Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine: 10 Songs of Righteous Protest

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Ian Anderson called it, in ’74:

The ice-cream castles are refrigerated;
The super-marketeers are on parade.
There’s a golden handshake hanging round your neck,
As you light your cigarette on the burning deck.
And you balance your world on the tip of your nose
Like a Sea Lion with a ball, at the carnival.

Here are nine other songs of righteous and intelligent fury. Strength in sensitivity will provide both solidarity and sustenance for whatever lies ahead.

And when you lose control, you’ll reap the harvest you have sown
And as the fear grows, the bad blood slows and turns to stone
And it’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around
So have a good drown, as you go down, all alone
Dragged down by the stone…

They say there are strangers who threaten us
In our immigrants and infidels
They say there is strangeness too dangerous
In our theaters and bookstore shelves
That those who know what’s best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves

Quick to judge
Quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand…

We tried to speak between lines of oration
You could only repeat what we told you.
Your axe belongs to a dying nation,
They don’t know that we own you.
You’re watching movies trying to find the feelers,
You only see what we show you.
We’re the slaves of the phony leaders
Breathe the air we have blown you.

In the night he’s a star in the Milky Way
He’s a man of the world by the light of day
A golden smile and a proposition
And the breath of God smells of sweet sedition…

Hang your collar up inside
Hang your freedom higher
Listen to the buyer still
Listen to the Congress
Where we propagate confusion
Primitive and wild
Fire on the hemisphere below…

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane, all the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah
There’s danger on the edge of town
Ride the King’s highway, baby
Weird scenes inside the gold mine…

Don’t let it bring you down
It’s only castles burning,
Find someone who’s turning
And you will come around.

White collared conservative flashing down the street
Pointing their plastic finger at me
They’re hoping soon my kind will drop and die
But I’m gonna wave my freak flag high, high
Wave on, wave on
Fall mountains, just don’t fall on me
Go ahead on Mr. Business man, you can’t dress like me…
(I got my own world to look through
And I ain’t gonna copy you)

No lyrics necessary; Charlie Hunter’s solemn, elegiac solo at the end speaks volumes about suppression, resistance and bearing witness.

And, of course, always, last and far from least:

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The Past is Calling: The Who’s ‘Quadrophenia’ (Revisited)

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Most popular Who album? No.

Most important Who album? No.

Most influential Who album? No.

Best Who album? Definitely.

More: Best album of the ‘70s? Probably.

More? Best rock album, ever? Possibly.

Quick question: have you ever heard this? (This song; this album.) Do yourself a favor: drop everything and give this a listen. It will change your perception of The Who. It might change your life.

Let’s break it down.

Quadrophenia is an album that has something for everyone and everything for some people. It concerns itself with virtually all the themes that have defined rock music through successive generations: alienation, rebellion, redemption. Sex. Drugs. And rock ‘n’ roll, as well as Mods, Rockers, punks, godfathers, bell boys, drunk mothers, distant fathers and fallen heroes. The sea, sand, surf and suicide. Rain, uppers, downers and drowning. Zoot suits, scooters, school and schizophrenia. Dirty jobs, helpless dancers, pills and gin. Stars falling, heat rising and, above all, love. Love of music, love of life and the love of possibility. Faith and the attempt to make a cohesive—not to mention coherent—statement on the meaning of all these things. And more.

Is that too much? More like it’s not enough.

Quadrophenia is, in no particular order, The Who album that has best defied time and fashion (one crucial criterion for measuring the ultimate impact of a successful work of art is how it fares over time), a guitar-playing tour de force, and Pete Townshend’s most realized conceptual effort. This is it: he was never this energized or inspired again; this is career-defining music. A double LP that is not as immediately approachable as Tommy, it takes a while but once you get it, it gets inside you—and never leaves.

The Who – “Cut My Hair”

 

“A beach is a place where a man can feel he’s the only soul in the world that’s real”

The Who’s masterwork could almost be described as accidental beach music. Most of the narrative details the mercurial urgencies of young Jimmy, the disenchanted Mod who also could represent just about any teenager who has ever lived. As such, the words and sounds and feelings are alternately frantic (“Can You See The Real Me?”) and claustrophobic (“Cut My Hair”): the story of a sensitive, chemically altered kid uncomfortable inside his skin. There are few releases, and even the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll can’t always be counted on.

The one place where he feels safe and free is at the beach. The album opens with crashing waves and ends with the electrified air of a summer storm. In between there are seagull chirps, scooters careening out of the city into open spaces, bass drum thunder and cymbal-splash raindrops. The album, like the protagonist’s mind, wrestles with itself, rising and falling like the moods of adolescence. Eventually, inevitably, the fever breaks, the skies open and the air is dark, cool and clear.

The genius of Quadrophenia (an album that manages to get name-checked by all the big names and seems universally admired but still not quite revered as much as it richly deserves to be) is certainly the sum of its parts, but also warrants, and welcomes, song-by-song scrutiny. Less flashy than the “rock opera” Tommy and less accessible than the FM-friendly Who’s Next (both masterpieces in their own right), Quadrophenia is, nonetheless, significantly more impressive (and indispensable) than both of those excellent albums.

Everything The Who did, in the studio and onstage, up until 1969 set the stage for Tommy: it was the consummation of Townshend’s obsessions and experimentations; a decade-closing magnum opus that managed to simultaneously celebrate the death and rebirth of the Hippie Dream. Everything Townshend did, in his entire life up until 1973 set the stage for Quadrophenia.

It’s all in there: the pre-teen angst, the teenage agonies and the post-teen despondency. Politicians and parents are gleefully skewered, prigs and clock punchers are mercilessly unmasked, and those who consider themselves less fortunate than everyone else (this, at times, is all of us) are serenaded with equal measures of empathy and exasperation.

The Who – “I’ve Had Enough”

 

And the songs? It’s like being in a shooting gallery, where Townshend picks off hypocrisy after misdeed after miniature tragedy all with a twinkling self-deprecation; this, after all, is a young misfit’s story, so the bathos and pathos is milked and articulated in ways that convey the earth-shattering urgency and comical banality that are part and parcel to the typical coming of age Cri de Coeur. And the band, certainly no slouch on its previous few efforts, is in top form throughout (isolating Moon and Entwistle on any track is a process that can yield ceaseless wonder and bewilderment, and provides a clinic for how multi-dimensional each player consistently managed to be).

From the extended workouts like the title track and “The Rock” (which sounds a bit like an updated and plugged-in version of Tommy’s “Underture”, to slash and burn mini epics like “Dr. Jimmy” to pre-punk (and post-Mod) anthems like “5:15”, the band is flexing rhythmic and textural muscles that are as big as any band’s ever got.

The attention to detail is striking and, for the time, remarkably innovative: consider the “found” sounds of the screeching scooters, the rain, the surf, the bus doors clanging open and, on “Bell Boy”, the sound of Keith Moon’s howl merging into the synthesizer (a technique later used to excellent effect on “Sheep” from Pink Floyd’s Animals).

There are the subtle yet masterful touches that are still capable of providing added pleasure after all these listens: the winking but ingenious meta of “My Generation” (in “The Punk and The Godfather”) and “The Kids are Alright” (in “Helpless Dancer”) as well as “I’m The Face” (in “Sea and Sand”). These are not just clever self-references, they are historical notes—from the history of The Who and, by extension and association, rock ‘n’ roll.

Being a double album (quite possibly the best one, and that is opined knowing that Electric Ladyland, Physical Graffiti and London Calling are also on the dance card), the combination of sheer quality and precision still manages to astonish, all these years later. Unlike most double albums that tend to drag a bit toward the end, this one gets better as it goes along, and none of the songs feel forced.

Some of the numbers on Tommy seem shoehorned to fit the storyline but that’s never an issue with Quadrophenia; Townshend had a unified vision and the songs tell a cogent and affecting tale. As great as Who’s Next really is, you can have “Baba O’Riley”, “Bargain” and “Behind Blue Eyes”; give me “Helpless Dancer”, “Sea and Sand” and “Drowned”.

The Who – “The Punk and the Godfather”

 

And then there’s the song Pete Townshend was born to write (and no, it was not “My Generation”, although only he could have written that one, and all the other great ones); that would be “The Punk and the Godfather”. That song more than adequately advances the tensions of Jimmy’s unfolding story, but more than that, it also serves as an epitaph—for Townshend, and every rock legend that had the audacity to not die young—to the decidedly anti-rock notion of growing old, selling out and achieving some manner of satisfaction:

We tried to speak between lines of oration
You could only repeat what we told you,
Your axe belongs to a dying nation
They don’t know that we own you…
We’re the slaves to a phony leader
Breathe the air we have blown you!

Although the well-known “Love Reign O’er Me” is the ultimate coda for this, or any, album and a showcase for one of Daltrey’s most deliriously intense vocal performances, it’s the song that closes Side Three that still functions as the pinnacle of what this band achieved on their finest outing. If “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” is a mini rock opera that’s heavy on the humor and light on the pretense, while Tommy is a serious and (at times overly) ambitious Rock Opera, “Bell Boy” takes the best elements of both works and distills them into a rollicking epic that clocks in at just under five minutes(!).

The devastation of a younger kid bumping into his one-time hero who is now kissing ass for tips and working for “the man” is undercut by the inspired decision to let Keith Moon “sing” the forsaken idol’s version of events: “I got a good job and I’m newly born / You should see me dressed up in my uniform”. It’s not a confession, really; it functions for the listener as mordant commentary, delivered with a wink and a pint.

The Who – “Bell Boy”

 

The Who were rightly regarded as one of the top live acts of their time: their patented perfection of “Maximum R&B” is rock music’s own barbaric yawp and no one did it better. What they don’t get enough attention or credit for is what remarkable technicians they could be. From the canny and prescient incorporation of radio jingles on The Who Sell Out to the early and innovative use of synthesized sounds on Who’s Next and Townshend’s ability to seamlessly build songs using acoustic and electric flourishes in multi-tracked glory, The Who were not only some of the best musicians, instrument for instrument; they took full advantage of technology and Townshend’s edgy vision to create work that mattered. They combined their best material, most inspired playing and urgent sense of purpose to craft an album that challenges and convinces like few others in rock. Lyrically, sonically and emotionally, Quadrophenia endures as an uncanny exploration of the anguish and ecstasy of being alive and bearing witness.

One might wonder, with 2013 being the 40th anniversary of this album, why we are getting this latest reissue in late 2011. Simplest answer: Why not? Actually, according to the press materials, Townshend and Daltrey are planning on hitting the road in 2012 with a show based around Quadrophenia (something they last did in 1996/1997).

Further, we have a double-disc “Deluxe Edition” and a multi-disc “Director’s Cut” hitting the streets just in time for holiday wish lists. Both releases boast remastered sound and previously unreleased material (the two-disc set has 11 extra songs; the multi-disc set has 25, plus a 5.1 surround-sound mix of eight tracks). The sound is definitely top-notch, though not dramatically different from the mid-‘90s reissue.

Hardcore fans, like this writer, may be disconcerted to realize that the original mixes were not utilized (long story short: the most recent remaster has several minor but glaring “edits”, notably adding some sound effects to certain songs and removing them from others, such as the barnyard noises toward the end of “The Dirty Jobs”…meaning this does not sound like the original album. The quibbles might be minor, but Townshend has bragged about creating the “definitive” experience and while he’s within his rights to tweak the original mixes, that should be advertised up front.)

On a happier note, the demos and various works-in-progress are crucial additions to a fuller understanding of how this tour de force evolved from concept to completed product. As usual, Townshend had sketched out rough cuts of virtually all the final songs, and he handles the initial vocals. These provide not only an interesting contrast to the definitive versions, but also reveal how much depth, grit and balls Daltrey brings to the table. Of course on the final product Townshend’s vocal embellishments function as honey undercutting Daltrey’s rum punches.

Also, on the songs where Townshend handles lead vocals (such as “I’m One”), he acquits himself brilliantly, as always; even on the songs where Daltrey is up front, Townshend is yelling, crooning and cooing in the background. These demos, in sum, illustrate once again how even the most inspired creative minds need to hash out their ideas and let the elements sufficiently coalesce before they get their final take(s).

If, for whatever reason, you’ve never added Quadrophenia to your music collection, it simply can’t be recommended more unreservedly. Even after four decades the music is so urgent and alive that listening to it remains an exhilarating experience. Combining the band’s best playing and capitalizing, fully, on Townshend’s encompassing aesthetic that fuses raw punk energy and refined compositional prowess, this album is an essential cornerstone of the rock ‘n’ roll canon.

There is sound and fury, signifying everything: it’s incredibly smart, but fairly oozing with soul; it’s nostalgic and, almost impossibly, prognostic. It’s the material Townshend was placed on this planet to make. Let the tide in and set you free.

This essay originally appeared in PopMatters and is featured in the new collection Murphy’s Law, Vol One.

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Four Albums and a Film: The Best Summer Entertainment

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The Congos – Heart of the Congos (1977)

Great art knows no seasons. Nevertheless, some music is made for—or at least can be fully appreciated during—specific times of the year. Reggae, which many people still believe means Bob Marley’s music, tends to get broken out only once the flip flops and hibachi grills come out of hibernation. For an alternative that’s both inspiring and educational, the first reggae disc you should turn to as soon as the weather warms is Heart of the Congos. Shepherded into existence by the incomparable Lee “Scratch” Perry at the height of his uncanny powers, this album functions as a timeline of history invoking “songs and psalms and voices” to create a soulful, occasionally unsettling tapestry of deep cultural roots. On many tracks, Perry’s production sounds like a remix already, maximizing a slightly disorienting tension between the push of straight ahead riddim and the pull of echoing voices: Gregorian chants funneled through the heart of darkness into the light. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard, yet it’s somehow, impossibly, familiar.

Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland (1968)

Electric Ladyland is not merely one of the ultimate summer albums, it is summer. From the hot-town-summer-in-the-city chaos of “Crosstown Traffic” to the midnight lightning of “Voodoo Chile” and the sexual swagger of “Gypsy Eyes” to the sweat-soaked croon of “Long Hot Summer Night” (!), this double-disc oozes with bright lights (“House Burning Down”) and warm remorse (“Burning of the Midnight Lamp”). Even the Apocalyptic imagery, properly psychedelicized in “All Along the Watchtower” (the only time Bob Dylan had his own work improved upon) mutates from cryptic folktale to field report from the steamy jungles of Vietnam and/or the sweltering streets with police staring down protestors. And then there’s the extended suite that occupies all of Side Three: it starts with a saxophone and a smile (“lay back and dream on a rainy day”) and then slips underwater, literally: our feet find the sand and the sea is straight ahead. By the time the moon turns the tides (gently, gently away) you have most definitely been experienced: it’s a hot, sweet and soulful adventure. Electric Ladyland is a trek through sights and sounds that only one man could convey, and he seems like he’s eager to shed his skin and get to a place where his body will not constrain him.

Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

It’s not so much that Floyd’s debut helped define the Summer of Love (though it did), or that there is necessarily anything one can associate with hot weather in those sounds. It’s more than that: from the echoed cadence of roll-called planets to those last surreal goose honks, Syd Barrett’s guided tour through the miniature landscapes and dreamscapes he was imagining does transport you to other places, but also another time: youth. Everything about the execution, and realization, of this spectacular album exudes the uncorrupted innocence of a novel conception. More inspiration than insanity, Barrett’s acid-inspired reveries unlocked the obvious genius teeming inside his head. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is an enduring and ever-relevant document of unbridled and ecstatic creativity realizing its initial and immediate fulfillment, a full-flowering burst that would not (could not?) be duplicated. Listening to it, especially during months that might remind you of a (sigh) more innocent time, it’s not unlike a trip to the beach for your mind.

The Who – Quadrophenia (1973)

“The beach is a place where a man can feel he’s the only soul in the world that’s real…” The Who’s masterwork Quadrophenia could almost be described as “accidental beach music”. Most of the narrative details the mercurial urgencies of young Jimmy, the disenchanted Mod. As such, the words and sounds and feelings are alternately frantic and claustrophobic—the story of a sensitive, chemically altered teenager uncomfortable inside his skin. There is only one release for him: the beach. The album opens with crashing waves and ends with electrified air of a summer storm; in between there are seagull chirps, scooters careening out of the city into open spaces, and bass drum thunder and cymbal-splash raindrops. The album, like the protagonist’s mind, wrestles with itself and rises and falls like the moods of adolescence, until the fever breaks, the skies open and the air is dark, cool and clear.

Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)

A confident, if impetuous detective sits patiently at the top of a sloping cliff, overlooking the Los Angeles coastline as the day’s light drops into evening. He waits, lighting cigarette after cigarette, totally unaware that he has already stumbled into a hornet’s nest of corruption. The beauty of what he sees (and we see) perfectly conceals the brutal ugliness of what is really going on: unwittingly, Jack Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is about to lift up a rock and behold the guts and machinery of what gets sold as the American Dream. It is hot and dry; indeed, the backdrop of the story is a severe drought that is wreaking havoc on local farmers. Over the course of a few scorching days, cars overheat, people drown in dry riverbeds, and a great deal of blood, sweat and tears indelibly compensate for the rain that won’t fall and the relief that never comes.

Elements of several of these essays are featured in Murphy’s Law, Vol. One –available now.

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My Kind of Christmas Music (Revisited)

snoopy

Tchaikovsky

Corelli

Bach

A couple from John Fahey

The Who

Chuck Berry

a three-fer from Jethro Tull!


Sonny Boy

The Godfather

Donny

Satchmo

Ella! (An embarrassment of riches here, here, and here)

Johnny Mathis (The Master)

Vince (The King)

(Give me more Snoopy and less Linus and even less of CB’s angst; but double-up on the VG trio. RESPECT!)

Finally, some contemporary action from John Zorn and the Dreamers (get this album!)

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Bill Buckner, Mookie Wilson and Me (Revisited)

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(10/2011)

I’ve never been able to appreciate the aesthetic perfection (that is to say, the perfection of baseball’s most imperfect play; it’s most jarringly incongruous moment) because it was too painful. I was too invested in the response to that stimulus and what it signified: game (and, we knew, series) over.

A lot of people forgot, or never knew, that this was only Game Six. It was not the end of the actual series; they had one more game to play even if everyone understood that it wasn’t necessary. This was the Red Sox, after all.

Is there any doubt in any Red Sox fan’s mind that if Oil Can Boyd had (been allowed to) pitch(ed) he would have won? I say that as someone who was 100% in support of the decision to pitch Bruce Hurst on short rest, once the Sunday game got rained out (yet another rung in the hellish labyrinth of Red Sox horrors: what seemed like a blessing turned out to be a …well I’m not going to use that word). Of course, pitching Hurst did work wonderfully, until he was understandably out of gas half-way through the game, when John McNamara, part of the unholy triptych of imbecilic Sox managers along with Don “The Gerbil” Zimmer and Grady “Gump” Little, went (too late) to the dugout. I thought (and think): why not Oil Can? I’ve always assumed that harsh words were exchanged when Mac told Can he was not getting the call (Can allegedly wept when he received the news). The reason all sensible Sox fans were relieved when Hurst got the nod is because we recalled Game 3, when Oil Can labored through about 300 pitches to get through the first inning: even though Can settled down, the Sox lost 4-0. At best, the question of whether he was suited for prime time was not yet answered. On the other hand, we knew Calvin Schiraldi was not. When, after leaving poor Calvin in the night before even as he looked like he was about to cry on the mound; after soiling his shorts on national TV, Mac went to him again, there was no doubt. The man who had been one strike away from baseball (and Beantown) immortality spit the bit when it mattered most. To redeem himself, of course he promptely surrendered the go-ahead run to the insufferable Ray Knight. (If the Sox were not so worthless and weak at this point, someone, anyone would have taken a run at Daryl Strawberry when his cherry-on-top homerun prompted the most egregiously disrespectful slow-circle of the bases in the history of the sport.) The rest, as they say is history.

But it couldn’t simply be history, because it was history. I literally could not count the number of times I saw replays of Buckner’s bungle, or the subsequent footage of the insufferable Knight crossing home plate (into the waiting arms of the equally loathed Gary “Camera” Carter). Or the ultimate indignity, Jesse Orosco’s histrionics after striking out Marty Barrett for the final out (in Game 7). I can’t tell you the intolerable pain these images caused, one million times worse than the shot of Bucky “Bleeping” Dent’s soul-to-the-devil shot over the Monster. All the way up to ’03 they were ubiquitous until, as it seemed, Satan conjured up the final insult by having the Sox’s eternally overdue beatdown of the Yankees (in Game 7 of the ALCS) mutate into a comeback only slightly less improbable –and painful– than the Mets’ second miracle.

(Sidenote: I was with my old man in ’86 and I was with my old man in ’03. On the other hand, I was with him in ’04 and ’07, so we got that goin’ for us…which is nice.)

This was what it was like to be a fan. It was not merely a matter of expecting the worst; all sports fans are acquainted with that (some more than others: Hello Cleveland!). It was that the worst was about to happen at the worst possible moment in the worst possible way.

And so, all together now: Thank God for 2004!

2004 cemented my already-existing penchant for underdogs. 2004 solidified my solidarity with teams and their longest-suffering fan-bases (except for Philadelphia).

Just as it’s difficult to articulate the unique and acute distress the events of ’86 (and ’03) caused, it’s similarly challenging to relate what 2004 felt like. A glacier dissolved to the final tear drop after thousands of years and riding the crest of a forever fever breaking; a billion babies’ burps; burnt-out batteries firing with life; the sports fanatics’ equivalent of the golden glow at the end of the dugout tunnel…

But before we got there we had to walk through that long and illogical darkness.

And what bothered me most was not the losses or the regret, but the fact that one figure unfairly came to bear the brunt of all of this pent-up rage and resentment.

This week marked the 25th anniversary of Game Six and the most (in)famous error in post-season (if not all-time) history.

(Real time edit: perhaps the baseball gods have both humor, perspective and perversity to burn, because we just witnessed another Game Six that might do the unthinkable and supplant the previous Game Six as the Game Six…time will tell and more on that later.)

I always knew, from October 1986 until October 2004 (and even now, really) who the real Red Sox fans are. If you blamed Bill Buckner for the loss it conclusively proved three things: you weren’t a real Sox fan, you didn’t understand baseball and most importantly, you were an asshole.

I’m not going to recount the play-by-play, just like I’m not going to embed any video (ugh), but suffice it to say, there was plenty of blame to go around. Much more egregious than Buckner’s error was the wild throw by Bob “The Steamer” Stanley who, that night, opened his name up to more scatalogical associations. (Plus, for anyone who happened to catch his post-game interview, the ease and disgrace with which he threw Buckner under the bus earns him eternal enmity.) Much (too much) has been made of the fact that Buckner should not have been on the field at all; that he should have been pulled for defensive wiz Dave Stapleton. Horseshit. If Schiraldi had done his job (or Boggs had charged that harmless grounder and made a play before it went foul) Stanley would never have been needed, Gedman’s fat ass would never have had to make the (lame) attempt to cover the wild pitch, and Buckner would have rightly been on the field to celebrate with his teammates after the winning out was recorded, and Bruce Hurst would have remained the series MVP (as he was prematurely declared when the game was presumably seconds from concluding…).

Coincidentally, watching the recent ESPN special “Catching Hell”, I was reminded how irrational fans can be, and how as Americans we insist on easy –if unfair– solutions to complex problems. That poor Steve Bartman was blamed for his team’s epic and embarrassing collapse (we are not talking about a one-run turn of events, we are talking about a collective meltdown that makes Calvin Schiraldi look like Bob Gibson) is enough to make you wish the Cubs never win another playoff game. Of course that is not fair to the organization, or the authentic fans, and human beings, who are unable to pin their own frustrations and real-world impotencies on an anonymous, unlucky fan. But watching that feature, which I highly recommend to even non sports fans, I understood that any sane person, seeing or hearing the way Buckner was treated and excoriated, would –and should– have hoped that the Red Sox would never win a World Series. Or more, that a city that could act so ignobly never deserved to win anything, as some type of atonement.

Again, thank God for 2004. Of course, Buckner has long since put the past behind him (although he was still very understandably bitter when, in 2004, idiotic sports reporters were asking him “do you feel forgiven now?” and other offensive questions). By 2008, after the Sox had won, again, enough water had, at long last, swept under the bridge that Buckner was willing to get his long overdue serenade. I kind of love the fact that Bill (and his partner in crime, Mookie Wilson), have managed to make money off of this play over the years. For all the grief he got, he damn well should have got paid. You go Bill. Decent story from this week’s Boston Globe here.

And that is some video I will be happy to share (although I can’t help noting, even the person good enough to record this was moronic enough to make sarcastic/disparaging comments even as Buckner strode to the mound).

There was, of course, nothing to forgive. But in the spirit of a quarter-century of misunderstanding, misplaced ire, recrimination and redemption, the last few, rocking, minutes of this delectable recording should resonate from the snowy environs of Boston to the lush fields of Idaho.

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My Kind of Christmas Music (Revisited)

snoopy

Tchaikovsky

Corelli

Bach

A couple from John Fahey

The Who

Chuck Berry

a three-fer from Jethro Tull!


Sonny Boy

The Godfather

Donny

Satchmo

Ella! (An embarrassment of riches here, here, and here)

Johnny Mathis (The Master)

Vince (The King)

(Give me more Snoopy and less Linus and even less of CB’s angst; but double-up on the VG trio. RESPECT!)

Finally, some contemporary action from John Zorn and the Dreamers (get this album!)

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Bill Buckner, Mookie Wilson and Me (Revisited)

buckner1-300x300

(10/2011)

I’ve never been able to appreciate the aesthetic perfection (that is to say, the perfection of baseball’s most imperfect play; it’s most jarringly incongruous moment) because it was too painful. I was too invested in the response to that stimulus and what it signified: game (and, we knew, series) over.

A lot of people forgot, or never knew, that this was only Game Six. It was not the end of the actual series; they had one more game to play even if everyone understood that it wasn’t necessary. This was the Red Sox, after all.

Is there any doubt in any Red Sox fan’s mind that if Oil Can Boyd had (been allowed to) pitch(ed) he would have won? I say that as someone who was 100% in support of the decision to pitch Bruce Hurst on short rest, once the Sunday game got rained out (yet another rung in the hellish labyrinth of Red Sox horrors: what seemed like a blessing turned out to be a …well I’m not going to use that word). Of course, pitching Hurst did work wonderfully, until he was understandably out of gas half-way through the game, when John McNamara, part of the unholy triptych of imbecilic Sox managers along with Don “The Gerbil” Zimmer and Grady “Gump” Little, went (too late) to the dugout. I thought (and think): why not Oil Can? I’ve always assumed that harsh words were exchanged when Mac told Can he was not getting the call (Can allegedly wept when he received the news). The reason all sensible Sox fans were relieved when Hurst got the nod is because we recalled Game 3, when Oil Can labored through about 300 pitches to get through the first inning: even though Can settled down, the Sox lost 4-0. At best, the question of whether he was suited for prime time was not yet answered. On the other hand, we knew Calvin Schiraldi was not. When, after leaving poor Calvin in the night before even as he looked like he was about to cry on the mound; after soiling his shorts on national TV, Mac went to him again, there was no doubt. The man who had been one strike away from baseball (and Beantown) immortality spit the bit when it mattered most. To redeem himself, of course he promptely surrendered the go-ahead run to the insufferable Ray Knight. (If the Sox were not so worthless and weak at this point, someone, anyone would have taken a run at Daryl Strawberry when his cherry-on-top homerun prompted the most egregiously disrespectful slow-circle of the bases in the history of the sport.) The rest, as they say is history.

But it couldn’t simply be history, because it was history. I literally could not count the number of times I saw replays of Buckner’s bungle, or the subsequent footage of the insufferable Knight crossing home plate (into the waiting arms of the equally loathed Gary “Camera” Carter). Or the ultimate indignity, Jesse Orosco’s histrionics after striking out Marty Barrett for the final out (in Game 7). I can’t tell you the intolerable pain these images caused, one million times worse than the shot of Bucky “Bleeping” Dent’s soul-to-the-devil shot over the Monster. All the way up to ’03 they were ubiquitous until, as it seemed, Satan conjured up the final insult by having the Sox’s eternally overdue beatdown of the Yankees (in Game 7 of the ALCS) mutate into a comeback only slightly less improbable –and painful– than the Mets’ second miracle.

(Sidenote: I was with my old man in ’86 and I was with my old man in ’03. On the other hand, I was with him in ’04 and ’07, so we got that goin’ for us…which is nice.)

This was what it was like to be a fan. It was not merely a matter of expecting the worst; all sports fans are acquainted with that (some more than others: Hello Cleveland!). It was that the worst was about to happen at the worst possible moment in the worst possible way.

And so, all together now: Thank God for 2004!

2004 cemented my already-existing penchant for underdogs. 2004 solidified my solidarity with teams and their longest-suffering fan-bases (except for Philadelphia).

Just as it’s difficult to articulate the unique and acute distress the events of ’86 (and ’03) caused, it’s similarly challenging to relate what 2004 felt like. A glacier dissolved to the final tear drop after thousands of years and riding the crest of a forever fever breaking; a billion babies’ burps; burnt-out batteries firing with life; the sports fanatics’ equivalent of the golden glow at the end of the dugout tunnel…

But before we got there we had to walk through that long and illogical darkness.

And what bothered me most was not the losses or the regret, but the fact that one figure unfairly came to bear the brunt of all of this pent-up rage and resentment.

This week marked the 25th anniversary of Game Six and the most (in)famous error in post-season (if not all-time) history.

(Real time edit: perhaps the baseball gods have both humor, perspective and perversity to burn, because we just witnessed another Game Six that might do the unthinkable and supplant the previous Game Six as the Game Six…time will tell and more on that later.)

I always knew, from October 1986 until October 2004 (and even now, really) who the real Red Sox fans are. If you blamed Bill Buckner for the loss it conclusively proved three things: you weren’t a real Sox fan, you didn’t understand baseball and most importantly, you were an asshole.

I’m not going to recount the play-by-play, just like I’m not going to embed any video (ugh), but suffice it to say, there was plenty of blame to go around. Much more egregious than Buckner’s error was the wild throw by Bob “The Steamer” Stanley who, that night, opened his name up to more scatalogical associations. (Plus, for anyone who happened to catch his post-game interview, the ease and disgrace with which he threw Buckner under the bus earns him eternal enmity.) Much (too much) has been made of the fact that Buckner should not have been on the field at all; that he should have been pulled for defensive wiz Dave Stapleton. Horseshit. If Schiraldi had done his job (or Boggs had charged that harmless grounder and made a play before it went foul) Stanley would never have been needed, Gedman’s fat ass would never have had to make the (lame) attempt to cover the wild pitch, and Buckner would have rightly been on the field to celebrate with his teammates after the winning out was recorded, and Bruce Hurst would have remained the series MVP (as he was prematurely declared when the game was presumably seconds from concluding…).

Coincidentally, watching the recent ESPN special “Catching Hell”, I was reminded how irrational fans can be, and how as Americans we insist on easy –if unfair– solutions to complex problems. That poor Steve Bartman was blamed for his team’s epic and embarrassing collapse (we are not talking about a one-run turn of events, we are talking about a collective meltdown that makes Calvin Schiraldi look like Bob Gibson) is enough to make you wish the Cubs never win another playoff game. Of course that is not fair to the organization, or the authentic fans, and human beings, who are unable to pin their own frustrations and real-world impotencies on an anonymous, unlucky fan. But watching that feature, which I highly recommend to even non sports fans, I understood that any sane person, seeing or hearing the way Buckner was treated and excoriated, would –and should– have hoped that the Red Sox would never win a World Series. Or more, that a city that could act so ignobly never deserved to win anything, as some type of atonement.

Again, thank God for 2004. Of course, Buckner has long since put the past behind him (although he was still very understandably bitter when, in 2004, idiotic sports reporters were asking him “do you feel forgiven now?” and other offensive questions). By 2008, after the Sox had won, again, enough water had, at long last, swept under the bridge that Buckner was willing to get his long overdue serenade. I kind of love the fact that Bill (and his partner in crime, Mookie Wilson), have managed to make money off of this play over the years. For all the grief he got, he damn well should have got paid. You go Bill. Decent story from this week’s Boston Globe here.

And that is some video I will be happy to share (although I can’t help noting, even the person good enough to record this was moronic enough to make sarcastic/disparaging comments even as Buckner strode to the mound).

There was, of course, nothing to forgive. But in the spirit of a quarter-century of misunderstanding, misplaced ire, recrimination and redemption, the last few, rocking, minutes of this delectable recording should resonate from the snowy environs of Boston to the lush fields of Idaho.

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Four Albums and a Film: The Best Summer Entertainment

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The Congos – Heart of the Congos (1977)

Great art knows no seasons. Nevertheless, some music is made for—or at least can be fully appreciated during—specific times of the year. Reggae, which many people still believe means Bob Marley’s music, tends to get broken out only once the flip flops and hibachi grills come out of hibernation. For an alternative that’s both inspiring and educational, the first reggae disc you should turn to as soon as the weather warms is Heart of the Congos. Shepherded into existence by the incomparable Lee “Scratch” Perry at the height of his uncanny powers, this album functions as a timeline of history invoking “songs and psalms and voices” to create a soulful, occasionally unsettling tapestry of deep cultural roots. On many tracks, Perry’s production sounds like a remix already, maximizing a slightly disorienting tension between the push of straight ahead riddim and the pull of echoing voices: Gregorian chants funneled through the heart of darkness into the light. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard, yet it’s somehow, impossibly, familiar.

Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland (1968)

Electric Ladyland is not merely one of the ultimate summer albums, it is summer. From the hot-town-summer-in-the-city chaos of “Crosstown Traffic” to the midnight lightning of “Voodoo Chile” and the sexual swagger of “Gypsy Eyes” to the sweat-soaked croon of “Long Hot Summer Night” (!), this double-disc oozes with bright lights (“House Burning Down”) and warm remorse (“Burning of the Midnight Lamp”). Even the Apocalyptic imagery, properly psychedelicized in “All Along the Watchtower” (the only time Bob Dylan had his own work improved upon) mutates from cryptic folktale to field report from the steamy jungles of Vietnam and/or the sweltering streets with police staring down protestors. And then there’s the extended suite that occupies all of Side Three: it starts with a saxophone and a smile (“lay back and dream on a rainy day”) and then slips underwater, literally: our feet find the sand and the sea is straight ahead. By the time the moon turns the tides (gently, gently away) you have most definitely been experienced: it’s a hot, sweet and soulful adventure. Electric Ladyland is a trek through sights and sounds that only one man could convey, and he seems like he’s eager to shed his skin and get to a place where his body will not constrain him.

Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

It’s not so much that Floyd’s debut helped define the Summer of Love (though it did), or that there is necessarily anything one can associate with hot weather in those sounds. It’s more than that: from the echoed cadence of roll-called planets to those last surreal goose honks, Syd Barrett’s guided tour through the miniature landscapes and dreamscapes he was imagining does transport you to other places, but also another time: youth. Everything about the execution, and realization, of this spectacular album exudes the uncorrupted innocence of a novel conception. More inspiration than insanity, Barrett’s acid-inspired reveries unlocked the obvious genius teeming inside his head. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is an enduring and ever-relevant document of unbridled and ecstatic creativity realizing its initial and immediate fulfillment, a full-flowering burst that would not (could not?) be duplicated. Listening to it, especially during months that might remind you of a (sigh) more innocent time, it’s not unlike a trip to the beach for your mind.

The Who – Quadrophenia (1973)

“The beach is a place where a man can feel he’s the only soul in the world that’s real…” The Who’s masterwork Quadrophenia could almost be described as “accidental beach music”. Most of the narrative details the mercurial urgencies of young Jimmy, the disenchanted Mod. As such, the words and sounds and feelings are alternately frantic and claustrophobic—the story of a sensitive, chemically altered teenager uncomfortable inside his skin. There is only one release for him: the beach. The album opens with crashing waves and ends with electrified air of a summer storm; in between there are seagull chirps, scooters careening out of the city into open spaces, and bass drum thunder and cymbal-splash raindrops. The album, like the protagonist’s mind, wrestles with itself and rises and falls like the moods of adolescence, until the fever breaks, the skies open and the air is dark, cool and clear.

Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)

A confident, if impetuous detective sits patiently at the top of a sloping cliff, overlooking the Los Angeles coastline as the day’s light drops into evening. He waits, lighting cigarette after cigarette, totally unaware that he has already stumbled into a hornet’s nest of corruption. The beauty of what he sees (and we see) perfectly conceals the brutal ugliness of what is really going on: unwittingly, Jack Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is about to lift up a rock and behold the guts and machinery of what gets sold as the American Dream. It is hot and dry; indeed, the backdrop of the story is a severe drought that is wreaking havoc on local farmers. Over the course of a few scorching days, cars overheat, people drown in dry riverbeds, and a great deal of blood, sweat and tears indelibly compensate for the rain that won’t fall and the relief that never comes.

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1967 and the Prog-Rock Progenitors* (Revisited)

Progressive rock reached its full potential in the ‘70s, but its roots trace back to the previous decade. While an attempt to determine when and with whom prog-rock formally originated is impossible (not to mention pointless), it is instructive to consider which artists pointed the way.

The official or at least easiest story is that when they released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles ushered in a new era wherein rock music could be appreciated—and appraised—as Art. Of course there is considerable truth to this account, but there were plenty of other bands, circa 1967, edging things in a direction that was at once more evolved, complicated and unclassifiable.

For starters, The Beatles themselves had already made significant strides: Rubber Soul and especially Revolver showcased a facility for experimentation (sitar, string quartets, enriched lyrical import) and restlessness with regard to convention. “Tomorrow Never Knows” could be considered the true opening salvo that foresaw the future; after this song nothing was off the table, and opportunistic acts followed suit.

If 1967 characterizes a high point (famously, if a bit unfairly exemplified solely by Sgt. Pepper), it also initiated an explicit realignment of what was possible in rock music—for better or worse. Two albums that, in their way, illustrate where the art form would go are The Who’s The Who Sell Out and Love’s Forever Changes. In fact, if you combine the various concepts and approaches of both, a rough formula can be gleaned, previewing much of what was to come.

Indeed, both Love and The Who (led by Arthur Lee and Pete Townshend, respectively) had already made advancements on previous albums. The Who’s cheeky mini-opera, “A Quick One, While He’s Away” provided a template that Townshend—and many subsequent imitators—would utilize to greater effect. Love is notable for creating, alongside Dylan, Zappa and The Rolling Stones, one of the first songs to fill an entire album side. Love is not extolled nearly enough for the subtle ways they augmented the possibilities of a standard pop song: incorporating strings, flutes and harpsichords are all elements that make Side One of Da Capo a ceaselessly colorful and engaging listening experience.

Neil Young, not long for Buffalo Springfield, employed strings (with Jack Nitzsche’s supervision) for his elaborate miniature epics “Broken Arrow” and “Expecting to Fly”. The Moody Blues took a definitive leap forward, collaborating with Decca’s house orchestra to embellish their conceptual song-cycle Days of Future Passed. The Moody Blues were also one of the first bands to make prominent use of the mellotron (courtesy of Mike Pinder who, incidentally, is credited with turning John Lennon, pre “Strawberry Fields Forever”, onto the instrument), which would become a fixture in the prog-rock sound.

Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” remain ubiquitous psychedelic anthems from 1967, but it was arguably two lesser known and celebrated (at the time) acts that provided crucial direction for more ambitious artists. The Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart dropped albums that inspired and influenced the way modern music could connect. By turns surreal and cynical, Lou Reed and Don Van Vliet turned a mordant eye upon society and extended the lyrical possibilities Bob Dylan pioneered. Tracks like “Venus in Furs”, “Heroin”, “Drop Out Boogie” and “Electricity” (theremin!) are uncanny blueprints of a kitchen sink sensibility that quickly became commonplace.

Special mention must be made of the inimitable Brian Wilson. Even though his magnum opus SMiLE never saw the light of day (much more on that, here, “The Once and Future King: ‘SMiLE’ and Brian Wilson’s Very American Dream”) he can be—and has been, by none other than Paul McCartney—credited with inspiring if not intimidating the Fab Four to raise their game. Although the world would not hear the ideas and innovations Wilson began to assemble in 1966(!), enough material was salvaged to ultimately surface on 1967’s Smiley Smile, and “Heroes and Villains” could be considered the yin to “A Day in the Life’s” yang.

Two other debuts, both released prior to Sgt. Pepper, contain multiple elements that would be mined throughout the ensuing decade. We will never know what direction(s) Jimi Hendrix may have headed in, but the sources of a very different rock sound are sprinkled liberally throughout Are You Experienced?. His virtuosity alone served notice and opened the floodgates of imitation and indulgence; arguably no one has yet caught up to what Hendrix was achieving between 1967 and 1970. Whatever his merits as a lyricist (never mind poet), there is no question that Jim Morrison introduced a modus operandi that was at once more literate and dark than most of the rock albums that preceded The Doors.

Morrison’s two extended album closers, “The End” and “When The Music’s Over” (from Strange Days, also released in 1967) brought a dramatic, cathartic aspect to songwriting that translated to more theatric live performances: every arena act learned a trick or two from the Lizard King. However effectively (or farcically, depending upon your preference) the organ and guitar solos on “Light My Fire” approximate jazz improvisation, Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek did the near-impossible (or unthinkable, depending upon your preference) on the song that helped define the Summer of Love: they turned attention from the singer’s looks (and vocals) to the band mates’ sounds, if even for a few minutes.

Finally, enough can never be said (and much more will be said, before long) about Pink Floyd. Another 1967 debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, recorded at the same time in the same studio as Sgt. Pepper, is a fully realized burst of sui generis psychedelic perfection. Lyrically, it ranges from the obligatory astral imagery of the era (“Astronomy Domine”) to the obligatory shout-out to I Ching (“Chapter 24”) to the brain salad surgery of “Bike”, revealing the unique and astonishing mind of a 21-year-old Syd Barrett.

Captivating as Barrett’s words (and voice) is throughout; the real revelation is his songwriting. The tunes, with one notable exception (“Interstellar Overdrive”), are exercises in precision, packing maximal sound and feeling into bite-sized bits. Eccentric, erudite and ebullient, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a happy explosion of creative potential, a template Floyd would expand upon in a stretch of possibly unrivaled masterpieces throughout the ‘70s.

By 1968 it was apparent many artists were paying attention, and a trio of songs signifies some of the ways the prog-rock aesthetic was already in full effect. Perhaps most notoriously, Iron Butterfly went all in, crafting a side-long song that strained for profundity, intensity and inscrutability. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (In The Garden of Eden?) super-sized the instrumental passages from “Light My Fire” (including a drum solo!), and incorporated earnest if overbearing explorations that drew from Country Joe and the Fish’s acid-drenched “Section 43”: over the course of 18 minutes it is psychedelia unbound or pretentious noodling personified (perhaps both).

Eric Burdon, who had found fame mining blues motifs with The Animals, threw his hat into the ring and crafted one of the more successful anti-war ballads, “Sky Pilot”. The band is focused and at just over seven minutes the song still seems just right: neither noodling (musically) or preaching (lyrically), the inclusion of sound effects and bagpipes are novel strategies, albeit ones that would become familiar—and somewhat stale in the next decade.

Lastly, another overlooked artist who deserves more, Arthur Brown, reached incisively into the recent past and did much to predict the future. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown is an early concept album, incorporating mythology, religion and astute sociological insight. Best known for the one-and-done hit single “Fire”, the rest of Brown’s debut holds up well even as it’s unmistakably of its time.

His flair for the dramatic (bounding onto the stage with his metal helmet aflame) and painted face anticipated acts as diverse as Kiss, Alice Cooper and Peter Gabriel. The remarkable “Spontaneous Apple Creation”, which sounds like a mash-up of Sun Ra and Ennio Morricone, with vocals (and lyrics) that undeniably influenced Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, remains a signpost of how far rock music had come in only a couple of years.

*Second installment of new monthly PopMatters column, “The Amazing Pudding” (First installment HERE).

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My Kind of Christmas Music (Revisited)

Tchaikovsky

Corelli

Bach

A few from John Fahey

The Who

Chuck Berry

a three-fer from Jethro Tull!


Sonny Boy

The Godfather

Donny

Satchmo

Ella! (An embarrassment of riches here, here, and here)

Johnny Mathis (The Master)

Vince (The King)

(Give me more Snoopy and less Linus and even less of CB’s angst; but double-up on the VG trio. RESPECT!)

Finally, some contemporary action from John Zorn and the Dreamers (get this album!)

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