Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Smells Like Teen Spirit

I'm obviously engaging in hyperbole when I say this is approaching war crime territory...but not by much.

Monday, January 15, 2018

RIP Dolores O’Riordan

Well, this one hits surprisingly hard. Although never close to being one of my favorite bands, The Cranberries nevertheless created some absolutely top-notch pop, a commodity that is always in demand and eternally short supply.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

two years down the road

And still no easier.

Who knew that The Man Who Fell to Earth was also The Man Holding the World Together?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

I know this is not the greatest thing ever. Objectively, I know this. But neither the heart nor the soul always listens to objectivity.

I mean, I shouldn't love this so deeply. It seems the kind of rather facilely hep take that usually repulses me. But that voice, that kind of nerdy, insanely white voice that was such a massively formative influence on me growing up, covering what is often my favorite Bob Dylan song ever...I just...

Monday, January 1, 2018

She Bop

I loves me some Slowhand—in fact, I loves me nearly all the Slowhand—but boy howdy did he screw up with his unconscionably tepid (to put it politely) unplugged version of "Layla." There are few more heart-rippingly desperately passionate songs in the history of rock and he somehow turned it into EZ-listening cream of wheat at the early bird special. Gross. What's worse is that other artists took exactly the wrong lesson and similarly neutered some of the best songs. Blech.

Now compare and contrast that with the superb deconstruction Cyndi Lauper gives one of her biggest ever hits here.

Do she want to go out with a lion's roar? Turns out a sinewy growl from a mountain cat is just as effective and even more unsettling.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2018

Just for gits and shiggles, here are my brief reactions to each of this year's upcoming inductees.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Cool!
Nina Simone - Wait, she wasn't already in? WTF???
Radiohead - No.
The Moody Blues - NO!!!
Dire Straits - It's about time.
Bon Jovi - Whatever
The Replacements - Just kidding!


Another year. Another Hall of Fame induction without The Mats.

So. Here's a song by them at their best, in celebration of the fact that they seemingly will never ever get in. The kind of song that Radiohead, The Moody Blues and Bon Jovi couldn't create if they worked together, and if they had Paul Westerberg in the studio helping them out every step of the way.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Radiohead in the Hall of Fame: A Brief Debate

And now, Dan and Scott engage in a brief and informed debate over whether or not Radiohead is deserving of recently being inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2018.

Gentlemen, please proceed.

Dan: No.
Scott: Nope.

This has been a brief and informed debate over whether or not Radiohead is deserving of recently being inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2018. Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Don't Let Him Go

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the entire Journey family. I mocked—not without reason—the silly, lazy lyrics to "Any Way You Want It." And then I saw, for the first time, the lyrics to REO Speedwagon's "Don't Let Him Go."

There's a concept in storytelling called a Mary Sue:
A Mary Sue is an original character in fan fiction, usually but not always female, who for one reason or another is deemed undesirable by fan critics. A character may be judged Mary Sue if she is competent in too many areas, is physically attractive, and/or is viewed as admirable by other sympathetic characters. 
It originated in fan-fic but it's a pretty well-known term these days in wider literary circles. A character is often unjustly called a Mary Sue if the critic doesn't like the (female) author and wants to score some easy points by claiming the author has simply inserted an idealized version of herself into the story.

I've never encountered a Mary Sue in pop music, that I can recall, but holy shit is that what this song is all about.

I mean:
So you figure that you've got him all figured out
He's a sweet talkin' stud
Who can melt a girl's heart with his pout
He's the kind of lover that the ladies dream about
Oh, yes he is
He's got plenty of cash
He's got plenty of friends
He drives women wild
Then he drives off in a Mercedes-Benz
He's got a long wick with a flame at both ends [editor's note: insert eye-rolling emoji here]
He's hot
But don't let him go
Just give him a chance to grow
Take it easy, take it slow
And don't let him go
Don't let him go 
He makes you so angry
He makes you so sore [editor's note: and another here]
The wait may be worth it
But how can you wait any more?
When you're wonderin what you're waitin' for 
Baby I don't know
But don't let him go
Just give him a chance to grow
Take it easy, take it slow
And don't let him go
Don't let him go 
As I've mentioned many times, I don't care all that much about lyrics; generally speaking, for me they're a tray built to hold the vocal melody. If they're especially great, they can elevate a good song to great and a great song to brilliant. And it's only occasionally that they're so bad they can sink an otherwise fine song—as the great Peter Gabriel once said:
"There have been many great songs which have had really appalling lyrics, but there have been no great songs which have had appalling music." 
Well, this song wasn't going to be great no matter what. The band plays the Bo Diddley-inspired beat well enough, the dude with the pink silk shirt improbably rips off a tasty solo on his gorgeous Les Paul, the keyboardist does a creditable Rick Wakeman impression—it's all fine bar band fare. But the lyrics...oh my god, the lyrics are just so damn bad.

I mean, on the most basic level, they simply make absolutely no sense: this guy is that irresistible, he's that magnetic a panty-dropper, despite sounding like a raging douchenozzle. To an objective listener, he's clearly someone who should be treated with utter disdain by anyone with half a brain...and yet, the singer implores, if you just give him a chance, he'll...what? Presumably, faith and patience will be rewarded, but the song (to its minor credit) doesn't really promise any such thing. No it simply admonishes her (presumably) to give him all the time he could possibly need, with the implication being that he'll turn out to be a decent guy in the end. I mean, hey, he's got money, he's got the Mercedes Bends (unh), and he's got a lot of pretty pretty girls that he calls friends. He's hung like a candle—is that a saying?—and, most important, he's pouty.

Okay, listen, I know the end of the 70s/beginning of the 80s was a long time ago, but really? Did girls really think a guy pouting was a good look? I'm thinkin' not so much. That reads to me like a guy who likes to pout and really wishes girls found it attractive and baffled and angry that none of them do.

Speaking of, this guy pisses the listener off, and the listerner's already waited long enough and doesn't even know what s/he's waiting for...and yet, keep on waiting. 'cuz.

Why? Why? Why would you ever give this assclown the time of day, much less another chance?

I don't even know what to say. Other than that Les Paul really is gorgeous. Now for that I'd wait a lifetime. (And have so far.)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Any Way You Want It

So I've known this song for the vast majority of my life. And I've even known the vast majority of the words for all those years. But I'd never actually thought about any of them, or seen the video, until this week, and both are so much greater than I could have expected.

First, there's the intro, which was the third longest 40 seconds of my life, behind only any 40 seconds of the day I spent deep sea fishing on really choppy seas, where every single one of the hundred or so passengers were vomiting until their stomachs were emptied, at which point they continued to dry heave for hours until finally returning to shore blessed short, and the time I had two ruptured discs in my back and felt like the bones in my hip and leg had turned to lava. And right after those comes that intro.

Then there's the first shot of the band, which has bass player Ross Valory in the EFG, with singer Steve Perry and guitar whiz Neal Schon in the middleground and poor original singer/keyboardist Gregg Rolie hidden in the background. But not quite as hidden as superdrummer Steve Smith, who's hidden by Valory's shoulder for absolutely no good reason—had they simply moved the camera about four inches to the left, he would have been visible (as would the rest of the band) and they wouldn't have had to insert the next quick shot of him in the name of fairness. A sign of how primitive early videomaking was? Of how drummers are so unjustly overlooked, despite the occasional exhortation to give the drummer some? An omen of things to come? (The thing to come most soon is the mini-jitterbug kneeshake Perry executes right before the opening verse starts.)

And what an opening verse:
She loves to laugh
She loves to sing
She does everything
She loves to move
She loves to groove
She loves the loving things
I've never really heard—certainly haven't ever paid attention—to that final line. But now I literally laugh out loud every damn time I hear it. "She loves the lovin' things." You're damn right she does. Those lovin' things? She's not just fond of them. Oh hell no. She outright loves them. Oh my great googlymoogly. Poor T.S. Eliot, never mind Smokey Robinson or Roger Waters, must be (sometimes posthumously) positively green with envy at the lyrical concision.

That may be ever so slightly unfair. After all, later we'll learn that they do indeed sing of said lovin' things—this is simply foreshadowing!

And then there's the chorus:
Any way you want it
That's the way you need it
Any way you want it
She said, any way you want it
That's the way you need it
Any way you want it
Which is a bit more ambiguous than I feel comfortable with. How does he need it? And what precisely is this it in question? I don't feel that's ever properly resolved. (And yet, somehow, looking at this gentlemen, I'm okay with that.)

Watching the video, you can see that Perry keeps wanting to make his trademark circular motions, but perhaps he hasn't quite perfected the move. It's always so instructive to be able to retroactively trace an artist's growth.

But then comes Schon's guitar solo...and it's undeniable. The guy can not only play—he's got oodles and boodles of technique—but he knows how to construct a solo that starts strong and builds, with melodies every bit as strong as the song's main melodic theme.

None of which seems to placate Rolie. Except for one blurry shot where he's smiling in the background, the poor bastard (in stark contrast to Valory, who seems to be having the time of his life) looks like he's in hell—his Paul McCartney puppy dog eyes meets Nick Drake's tortured soul making clear he wouldn't be in the band for much longer.

Also, keep an eye out for the quick shot of the board for absolutely no reason whatsoever. A nod to Buñuel, one assumes.

And then there's that last twenty seconds of the video. You're thinking that watching the record return to its resting place is the emotion capper, or perhaps that it's the early music video equivalent of Satre's No Exit...but either way, you're wrong. Because just when you think this primitive video offering can't get any more transcendent, there's that final shot of Perry doing his best Arthur Fonzarelli, which only goes to emphasize just how magical Henry Winkler was, and how difficult to pull off that level of cool really is.

Finally, why the hell is the video—from the official Journey channel—ever so slightly out of sync? What are they trying to say with such an unorthodox presentation? I know it means something, that it's just not just a sloppy oversight. It's got some much deeper meaning and I must know. (I'll even let them explain what the it is.)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Keep Your Head to the Sky

I've only ever really known the Earth, Wind & Fire hits, and while I've heard them enough for them to become part of my DNA, the deeper parts of their catalog have most escaped me.

Until today. When I heard this for the first time and immediately wondered how I'd ever lived without it. With the exception of a guitar solo, in just over five minutes it encapsulates all that is good about music.

Do I overstate? Listen:

(You now know I do not overstate at all.)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Election Day Bob Dylan Listenings

As I have written in this space before, Election Day brings my music listenings squarely to the doorstep of Bob Dylan. Just because, I guess. Or perhaps because no one American has so consistently written and sang about the American Experience as well or as articulately as Mr. Zimmerman has. And no American Experience is more American than the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Election Day should be the great equalizer for all of us. I know it's a very naive thing to say that it is in fact that, but it should be. One person, one vote. Every gets their shot, one shot, each year to make their voices and opinions heard. One person, one vote. Hundreds of millions of Americans voicing their beliefs on their own, yet no one is alone. At least no one should be. We do it alone, but together. As Americans.

That's why I still love Election Day and still look forward to casting my vote this day every year, just as I have for the last 31 years. And that this year my 18-year-old son gets to vote with me for the first time? Even better.

So with that "alone together" theme, I give you this year's choice of Bob Dylan albums and songs. In my very humble and perhaps misguided opinion, it is one of his three greatest records ever, yet one seldom thought of among his giants. John Wesley Harding.

It was revolutionary for its time 50 years ago when it was released and remains so now. After Dylan's electric hulabaloo. After Blonde on Blonde. After Don't Look Back and the "Dylanization" of the music world. After the motorcycle crash and his self-imposed exile. And he came back with a quiet, folkier yet razor's edge sharp album in JWH that was startling in its artistic and lyrical simplicity. It spoke so loudly of the tumultuous times that 1967 brought and 1968 was about to bring (the album was released just after Christmas), yet did it in measured, at times hushed tones. It remains sui generis in his catalog or anyone else's. A true, endearing work of art by an all-time master.

And today's song is one of the quieter, more solemn tunes from that quieter, more solemn album. "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine." Sung to the same tune as the epic worker's folk tune, "Joe Hill," there's a line in "St. Augustine" that really hit me as I listened to it today, thinking about Election Day and all it connotes for us:

"No martyr is among you
Whom you can call your own.
So go on your way accordingly,
But know you're not alone."

Amen. Through it all we're still here. And today we still vote. So go do it. And know you're not alone.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

RIP Fats Domino

Few could bring it like The Fat Man. Thanks for the music, big fella.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

RIP Tom Petty

He hailed from the deepest of the deep south, but that's not where his music came from.

I mean yes, sure it did, at least part of it. Some of what made Tom Petty the musical titan he was came from that Gainesville, Florida upbringing, where the swampy blues clearly took hold of him at an early age. But his music seemed to come from so many other places. From London and Liverpool and from Greenwich Village too. From breezy Southern California to sultry, loping New Orleans and to the earliest cradle of rock-n-roll, Memphis. Tom Petty reached it all.

And today he's gone, way too early at age 66. So let's take a moment to remember just how great, and I am talking GREAT with a capital G-R-E-A-T, this man really was.

He grew up influenced by the biggest of the big, as many American baby boomers were, people like Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn and Roy Orbison. And by the middle of his career he was having his own influence on them. You saw it when he toured with Bob Dylan in the mid-80s, when he played with Dylan and Orbison for one amazing shining moment with the Traveling Wilburys, and every time a smiling and appreciative McGuinn took the stage with him. Because when you're a talent like Tom Pettysongwriter, bandleader, guitar player and oh my God YES, singerit has a tendency to touch everyone. Even your heroes.

But for a man with such an identifiable soundthe nasally tenor, the Byrdsy jangle, the ability to go from sweet to raunchy in the blink of an eye (think of the dramatic vocal and musical turns he made so often, like on "Refugee" and "Here Comes My Girl," something literally no one did as often or as well)it really was hard to pin him down into one category or musical style. It was a byproduct of the stunning confidence he always seemed to carryat least with his music, anywayand a true sense of devil-may-care fearlessness.

It's why a proto-punk-pop ripper like "Don't Do Me Like That" appears alongside an anthem like "Refugee" or a bopping melody like "Century City" on Damn the Torpedoes. It's why maybe his greatest song, the pure crystalline McGuinn splendor of "The Waiting," can appear literally side by side with the near-metal of "A Woman in Love" on Hard Promises. Or why his greatest Roy Orbison-inspired ballad, the ethereal, irony-drenched "Free Fallin'," is right there alongside the Stonesy romp of "Runnin' Down a Dream" on Full Moon Fever. And nearly 20 years after his recording career began, on the remarkable Wildflowers album, he was able to blend gorgeous balladry (the title track), with the kind of barroom raver that would have made Bob Seger proud ("You Wreck Me") and still have time for the bluesy shuffle of "You Don't Know How It Feels."

On the first great song of a career that had just so damn many of them, 1976's pop splendor of "American Girl," Petty wrote and sang this fairly simple lyric:

"After all it was a great big world
With lots of places to run to."

It never struck me until today just how much that easy, seemingly throwaway defined who Tom Petty was. Musically speaking he had just so much to say, and so many different ways to say it. He surrounded himself with a truly great band in the Heartbreakers (it's hard to imagine a more instinctive or talented backing band than Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Howie Epstein and Stan Lynch)where he, like Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band, was the clear Alpha Dog. Yet he seemed just as it ease playing alongside his idols in the Wilburys or onstage at Bob Dylan's 30th anniversary concert surrounded by the likes of not only Dylan and McGuinn and George Harrison, but Neil Young and Eric Clapton as well. Wherever he was, Tom Petty was in control. Greatness has a way of doing that to you.

In fact Tom Petty made it look so freaking easy at times, such simple and sweet melodies abounding with such (on the surface) simple and sweet lyrics that it was sometimes easy to miss what was lurking beneath. Let's take one magnificent song as an example.

People have laughed affectionately at lines like the ones in "Free Fallin'," where it almost seems like he's making it up as he goes. ("She's a good girl. Crazy 'bout Elvis. Loves horses. And her boyfriend too.") But TP, as always, knew what he was doing, and no songwriter of his generation or others was a good at playing possum as he was. Because it's all a set up for the one of the greatest lyrical turns in rock-in-roll history. And one that took just five words.

"And I'm free.
Free fallin'."

In the first line we have the very definition of rock-n-roll rebellion, right? Following lyrics on such familiar Southern California banalities like horses and shopping malls, we get the rally cry of "I'm free." And we picture Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash proudly strutting their true, unabashed American birthright of breaking away on their own terms. And for a moment we're lost in it.

But then comes the kicker.

"Free fallin!" 

Everything changes with those two words. He's done running away on his own terms. Now instead, he's plummeting to earth without a bit of control. He's lost, taken by the gravity of everything around him and with the only looming certainty being the surface of the earth getting closer and closer as he falls, an ending as un-romantic as any he could have imagined just a few approaching seconds away. While the lyric begins in the absolute spirit of rock-n-roll freedom, it ends with what we can only imagine will be a literal thud, a million miles from anything that could be described as the rock-n-roll idealogy, And Petty does it all, and says it allspanning a world from unlimited possibility to sheer hopelessnessin just five words.


I saw Tom Petty just once in concert, in the late summer of 1989 on his Full Moon Fever tour, and to be very honest, while I've always been a big fan of his, my primary reason for going that night was my beloved Replacements were the opening act. There were actually more than a few people who were there just to see the Mats that night, many of whom left after their 45-minute ramshackle set (which is chronicled on the Shit, Shower & Shave bootleg.) 

I stayed; damn right I did. And I thought they were nuts for leaving. Because even though you couldn't find two bands at more opposite ends of the spectrumthe cool, polished, eminently tight and professional Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers belied in every way the loose, sloppy and wholly undisciplined nihilism of the Replacementshow could I not? He was just too damn good!

He didn't disappoint. It was a roughly two-hour set that showcased everything great about Tom Petty. From his love of covers (he opened with "So You Wanna Be a Rock-n-Roll Star" and had a very pleasing go at the Gram Parsons-era Byrds' "You Ain't Going Nowhere") to the estimable material from the then-new album ("Running Down a Dream," which closed the show, was a particular live cooker, and the solo acoustic "Yer So Bad" was a delight) to all of those amazing standards (the anthemic "Rebels" towards the end and "American Girl" at the beginning, plus sprawling versions of "Breakdown" and "Don't Come Around Here No More," to name just a few), it was one of the most enjoyable of the many, many concerts I have seen in my life. Today I am especially glad I got to see him live, even if just once.

But the best part of the show, at least to me, came relatively early on, maybe 7-8 songs in, when he did "The Waiting." First of all, doing what could objectively be called possibly his greatest song ever so close to the beginning of a full-length show was a ballsy move. And one you don't see many megastars making.

But it was the way he did it. It's a perfect pop song, period. A perfect recording, a jingly and jangly love opus that starts high and ends higher and just gets better and better each time you hear it. But on this night, as well as many other nights on and around this tour, he did it acoustically. With very little help from the Mike, Benmont, Howie or Stan. It was just him out there, doing an earnest and threadbare version of something everyone came to hear, yet maybe didn't expect it like this. And it was, well, amazing.

(Here he is doing it about a year earlier).

The voice. The confidence. The musicianship. The self-assurance that what he was doing was maybe not what the audience expected to hear, but what he knew they wanted to hear. He had it all that night. Because Tom Petty always had it all.

I'll close with some of his own words, from another one of his later-career gems and one of my favorites, "Walls." Which say what I think all Tom Petty fans are thinking about the man and his music today, as simply, sweetly and appropo as ever:

"Some things are over
Some things go on
Part of me you'll carry
Part of me is gone"

Sunday, September 24, 2017


It was one of the most memorable music-related experiences of my life. I don't remember the first time I heard, say, Revolver or Who's Next or London Calling. But I surely recall the first time I heard Nirvana. A co-worker had the "hello hello hello how low" section of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as his outgoing voicemail message, and even over the obviously extremely low-fi telephone system, it was absolutely mesmerizing. I called back until I got him in person.

"What is that?" I needed to know.

"It's Nirvana," he said, his tone of voice ever so slightly duh.

I wasn't listening to music at that point—not only was my stereo (and CDs and LPs) several hundred miles south of me, I didn't even have a boombox or Walkman, so for the first time since well before my teenage years, I was entirely out of the loop, when it came to new music. "Who...wha..." I said, charmingly.

He took pity on me, and dropped off the cassette a short while later. My officemate, who had very good but very snooty taste in music, was highly skeptical, as always, but popped it in his office boombox anyway, and cranked the volume knob.

That opening captivated me instantaneously...although I was a bit confused. They were opening with a cover of "Louie Louie"? That's weird.

And then those drums. My god those drums. Sounding bigger than Everest, deeper than the Mariana Trench, louder and faster and punchier—if such a thing were possible—than even the mighty Bonzo himself.

And then the distorted guitars and then the dramatic drop in volume and that bassline and those two chiming notes, mysterious and commanding and incisive...and that voice. A voice that sounded brand new and older than a giant sequoia. Words which were largely understandable and yet collectively incomprehensible and yet somehow ultimately all the sense in the world.

And that chorus. Even the first time, it was instantly familiar while being utterly fresh.

I remember looking over at my officemate at one point, and his eyes were wide in a "yeah, I'm hearing this too—holy shit, am I really hearing this? You're hearing this, right?" kinda expression.

Most watershed moments are only clear in retrospect. But it's not rose-colored glasses when people say they remember how Nirvana changed everything, and it was so obvious and immediate and most of us knew it was happening in real time. It was that powerful and undeniable. And (good god) 26 years down the line, the thing that kicked it all off has lost none of its power. The greatest works of art rarely do.