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by Blake Hammond 09.29.2012
 
 
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MPMF.12 Day 2: MidPoint Cherry, Popped

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and then you have the MidPoint Music Festival. Well, none of it was bad; I mean, if I have to bitch about something, it’d be that there weren’t enough bathrooms. Just kidding. Who do you think I am, some writer from The Enquirer or something?

It was my first trip to Cincinnati’s annual music event, so it was my MPMF deflowering, if you will. And just like every teenage girl’s dream, Midpoint popped my cherry by easing me in slowly and sweetly, but ended up giving it to me hard enough to have me worn out by the end of the night. Also, since almost all the shows were at bars, they even got me a little tipsy before they ravaged my mind with their delightful musical fuck-fest (what gentlemen!)

I started my night at Washington Park, where New Zealand’s Psychedelic Indie Pop rockers Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage. When they finished, I didn’t know how I felt about it. The songs were catchy and the music was very beat-driven, with intermittent fetching riffs and wailing solos from the lead man and mastermind of UMO, Ruban Nielson, but there was still something off about it. To me, it sounded like the vocals were turned down too low, almost becoming a backdrop for the Pop-induced musical acid trip blowing through the amplifiers. Then again, it also may be the fact that I didn’t know many of the lyrics. Either way, it ended up being like meeting a cute girl at a bar that ends up just having an OK personality. She sparks your interest for a while and you may even take her on a couple dates, but there’s only so much you can hear about how cute her cat is or why The Vampire Diaries is such a great show before you realize she’s just not for you.

After UMO ended, I decided to finish my brew, skip out on Grizzly Bear (mainly because someone else had to be covering it, right guys?) and headed down to The Drinkery to see Boston duo You Won’t. It may have been the best decision of the night.

On my way there, I had to force myself to walk by the Third Man Records rolling record shop (because I’m broke) and contemplated going to the free advice booth/box truck to see if somebody can tell me why my life is always falling apart, but decided to get a drink instead (maybe I just answered my own question).

When I arrived at The Drinkery around 8 p.m., it was a ghost town. That sounds stupid and cliché but, including the bar staff and the two other people I brought with me, there were approximately 15 people in attendance.

By the time You Won’t actually started (around 8:30 p.m.) there were about eight people watching. The rest were sitting at the bar either enraptured by the masterful pitching performance Homer Bailey was putting on against the Pirates (who can blame them), off in their own conversations or at Washington Park seeing Grizzly Bear. After the end of You Won’t’s first two songs, however, I was already impressed.

Lead singer, Josh Arnoudse, who in addition to being a really cool guy (I spoke with him briefly after the show) had one of the most distinct voices I’ve heard in a long while. At first, I thought it to be like a higher pitched, better toned Bob Dylan, but as the set progressed, Arnoudse hit his falsetto with ease (on numerous occasions) and showcased a wide vocal range during the 40 minute show. The other half of You Won’t, Raky Sastri, was quite the musician, as well, manning the drums, keyboard, accordion, harmonica, tambourine, organ, xylophone, and, oh yeah, he did back-up vocals, too.

Yet, the best part of their performance was about halfway through, when Arnoudse decided that if people weren’t going to come to his show, he was going to bring his show to the people.

He then proceeded to run out into the “crowd” with his acoustic guitar and play by the pool table because "the vibing" better. Oddly enough, he was right. People started to come around, circling Arnoudse and Sastri, while Arnoudse played to their cell phone cameras as if they were on national TV (look out for those on YouTube later.)

When You Won’t ended, I basked in all my fan-boy glory, praising Arnoudse for his set and buying their LP, Skeptic Goodbye. Then, the unthinkable happened. The Dark Knight (Bailey) rose as he achieved the Red’s first no-hitter since Tom Browning did it against the Dodgers back in ’88 (I wasn’t even born yet) and celebration ensued. People were going nuts, drinks were bought and high-fives were given as the general mood of the bar had done a 180-degree turn in less than an hour.

After partying it up with those patrons, I headed down to Mr. Pitfiuls (what an awesome name) to check out old school Country band The Tammy Whynots and I was not disappointed. Although I had to leave about six songs into their set, these guys (and gal) really captured that classic Honky Tonk Nashville sound that was so revered in the ’60s and early ’70s. With their bedazzled rhinestone jackets, Kelly Thomas’ vintage Loretta Lynn-style dress and throwback hair-do, The Tammy Whynots not only hit the sound right on point, but the image, too. I don’t want this to sound like they are purely a tribute act, paying homage to Country legends like Johnny, June, Tammy and George, because if they had come along earlier (like a lot earlier) they could have easily fit right in right along side those legends.

The final band I saw Friday, were the high-octane, high-energy, in-your-face Rock & Roll band The KillTones back at The Drinkery. It was the thing I had been waiting for all night; finally, a band with some fucking attitude. This was not only the four-piece Blues-infused band’s first time at MidPoint, but also their album release party. They knocked their really tight set out of the park. No no-hitter here.

The guitarist, Josh Pilot, was like a combination between Tony Iommi and Chuck Berry if they hung around Jack White a lot. The lead singer, Clinton Vearil, was about one of the most enigmatic frontmen you'll find, contorting and gyrating all over the tiny stage at The Drinkery. My favorite part of their set was a slow, bluesy song that really let Vearil’s vocal abilities shine, as he went from a mesmerizing high-pitched scream to a really soulful and sultry sound in the verses.

Although, this was definitely the best festival experience I have ever had, I only have two regrets. The first was that I was too tired to go see F. Stokes at the end of the night at the Blue Wisp. I know, I’m an idiot, but you can blame The KillTones for that; they wore me out. The second is that I didn’t have the money to buy The KillTones CD, which is consequently all I want to listen to at this moment.

Anyways, I couldn’t have asked for a better night. Good bands, good beer, my first Reds no-no and a new-found respect for the Cincinnati music scene. Thanks, Midpoint for taking it easy on me for my first time; you really know how to treat a girl right.

Click here for oodles of photos from Night 2 of MPMF.12.

 
 
by Mike Breen 02.22.2012
Posted In: Music Video, Music History, Music Commentary at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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This Date in Music History: Feb. 22

The Beatles' most famous chords and Sublime's sudden end

On this day in 1967, The Beatles continued work on arguably their best song, "A Day in the Life." After a debate over how to end the track following the huge orchestral build-up (sustained choral vocals were considered, but scrapped), the group decided to simultaneously strike a massive E chord on three pianos and sustain the notes for as long as possible. Adding overdubs (and a contribution from producer George Martin on harmonium), the final resonating notes hang in the air for over 40 seconds on the recording. As the held chords faded on the pianos in the studio, the engineer had to crank the recording level, which picked up some incidental sounds (like a creaking chair and, certainly, something about Paul being dead) from the studio.

That E-major chord that closes the song — and the whole Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, considered one of the best ever — is widely considered one of the most famous chords in Rock/Pop history. Which means that The Beatles are responsible for the most popular opening chord in modern music — the mysterious G7sus4-ish that kicks off "A Hard Day's Night" — and the most notable final chord with the "A Day in the Life" finale.

Below is audio of BTO guitarist Randy Bachman explaining the "Hard Day's" chord mystery (frustrated guitarists should feel better about their inability to figure it out), followed by today's biggest Pop superstar performing that famed final note from Sgt. Peppers.


Click the jump for "Born This Day" featuring live footage from one of the final Sublime concerts with Bradley Nowell.

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by Deirdre Kaye 12.29.2011
Posted In: Music Commentary, Local Music, Live Music at 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)
 
 
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No More Tears: An Alternate Southgate House View

This might seem somewhat blasphemous, but I hold no real alliance with the Southgate House. I moved back here from Florida to go to college. The greatest benefit to moving here was that I was no longer in the South Florida concert rut. Cincinnati is right in the path between a lot of much larger cities. I was excited to be somewhere that would, hopefully, get more concerts than Palm Beach. This proved mostly true. But, more often than not, I still find myself heading to Cleveland, Chicago or Nashville for gigs. Which is why, after living here for six years, I’d only stepped foot in the Southgate House a couple times. But that’s only a minor reason as to why I’m not exactly heartbroken to see the venue close.

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by Mike Breen 05.22.2012
Posted In: Music News, Music Commentary at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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This Date in Music History: May 22

Pedophilia in Pop songs and birthday boy Sun Ra's bizarre film, 'Space Is The Place'

Call it "Rock & Roll Pervs Day." On this date in 1958, Jerry Lee Lewis arrived in the U.K. for a tour. Though it had been hidden at the time from the press and public, a reporter greeted Lewis at the airport and asked the rocker about his wife, Myra Gale Brown. She was Lewis' third wife (he was 22) and "first cousin once removed." She was also 13.

Lewis' handlers told him not to talk about his marriage, but he ignored them and spilled the beans (though he insisted she was 15). The U.K. public was outraged and the tour was cancelled after three dates. When he returned to the States, he found many radio outlets had banned his music; even Dick Clark wouldn't let him on his show.


Lewis' career took a major hit due to the controversy. Almost all of his singles afterwards peaked between 80-100 on the main singles charts. But Country music fans didn't seem to mind the cousin lovin'. Lewis had numerous Top 10 hits on the U.S. Country charts from the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s.

Exactly one decade after Lewis' British mishap, San Diego-based Rock band Gary Puckett & The Union Gap hit No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart with the song "Young Girl," which caused only a "minor" controversy even though it was explicitly about falling in love with an underage girl and fighting the urge to continue pursuing the relationship. In other words, a pedophilia anthem on par with Lolita (though the narrator in the song does seem to resist). Sample verse: "Beneath your perfume and your makeup/You're just a baby in disguise/And though you know that it's wrong to be/Alone with me/That 'come on' look is in your eyes."

The blip of controversy had no effect on Puckett and Co.'s career — the song made it to No. 2 in the U.S., as did its follow-up, "Lady Willpower" (featuring a similarly toned line: "Well there's so much you have to learn/And I would gladly teach you if I could only reach you"). In August of 1969, the group released "The Girl is a Woman Now" (sample line: "This girl was a child/Existing in a playground of stone"). Creepy.

"Young Girl" was covered by ABBA singer Frida, Danny Tanner on shitcom Full House and the kids from Glee in a "mash-up" with The Police's "Don't Stand So Close to Me," another pedophilia ode of sorts, inspired by the aforementioned Lolita book.

Last year, the Village Voice's Michael Musto did a roundup of "The Weirdest Pedophile Songs of All Time" and included Puckett's unnerving tune, as well as Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon," Donny Osmond's cover of "Go Away, Little Girl" and perhaps the most blatant of all, The Sherman Brothers' "You're Sixteen."

You think ANY of those songs would fly if they were released today?



Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 22 birthday include Rock & Roll Hall of Famer as a member of the Parliament/Funkadelic family, Calvin Simon (1942); Elton John's lyricist Bernie Taupin (1950); founder of The Specials (though left out of the second-wave Ska band's recent reunion activities) Jerry Dammers (1955); Mope Rock king and frontman for influential British Indie legends The Smiths, Morrissey (1959); Folk/Pop singer/songwriter Catie Curtis (1965); guitarist for Metal band Type O Negative, Kenny Hickey (1966); Indie Rock favorite John Vanderslice (1967); and amazing, exploratory Jazz genius Sun Ra (1914).

One of the more enigmatic and eccentric musicians in history, Ra was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Ala. Ra sported outlandish, "futuristic" costumes on stage and insisted he was from Saturn; listening to his experimental approach to Jazz, you can't be blamed for thinking it might be true. His music either threw out the rule book of Jazz or turned it upside down and he was an influence not only on progressive Jazz artists, but artists from all genres that veer into unexpected and/or avant garde territory. He's been cited as a big influence on musicians from George Clinton to Sonic Youth.

Ra died in 1993 from pneumonia after reportedly having a number of strokes and circulatory problems.

In 1974, Ra was the focus of the film Space Is The Place, a movie almost as strange as Ra's music. The fictional film is fascinating to watch, though sometimes hard to follow. Check out the full flick below (it is NSFW due to mild nudity, violence and some saucy and racial language). It runs about 80 minutes (but it's fun just to skim through if you don't have that kind of time right now).  

 
 
by Mike Breen 04.18.2012
 
 
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Virtual2pacalypse Now? When Jokes Come Alive

Was the hologram 2Pac a glimpse into the future of "live" music?

It's always a baffling moment for me when one of the things many of us have joked about happening in the future actually happens in the future.

"One day we'll just talk to the TV to change channels," we'd say, goofing around as we maneuvered the broomstick taped to the channel changer dial on (yes, ON) the television set so we wouldn't have to get off the couch to change it (more) manually.

"Wouldn't it be cool if, like, we could go see Kajagoogoo in Cleveland this weekend, but just broadcast to us in the garage so we can chug Milwaukee's Best and do Whip-Its while we watched it?" we'd say, knowing Mom would let us borrow the station wagon to go see the New Wave megastars in Cleveland when pigs can fly or we can carry around all the books in the library in our pockets!

Yeah, like that'll happen. But only because Kajagoogoo broke up years ago (and it did NOT end well). Last weekend, I was able to watch several artists perform at Coachella live, as it happened, while laying on my couch. Not naked, but also not sweating or getting run into constantly by some wasted "raver" in a purple Adidas jumpsuit shouting "Play 'Our House!'" while I'm trying to watch Madness.

I don't think the latest watershed the-silly-future-is-now moment — Tupac Shakur appearing at Coachella in hologram form alongside Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre — was part of the live broadcast through YouTube. But enough people have seen footage of it now that it has become a super-high trending topic on our digital future-boxes with the interweb and the series of tubes and whatnot.

I've been a bit shocked that the gimmick has elicited way more "OMG" responses that "WTF" ones. It is a neato technological trick and certainly warrants a lots of "Well I'll be"-type responses, but I've been bewildered that most of the commentary has been in the range of "tearful amazement" and "pure awe." This is based on some serious Twitter research, which has revealed how people like Katy Perry ("I think I might have cried when I saw Tupac") and Rihanna ("#IWASTHERE #STORY4myGrandKidz") reacted. I can only assume the "little people" feel the same way and are equally impressed.

If you somehow haven't seen it, take a gander:



I've made jokes in print about things like a "Hip Hopera," using it as something beyond the realm of possibility because it would be so cheesy and ridiculous. It's happened numerous times since. Never that successfully, because, you know, it's a Hip Hopera.

I've used the dead-musician-
hologram gag similarly — a far-fetched concept to play upon the ridiculous rate of technological advancement today and the greed of the music biz that might one day enable all the great dead artists of our time to be brought back to life as holograms and go on tour. Older artists could go out as their vintage selves — The Rolling Stones circa Beggars Banquet or Wu-Tang Clan circa Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (… and EVERYONE shows up). "Bands" could do multinational shows simultaneously. And the only people really getting paid to tour would be the A/V geeks hired to run the equipment.

It's such a bizarre concept; it's not supposed to ever actually come true. That's the kind of thing that makes jokes dated. And it's why The Jetsons still holds up. Robot maids — that shit's hilarious!

As dazzled as everyone seems to be by the projection of a dead rapper fake-performing (even shouting out "Coachella," though, to be fair, they could have cobbled that together from a sample from when Tupac used to play Frisbee Golf there on spring break), could there actually be a market for a hologram act to "tour"? (Note: Yes, I realize the Tupac at Coachella wasn't actually a "hologram," so shut it.)

Promoters, apparently, are going to find out if reports are true that Hologram2Pac might go on tour with Dr. Dre. Since the ghost cameo was the talk of the entire festival, Dre and Co. probably started planning it immediately. Especially after Shakur's mother gave her permission for the Coachella use and was reportedly amazed by how it came off.

That could be a fun special effect as part of someone else's act, but could it ever go to the next level? Will there ever be a tour reliant on a holographic headliner? Would people pay to see that? I'm not equating a DJ concert with a film projection of a dead person, but put, say, hologram Elvis on Daft Punk's stage — with Daft Punk — and would it double or triple the usual Daft Punk draw on tour?

I don't know if "The 1969 Beatles on Tour" or "Eddie Van Halen and His Fabulous Rotating Hologram Singers" would find an audience at this point. But I'm constantly amazed by what people love. Reality TV? Now That's What I Call Music compilations? Karaoke? Bon Iver? Every sitcom on CBS? We can do better.

If you would have told me while I was listening to 2Pac's All Eyez On Me album in 1996 (and, honestly, trying to figure out why so many considered the man a genius) that one day within the next two decades a dead Shakur would be the talk of some huge festival ("It's like that Lollapalooza thing, ’cept it don't travel"), I would have spit Milwaukee's Best out of my nose. (Yeah, I didn't mature much.)

I've watched as the concert experience — the actual, go-some-place-type of concert experience — has evolved in the past 20 years. The most talked about today is the phenomenon involving young people fiddling with their phones instead of "not paying attention" to the concert. I was, like many, annoyed/befuddled by the perceived lack of focus, but I realized something while watching Paul McCartney's Cincinnati concert at Great American Ballpark last summer that has helped me take a deep breath and just accept it.

Everyone enjoys music — listening to it, watching it performed, absorbing it — in different ways.

It was especially evident at the McCartney show because so many people had deep connections to the music being played, but they showed it — or expressed it — in different ways. I was intensely attentive and a bit internally emotional. I didn't talk a lot. My epiphany came when my girlfriend spoke to me while Sir Paul was introducing the next song. I could not imagine how insane someone must be to TALK while PAUL FREAKIN' MCCARTNEY WAS TALKING?!

And then I realized how stupid that was. My way of experiencing the show was different than hers or from the hammered 60-something couple dancing with their eyes shut or the beaming kids with their parents or the teen with the smartphone tweeting. They all had fun. And they'll all remember it (and those who don't as well will have photos to help).

So if Hologram2Pac is the next wave of live concert entertainment, I probably won't go to any of those concerts, but I won't make fun of people who do. Well, maybe just a little. Mostly because I won't be able to stop thinking about the early Saturday Night Live "fake commercial" promoting a concert residency, not long after Elvis died, starring Elvis' coat. That's one old music biz joke that hasn't come true. Yet. (Though EP did "tour" as video footage on big screens backed by a live band. And it did pretty damn well, from what I remember.)

Elvis Presley's Coat from Walter Williams on Vimeo


My recommendation is to do as I do, frustrated concertgoers. Accept our new hologram superstars. You never know — they might some day come to life and the world will be ruled by hologram images of great pop cultural icons originally crafted for beer commercials and personal appearances at car dealerships.

President Sinatra, I supported you all along.


(And now that I've made a joke about it, it has about a 600 percent better chance of happening.)
 
 
by Kyle Pope 01.31.2013
Posted In: Music Commentary at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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Bands Just Wanna Have Fun! (No Period Necessary)

For a band that is called fun., I sure find it ironic that their music sparks nothing close to that feeling.

I admit comfortably that when I was 16, I was a fan of Nickelback, Disturbed and other bands that would fall under that “Cock Rock” territory. That’s a pretty bold statement.

While I’d say that (most) of that fandom is long gone, I have been finding myself coming back to a lot of the bands the shaped my childhood and early teenage years. Yes, partly for nostalgia (although no amount of that could ever make me listen to Nickelback again), but I think this is mainly because I am finding more and more that I am losing my place in the ever-changing world of music, specifically alternative and indie music.

Three years ago, I was always into the cutting edge of what is “now” — what many others and myself thought was good. I survived Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs winning Album of the Year at the Grammy’s, braved the great King of Limbs debate of 2011 and forced myself into thinking that a band like Chevelle actually sucked.

I read Pitchfork religiously to stay on top of music’s latest and “greatest” new bands. I even pretended that I loved Bon Iver, but that fell short when it was revealed that for about a year I thought Bon Iver was one person. Sorry I’m not sorry Justin Vernon.

Truth be told, I hate Bon Iver. I also think Neon Bible is a much better Arcade Fire album and even a Radiohead album like The Bends was better than King of Limbs. I think Chevelle kicks ass, but you’d never hear me say that out loud until now.

I guess I’ll stop brown-nosing my ego and get to the point. I like music that is accessible and fun. No, not the band. My friends and I, “We Are Young,“ but if that’s your idea for a great indie party song, then your parties suck.  

I use fun. as my main example, but this also applies to Mumford and Sons, Gotye, Imagine Dragons, Lumineers and others. I find my friends and acquaintances throwing it against the wall and, beyond my understanding, I’m seeing it stick. It might be just me, but I find these bands depressing. Not in an Alice in Chains “I’m a heroin addict and I don’t know how to stop ruining my life,” kind of way either, but more like a Simple Plan, “My girlfriend left me and now I can’t stop complaining about it” kind of way. Yes, I just compared Mumford and Sons to a pop-emo band from the early 2000s.

There’s a difference between depressed and depression and these bands embody that very essence of momentary sadness that really doesn’t matter in a few months.

Despite the very real and very dangerous depression of the guys who fronted Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Butthole Surfers and several other bands during the ‘90s, the final product of that excessive drug use was great and often fun music to listen to.

You don’t put a hand on your heart and shed a tear for Kurt Cobain when he screams out the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Of course not! You crank it up to 11 and scream loud and out of key with the guy.

Fun has become such a dirty word in alternative music and it’s not because of any form of stereotypical pretentious hipster nonsense. I really think the reason is, well…just because. I don’t think there’s a reason why Mumford and Sons’ Pop-Folk-with-a-Bluegrass-flare fusion is striking big, while Old Crow Medicine Show has been doing that for years.   

What do I know is this: I miss when indie music was something new, exciting and fun to listen to. When I think of indie, I think of the playful lyrics like “We could go and get 40s” from the song “12:51” by the Strokes, the iconic bass line of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and the voice-raising howls of “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire.

I realize this is all personal interpretation, but indie music has become something of a boring passé before it even got old to begin with.

Bands have no foreseeable longevity because songs like “We Are Young” will be replaced faster than you can say “something that I used to know.” Ha, see what I did there?

And while Mumford and Sons have proven to have some lasting factor on modern music, I find their songs empty, repetitive and lacking any real expressiveness. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. “Little Lion Man” and “I Will Wait” are the same damn song.

They just don’t make good indie like they used to anymore, but then again maybe I’m getting too damn old for it anymore. 


Anger, pain, jealousy and atheism, but tell me this song doesn’t get you going! I dare you!

 
 
by mbreen 08.30.2011
Posted In: Live Music, Music Video, Music Commentary at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Squeeze the Day for 8/30

Music Tonight: Cleveland Art Punk band HotChaCha bring its dancey Post Punk rhythms and soulful melodies to Newport’s Southgate House tonight, playing the club’s Parlour room. The show is the fourth date on the Northern Ohio foursome’s extensive nationwide run with eclectic upstate New York Indie septet Summer People (which has been compared to The Cramps and Nick Cave), promoting the two bands’ split 12-inch EP release, Do It. The vinyl release is a limited edition, but in cyberspace, there are no limits, so give the EP a listen here.

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by mbreen 08.24.2011
Posted In: Music Video, Live Music, Music Commentary at 12:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Squeeze the Day for 8/24

Music Tonight: The Mad Hatter in Covington this evening hosts a full lineup showcasing the new breed of "Power Pop" — young bands evolving from so-called "Pop Punk," embracing classic Pop/Rock songwriting and developing a sound that is potentially more timeless. Georgian band Cartel headlines, as they gear up for a new EP release (due next month) that will serve as the band's first since 2009's hook-feast, Cycles, which showed clear progress in songwriting and execution. Tonight's Mad Hatter show (the kick-off date on the band's brief Midwestern tour) begins at 6 p.m. and tickets are $15. The Upset Victory, Action Item, Don't Wait Up, 21st Streamline and The Getaway warm things up.

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by Mike Breen 02.06.2012
Posted In: Music Video, Music Commentary, Music News at 02:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
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Super Bowl Gets Bowled Over By Pop Music

Musical highlights from Super Bowl XLVI

Since our Morning News and Stuff writer hates football and refused to comment on the Super Bowl (not even the Puppy Bowl!), I thought I'd take a minute to discuss yesterday's huge game. Well, the music heard during the TV broadcast, anyway.

While I'm not a huge Madonna fan (I love the idea of her more than her music), I thought her halftime show was excellent. Then I looked on the internets and it told me that I was stupid and it was actually horrible and, even worse, offensive! Things I learned: Madonna is, like, really old; she may have lip-synced during portions of the performance; and MIA said "Fuck you, America" with her middle finger. (Like Janet Jackson's boob, I wouldn't have even noticed had it not been overblown in cyberspace.)

Oh, and MIA, according to the AP report, also "appeared" to say a cuss word. (She didn't, clearly stopping her line, "I don't give a shit," at "Shhhh" — nice reporting AP!)

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by Brian Baker 05.24.2013
 
 
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Ray of Light

How the late Ray Manzarek guided one writer down the path to Rock obsession

Last Monday, while surfing through the various music sites I routinely monitor in the course of a day, a brief notation in a chatbox simultaneously caught my eye and stopped my heart: "Ray Manzarek RIP."

A quick Google search confirmed the terrible news that The Doors keyboardist had passed away on May 20 in Germany while seeking treatment for bile duct cancer.

By virtue of my mid-'50s birth, I am an actual child of the '60s and the parade of my musical heroes joining the choir invisible has seemed to pick up the pace here in the new millennium. So many have fallen, it's difficult to keep track.

My dear friend Rob, a high school bud from my Michigan hometown, has for years sent out emails with the name of a recently deceased musician in the subject line, which has led those of us in our immediate circle to refer to him as The Reaper. A few years back, he sent us an update about a new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album and from his simple subject notation I came to the horrifying conclusion that Tom and the boys had gone down like Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

Fortunately, that was not the case.

Rob was in the midst of trying to send us all a message from his phone about Ray's passing when he got my email. He hates it when I scoop him, but this was not a scoop that I could lord over The Reaper. This was as devastating as a death in the family. 

I teared up a few weeks ago when my comedy hero Jonathan Winters died and it was the same when Ray's death became a verifiable fact. Ray Manzarek wasn't simply one of the thousands of musicians who I greatly admire. He was the guy who made me listen to music.

My earliest exposure to Rock came, oddly enough, via The Ed Sullivan Show. For you youngsters, Sullivan was a well-connected entertainment reporter who wound up hosting radio shows in the late '20s and emceeing theater revues in the '30s and '40s which led to one of the first television variety shows, Toast of the Town, in 1948. Eventually renamed after its stiff but brilliantly intuitive host and talent booker, The Ed Sullivan Show occupied the Sunday-at-8 p.m. slot for 23 years.

Sullivan didn't care for Rock & Roll, but he knew teenagers were viewers and would attract advertisers, so he began booking the artists that would become the foundation of Rock in the '60s. I saw The Beatles on the Sullivan show in 1964, when I was 7 years old — I liked the music but I distinctly remember thinking, "I wish those girls would stop screaming so I can hear it." By the following year, The Beatles became a cartoon series and largely stopped being real people in my comic-book-obsessed head. 

Sgt. Pepper changed that in 1967. So much changed in 1967.

The catalyst for all that change was The Doors' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in September of that magic year. I didn't know anything about the band beyond its interesting name. I always watched Sullivan for the bands (although I was just as intrigued by the plate spinners, magicians and comics; George Carlin was an early favorite), so I looked forward to it as much as any of the others who had displayed their wares for Sullivan's audience.

Until The Doors' hypnotic vibe came pouring out of the tinny speaker in my grandparents' old black-and-white Zenith, music had been little more than an accessory in my life. I didn't follow music or collect it or pay much attention to it beyond checking it out on the occasional TV program (Sullivan, Hullabaloo, Shindig, sometimes American Bandstand on a rainy Saturday). The bands were fun and interesting to watch — by then I'd seen The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Dave Clark 5 (whose big beat, roiling Farfisa organ and frenetic guitar hooked me more than most) and many more — but I had not yet been infected with the Rock virus.

That September evening, I camped out in front of the TV to see what Sullivan had in store before The Doors played the final segment. There were the standard array of variety acts that made Sullivan a star in his own right and there was a sweaty, bug-eyed comic who was pretty funny (it turned out to be Rodney Dangerfield, making his TV debut). 

At commercial, I ran into the kitchen, probably for a chocolate chip cookie stack, and when I got back to the living room, there was Ed, arms folded across his chest, ramrod straight as if a stagehand had shoved a mop handle up his ass all the way to the base of his skull. 

"Now, The Doors...here they are with their newest hit record, 'People Are Strange.' "

The insistent lope of the first single from The Doors' sophomore album, Strange Days (which was still a week away from being released), emanated from the television and I stood staring at the set, afraid to sit down for fear of missing something. In two brief minutes, I was galvanized, pulverized and mesmerized, between Robbie Krieger's three note guitar intro, Ray Manzarek's circus organ, John Densmore's shuffling beat and Jim Morrison's trance-like presence. The best was yet to come.

Without a break, The Doors — with dozens of actual doors forming a backdrop — segued straight into their real hit, "Light My Fire," which had come out just after the first of the year. When I heard Ray's masterful intro, I remembered having heard a bit of it on the car radio before my father changed the station, presumably to get away from it. 

For the first time in my life, I got music. 

"Light My Fire" seeped into my DNA and I went through what seemed like an alchemical transformation, touched by the philosopher's stone of The Doors' cryptic groove. It felt like every molecule in my body had changed places with every other molecule in my body. Outwardly, I looked no different. Inwardly, I was not and would never be the same.

Morrison was clearly a compelling figure onstage as he writhed without seeming to move to any great degree — and the emphasis when the word "fire" erupted from his throat was hair-raising — but it was Ray Manzarek who commanded my attention. I kept wanting the camera to get back to Ray so I could watch his hands and see how they corresponded to that transdimensional sound he was creating. Morrison's smoldering role in The Doors' passion play was clearly evident, but Ray's position was so much more subversive and fascinating to me. 

By the time the Doors completed the two-and-a-half minute single version of "Light My Fire," I was paralyzed (the first time I heard the long version, probably a few months after the Sullivan show, my head nearly exploded). It was the first time I can remember thinking, "Play something else. Play that thing over. Play someone else's song. Just do that to me again."

From that moment on, I pursued music. I found the cool radio stations that played Rock and Pop and began paying strict attention. Motown had already been in full swing for a few years and that sound got its hooks into me as well. I kept an eye out for a repeat Sullivan performance by The Doors but it never happened; little did I know at the time that Ed and CBS executives had told the band to change the "girl, we couldn't get much higher" lyric in "Light My Fire" because of its possible drug connotation, which Morrison agreed to do and then either defiantly or nervously forgot. Sullivan was furious and reportedly shouted at the band after the show, "You'll never do the Sullivan show again," to which Morrison allegedly replied, "Hey, we just did the Sullivan show."

Over the next four years, my reverence for The Doors grew exponentially and I continued to be captivated by everything they attempted. I was not deterred by what some critics deemed inferior songs on Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade, and the epic tales of Morrison's booze-and-drug consumption merely added to his mythic status. Only his conviction for public indecency was worrisome, from the standpoint that a jail term could have stopped them from recording and touring. 

I was not even dissuaded when I realized that Ray was only four years younger than my father.

After its April 1971 release, L.A. Woman became the soundtrack for the end of my sophomore year in high school and the beginning of my 14th summer. On July 3, 1971, my stepbrother Rick and I were listening to WVIC in Lansing when we heard the news of Morrison's death from a supposed heart attack in Paris, where he had decamped just after the release of L.A. Woman. 

I was devastated, but I thought, "At least it wasn't Ray."

After Rick and I discussed what we thought were the band's possible options for a while, I sat down with pen and paper and wrote a letter to the surviving Doors, imploring them not to quit in the wake of their terrible tragedy. I told them, "You can't quit. It's not what Jim would have wanted, it's not what we want and, if you're honest with yourselves, it's not what you want." 

I found a Doors fan address in one of my Rock mags and mailed the letter off a few days later. (I would send an eerily similar letter to the Allman Brothers four months later, just after the death of Duane Allman; those are the only two fan letters I have ever sent). 

A few weeks later, I received a hand-signed form letter from Danny Sugerman, who was The Doors' second manager, which stated that the band appreciated their fans' concern and best wishes and they were definitely staying together and working on a new album that would be released in the fall.

Other Voices was an amazing album, although critics generally hated it. I looked at as if it were a Ray Manzarek solo album; from that perspective it was great. The following year, they pushed even further into Jazz territory on Full Circle and then decided to officially end The Doors. Ray began his real solo career with The Golden Scarab in 1973, followed by 1974's The Whole Thing Started With Rock and Roll, Now It's Out of Control.

Scarab was magnificent (particularly the unhinged instrumental, "The Moorish Idol," the first song I heard from the album on a college radio station), as it offered up serious musical chops but also something that Morrison found difficult to achieve; whimsy and humor. Out of Control was aptly named as it was slightly chaotic, but it was Ray so I found plenty of ways to love it. I still do.

After that, Ray took a zig-zag approach to his solo career. An Electronic Rock version of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," a collaboration with Phillip Glass, was extremely cool, but his work after that was sporadic at best. He did a couple of cool albums in the late '70s with his new band, Nite City, and he produced the first three X albums in the early '80s (their version of "Soul Kitchen" is harrowing). 

As an artist, Ray tended to stick to collaborative situations (although he did release a true solo album in 2006, an instrumental set of originals titled Love Her Madly, presumably the soundtrack to a B-movie he wrote, directed and starred in). In recent years, he had done a couple of albums with slide guitarist Roy Rogers, including the blazingly excellent Translucent Blues in 2011. And of course, he and Krieger famously pissed off John Densmore when they relaunched The Doors, first as Riders on the Storm, then as the 21st Century Doors and then, due to legal acquiescence, as Manzarek/Krieger.

The fact is, with Doors record sales topping 100 million worldwide, Ray could do whatever he wanted to do, for as long as he wanted to do it and he did just that. But it could be equally argued that Ray did exactly what he wanted in The Doors as well, because that gothic Rock sound didn't exist before The Doors' debut album in 1967. While many tried to replicate it in the aftermath of their staggering success, no one could quite master the formula of Morrison's shamanic poetry slam, Densmore's fluid pulse and Krieger's combination of Rock swagger and Jazz swing. 

Most importantly, they could not fathom the incredible musical ability and intuition of Raymond Daniel Manzarek, and without that, there would be no Doors. 

I would have come to Rock in some form or fashion; weeks after seeing The Doors on Sullivan, I heard Jimi Hendrix's "Foxey Lady" and "Purple Haze," yet another subatomic moment, and weeks after that was my first mindbending spin through Sgt. Pepper. 

But it was all teed up because of The Doors and their singular keyboardist, the man who revealed the universe of music to a 10-year-old boy in Michigan and sent him on a pilgrimage to find more of the same, a journey that continues to this day with the same passion and dedication that marked its initial steps over half a century ago. 

I would guess that my marching orders from Ray right now would be similar to those I offered to him and his grieving bandmates in 1971: Keep going, because it's what I want, it's what we want and, if you're honest with yourself, it's what you want.

 
 

 

 

 
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