Monday, March 29, 2010

Alex Chilton - Part Three - With A Selection of 14 Recommended Post-Big Star Tracks

From the weekly playlist of Bob's Scratchy Records, one of America's greatest radio programs, and the brainchild of photographer / rock'n'roll wild man / man-about-St. Louis Bob Reuter, in re: the death of Alex Chilton:

"I saw your very soul naked, stark naked….I suffered the pangs of disillusionment; I saw a man in torment struggling towards inward harmony... Forgive me, I cannot feel in halves." - Schoenberg wrote to Mahler after hearing the latter's Third


I suppose it's possible for someone to like, or at least appreciate, all the wildly different phases of Alex Chilton's career - The Box Tops, Big Star, the dark, weird post-Big Star solo work of the '70s, the eclectic r'n'b/soul/rock of the '80s EPs, the reunited Big Star, the reunited Box Tops, etc. - but it's not possible to like them all equally.  Everyone has a favorite and a different opinion on when he reached his peak.  For me, it's probably Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers, a kind of perfect midpoint between the power pop that preceded it and the damaged, primitive, mutant rock'n'roll that followed.

As Chilton's music evolved or veered from one phase to another, his persona changed too.  He was a teen idol/garage rocker, an Anglophilic semi-dandy, a CBGB art rocker/punk, a folkie, a collector, a Southern gentleman and an asshole, a hipster connoisseur of black music, and finally, an elder statesman able to embrace (if sometimes warily) several of the earlier selves, which he probably would've said were all one anyway.


Something I've been thinking about in revisiting some of Chilton's music over the last week is how much his later work has in common with his sometime producer Jim Dickinson.  They were both great at digging up worthy and often rare or forgotten r'n'b, country, soul, and jazz tunes to record, a proclivity that was inseparable from their seeming unconcern with commercial success.  They recorded the songs that interested them, and their musical interests were very broad.  As a recording artist, Dickinson had the advantages of having one of those gritty, imperfect voices that gets cooler with age and of having raised his own world-class backing band - his sons Luther (guitar) and Cody (drums).  I would guess that the opportunity to make music with his sons was a big reason for Dickinson's recording as much as he did in his final decade.


With those, probably my final thoughts on Alex Chilton for a while, out of the way, I'll give you my list of recommended listening from the post-Big Star years, a confusing, sometimes frustrating period on which there is little agreement, but which, like it or not, amounts to the bulk of Chilton's career:

[Ass-covering note:
This list is necessarily non-definitive, since I haven't heard everything Chilton released after Big Star.  I think it does give a sense of the range of material he released in the past 30+ years, though, and hits most of the high points.]

Baron of Love, Pt. 2 - this is really Chilton associate Ross Johnson's show, a messed-up mashup of a trashy Elvis biography and The Doors' "The End" being narrated by an apocalyptic weirdo at 4 AM in a Memphis t*tty bar. The version of Like Flies On Sherbert I have leads off with this track, which is not the case on other versions.  Hard to imagine it any other way now, though. (I also have a version of this labeled Part 1, which seems to just be an alternate take - nearly as good but quite similar to the more familiar Part 2.)

My Rival - the tape sounds at the beginning, the shaky-but-real sense of rock'n'roll danger and menace, the coming-unhinged lyric and vocal - if you wanted to grasp the Like Flies On Sherbert "concept" by listening to just one track, this would be an excellent choice.

Hey! Little Child - in a discography with many funny and perverse moments, the roll call of Catholic girls' schools near the end of this stands out as one of the funniest and most perverse.  "Hey! Little Child" is to Like Flies on Sherbert as "Cyprus Avenue" is to Astral Weeks, or something like that.

Like Flies on Sherbert - "IT' fiiii-i-ine" - I notice that AC Newman has cited this as his favorite Chilton song - "beautiful and messed up" indeed - only the Chilton-Dickinson pairing could have yielded something with this track's very specific, yet impossible-to-define quality of strangeness.

Bangkok - Chilton takes his listeners on an ultra-sleazy Southeast Asian sex tour with this bizarro punk rocker from 1978 - tough choice between the eccentric production of the single (including machine gun fire) and the Live In London version, where it fits in well with sloppy/edgy renditions of several Like Flies tracks.

Walking Dead - one of the weirder entries in the Chilton catalogue (and that's saying something), this is arguably the best thing to come out of the semi-disastrous Jon Tiven sessions (the results of which were released on The Singer Not The Song EP and the LP Bach's Bottom - and the CD version of Bach's Bottom, which is apparently very different - Chilton's '70s/'80s discography is a minefield) - this finds Chilton getting into Roky Erickson territory with the subject matter while reaching new heights of hazy weirdness with the sound.

Tramp - dangerous-sounding live version (from the Sherbert-era Live in London, with the Soft Boys rhythm section) of the Lowell Fulsom blues/soul standard made most famous by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas' duet.  When Chilton says that he "won't even smack ya in the face" on this track, you're not sure whether to believe him.

Train Kept A Rollin' - hiccuping rockabilly energy - a fine loose version (from Live In London) of fellow Memphian Johnny Burnette's horny, hopped-up all-time classic.

No Sex - Chilton's musical response to the AIDS crisis, from 1986, including one of the greatest lines of his career, "c'mon baby, f*ck me and die".  "Streets of Philadephia" (or "Philadelphia") it ain't.

Dalai Lama - from 1987's High Priest, a wacky ode to the Lama and his swingin' pad ("he had a far-out decorator") in the Himalayas.  This is just good, ridiculous fun, and I love it.

I Remember Mama - a highlight from what is perhaps Chilton's best-titled album, Loose Shoes and Tight P*ssy (originally on a small French label with a great cover, it was lamely retitled Set when first released in the US), this was a Shirley Caesar gospel/soul heart-tugger played by Chilton as a gritty Southern rock anthem.

Single Again - Alex goes honky-tonk on this Gary Stewart cover, also from Loose Shoes.

Il Ribelle - the source version of this Chilton live set staple is a nice piece of honkin' sax Elvis/Chuck Berry-style rock'n'roll, Italian-style.  On paper, this seemed like one of his more left-field cover choices, but it gave AC a chance to show off his rockabilly chops (and foreign language singing).  First appearing on the very solid, well-produced if not-quite-transcendent studio album A Man Called Destruction, this also shows up on the 2004 Live In Anvers.

What's Your Sign Girl - another staple of Chilton's later-period live shows (and also on A Man Called Destruction), this tune is a nearly forgotten, smooth late-70s Philly-style r'n'b gem from Barry White protege Danny Pearson.

Bonus Links

An incredible piece on Chilton's bizarre, harrowing, and sporadically brilliant '75-'81 period, rivaling It Came From Memphis as a depiction of pure, undistilled Mid-South weirdness.

I love this footage, from a New Orleans cemetery, which has been linked to and embedded in a lot of places in the last week.

Steve Scariano has some amazing true-life tales of interviewing Chilton for Bomp! Magazine and getting more than he bargained for.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Roundup of Recent Music Things

Realized last night that I was extremely remiss in overlooking the death of Willie Mitchell, which occurred early this year, between those of his fellow Memphis legends/recording artists/producers Jim Dickinson and Alex Chilton.

As a producer and label head at Hi Records, he was responsible for some of the best-sounding records of all time.  Some of these productions, most notably Al Green's peak period hits, still stop me in my tracks even though I've heard them countless times.  Check out the documentary Gospel According To Al Green for a peek into Mitchell's soul factory (a converted movie theater).


Speaking of notable drum sounds, listening to the new Paul Motian record (Lost In A Dream, recorded last year at the Vanguard) and seeing him at the Vanguard (with Jason Moran and Greg Osby) got me thinking about live music vs. recordings of live music.  My home stereo setup is, to say the least, not hi-fi, but I have a strong sense that even on the beautifully recorded Lost In A Dream, some of the sound that the musicians made got left behind in the room (I get the same feeling listening to Fred Hersch's also beautifully recorded Vanguard record).  Being in the room, especially that room, in the moment, there's just more music.  I guess this is an obvious point, the existence of an indefinable (at least for me) gap, the thing that drives audio engineers to keep pushing toward truer and truer sound reproduction.

A couple more quick notes on the Motian-Moran-Osby trio:

It seem to me that the Motian-Moran hookup has become a little deeper since the last time I saw them together (the week Lost In A Dream was recorded, when it was already quite deep).  As with so many of the fleeting pairings in today's jazz world, it's a shame they don't play together more often.

Osby has a substantially different sound than Chris Potter, who appears on Lost In A Dream, and he brought some things to Motian's music that I hadn't heard from any of his other collaborators. On one tune, he achieved a very bird-like (though not especially Bird-like) sound, almost reminiscent of the gentler moments of Eric Dolphy.  He turned another tune into a clinic on the discipline and rewards of playing very softly, something he's given substantial thought to lately.

On the closing "Drum Music", I experienced the pure pleasure of seeing and hearing a 78 year-old man beating the living f*ck out a drum kit.  By the way, I think today is Motian's 79th birthday - WKCR and Phil Schaap, isn't it about time to give this man a birthday broadcast?


At the risk of running this post into the ground by hitting too many of my usual subjects, I thought I would toss in a few notes on this week's Clientele/Field Music show at the Bowery Ballroom:

Going in, I would have just referred to it as this week's Clientele show, but Field Music was just about good enough to receive co-billing.  Walking to the show, I overheard someone with an English accent outside a bar say something like, "they're great, like XTC meets Yes".  I thought it was funny at the time, but at the show I started to suspect that he'd been talking about Field Music.  They are a fun band to play spot-the-influences with, but they've been around long enough now to have integrated the various strands of their sound into something pretty cohesive and individual.  Hearing their new album in a record store over the weekend, I thought I detected hints of Steely Dan, Grizzly Bear, and Emitt Rhodes (all mostly in the vocals and melodies), but live I could see where XTC might be present in some of the rhythms (though this may just be a more generalized post-punk thing).  There were also some sounds that said "70s" to me without pointing to any specific acts, though at a couple points, I half-expected Jeff "Skunk" Baxter to step on stage and take a solo.

These guys are all really good on their (multiple) instruments, and the well-structured songs allow them to show off a tight group sound and one of the more distinctive vocal blends going (having a pair of siblings as vocalists usually helps).  If I was feeling flippant, I'd be tempted to say that Field Music, from the wilds of Sunderland, NE England, has got more going on right now than anyone in Brooklyn, but that would probably be going too far.

The Clientele was sharper than the last couple times I'd seen them (perhaps seeing them at the end of a tour helped), and the songs from Bonfires On The Heath especially seem to have benefited from some road time.  Mark Keen (drums) and James Hornsey (bass) are always in the pocket, but the whole band was more consistently together than at last year's Music Hall show.  Maybe following Field Music for several nights pushed them to raise their game.  The Violet Hour's "Lamplight" (with the usual NYC addition of Gary Olson on trumpet) was a highlight, possibly the best version of it I've seen, with Alasdair's psych freak-out solos sounding particularly inspired.  The addition of pedal steel (courtesy of a member of Vetiver whose name I didn't catch) to a few songs was a nice surprise, but didn't stray far from replicating some of Bonfire's slide parts.  Might've been fun to hear what steel would've sounded like on some older Clientele material.

And I was glad they brought back their stellar version of "Nighttime" as an Alex Chilton tribute.  I don't really think of the Clientele as a Chilton- or Big Star-influenced band, but "Nighttime" points up something they share, the rare ability to imbue a simple vignette or image with the emotional resonance of a suddenly resurfacing memory.

Bonus Links

A Field Music interview (in which they deny any Yes influence)

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Quick Note

Comment moderation is doing weird stuff.  If you've tried to post a comment and it hasn't shown up, please try again.  It has probably disappeared into the weirdness. [Update: Things seem to be back to normal now, but I think a comment or two may have been vaporized.]

Dream Journal - Special Link Edition

I was pretty proud of my recent jazz-related dream, but I think Alex Balk's unconscious mind has outdone mine with this nocturnal concoction featuring Thelonious Monk, Fred Hersch, and the Curbed guy.

If You Get Hired To DJ A Tea Party, You'll Need This Record

Another gem, and an extremely timely one, from Crap Jazz Covers.  Please, somebody find this LP and do a remix project.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton - Part Two

The Alex Chilton line I'm thinking about today?

"But you know you don't have to / you can just say no"

People like to talk about the "power of Yes", but that line from "The Ballad of El Goodo" expresses an incredibly empowering (that word has been abused, but I think it's the right one here) sentiment when you think about it.  And I think it's a sentiment that Chilton lived by, at least in terms of his post-Big Star career.  He did the Big Star reunion, even a Box Tops reunion (that I'm sure no one expected), but after Radio City, he never really played the fame/music biz game, except by his own rules.  

In reading all the tributes that have popped up today, I came across the word "sprezzatura" in one of Ben Greenman's pieces.  After I looked up the definition, I had to say, "yeah, Alex Chilton definitely had sprezzatura".  In spades.  And as someone who could rock the house en Italiano, I think he would've liked that description.

I'm with The Gurgling Cod on this one:
"...'Jesus Christ''s failure to get traction as a Christmas staple continues to baffle me."

I wrote a bit about Chilton's shambolic some-kind-of-a-masterpiece Like Flies On Sherbert here.

Alex Chilton - Part One

I want to write something about Alex Chilton, but I need some time to process the fact that he's gone.  A couple of quick things for now.

If there's somebody you want to see play, and they come to your town, get off your ass and go.  Don't wait until "next time".  I skipped Big Star's recent Brooklyn show, and now there won't ever be another one.

I did get to see Alex play with his trio a few times, and one memory stands out:

One annoying aspect of seeing Chilton live is that people were constantly yelling for Big Star songs.  He would play a couple in a typical set, and as great as they were to hear, it was clear that his heart was really in the wild mix of covers he played, from obscure r'n'b to jazz standards to Italian rock'n'roll to Michael Jackson. 

One night, somewhere in the middle of what was probably the best Chilton performance I ever saw, he was between songs and all the usual requests were being shouted out.  With perfect timing and impressive volume, one of my friends shouted "PLAY WHAT YOU WANT!" from the back of the club where we were standing.  Chilton heard it, smiled slightly, acknowledged the non-request with a "yeah!" or "right on!", and proceeded to, in fact, play what he wanted.  I don't remember what song it was, but I remember feeling good that he got the message, that some of us in the crowd were happy to let him drive the bus, to accept him on his own terms.

Dream Journal #6 - Lost In A Dream, or Eliot Spitzer Live At The Village Vanguard

I dreamed that I was going to see the Paul Motian-Jason Moran-Greg Osby trio at the Village Vanguard (which I hope to actually do in waking life later this week).  I was going to the late set, but got there as the early set was close to wrapping up.  Motian was playing a cardboard drum kit with parallelogram-shaped drums, and Moran was on cello (even though there was a piano on stage).  Then more cellists came up out of the audience and joined in as Motian quickly showed them the tune.  Not sure what Osby was doing during all this.

Then, as I was waiting around between sets, the Vanguard had been transformed into some kind of big hall, and former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer was leading everybody outside, telling us we had to clear the hall because a woman had just given birth to twins.  I was waiting for an old friend to arrive for the late set, but it took me a long time to find him and I'd forgotten my cell phone.  Then I ran into one of my cousins who was attending a class reunion at a nearby school.  I don't remember much more, except that at some point I helped carry a piece of the cardboard drum kit to the stage from some kind of truck or trailer.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jules Dassin, Not French

I received an email yesterday from the Film Society of Lincoln Center (one of the two best places in NYC to see a movie, along with BAM) promoting their Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series.  In the brief description of 1959's The Law, they refer to its director as "the French auteur Jules Dassin".  Oops.  Dassin, who died two years ago this month, was from Connecticut. 

I saw a late interview with Dassin where he joked about how often people assumed he was French because of his sort-of French-sounding last name (in fact, his father was a Russian Jew) and the fact that he spent a large portion of his career working in Europe after being blacklisted.  Probably his most famous film, the ur-heist picture Rififi, was a French film.  I like to think of Rififi as the Paris part of a three-city crime trilogy, along with The Naked City (New York) and Night and the City (London, and probably my favorite of the three).  I haven't seen any of his later European work, but when he was working within the realm of "tough guys in hats doing bad things in a big city", Dassin was a master. 

David S. Ware Solo in Park Slope

David S. Ware's solo concert in Park Slope was a remarkable event that I wasn't sure I was going to remark on.  Mostly because a solo saxophone performance is a daunting thing to try to write about (for me, at least).  But when I tried searching for other accounts and couldn't find any, I figured I should at least make a few comments:

The space used for the performance, in a private residence in Park Slope, was a beaut, on an upper floor with a great view of the Williamsburg Savings Bank.  Now a book-and-record-filled apartment, it was the former base of operations for AUM Fidelity Records and (many decades) before that, the poker room for some sort of Brooklyn Republican Club, with a decorative wood ceiling and wall paneling with faux-candle gas jet fixtures.  If the contemporary furnishings were taken out and the gas jets lit, this would be a perfect space for a secret society meeting or dark Masonic ritual.

I was very impressed by the quality and range of sound Ware got out of the sopranino sax, apparently a new instrument for him (or was it just that this particular sopranino was new?).  I hadn't imagined that the sopranino was capable of producing such a broad and rich array of tones, my knowledge of the instrument based mostly on hearing Anthony Braxton play it (and that's not a knock on Braxton's playing).

Even if you didn't like Ware's music, you would have to admit that the man is loud, an extremely powerful player.  This huge sound married to a huge level of technique is an overwhelming, even slightly terrifying when he really lets rip, thing to be in the same room with.

Near the end of the final, tenor portion of the performance I started concentrating on Ware's breathing and how the spacing of his breaths imposed a kind of structure on the music, probably the most easily discernible kind of structure it had.

The Q&A that followed the performance offered a chance to come down from, process, and hopefully better understand the music we had just experienced.  Some of the questions that provoked the most interesting responses from Ware came from someone sitting down front who I think might have been Charles Gayle, though I didn't get a good look (maybe somebody who was there can confirm in the comments).

Ware tantalized us with his stories of three-hour free blowing sessions with Sonny Rollins and also mentioned, apropos the incredibly dramatic windstorm that was happening outside during and after the performance, that he shared with Rollins the belief that weather like this somehow inspires better music (a Neil Young & Crazy Horse performance I witnessed in a violent Chicago thunderstorm would lead me to agree).  The Q&A may have gone on a bit long, detouring toward the end into the fate of the dinosaurs, 2012, and other cosmic and terrestrial topics, but it was a rare, extremely valuable opportunity to hear a master speak in depth about his music.

I found a couple of photos from the event, which, I forgot to mention, was recorded for a future AUM release, and some other very cool music-related photos here.
[Update: Many more photos here.]

Monday, March 15, 2010

NYC Food Hat Trick

Three great meals in two days:

Shake Shack (Upper West Side)
This was my first time having a burger at the Shake Shack - I've had frozen custard via the "express lane" a few times at the original, but have aborted the mission every time I've tried to visit the UWS location (too crowded).  It was still jammed when I went this time, at noon on a weekday, but the line hadn't yet spilled onto the sidewalk and the wait was surprisingly short.

I went with the classic pairing, a cheeseburger and a shake (putting me in mind of the longstanding Midwestern chain - and Roger Ebert favorite - Steak 'n' Shake*).  The burger was pretty much as good as everyone says it is, and I can't emphasize enough how important the bun is to the success of this place.  You might think that if you find yourself thinking about the bun after eating a burger, the burger must not be very good, but in this case you would be wrong.  I got the burger cooked to the default medium since I couldn't get my preferred medium-rare (rare, medium, or well only at the Shack, which makes sense when you're dealing with thin patties and super-high volume), but I might try rare the next time just to see how it compares.

The shake was a "Fair Shake" - a vanilla shake with presumably Fair Trade coffee blended in - nothing like consuming a milkshake and a cup of coffee simultaneously to get a person all jacked up for the afternoon ahead.  I just wish I'd been there the day before when the custard flavor of the day was "Coffee and Donuts"!

As a sidenote, if you happen to be visiting Danny Meyer's hometown of St. Louis and want a burger, I'd recommend Carl's Drive-In on Manchester Road, a bit west of the city limits.  It's like a particularly good location of A&W, when A&W was in its heyday and served amazing root beer, before it became an interchangable fast food module that could be combined with a Long John Silver's or a KFC.  Go to Blueberry Hill for the live music and to the check out the memorabilia, not for the food.

ZuZu Ramen 
At this newish noodle place on the Park Slope-Gowanus fringe, I ordered the dinner special, cold spicy noodles with beef tongue.  The noodles were coated with a some-kind-of-red-pepper-based sauce, and the roughly rectangular blocks of tongue were tender and liberally distributed among the noodles.  The dish also had (I'm going from memory here) bok choy and peanuts tossed in, but everything worked together - big flavors, plenty of heat, a winner.  I've been to ZuZu a few times now and never been disappointed, but this was easily the best thing I've had there.

Barney Greengrass ("The Sturgeon King")
I surprised even myself by effortlessly polishing off a corned beef/chopped liver double decker on pumpernickel at this oft-overlooked UWS classic.  While the corned beef was pretty good and in good proportion with the liver (about 1:2 corned beef-to-liver), three slices of bread was one too many for my taste, though I understand that the middle slice is there to separate the meats and create the triple decker effect.

Still, it would be hard to screw up any sandwich that contains this chopped liver.  The liver at Greengrass is top two in the city for me, with only Russ & Daughters edging it out (I had them both within a week's time, so I'm pretty confident in comparing them).  If chopped liver was labeled like peanut butter, both R&D and Greengrass would fall into the "chunky" category - they share a looser texture, with visible chunks of egg, and everything less fully incorporated than, say, the smooth, uniform, but also very good liver at 2nd Ave Deli.  And like peanut butter, chunky vs. smooth is a personal preference - if smooth is your thing, you'd probably prefer 2nd Ave's liver (and they give you a lot of it).

We also had some latkes for the table (I don't think they're a regular menu item, but are frequently available on weekends).  Greengrass' latkes are fairly large and mounded rather than flat, almost like big falafels, giving them a nice contrast between crispy outside and soft center.  Highly recommended.

*I'm pretty sure we were on our way to a Steak 'n' Shake (in Ebert's old stomping grounds of Champaign-Urbana, IL) when some friends and I were pulled over and surrounded by multiple carloads of shotgun-wielding police.  Turned out that the Ford Taurus we were traveling in matched the description of the getaway car for an armed robbery that had just gone down in the area.  Thankfully, they soon realized they had the wrong Taurus and let us continue on our way with our appetites undiminished (and probably enhanced) by the experience.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Following the Recipe Down the Path of Excess

My dining companion and I felt remarkably OK yesterday after consuming heroic amounts of oil, salt, and garlic the night before.  I made two Spanish dishes I'd never attempted before, pollo al ajillo (from Anya Von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table) and Canary Island-style wrinkled potatoes (from Jose Andres' Made in Spain, the glossy-yet-practical companion to his PBS travel/cooking series).  Between the chicken and the green mojo sauce for the potatoes, I used something like 25 cloves of garlic (not an exaggeration) - smashed and added to frying oil, sliced and used in the chicken sauce, crushed/ground in a mortar and pestle to make the mojo.  The potato recipe called for a full cup of salt.  This is why recipes exist, though.  I would never dream of using this much salt or garlic if left to my own devices, but the recipes worked - the sauces came together, the potatoes wrinkled.  (The excessive oil was my own fault - I don't think I poured enough out of the pan before making the sauce.)

If this was a proper food blog, I would have photos of the meal, but it isn't and I don't.  I will give a quick  wine recommendation, though, to add a little value to this post: 2008 Rayos Uva, a young, unoaked Rioja.  I was surprised to see the Louis/Dressner (great French wine importers) name on a Spanish wine, so I picked it up based on that alone and was not disappointed.  Was it the perfect pairing with all that garlic?  I don't know, but it held its own well enough (and was even better the 2nd day) and is certainly a great choice in the sub-$20 realm (a realm I rarely venture out of).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Update Alert

Just a brief note to say that I've added an update to my Contra post linking to an account of Ezra Koenig's appearance at a "Young Lions forum" this week at the NYPL.  I wonder if a transcript of this thing will surface.  I also wonder what would happen if the library-supporting Young Lions ever met the conservative Young Eagles - who would win in the resulting rumble?  Would it be more like The Warriors or West Side Story?

There are also some good comments on the original post that you might not have seen if you read it shortly after it went up.

[Update to Update Alert: I've also added an update to my recent Nabokov-Amis post with a link to another Original of Laura piece.]

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Things I Never Thought I'd Hear - #62

Andy Griffith saying "f*ck".

(It happens in the bonus documentary on the A Face in the Crowd DVD when Griffith is recalling a piece of direction he received from Elia Kazan, though I wish I could say I saw it in an Andy Griffith Show blooper reel.)

Additional clarification:
Is this really something I never thought I'd hear, or is it something I thought I'd never hear?  I think it's the former because the possibility of hearing Andy Griffith say the word "f*ck" is something I never contemplated until I actually heard it.  It's not as if I thought, "boy, I bet I'll never get to hear Andy Griffith say the word 'f*ck'".

Additional point:
The Andy Griffith Show is one of the finest series in the history of television.  Top ten, easy.

High Quality Writer-On-Writer Action

I'm way behind on this, but I just discovered a great Martin Amis piece in the Guardian on Nabokov and The Original of Laura from last November.  I've never read anyone better on VN than Amis.  Though he's returned to the topic again and again, each time he's able to cast light on some additional aspect of the great man's genius.

In the Guardian piece, he dismisses TOOL (apparently, Nabokov was fond of this acronym for his final, unfinished novel) as the work of a mighty talent in inevitable, sad decline, while still acknowledging the value in its publication.  As many others have done, Amis notes the obvious efforts by the publishers to make a barely formed work, "somewhere between larva and pupa", into something resembling a full-length book by boldly probing the limits of the white-space-to-black-text ratio.  Amis uses Laura as a jumping-off point to consider two (largely overlapping) subsets of Nabokov's work into which it falls, the "late work" and the "nymphet" novels.

Amis loves and respects Nabokov enough to confront his shortcomings and moral ambiguities directly.  His consideration of the moral dimensions of Nabokov's (literary) obsession with young girls and his diagnosis of the late decline as a loss of love for the reader, though not indisputable in their conclusions, are examples of Amis' ability to interrogate his hero under harsh lighting rather than presenting him in gauzy, soft focus.  Amis knows that the work can stand up to the scrutiny; no need to smear Vaseline on the lens.  This is literary criticism practiced on a level that is too rarely seen.  It's a pleasure to read and makes me sorry I missed Amis' Nabokov-celebrating appearance at the 92nd St Y around the time the article was published.

[Update: Over at, William Deresiewicz has a considerably longer takedown of Laura, a surprising amount of which is devoted to attacking Dimitri Nabokov.  Say what you will about his handling of the Laura affair, Dimitri's work as his father's translator, not as his editor, is the work for which he will be remembered, a 24K literary legacy.]

[Update #2: Just found a long and fascinating piece by Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd on Laura and other still-unpublished VN writings.  Boyd methodically weighs the pros and cons, and ultimately comes down on the "pro" side, providing a useful counterweight to all the negative responses to Laura.]

Monday, March 8, 2010

Really, Really Deep In The Groove

I've tried many times, unsuccessfully I now realize, to visualize what's going on in a record groove.  I've seen pictures of lathes and read about masters being cut and so on, but somehow what I imagined never looked much like this.  These photos should only encourage people who like to talk about vinyl being more "organic" and less "sterile" than digital music.

[via 33-1/3]

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Boca Grande Strikes Again

For pure entertainment value, I recommend taking a look at the slideshow that goes with this story (the highlights are in an embedded slideshow in the left column).  It's a Republican Party PowerPoint document on how to improve fundraising.  It turned up on after a hard copy was left behind at a $2,500-a-head retreat at the sounds-like-something-from-a-satirical-novel Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande, Florida (!!!).

My top 7 favorite things from this document:
  • "Putting the Fun Back in FUNdraising"
  • "Tchochkes!!!!!!!!!" (used twice on the same page)
  • "Peer to Peer PRESSURE!"
  • Two items under "Motivation to Give": "fear" and "reactionary"
  • Separated-at-birth-style side-by-side of Harry Reid and Scooby Doo
  • A guy from Brooklyn is co-chair of something called the "Young Eagles" (what will Colbert do with this?)
  • An upcoming event called the "Young Eagles Texas Bird Hunt", which I suspect is a euphemism for "Conservative bros havin' some beers, cruisin' for UT chicks on 6th Street in Austin"
[Update: I see that the Democrats have jumped right on this and are using the leaked slideshow as part of their own fundraising appeal.  Essentially: the other guys' fundraising is cynical and fear-based, therefore give us money.  This is why I avoid posting about politics.  It's a stinking, poisonous mire.]

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    Give Back The Key To My Head

    Any fan of The Mighty Boosh will find this image (on one of my new favorite blogs, Crap Jazz Covers) very familiar.  It got me wondering, what are the roots of the "door/window in the forehead" image?  Has anyone done a typological study of doors and/or windows in foreheads?  Is there a long thread about it on some Mighty Boosh message board? 

    The original appearance of Rudi in Boosh Series 1 reminded me of that one scene in Cocteau's Blood of a Poet, but where did they get the door?  An old psych album cover?  Or did it just come naturally from some combination of the phrases "open your mind" and "doors of perception"?  Actually, that's probably it.

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    Bland Country

    I found a small (still sealed) gem yesterday at the Brooklyn Record Riot, Get On Down With Bobby Bland, from 1975.  Bland was already well-established as one of the great blues and soul singers, but a list of some of the songwriting credits on Get On Down will give you a better idea of what he was up to on this album than the title or cover photo could: Dan Penn, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Billy Sherrill.  Yes, that's right, we're in country-soul (not to be confused with country blues) territory.

    It seems like a few years ago, there was a slight surge in interest in the country-soul crossovers of the late-'60s to mid-'70s - I vaguely recall some compilations and reissues appearing all around the same time. It's a particularly rich vein of music, spanning from Joe Tex and Joe Simon to Gram Parsons and Charlie Rich.  Ray Charles' Modern Sounds In Country Music records are usually cited as the inspiration/prototype for this mini-movement, but of course the process of cultural borrowing (or stealing) across racial lines is the engine that's driven American music from the beginning. 

    Charles (for some reason, it seems weird referring to Ray Charles as "Charles") may have demonstrated the commercial viability of r'n'b artists recording country songs and proved that he could sing the hell out of a country song (or at least convincingly Ray-ify it), but his project was all about taking hillbilly music way uptown - Hank Williams songs with a (lightly) swingin' orchestra, etc.  The field was still open for artists who wanted to engage with country music on a closer-to-the-ground level, down in the pasture where they might get some shit on their shoes.  Bobby Bland didn't get all the way there - he definitely walked out of the Get On Down sessions with clean shoes - but if the arrangements seem a tad smooth today, they're a heckuva lot more understated and, to my ears, listenable than Ray's.  And they don't ever threaten to overshadow Bland's voice, which is smooth in an entirely different way (single malt whiskey smooth as opposed to baby food smooth).

    With Bobby Bland's take on country, there's very little feeling of novelty.  The material is well-selected, or at least he makes it sound that way.  You don't hear Bland straining to fit himself into the song or distorting the song to fit his style - the tell-tale signs of an awkward crossover attempt (see Willie Nelson's Countryman). In his B+ review of the album (in which, typically, he makes the key points in minimum space), Robert Christgau hears awkwardness on one track (Conway Twitty's "You've Never Been This Far Before"), leading him to ask, "...he seems a little ill at ease reassuring a virgin with bom-bom-boms, but wouldn't you?"

    One of the standout tracks for me is the last one, "You're Gonna Love Yourself (In The Morning)" by Alabama Music Hall of Famer Donnie Fritts (how's this for a resume?: Muscle Shoals session man, longtime Kristofferson sideman/sidekick, widely recorded songwriter, Peckinpah actor).  Bland seems entirely at ease with the Hag classic "Today I Started Loving You Again" and while "Someone To Give My Love To" doesn't surpass the benchmark Johnny Paycheck version, it's another highlight on an album with no real duds.

    RT @jnorwich And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well

    I can't retweet this because I'm not on Twitter, but I was glad to see this morning that Roger Ebert and Will Leitch, two writers I admire (and yes, I am a little biased because we're all Illinoisans who went to the same school - call me provincial) have exchanged a sort of online hug.  After Leitch's heartfelt, confessional piece yesterday (I knew Ebert was an inspiration to Leitch, but didn't know the rest of the story - Ebert really put away one and a half Papa Del's pies?!?), I have to admit the Selected Ballads' heart was warmed a little to read this on Ebert's Twitter:

    "A sweet article by a long time friend who did indeed once bring a wince to my fat face. All is forgiven."

    The idea of gaining the acceptance of your hero and then chucking it away and having to live with the regret - that's heavy stuff.  Hard to be cynical or snarky in the face of something like that (and yes, the piece was on Deadspin and can accurately be called "sweet" and "heartfelt").  I'm glad Leitch got the chance to make it right.