Straight Out of Comp. Town

A playlist for the box set post below.

“If This World Were Mine” – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (from The Master)

The consolation prize for the brain tumor that took Tammi Terrell from the world at the tender age of 24 is the duets she recorded with Marvin Gaye. The rapport between these two is palpable and true; it takes two minutes for them to sing in harmony, and the “woah-ho-hoo” that results is subtle magic. They trade verses, bridges and choruses with perfect sympathy, amplifying and reinforcing the power and passion each possesses. The swell and break that starts around the 1:30 mark is sublime.

“Flute Thing” – Seatrain (from What It Is!)

Before this box set came along, I knew this only as a sample in the Beastie Boys “Flute Loop” (though that sample is actually from the original version performed by the Blues Project; Seatrain is the same band under a different name, and this is the single edit of their re-recorded version. Got it?). Great little groover, with a great Al Kooper written flute riff. Pretty, fun and an understandable closet classic.

“Satellite Of Love” – The Velvet Underground (from Peel Slowly And See)

I’m glad Lou squelched this at the demo stage and let it percolate for a few more years; at this point it is missing something. And it has “Winkin, Blinkin and Nod” instead of “Harry, Mark and John”; who gets bold in an old wooden shoe? I guess it does seem a little less slutty to be hangin’ with nursery rhyme characters. Guitar on this is Loaded-by-numbers – a little “Cool It Down”, a little “Sweet Jane.”

“I’m Eighteen” – Alice Cooper (from The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper)

I don’t think there is anything I can say that hasn’t been said a million times over. A perfect song, with a vocal performance by Alice that is tortured, genuinely pained and torn. The guitar work is impeccable, stepping back and allowing space for Alice’s harrowing delivery while amping up at the necessary points. I’ve never been quite comfortable with that organ chord at the end; perhaps it is intimating at a less than pleasant end, a funeral for a man child. After all, the song was written with the absurdity of the time in mind – at eighteen you could be expected to fight and kill for your government but not yet vote for those sending you to your fate.

“Saint Behind The Glass” – Los Lobos (from El Cancionero: Mas Y Mas)

This song is joyous; from the tinkling muted strings to the bomp-bomp strolling bassline, from the smile you can hear on the singer’s face to quiet claps that carry the song home. Joy. Happiness can sound like a baby’s coo or a benediction, and this encapsulates it all.

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Living In A Box

[Author’s Note: This didn’t turn out as planned. After multiple tries and multiple failures I just gave up. It is what it is, and I’m sure one of these days I’ll revisit the topic and see if I can get to a point. And don’t try to blow up that pic – the only camera I could find was in my phone. Such is life.]

I love box sets, and am surprised to find that this is not a universal trait. A friend told me he loathes box sets, because they lack context. An album is of a place and time, but retrospectives reshape and remove that aspect of the work. I have some sympathy with that viewpoint, and even argued a bit of it here with regard to the Smiths (whose work needs an overhaul on CD – box set, anyone?). However, a good box set sets the music in a new context, a new light; what is this music in terms of a career trajectory, or in some cases a scene, a snapshot of a time and place?

Obviously, I’m talking artist overviews and stylistic collections, which all fall in line with the groundbreaking collections of Bob Dylan (Biograph) or Nuggets. There are plenty of sets I own and love that are really just collected works, like Citizen Steely Dan and Message In A Box, or the Complete Stax/Volt Singles. There are also expanded collected works, that combine released output with unreleased recordings like Peel Slowly and See or Beauty Is A Rare Thing. These are wonderful in that one can easily get everything by an artist in a simple, affordable fashion. But it is the curated sets that truly set my wheels spinning.

Sound + Vision captures the chameleon-esque Bowie in all his highs and lows, a distillation of fifteen albums, countless singles, b-sides and outtakes, from “Space Oddity” to “Ashes To Ashes”. El Cancionero: Mas Y Mas concentrates twenty years of Los Lobos and assorted side projects into a powerful whole, and each step along the path is easily followed to help understand what makes them tick. Antbox, picked by the Ant man himself, is a dizzying peak behind the scenes, with many of his best known works in alternate forms, and he is unafraid to show some warts and missteps. The Life And Crimes of Alice Cooper spends way too much of its running time on the dross from the eighties and nineties, but then again, so did Alice. The Slade Box suffers similarly; such is always the case with a fair overview of a career that continues past the halcyon days of adulation and critical acclaim. The Master, covering the sadly shortened career of Marvin Gaye, has the least filler and failures of any full career overview I’ve heard; either he had the fewest duds in history or this is perfectly picked. Stunning, either way.

Sets that deal with a style or time also find a home in my collection; where would I be without The Beat Generation to remind me of college, clove cigarettes, and Ginsburg on DoG street? Tougher Than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music is easily the most played set I’ve ever owned, and is where the EZ Snappin’ moniker came from; What It Is! has kept me funky for a few years, which sounds far worse than the reality.

Box sets are my reward for living in this day and age; the sounds of generations that preceded me collected to aid my understanding.

The Brothers Green, Part 8

The Cast:

Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary all make the scene, and an old character from Lantern’s past, Carol Ferris, joins in. Carol was once Hal’s girlfriend and employer. She moved on some time in the 60s because Hal was too wishy-washy and afraid of commitment.

Our bad guy is pure stereotype, a manipulative loser named Grandy; he’s come across a child named Sybil who can control people, trees, animals, etc. with her mind. She isn’t evil herself, but only a poor child who has found herself under Grandy’s malevolent wing.

The Plot:

In the prologue, Carol Ferris bumps into Grandy on the street; he makes Sybil paralyze her. Next, we see that Black Canary, in her civilian guise of Dinah Lance, has decided to take a job as a Phys Ed teacher at Meadowhill School. Green Lantern and Green Arrow decide to see her off; after foiling a mysterious bird attack, they leave her at the school. Lantern and Arrow come across Carol Ferris, and Lantern saves them all when Ollie’s car mysteriously falls apart. Meanwhile, Dinah decides to switch togs and investigate the weirdness at the school as Black Canary. Sadly, she quickly gets captured by Grandy and Sybil; Grandy tells her his story like every good criminal mastermind, and decides to kill her with maddened wasps. Green Arrow and Green Lantern tie their own misfortune to the weird feeling they had about the school; returning, they save Black Canary from a horrible stinging death. Grandy tries to force Sybil to stop them, but she turns on him when he hits her and the building collapses on them both. Green Lantern turns to old flame Carol and takes off his mask (!) and walks off with her cradled in his arms. We see – presumably saved from destruction by her own mysterious power – Sybil’s legs and feet as Hal and Carol walk off in the distance.

Once again the plot means nothing, for this is all about the changes the past seven issues have had on Hal Jordan. But before getting into the nuts and bolts of Hal’s revelations, I want to point out some strange goings on in this issue. First, the Green team accompany Dinah to her new job not in their civilian guises as Hal and Ollie but as Green Lantern and Green Arrow. The headmaster and staff just figure they’re her friends; nobody wonders why two Justice League members know the new Phys Ed teacher. Secondly, and less off-putting but still weird, are two panels of Hal flying; in both, he is in the strangest posture for a hero “on the wing”.

I know it is all willpower and thought, but I would imagine a test pilot would naturally assume a more aerodynamic posture. One other note; the green bubble corralling the birds is repeated later when he corrals the wasps attacking Black Canary. Foreshadowing of technique. Well done men, well done.

Not long after meeting Carol, Green Lantern cues her in to the new state of things, how he isn’t the Guardian’s tool anymore, but he’s older, and maybe wiser, and maybe, no definitely, looking like a youngish Tom Waits:

Neal Adams wasn’t using photo reference – Waits was only a local San Diego guy, if even that, in 1970.

After saving Canary, Hal has a mad-on for Grandy. He now knows Grandy is responsible for Carol’s paralysis, and he utters a line unthinkable for him a mere half-year before, “I’m putting you under citizen’s arrest! Resist me… I beg you!”

What we also have here is the slap. No sound effect, no mention in words. There are motion lines for both hand and hair; the action unmistakable, if not explicitly shown. There can be no doubt of Grandy’s evil, nor of Sybil’s sad innocence. She is damaged, a tool viciously used and manipulated. What follows, after Sybil turns her power on Grandy and herself, is the further tarnishing of Green Lantern’s shining armor.

“I’ll live with that question the rest of my life,” Hal says, his expression cold, his eyes turned away. He didn’t even try. He no longer sees things in black and white, or takes action regardless of the bigger picture or greater good. Ollie has changed him; the Guardian’s decisions have changed him; Hal is no longer the Lone Ranger. The patterns are changing, the dominoes are falling, and his own is next.

This is meant to be powerful, an unmasking over ten years in the making. Hal bares his soul, and she responds, “Can you forgive rich, naughty, silly..me?” And then he says he loves her and she says, “I’m glad, Hal!” Oh my god! Hal’s still kind of a douche, but that reaction is horrible. Her first thoughts are “rich” and “I’m glad”? By the way, she’s engaged to the guy that runs the school, Jason Belmore, who has been terrorized for weeks by Grandy. He’s presumably safe with the other kids – only Grandy and Sybil were in the part of the building that collapsed – but what does a fiancé matter to a super-hero and his former flame? Nice people, these two.

Next time, issue #84, and the story entitled, “Peril In Plastic”.

The Five Fingers of Friday

“Rough And Tumble” – Joe Henry (from Scar)

Simple shuffle with wire brush drums over top.  Easy to clap along to, but they’re sadly missing.  The claps that would take this into rolling mid-tempo funk.  This track has more than a bit of early 70s Paul Simon; a genre exercise, somewhere between pastiche and amalgam.  A good stand-in for the album as a whole, for Scar is a weird mish-mash, a waypost on the transitional from Lanois to the place he is now.

“Weather With You” – Crowded House (from Woodface)

Before the Finn brother’s open their mouths, this song is ace.  The opening riff, backed with what sounds like high pitched wood blocks, brings an instant smile.  The bridge, beginning with, “Things ain’t cooking/ in my kitchen…” is sublime, a perfect counterpoint to both the verse and chorus structure.

“Lyin’ Ass Bitch” – Fishbone (from Fishbone)

“La la la la la la la la la!”  Fishbone played what they want, how they wanted, and are unjustly relegated to second-tier status for it.  This is them doing ska (though I use the term lightly here) with a touch of Otis & Carla’s “Tramp.”  What comes out is musical theater, with voices in counterpoint and a big chorale part where the whole cast sings; the cracked mirror reflection of “I Loves You, Porgy.”

“Dracula” – Marbles (unreleased)

I downloaded this from some website a few years back (probably from You Ain’t No Picasso).  It is Robert Schneider from Apples In Stereo singing, but I don’t know who, if anyone else, is in the band.  It is a silly novelty tune with a great synthesizer riff, and sometimes that is all you need.  The Apples have always left me a bit cold; their calculated approach to quirky pop strikes me as completely inorganic and soulless.  This sounds like it was cranked out in a day and is all the better for it. “Dracula, Count Dracula / Whoah ooh! / He moved to California / He’s got wicked look / He’s got the Top 10 hooks /  Whoah ooh! / They signed him to Columbia.”  What’s not to love?

“Sweet Jane” – Lou Reed (from Take No Prisoners)

Some Lou gems from this amphetamine fueled, 10-minute live version:

Fuck Barbra Streisand.  Fuck the little people.  You ever meet somebody from Wyoming? Not me. Hey clerk, give me good clerk.  I give good clerk.  They save their pennies and their dimes, and they’ve got a fucking nest egg.  You ever put a quarter in those machines man, like the bear that pays basketball?  The March of the Wooden Soldiers – Huh!  Give me an issue, I’ll give you a tissue and wipe my ass with it.  If you write as good as you talk, nobody reads you.  What am I, Henny Youngman, man?  Those villains always – SHUT UP YOU! – blink their eyes.

Classic.

Beneath the Burma Frost

What to say about Mission of Burma? In high school in the late 80s, I heard them on Dartmouth College’s crappy AM station, and became familiar with the “hits”: “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”, “Academy Fight Song”, “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate”, “This Is Not A Photograph”. At college, not knowing Burma seemed a crime (particularly for a New Englander) so I got a copy of the Rykodisc compilation. Everyone seemed to own it; bands on campus often played “…Revolver” or “Academy Fight Song” along with the Pixies, Nirvana and the usual 120 Minutes fodder. I liked the band, but didn’t get the adulation. I vaguely remember a debauched evening that involved me singing an impromptu parody with the chorus “That’s When I Reach For Mary’s Vulva”, but that would be as close to “involvement” with the band and its music I would ever get. Sometime in the 90s, when the compilation went out of print, I gave it to a friend who desperately wanted it.

So why mention them? I haven’t followed their reincarnation, but I noticed Pitchfork.tv this week is hosting the documentary This Is Not A Photograph. I knew the basic history (by the way, the documentary lacks any insight beyond what one might glean from Allmusic), but have heard they are still an incendiary live act and thought I’d watch for the reunion show footage. They sound good, still powerful and surprisingly tight. However, what I took away from the documentary was something negative. Early on, they play a Miller song called “Wounded World” (he recorded it in ’91, and Mission of Burma cut it for their post-reunion album onoffon). Immediately, I thought the riff was eerily reminiscent of something; it only took the second repetition for me to realize it was similar to, a kissing cousin of, The Guess Who’s “American Woman.” I understand people crib stuff both innocently and purposefully, but “American Woman”? It’s a little too iconic, too massively familiar, to claim for either reason. Check the links below to hear for yourself.

Mission of Burma’s version (it’s live, a little muddy, a little loud), or, if you’d rather a bit more clarity, Miller’s version from ’91. Here’s The Guess Who if you need a refresher.

I know it’s minor in the scheme of things, but it is in the first 10 minutes of the documentary and just hung a small cloud of stink over the rest of it. It’s funny sometimes what petty little things stick in your craw and spoil what is otherwise a good experience.

The Brothers Green, Part 7

First things first; after the epic journey of discovery, we need a break. This issue is pure filler.

The Cast:

Green Arrow and Black Canary, joined by Green Lantern.

The villain of the piece is a woman calling herself the Witch Queen (behind-the-curtain is Sinestro, the renegade Yellow Lantern; the Witch Queen is his sister). They are aided initially by a group of mythological beings (Harpies, Amazons and Medusa) who have been trapped in an alternate dimension and are pathological man-haters.

The Plot:

Green Arrow stops in to see Dinah, but they are attacked by harpies. When the harpies disappear, Ollie contacts Hal, figuring he’s better equipped to deal with this sort of thing. The harpies ambush Green Lantern, who follows them into a trap. Sinestro and his sister banish him to the alternate dimension of the mythological beings. When the Lantern doesn’t arrive, Arrow and Canary follow their leads only to be ambushed by the Amazons. Our heroes beat them, hear their sorry tale of being trapped when their Queen spurned some ugly sorcerer, and together they all go to confront the true villains. They beat Sinestro, and Canary accompanies the Amazons back to their alternate world to rescue Green Lantern. With that goal achieved, they leave.

I’m keeping this short, for the story is hackneyed filler, and neither O’Neil nor Adams is working hard. There is one great sequence, when Green Arrow takes on Sinestro. Sinestro has hidden his ring inside a scepter with a false gem on top so the heroes will think “magic” not “ring of power.” With his ring, he can dispatch Green Arrow with ease; but he doesn’t anticipate Ollie’s quickness:

I love the motion blur; I love the framing of Green Arrow within the ring. It may be the logical, even obvious, composition, but Adams does it well. The contrast of the pink fingers, the yellow ring and Green f’n Arrow holds the eye.

The follow-up image is equally impressive. We see the arrow’s flight, with Sinestro’s ring rattling, spinning along the shaft. Then we know what’s coming; Green Arrow bends down, the muscles in his legs bracing for the upswing and the follow through that breaks the plane of the panel. The swing so strong, Sinestro is limp before he falls backwards to the floor:

Hal is having his own issues in the alternate dimension. Confronted by madness and chaos, Green Lantern reacts the only way a sensible man could; jazz hands:

The last panel I’m going to share is great, because even within the context of the book it’s silly. Hal had confronted the Witch Queen inside what appeared to be a club; in reality it was a construct of Sinestro’s ring. When he and Black Canary return from the mythological domain, he expects to be in the same nightspot. How do we now this? Because he reappears in mid-watusi (you remember his ass-shaking from before, right?):

Next issue reintroduces a classic character from Green Lantern’s past and a shocking revelation. Come back for “… and a child shall Destroy Them!”

Lisboa

Yesterday was my ninth wedding anniversary. For the past wo days, I’ve been trying to get my thoughts together; I want to talk about Lisbon, where we went for our honeymoon, but can’t seem to wrap my head around an approach. To talk about the city, to talk of why we went, what I think now, the music, the culture – what course to set, what way to begin? I’ve started and stopped, cut, cropped and edited, and still feel stymied. So here are some bullets, a few little sketches, all of which are a story in themselves.

• We went to Portugal for one reason: the Wim Wender’s film Lisbon Story. Before we got together, Krista and I had both been fans of Wenders. What we were able to see – the 80s/early 90s work from Paris, Texas through Faraway, So Close – was special, so once we were together, we kept an eye out for new work as it came along. Lisbon Story has a plot but it isn’t the point; it is a love letter to Lisbon and its people, culture, architecture, and history. The Romans and Moors who built the citadel and the alfama; the explorers under their patron Henry the Navigator; the Catholic church; the Marquis de Pombal, who rebuilt the heart of the city after the devastating quake of 1755; the fadistas and saudade.

Lisbon Story introduced me to Madredeus. Easily one of my favorite bands of the last twenty years, with one of the sublime voices of the modern era in Teresa Salgueiro. I’ve never done a good job articulating why this band is so special to me; I think people either love them or don’t, and it seems to be an almost immediate reaction.

• In 1999, Portugal celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the “Carnation Revolution”; the year before was Expo ’98. The modernization of Lisbon, apparent when we visited, was being done well; the Expo was used to rehabilitate a dilapidated shipyard on the outskirts of the city, the transportation needed for the sight unobtrusively integrated into existing mass transit and highway systems. The modern parts of Lisbon skirt the city, and leave alone the Pombaline heart, as well as the older neighborhoods that survived the earthquake (particularly the maze-like alfama, with its roots in the ninth century). The lineage and history of 2000 years is still present.

• I found that lineage intoxicating. A once powerful land, with the reminders of it ever-present; from the sarcophagus of Vasco da Gama to the statue of Fernando Pessoa, they commemorate their own. But, as with the playful statue of Pessoa, seated at his neighborhood cafe, it is an acknowledgment without obstacles, an approachable history. In the States, our history is set aside in museums and false communities like Colonial Williamsburg; even in our greatest cities (as Alex regularly documents), we obliterate the past with nary a nod or a care.

• Lastly, I want to share a picture that still makes me smile:

It is so considerate. “Please be careful, don’t drive off the dock.” In a similar vein, they have a broad range of pedestrian crossing signs; from tall men with fedoras to a woman and a child to a man with a guitar, all in a similar style to this harbor warning.