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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…