return to for comfort and succor. Others, like Love and Rockets, are reminiscent of the unknown places on the maps of the ancient mariners; "Here there be Monsters." Or giant piles of shit.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Apologies (Again) 

I want to take a moment to break off from music thoughts to let people in a bit. As you can get from the last post, I recently returned from a vacation. At the end of the trip I purchased an ipod, which brought my faulty firewire ports to my attention. This meant the computer was going into the shop, which took four days to make it back to me (all working fine now, thank you). Within this time frame I also began to succumb to a most heinous of flu's that I caught from my wife. The drugs that seemed to temper the edges of this influenza outbreak left me fuzzy and vague. Also, this vile virus settled in my sinuses, aggravating my tendencies for sinus headaches and the sound sensitivity they bring. It has not been my favorite few weeks here.

So I haven't been listening to music much or wanting to think about writing. A while back I said I would try to be "more regular" (if someone could hook me up with the Metamucil of writing I'd be all set), and I do hope to keep that promise. I will try to make it up to you folks (I lived south of the Mason-Dixon line for ten years or so but I have trouble using y'all, as useful as that word is) in the next few weeks. I have begun to once again listen to music, and have a few comments percolating up from that font of esoteric knowledge and lyrical pabulum otherwise known as my mind.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Driving Aloud 

I’m back from a road trip to visit my in-laws, and 10-hour traveling days means 8+ hours of music (I do try to listen to NPR for news when I travel – which allowed me to hear about a possible break in the Mia Zapata murder). I try to play a mix of things when I drive – a few sing along or up-tempo albums, a calming or comforting set, and always a few new and a few favorite pieces. In the past, I have often made mixes to travel by, but things have been crazy and I didn’t make even one mix. Which means each album is an experience of both wheat and chaff, unfiltered and in an unchanged context. So what did I find amongst the dross?

The continued love of Robyn Hitchcock, and particularly Moss Elixer, springs to mind. “Sinister But She Was Happy” is a perfect opener, with beautiful violin from Deni Bonet and a smiling and obviously comfortable Hitchcock spinning his usual lyrical web. I can’t hear this song and not see Robyn smile at my wife during its performance in Baltimore a few years back. My wife was quietly singing along (“Sinister But She Was Happy” is her favorite Hitchcock song), and Robyn looked over at her and watched her sing with him. It is one of those moments I will always remember. “The Devil’s Radio” (from which I named this weblog) and “Heliotrope” make an opening triumvirate rarely matched.

My continuing love of The American Song-Poem Anthology grows and grows. “Jimmy Carter Says Yes” may be the best song about a President since the days of “White House Blues” (I also recommend Mellencamp’s rewrite of it as “To Washington” on Trouble No More). “Convertibles and Headbands” and “The Moon Men” are lovingly absurd, with the obviously one-take “The Moon Men” being one of the most amazing readings of abysmal lyrics ever laid to wax. It’s an album that you play for friends – “you won’t believe this!” – and one that makes you reevaluate those friendships if they don’t get it. Brilliant and irrelevant and indispensable.

Ted Hawkins, the voice of truth, left a legacy that seems to grow and grow. I have a soft spot for The Final Tour, which has him drawing on songs from throughout his long (if neglected) career. Again, a triumvirate of songs weighs heavy; “Biloxi”, “The Lost Ones” and “Missin’ Mississippi”. A multifaceted portrait of his home, of the formation of the man he would become (for both good and bad). One of those singers I could listen to forever, a tape loop of The Human Experience.

I also took advantage of the radio on this trip – driving through New York and DC means the best Hip Hop and Eclectic and Alternative on the East Coast. Hot 97 blasting “Crazy in Love” and “Never Leave” was right as right could be, though the mistake that is Chingy’s “Right There” or the weakness that is “In Those Jean.” Tainted the experience overall (though I want to give a Shout Out to “New Jeru”, as DJ Envy let me know is another name for Jersey). In DC, HFS did their patriotic thing with the All-time American Alternative Artists (which they repeated a few times – I caught Beck at #24 twice) and did a Most Downloaded songs in the BalWash (I’ve been trying to get this moniker of the DC/Baltimore metro area to catch on for 8 years now, and it’s just not working to my satisfaction). It was good to hear Elvis Costello and the Cure and Incubus all mixed together.

Overall, an interesting musical road trip. I picked up an ipod on the way home, only to find that the logic board for the firewire ports in my computer is fried. Once I can get that fixed (next week sometime) I will share my thoughts on my new 30GB personal music machine. Ah, technology…

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The Audience Laughed at Lester Maddox Too 

I wish I could say the last of the good old boys died, but, alas, that will probably never be the case. However, the death of Lester Maddox removes one racist from the face of the planet. It's too easy to write Lester off as a product of his times - his times are our times, and we shouldn't forget that the vast majority of Americans were born and lived in the era of segregation, of "separate but equal."
Slight of stature, Mr. Maddox was nonetheless direct and outspoken in the defense of his convictions, which he wrapped in a states' rights banner. These included the view that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites, that integration was a Communist plot, that segregation was somewhere justified in scripture and that a federal mandate to integrate schools was "ungodly, un-Christian and un-American."
This is not the view from "days gone by." This man died today, and many of those who supported him, voted for him, and believe as he believed are still here, still believing.

In 1974, Randy Newman released Good Old Boys, with it's scathing opening track, "Rednecks." In 1974, Lester Maddox was four years from the Governor's house, and running for reelection. Randy Newman has never pulled punches, and his lyrics from "Rednecks" are as pertinent now as they ever were:
Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
With some smart ass New York Jew
And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox
And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too
Well he may be a fool but he's our fool
If they think they're better than him they're wrong
So I went to the park and I took some paper along
And that's where I made this song

We talk real funny down here
We drink too much and we laugh too loud
We're too dumb to make it in no Northern town
And we're keepin' the niggers down

We got no-necked oilmen from Texas
And good ol' boys from Tennessee
College men from LSU
Went in dumb, come out dumb too
Hustlin' 'round Atlanta in their alligator shoes
Gettin' drunk every weekend at the barbecues
And they're keepin' the niggers down

We're rednecks, rednecks
And we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground
We're rednecks, we're rednecks
And we're keeping the niggers down

Now your northern nigger's a Negro
You see he's got his dignity
Down here we're too ignorant to realize
That the North has set the nigger free

Yes he's free to be put in a cage
In Harlem in New York City
And he's free to be put in a cage on the South-Side of Chicago - and the West-Side
And he's free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland
And he's free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis
And he's free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco
And he's free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston
They're gatherin' 'em up from miles around
Keepin' the niggers down

We're rednecks, rednecks
And we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground
We're rednecks, we're rednecks
And we're keeping the niggers down
I'd like to think that the death of Lester Maddox just renews the calls for true equality, for real justice. We've come a short way in a short time, and it's been a long time coming. If the afterlife were just, Saint Peter Claver and Saint Martin de Porres would chase him out of heaven with an ax. That would be the only fitting way to great such a right bastard.

Monday, June 23, 2003

All the Way to Boylan Heights 

As summer approaches (it takes it's time to reach Maine), I always recall seeing The Connells at The Boathouse in Norfolk, VA in the summer of 1992. Summers in Tidewater Virginia can be downright hellish. Cruising down I-64 through Hampton and diving into the cavernous mouth that sucks you down below the James River, you emerge to see Norfolk rise in steam and ripples in front of you like the city of Dis on the river Styx. For those who never have been to The Boathouse, it was/is (I haven't been there since '94, so I will use past tense) a relatively good sized (2500?) venue with mediocre sound and some pretty atrocious sight lines (I mean, it was a big rectangle, ceilings about 15' high, supporting polls throughout, with a six foot high stage in the middle of the venue, along one of the long sides), and I went there as often as I could. Well, back to the story at hand.

I went with my friend Jon to see The Connells. It was a benefit show, with anyone who brought a canned good getting in for 99¢. Jon and I set out on a typically hot (98 or so) Williamsburg evening to see the show. We popped in Check Your Head to accompany us (I remember this clearly because Jon could do a perfect imitation of the voice the Beasties used for "Well I think it's booty - Boot/boot/boot/booty, that's what it is"). When we emerged from the tunnel it was at least ten degrees hotter. Miserable. We reached The Boathouse, and could feel the heat of the place blasting us as we approached the door. The ticket guys thanked us for the canned goods, we paid our two bucks and got the warning that it "was hot in there." Thanks. If you happen across this, thanks again. Really. As I have been around blast furnaces that were cooler than the air blowing out of the place, thanks for the warning.

Jon and I went quickly through and ducked out a side door - along with 35 sixteen year old girls and their dates. We didn't quite fit the shows demographics - Jon was 22 looking like 35, I was 19 and had just shaved off my 14" mohawk, leaving only a long blonde braid off the back of my bald head. At least we were both wearing sandals. Regardless, we struggled to hold our place on the edge of the inferno. As showtime approached, we were sure that it would be canceled or postponed. We guessed it was at least 110 on the floor and had to be hotter under the stage lights. But right on time, The Connells took the stage. Jon and I maneuvered ourselves to a happy midpoint between the PA and an industrial airport hanger fan (you know those five foot metal fans from all the old movies? There had to be a dozen of them throughout the club). After the first song, the band looked done. Absolutely shot. There was some patter, along the lines of, "Sure is hot! Are you all hot?" The band started into a second song, then a third and fourth. The crowd was ignoring the heat, jumping up and down and singing along. People started to collapse from heat exhaustion, and The Connells stopped and called security to help.

I forgot to mention that the only water available was $3 a pop from the concession stands. The band called for water for the crowd, and the workers at the venue were hesitating. The band called again, and the crowd took up the call. Before long, bottled water started flying out to the crowd and they even set up a hose over to one side (well away from any equipment) to just hose people down. The Connells went back to playing, four or five in a row, with the crowd dancing and singing, soaking wet, half naked and passing out. The band called for everyone to pay attention, and pulled out a thermometer. Doug MacMillan held it up for the people in the front to see, and said, somewhat dumbfounded, "It's 128 on stage." (now, please don't quote me on this - I remember it as 128, but it could have been 118 or 123 or something. My mind, ten years later, has settled on 128, and I couldn't find anything to check it by on the net). As crowds of teenagers are want to to, they cheered and started dancing. The Connells started playing again, and didn't stop until they had been on stage over two hours. Looking back at it now, I remember Jon and I sharing a look of amazement as The Connells got better as the show went on, feeding off the heat and the crowd. The only song I can see clearly in my mind's eye is "Scotty's Lament," with Doug draped across the microphone stand, his legs literally shaking, sweat running off his bent elbows onto the stage and crowd.

I went back later that summer to see the Beastie Boys, with L7 and House of Pain (who cancelled, on account of their sucking too much to "Jump Around" live). The Beasties complained about the heat, and I laughed. I would swear there were Connells shirts for sale at the Beastie Boys show, with 128 on it in big letters.