Thursday, November 24, 2016

Don't Do It

Look at these jamokes. If you were drinking in your local dive, or maybe a guest at the wedding of a distant acquaintance, and these guys got up to play, what would you think? I mean, really. Just look at them.

Levon looks like the really good mechanic you're pleased to have finally found, even though you can't help but feel—accurately—that he's always looking down at you because you don't know as much about cars as he does. Rick looks like the guy who works the counter at the autoparts store. Richard looks like the guy who stocks the shelves at the autoparts store: there's something about his smile that freaks out the customers too much, even the most manly ones, so they don't let him work the register. Robbie looks like the guy who mixes paint at the hardware store and tries to chat up the housewives, most of whom see right through him, and don't so much enjoy the attention as feel a bit creeped out and like they need a shower. And then there's Garth—in the end, there's always Garth. He's the guy who works in the stacks at the local university library, the one you hope the librarian won't have to go to for help when you ask your question, even though they always do, 'cuz he always knows, and there's no reason you hope they won't, as he's never said or done anything weird to you or anyone you know: in fact, he never does anything weird, other than never doing anything but studying old, arcane tomes and feeding his fish. It's just that he always stares at your shoes as he mumbles the answer to even the most esoteric of queries.

And then they start playing.

Would you get it right away? Would Levon's jittery yet slinky beat immediately clue you in that you're in the presence of a master, of a man who got as much funk, as much soul in his DNA as guanine? I'm not sure you would. What about when Rick starts in with that bassline? I like to think so, but I'm still not sure; the goofy way he bops might distract you. Sure, you'd think, okay, this might not be totally embarrassing, but I don't think you'd quite realize yet what you're in for.

It's Richard's piano that prepares you. His chording is simple, sweet, tasteful...but quiet as it is, it's got that tang of the roadhouse about it—but a roadhouse down New Orleans way—that subtly shifts your thoughts and expectations and even though you haven't fully grokked it yet, you're already starting to think, well...huh. This might just

And then Robbie starts playing. And the slightly sad lounge lizard reveals himself to be the greatest guitarist you've ever actually seen in person, with just a few chords. They're not difficult chords; this isn't Jim Hall playing some bizarre inversed voicing. They're just your standard rock and roll chords...but they're rock and roll chords played with that distorted Strat tone that bypasses your aural canal and goes directly into your very being and makes it clear that the guy making those sounds knows rock and roll and he knows the guitar and suddenly the smugness seems entirely justified.

And then they start singing. And it hits you, first, that this sweaty funk workout is somehow Marvin Gaye's boppy classic. And, secondly, you realize, accurately, that if this isn't the best group vocals you've ever heard, well, you never heard better. Never. Not by the Beach Boys, not by the Beatles, not even by the Everlys. Never.

Robbie's guitar solo only confirms what you could tell by his opening chords, which is that this superior bastard is indeed superior—he's got the technical ability, but he's more than just flash: he's got the spirit. And behind him, supporting them all, is that intense research librarian who, it turns out, plays the church organ like Bach, if Bach had been raised as a tobacco farmer in Kentucky.

Turns out, and who knew? that looks can be deceptive. And that the rock, the funk, the soul, can take root in the most unlikely of places, whether a guy who looks like a smarmy bastard or a creepy stockboy. And that the proof is always in the sound. And god-a-mighty, what a sound.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Come Together

Dear World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band™: it's sweet that you went to the trouble of showing your respect and admiration for your betters by covering them, and that you went out of your way to be as not good as possible doing it. Very, very convincingly done.

Friday, November 18, 2016

In Your Eyes

Here's my argument:

Peter Gabriel was with Genesis for roughly nine years. In that time he wrote or co-wrote a few dozen songs, many of which range from okay to very, very good. In the forty plus years since then he has written several dozen more, which range from good to transcendent.

Sting was with the Police for roughly six years (with another three tacked on where they weren't really a band in any meaningful sense but hadn't officially broken up either). In that time, he wrote several dozen songs, which range from okay to phenomenal. In the thirty-three or so years since then, he's written many dozen more songs, which range from good to very good.

What I'm saying is that Gabriel needed to break free from Genesis in order to become the artist he is, and we're all the better off for it. Sting, on the other hand, broke free from both the constraints of the Police and the full flowering of his abilities. Because he's been without the Police for nearly six times as long as he was with them, and in that time he hasn't created a single song as good as his half-dozen best Police songs, nevermind one which approaches this:

And while comparing another song to "In Your Eyes" would normally be unfair, in this case, it really isn't, since if Sting never wrote a song better than this slice of brilliance, he's certainly written several—"Message in a Bottle," "Every Breath You Take," "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" and so on—that are very comfortable peers, at the very least. For a few years there, he seemed to turn them out on a yearly basis. And then....not.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

RIP Leonard Cohen

I swear to all that is holy that I am so damn tired of writing RIP posts for my favorite artists this year.


Leonard Cohen is dead. I don't have much to say other than he was a musical hero of mine. He wrote with his heart not just on his sleeve but laid out bare on the table in front of him.

He sang with a raw, plaintive sensuality that no one else ever has. He either did rock-n-roll like poetry or he did poetry like rock-n-roll. Or both. He bled hot and red blood into in his music while he waltzed to it. He was loneliness and sex and grief and humor and soul and pain and honesty and fear and religion and strength and pathos. He was all that and more. He was sui generis in music history and we will never see another like him.

He wrote story-songs and hymns that belong under glass or hanging on the wall in some museum, not just on vinyl and compact discs and digital files. He wrote "Suzanne" and "Chelsea Hotel" and "Tower of Song" and "Bird on a Wire" and "Dance Me to the End of Love" and "Came So Far For Beauty" and yes, my favorite song ever, "Hallelujah." And more than that.

So long, good sir. You will always hold the mirror.

"It looks like freedom but it feels like death;
It's something in between I guess,
It's closing time."

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Day - How does it feel?

It's Election Day. I love Election Day as much as any day on the calendar. And as loyal readers here at Reason to Believe know, Election Day for me is all about Bob Dylan. 

On Election Days that I looked forward to and even on those I kinda dreaded, I still loved going to the polls, expressing my opinion on my terms as only I can. My people don't always win, but I always feel like I've done something big when I vote. Going all the way back 30 years when I voted for the first time.

For many many reasons I am thrilled for Election Day 2016 to be here and for the campaign soon to be over; most of those reasons having to do with a certain sentient rotting pumpkin running for President for one of the major parties. And in 12 hours it will in fact be over. And I think our great nation will be a little greater as a result.

This day as I head into work I'll be be blaring Mr. Zimmerman on the way once more, And I'll go right to the source, as they say. No fooling around, no wasting time. I'll go right to one of his greatest albums ever and start with the very first track on that record, objectively and pretty much inarguably the greatest song he ever wrote.

Because it really does speak to just so much of what we've been watching for the past year and more. The insufferable feeling invincible. The underprivileged being duped and lied to. And the tenets of decency and integrity being torn to pieces before our eyes.

Here's hoping it all ends tonight. I'll take comfort in words Bob wrote rather presciently 51 years ago, words that really could have been written for today:

Ain't it hard when you discover that,
He really wasn't wear it's at,
After he took from you everything he could steal.

Right on. Go vote and take back every ounce that's been robbed from us this year.

And as the credits roll on this election season, let's take one more look at one of the truly great defiant moments in rock-n-roll history. At the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1966, when Bob Dylan brushed off the detractors and jeers with a smile and a sneer, turned to his band and just as they began a blistering "Like a Rolling Stone," told them, "Play it fucking loud!"

And they did.


Go play today, voters. And when you play, play it fucking loud.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


So, as usual, my first thought upon hearing how beautifully the great Philly Joe Jones plays piano on this song he composed himself, is "well, that's not fair." I mean, how uncool is it that possibly the greatest hard-bop drummer ever is also a killer pianist? But, of course, that's probably not entirely a coincidence: he was arguably the greatest hard-bop drummer ever because he was a killer musician. I mean, duh, but it still felt worth pointing out. Or, really, an excuse to post this.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Cherie Amour

It's the last week and I desperately needed something and when in need, Stevie is pretty much always the answer. I was actually intending to play one of his other early gems, but this one caught my eye, thanks in no small part to the typo in the title, and yeah, it did the trick.

And today I learned that Motown didn't release this song for a year after he recorded it, and only put it out when they did because apparently the Wonderful one was having voice troubles, so they dug through the box of unreleased stuff and found this and my GOD can you imagine this being a safety school? Talk about an embarrassment of riches.