Wednesday, February 23, 2022


 "A White Shade of Pale"  is among the many classic rock tunes who'se virtues and demerits have been a persistent source of ambivalence in my decades of  forming a  hard line on any number of classic rock artists. Concerning AWSOP, it might be enough to say that for all the grandeur of the Bach-like organ that defines the song, the Elizabethan vagueness of the lyrics and the soulful vocal that invested the opaque lyrics with more drama than was warranted, I've grown sick of the tune and hope never to hear it again. The exhaustion has more to do with exasperation since the band that did the song Procol Harum, had quite a catalog of albums containing better, more adventurous songs. Now one of its key members has passed, and a moment to appreciate what he and Procol Harum accomplished is in order.

Gary Booker was a fine and expressive singer /keyboardist for a grand British band, Procol Harum. The band was never really a blues band, but the blues were never that far from their original songs, all of which featured lyrics by Keith Reid. Reid was considered a full member of the band since his agile handling effectively sketchy terrains involving of mystery, alienation, resignation, gallows humor and world weariness. His skill at creating odd atmospheres with is stanzas had as much to do with creating the public's perception of the band as their instrumental styling. Robin Trower, another founding member, brought his serpentine and stinging blues influence to the more classical and disparate folk influences that informed the band's catalog of tunes.

Booker, a restrained vocalist who magically combined nearly perfect diction with an effective suggestion of a blues wail boiling under the tonal calm, was fine , even brilliant interpreter of Reid's curt surrealism. This song for consideration here, "Juicy John Pink" from their 1969 album A Salty Dog, is a blues, a straight ahead blues sans classical garnishment, reveals the combination of vocal, lyrics, and guitar that brings us a tale of a soul on his last day on earth entreating the Lord to take him to Heaven rather than the dull agony of Hell. Gary Booker, RIP.

Friday, February 18, 2022



Old guitar riffs do not die as long as I live, as they are the soundtrack of many a routine and daily walk up the stairs to work, treks to the stores, adventures in scattered beach area parking lots, the journey to the forbidden and familiar knowledge behind a girlfriend's front door. Or the entrance to a doctor's office, for that matter. I had often joked  that each of  us requires a “signature riff”,  a power chord mini-anthem  ourselves that with which we have on constant mental standby as we go about our routine tasks and  past times; I often imagine the open  assault of “Mississippi Queen” commanding a room's attention once I enter, if only to perform the mundane obligation of paying a gas bill.The theme song changes, to be sure--there is no channel changing that's faster  or more assured than what goes on the car radio dial of the mind--and there are those days when what I carry in my imagined soundtrack in my imagined movie are the genteel whispers of Paul Simon's three-hankie whining, the grating,  rusted scraping of  early Velvet Underground, the  guitar amnesia of  Larry Cor yell. It varies according to mood and what lies on the to-do list that day. (Not that I actually have a to-do list. 

It's actually what I remember to get around to accomplish, get over with, or finish from an earlier, half-hearted attempt. I am not so organized. I am a fifty-eight-year-old man, almost fifty-nine, who has the personal habits of, say, your average 17-year-old, just in college, in his first off-campus apartment, with a room of his own). That said, the last few days have been one of stupid-making idleness, since I tripped in my apartment earlier in the week and ran my already-game knee into something hard and unforgiving. The last four days have been missed work, icing the swollen knee --no breaks or fractures, thank goodness-- and diving into an old record collection. Some of this stuff does not sound so bad.

Robin Trower, for example; the former Procol Harum guitarist, is very possibly the only Hendrix inspired fret specialist who fully established his own distinct approach to guitar melodrama while still maintaining the ethereal quality of his Mentor's style. Twice Removed from Yesterday, his debut, was a wonderful tone poem start to finish, emphasizing mood and atmospherics, by way of the dreamier parts of Electric Ladyland. His choice of Jim Dewar, ex of Stone the Crows, for a lead vocalist  inspired, a gritty, soulful belter whose lower register gravitas gave the core idyll ism of the lyrics something very solid to wrap around. "I Can't Wait Much Longer" is that rare breed of power ballad that actually manages to make you feel the ache of the heart that hungers for a love that won't reciprocate. 

Bridge of Sighs veers from the mystical tone and lands on a hard rock style, with a solid grounding in r and b grooves: solid riffs and rhythms, charging solos, veryyyyyyyyyyyy fluid guitar work. Where the first album was strong on thick overlays of guitar tones and coloration to produce a spaced-out elegance, Bridge shifts more towards hard rock and rhythm and blues, up-tempo, hooky riffs and blockbuster vocals. Dewar and Trower are as fine match of lead singer and guitar hero as we've seen emerge from the cantankerous era  of Sports Arena rock, as finely twined on production and material on their these two releases as Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were on Led Zeppelin's entire body of work or, more appropriately, as Paul Kossoff, guitar and Paul Rodgers, vocals, were in their seminal blues-rock band Free. The secret might be that the two of them are aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses--they compliment each other with nuance, style, a  bit of emotional reserve that makes the tension of their best songs here--"Day of the Eagle", "The Fool and Me", "Too Rolling Stone"--continually satisfying. Trower is a blues guitarist at heart and knows the value of fluidity and restraint; during his solos,  he continues the vocal line established by Dewar and seems to continue the tale in choice selected notes, not words. Dewar himself is perhaps the best of the British blues vocalist, a rich, grainy baritone with a supremely dark texture.  This band, to be sure, had a penchant for writing the phony-baloney Dungeons and Dragons fantasy lyrics that laid waste to two generations of budding Ira Gershwins, a subject and concomitant imagery wholly unsuitable for the quality of Dewar's voice--imagine  Little Milton singing "In the Court of the Crimson King". In these instances, Dewar sounded silly, blustering, bombastic; this is a lesson that bad songs happen to good singers. Ironically, the supreme example happens with this otherwise fine album's title tune. Overall the swirling guitar melodrama, Dewar intones with his best game face and sounds more like a dog barking at car lights casting across a garage wall rather than a strong bluesman. I vote for the bluesman every time.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022



Ted Gioia is a jazz critic , music historian and journalist who's become provocatively concerned with the seeming devolving status of that of his occupation, music criticism.His commentary  caused to choke with the shock of recognition, as it appears that the coverage of music, old and new, fresh , middling and downright putrid, are accorded the same rhetorical standbys when they are covered on arts pages, in print or posted to lifestyle websites. It's been as though that no one among an invisible, snarky and uncommitted ranks of entertainment writers have a passion for music as such; critical estimations in so many record reviews I've come across over the last ten years have skewed toward the lazy reshuffling of conventional wisdom a 60s Old Guard of music judges managed to  render into meaningless pulp by the end of the 70s. Musicians, bands, their music  seem more fetish items, articles of acquisition that would reinforce a sophisticated listener's idea of themselves as Hipsters keeping a faith with some forgotten notion of living by values that transcend the merely material.

 But it is materialism we're addressing here, and music is less, much less the vehicle for any kind of new poetry, the space where what can't be said or explained about an existence whose purpose and meaning behind the flesh and blood circumstances of our routine gets expressed in a manner unforgettable and which provokes more earnest self-examination, and instead makes all the sweet music into tones that compliment the carpets, the view of the ocean from the top of the hill, the selection of unread books on sparsely occupied shelves.  In fact, it's not that music criticism has devolved  down to lifestyle reporting, it is merely being replaced by  editors and publishers by a species of celebrity journalism.  Musicians  replaced Hollywood movie stars in large part as famous and rich folks that fans of popular culture obsess about and, as it goes,  in a world where media is now a  24-hour concern, filling up those column inches online and online and , for the love of god, all over those cable shows, the fastest and most ready  bit of material for reporters to bring to a drooling public's attention are the trivial doings of what these people do in their daily lives. 

In an atmosphere where everything is up-to-the-minute, the second, the nanosecond, music criticism only takes you so far. I was a music editor for several years and I know the dread of having holes in your section layout--that is , no stories, no reviews, no ads to fill up a gaping white space on the page you're trying to ready for publication. As much as I wanted to maintain my integrity and reserve my editorial  copy to matters of considered cultural criticism and the arguing  for the greater good of all, as a practical matter my standards had to be modified when I decided to run a substandard, gossipy,  trivial bit of celebrity worship on my pages. Nature abhors a vacuum,  and so do editors. The Village Voice, Down Beat, Rolling Stone, Filter, Pitch Fork, Jazz Is, all present straightforward criticism of musicians and their work, and the quality varies publication to publication, of course. A basic consideration, though, is that back in the day, when  music, basically rock and roll, was considered a force for change by the media that tried to understand it, we saw a rise in earnest young intellectuals--Paul Williams, Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau, Jon Landau, later Lester Bangs--who took the music seriously and attempted to essay forth the underlying movement of history in the notes played and the rhymes sung. This gave us a particularly potent kind of literary commentary; there was a lot of good writing that came out of that. Moreover, though, much more nonsense written for music criticism, and  it appears that readerships no longer believe that music, as such, represents a Hegelian transformation of History; it meant a good time, period.  The basic message is that cultural commentary of the highest regard will dominate the arts pages of general interest publications, online and off, only when the zeitgeist has us believe that music and art in general have a meaning and direction that is more, much more than the technical achievements . 

I think we need critics, informed , passionate and committed critics, to discuss and eventually provide readers with articulate view of works of fiction, drama, movies, visual arts to give one context, stylistic analysis, author /musician/poet/playwright (etc) theme tics and development there of, and how well the current subject of review stands up , merit-wise, with the best of the artist's body of work so far. This is more academic, I suppose, than merely "reviewing", which tends to be terse consumer guides that opine on much bang for the buck a consumer gets. I've gravitated toward more long form, deep dive opionists--Kael, Christgau, Greg Tate,Walcott, Stanley Crouch, Sarris , LeRoi Jones--who incite disagreement but who , nonetheless, provide the basis of conversation and points where informed dissent can expand the conversation. I buy music, books, go to films and attend poetry readings (and the like) because I enjoy having my assumptions of form and coherence tweaked. And I enjoy good writing about such matters as well. It's a cliche, yes, but a good critic, a great critic can make the art experience more meaningful. A great critic helps you realize that a paycheck, a roof and a warm bed are not enough for the good life. Something more is needed and art is that something that might provoke someone to dive deeper into their experiences and feel the rhythms of existence vibrate through the particulars of whatever they are engaged in. John Dewey had a few things to  say about this aesthetic state of being that one can carry around with them through the ebb and flow of daily discourse, work and play, and considered such a state something that needn't be reserved for those set a side periods one dedicates to reading, listening to music, watching a play. I'll spare you a word paraphrase of Dewey's ideas, but they can be found in his book Art as Experience. His is not the most flowing prose ever placed in print--he has none of the elegance of fellow pragmatist William James--but the ideas are arresting; they've been an immense influence in my thinking  and my conversations involving the hairy warhorse of a subject, "what good is art?"

 It makes for a dull time generally , I suppose, and limits nuanced discussions and general intellection on guitar solos and the genius of lyrics to a smaller, shriller, more adenoidal crowd of folks, but that is the spirit of the time we live in.The element of discovery is out of the equation, since no one has to look neither long nor far for music that  might interest them, the new sounds, the new vibe. Critics are no longer the explorers or explainers of new sounds . Everything is already found, and the smaller circles of pundits , it seems, find themselves aggressively agreeing with one  another, give or take an instance of ritual snark.

Saturday, February 5, 2022


Who do I prefer among classic British drummers, Keith Moon of the Who or John Bonham from Led Zeppelin? Keith Moon any day. Moonie might not have been able to keep straight time--that job fell to Entwhistle, indeed a brilliant bassists--his ad libbing tempos brought excitement to the band that was missing from most of the Who's contemporaries. Within the four, five, or six chord frameworks that constituted the bulk of Townsend's songwriting, Moon's overplaying, speed and general sense of flash presented us with a live enterprise that was about power, passion, rage. Townsend wanted to write more delicate pop tunes, get psychedelic and increasingly relevant as concept albums and the mania for rock-lyrics-as-poetry overwhelm album output for years, but Moon's playing, quick, primitive, not disciplined in any way a more studied drummer would understand it, came close enough to his marks to keep the Who on its does musically, at least live. He was a natural fit for the Who. The Who never recovered musically from the loss of him. John Bonham need how to keep time, I am assured, and Led Zeppelin had a range of songs in time signatures, grooves, and structure that required more formal drum kit knowledge than what Peter Townsend's standard 4/4, 1-1V-V compositions, and surely Bonham was that man. He did a job that I can't imagine Moon doing. But what Moon does with his furious bashing on Live at Leeds takes the prize for me; he ventures into Tony Williams territory. 

Now this matter of Led Zeppelin's serial plagiarism. There are too many gross examples to set forth here in the limited time I have before charging off to my current place of employment, but there is this crucifying YouTube video of that band's thievery that will bring you up to speed. These fellows liked shiny things they came across and removed them from their proper ownership.

There are , actually, a good number of  YouTube documenting Led Zeppelin's tendency of “extreme borrowing” of other's ideas without credit or payment, and there are videos that would argue that the case in point, a rock band's thieving from another musical artist, merely illustrates the natural process of art making. My view is muddled, as perhaps  yours might be: I know what they do  is wrong, but the music they make from it sounds great. Severe fence sitting, I suppose. The issue makes you aware of the meaning of the world “problematic” means, a situation that will forever remain a problem.

Ritchie Blackmore isn't the first to say it, but the maxim goes “the professional steals, the amateur borrows.” The difference being that the amateur really has little idea of what to do with a musical idea they've stolen; they act as though they might break a precious thing, which makes the music dull. The professional does not borrow, he or she takes possession of an idea, changes it, alters it, makes it new, makes it their own. The results from that attitude are much more interesting. I mention Blackmore over anyone else because we are talking about a rock and roll band's habit of taking credit for music they didn't create. 

I don't care what the original quote might have been; the origins at best are apocryphal, and besides the fact that there is an element of truth. An element of truth, not an essential truth. There is a difference; suffice to say that the results among professional thieves, let us say, will vary like anything else in this life. Honestly, most efforts by others to rip off and attempt to own something not of their creation suck, groady drumsticks. But Led Zep, for all the amorality of their thieving, did develop intriguing permutations with what they took and presented to the world (falsely taking credit as sole creators) sounds that were fresh takes on old sources, takes that were, in effect, the future of new music. Led Zeppelin will be held to increasingly severe judgements regarding their theft of other artist's music ideas, but it can't be denied that what did with their booty gave us plenty of great sounds that sound very fine until now. The morality of plagiarism being done by the few geniuses that have walked the earth is a discussion that will continue without resolution throughout all the arts. Books, movies, plays, poems, paintings, deep in the bowels of the academy.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022



It's my personal and picayune view that the album It's Only Rock and Roll by the Rolling Stones to part of that Seventies streak when the band seemed to run on fumes. There were songs on each of the underpart discs that were good and in fact rise to the best of the Stones work, but overall, it was my impression that efforts like Goats Head Soup, IORR and Black and Blue nearing the finish line, ready to collapse. But I do love the title song here: “It’s Only Rock and Roll" is one of the few times I'm aware of when Jagger stepped outside all his many personas and contemplating something of an existential crisis. The  song was like walking into a room you thought was empty and finding someone talking to themselves. He addressed maybe being outdated, old, trivial, that his worth is measured by how much the audience adores him and little else.

There is a bit of tension here, as all the questions posed go only way--how and what can I do to make you continue to need me in your lives? How much of a freak must I be? Reflection, though, was never Jagger's strong suit; he has generally spent a career doing the occasional bit of self-examination before spinning off in a self-infatuated tizzy and continues what he's been doing, with glee. It's ONLY rock and roll, it's a minor, even trivial thing in the bigger inventory of what merits our attention, and he is banal by association, BUT he likes it. So, fuck off, bugger off, take a walk and go find another bliss to piss on. The song rocks for sure.

 Jagger's ambivalence on matters of politics, satanism, sex, and love seemed an edgy pose of the moment. Many fans who couldn't completely discard the traditional morality and ethical stances they grew up with were irked by his apparent lack of interest in grave issues and concerning matters.Those he confounded and resented him for his lack of “authenticity” miss an essential part in Jagger's greatness was what he did with his career choice of being the Generalized Other, that personification that upsets expectations. It didn't always pay off in good songs or convincing portrayals --the Stones have a nice fat chunk of their catalog of songs that are pompous, grandiose, spiritually , intellectually, philosophical beyond Jagger's ability to fake--but in their best moments, which is more often than not, Jagger could frame a persona around a solidly conveyed attitude, a situation, and dispatch the narrative wonderfully with genuine irony. The irony here is that It's Only Rock and Roll, the song, is as genuine a Jagger we're ever likely to come across, the man breaking the fourth wall, so to speak, and addressing his audience: WHAT DO YOU GUYS WANT OF ME? He doesn't ask in that way, definitely, but the question is out there