Monday, May 31, 2021

TARANTULA

 Dylan is a word slinger to be , maybe a genuine poet during some parts of his oeuvre, but he is not a writer, not as we understand the word, a craftsman, an artist, a professional of words, instructional or artistic, who crafts sentences that start some place and create precedence for the sentence that follows, one idea organically following another until the journey of words, paragraphs, pages, conclude somewhere far from where one started to write. That is, writers write things that make sense in some respect, as in you understand clearly the thing being described , or that you understand it more abstractly and realize that the writer is undertaking a task that tries to deal with several things--philosophical notions, contradictory arguments, overlapping historical data --and bringing a coherent framework to understand complex mattes, or that , or at least come away with a sense of what the writer is getting at. Even Dylan's wildest lyrics, form Desolation Row to his more recent brilliance noteworthy Rough and Rowdy Ways: surreal or nonsequitor as the stanzas maybe, the line limits and the need t rhyme imposed restrictions on Dylan's musings. But lets keep in mind that these aren't actual musings, since musings are the sort of  thought process that , though occurring while the  subject is at rest, none the less come to a point or offer , at best, stand alone masterpieces of  coherence.  Dylan's mind is neither at rest nor looking to connect ideas in any fashion that have a resemblance to the world you both live in. As with the other great and threatening modernists Pound, Eliot, Stern, he wants to change the way you  see, feel and smell the world.

Unresponsible Black Nite Crash

the united states is Not soundproof – you might think that nothing can reach those tens of thousands living behind the wall of dollar – but your fear Can bring in the truth … picture of dirt farmer – long johns – coonskin cap – strangling himself on his shoe – his wife, tripping over the skulls – her hair in rats – their kid is wearing a scorpion – the scorpion wears glasses – the kid, he’s drinking gin – everybody has balloons stuck into their eyes – that they will never get a suntan in mexico is obvious – send your dollar today – bend over backwards … or shut your mouths forever

the bully comes in – kicks the newsboy

you know where – & begins ripping away

                                                                    --from Tarantula 

The book goes on like this, one liners of light bulb brilliance extended to the breaking  point of where all  associations are gone and the brain is dead with the ravages of whatever drugs were being passed around the tour bus and found their way into the hotel room and all that can be done in the center of the night when the rest of the hotel room is either asleep or murmuring their own serenades to the dawn no one is sure will for them is to type even more, an attempt to fill the page with a verbal world that is rhythm, cadence and shattered images crushed together in a representation of the existence that assaults the senses  when exhaustion is passed  by and  consciousness seems to hover by a delicate string between one last grand  illumination  and the final resolute darkness. 

 Well yes, if you made through that tortured sentence and its  unhinged and perhaps uninteresting associations, you correctly detect a hint of parody in my construction, or lack of construction  . This is to suggest that the fault of the Dylan book is not  his exuberance as word slinger or the genius he has at his most manic moments to come up with a punctuated stammer that resides very close to poetic genius--no, the fault is the mistake many  a young man or woman jacked up on drugs and coffee and unfiltered cigarettes , that is the attempt to live in a permanent present tense. No past, no future, just right now, always, just us, the things in the room or in the street, things with names or no names, just us seeing, uttering names and slapping the labels on anything that does not match  . A good poetry  takes time to...catch it's  breath, reflect, to...discover things , ideas, connections, what have you, the would be bard hadn't the slightest idea existed in any sense. As startling as Tarantula's language seems at first, it stops surprising you   even in the book's short length because the writing itself seems the very thing from which writing, as process, was supposed to for a period free you from, distractions. The writing seems a distraction . One might might compare the book, entirely, to the proverbial over-stuff pantry that finally  bursts open through the  doors.                  

 He needed to wrap up his investigations into his more obscure imaginings. He gave you something talk about. Tarantula was written on the road , in hotel rooms, on tour, rattled off in high doses of speed and maybe other drugs too inane to bother talking about, and it certainly reads like it, snub nosed Burroughs, Kerouac without the jivey swing. Some parts make you laugh, some good lines abound, but it suffers in that readers wanted their hero, their poet of their generation to write a genuinely good of poetry or some such thing, with true believers tying themselves in self-revealing knots to defend book that is interesting as an artifact to the historical fact of Dylan's fame and influence and not much else. There is a part I like , effective as poetry, a bit of self awareness that shows that Dylan realizes that his persona is false, a conspiracy between himself and the major media , and that somewhere in the future he might have to account for the construction of the whole matter.

Monday, May 24, 2021

BOB TURNS 80, APPROXIMATELY

Bob Dylan has turned 80, a fact that stuns even us fans who are well into their late 60s and early 70s. The debate about the man and the worth of his contribution to world culture will continue for sometime, I think, at least as long as audiences read books and listen to music and think, collectively, that conversations as to why the arts are important remain a human  activity . We can , to be sure, blow the whole gig and  allow things to get worse under the collectively delusional rationale that things will eventually get better if we just sit back and let the neighbors take their turn to save (or not save) the world. But happy birthday to Mister z. all the same.  

Lately, considering this list, I've been attracted again to "Queen Jane Approximately", one of Dylan's best "list-making" songs. Perhaps the lament, the plea, or the wishful thinking of a rejected suitor who holds out chance that hope remains for an unrequited love, the lyrics are an inventory of future interpersonal failures, the collapse of a vision of the world where the demands and commands upon someone who'd considered themselves at a regal remove from the rest of the community become too much and give way. Being the center of the universe is too much because the gravity will eventually crush you. And the suitor's offer stands, won't you come see me Queen Jane? The language is a splendid balance between comprehensible plain speak and Dylan's penchant for surreal-izing the details ; this makes the situation plain as glass yet quaintly familiar. 

And the fact the guitar and piano sound a bit sour, out of tune (perhaps) adds to the alluring strangeness. This is a happens at an intersection of Desolation and Row and 4th Street, an angular, cubist terrain.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Live at the Bee Hive - Clifford Brown and Max Roach (Columbia)

 Live at the Bee Hive - Clifford Brown and Max Roach (Columbia)

 Live at the Beehive is a wild and wooly document of the excitement of the jam session. Recorded in a Chicago bar in 1955, the audio quality  is not the best, as the sound is muddy and flat, there's an excess of surface noise, and the continual buzz of customers ordering drinks and talking through the best solo moments are sn annoyance. The music from the bandstand easily overcomes and transcends the grouchy ambience. The collective sound is lively, rambunctious and packs the punch of a chain-mail glove.The several extended forays of the late Clifford Brown are especially exciting. Before his sudden death, Brown had established himself as possibly the premier trumpet player on any jazz scene, and this record, especially the workout on Sonny Stitt's "Cherokee," reminds us of his incandescent powers as a soloist. Clifford possessed a big, fat sound, and was alternately lyrically sublime and frenetically rapid in his choice of note. Bee Hive is a handy display case of this man's brilliance. The other players hold their own as well. The searing sax work 'of Sonny Rollins and Nicky Hill, the shimmering guitar of Lou Blevins and the pulsating time kept by pianist Billy Wallace and drummer Max Roach is featured. Audio quality is ragged, which is to  be expected, but these things are remedied and the music proceeds, quickly regain momentum. Live at the Bee Hive exists as an example of superb musicians just flat-out playing their  hearts out.

THE EAGLES MOVE NEXT DOOR . THE FLOWERS DIE IN YOUR GARDEN AND THE BIRDS FALL DEAD OUT OF THE TREES

 Quit defending the Eagles! They’re simply terrible - Salon.com:



The first thing that one has to do is give the Eagles their due, which is their ability to write tunefully, maintain tight harmonies and sustain an impressive level of musicianship. To their credit, these guys have always had a sound that makes them stand out in a crowded field, and they've always sounded like a real band, not an assembly of hired professionals. Normally t hose would be items that would lead to be an additional 500-700 words of praise for a particular album or live performance, but I've always hated this band . They are distinct and professional the way Disney Products, especially Marvel Movies, are professional, which is to say their efforts are superbly assembled works composed of elements skillfully, artfully, cynically chosen for their capacity to appeal to a mass audience of males who have a self-righteous and self-pitying chip on their shoulder and the women who love all those misunderstood and misunderstood men. Don Henley's voice is a nasally and grainy combination of Rod Stewart and Neil Young and reduces the calculated pathos of the lyrics to an aggravating noise, like the ice machine goes off next to the motel room you rented just when you're entering a select acre of nod. Their sense of telling sagas of heartbreak, stoicism in the face of hard choice, and despairing about the end of innocence after the party balloons have shriveled and the last flake of cocaine has been wiped from the mirror and rubbed some last-gasper's gums are soilless , overwrought, overwritten , and overacted. Their narratives are goon show narcissisms that are designed to impress, not express; they skip the dramatic all together and settle over the melodramatic. Theirs is the suicide -prone "code" of Hemingway, the arrogance that rather than cope, grow, move on with a life to which change ,significant change has inevitably come to , one instead nurtures the hurt privately, does not complain and carries on as before, exhibiting a pretense of "grace under fire" (Hemingway's coinage) while stewing in their own private hell of resentment, jealousy, anger, self-loathing and compensating arrogance in the conceit that their ability to take a punch, to take many blows to the head and to the ego, makes them a higher caliber of human, male human, white male human, than the lesser masses who inhabit the planet. Everything about their message and sound--the guitarwork that is too tasteful in country accents and too rubbery with the more rocking workouts--props up this multi-platinum hoax. I am very fond of Joe Walsh, having seen him a few times from my Detroit days when he played with the James Gang at area venues and festivals, but his personality seemed all but erased when he joined this egregious unit. His persona, a bohemian for whom there are no big deals and that what whatever travails and tragedies befall are likely because he made a decision that was  ill chosen and that life, such as it is despite the bad luck, is good so far ("Life's Been Good"), seemed an odd fit for this professionally pessimistic posse. His sense of humor and life-preserving irony couldn't keep them from absorbing Walsh into their uniformly sense of weltschmerz. Even Joe's famously chunky brand of blues rock guitar couldn't lift the band's  music anymore. The truth of this band  is plain: The Eagles blow.


The serious Eagles fan would come to the defense of this band--seemingly as much despised as they are loved by fans--and maintain that their cynicism, despair, and weariness were anything than the routine posturings of experience-glutted rock stars, the more being that they were artful and could write good song hooks and manage to keep their songs under a certain length. Granted, although a tune like "Hotel California" , paced at a tortoise crawl and it is slow in duration, is a notable exception, notable in that it contains everything that is objectionable to this band a collective projection of the zeitgeist. The lyrics are laden in down cast metaphors where the secreted meanings are grandiosely proclaimed, exhibiting a "you know what I mean " vagueness that is an  bullet to interests in whatever forbidden knowledge these musicians gleaned from their adventures at the edge of their own limitations.  An amazingly successful rock band with some indisputably talented musicians, the Eagles are a band I never cared about. Even in their best songs they seemed, smug in the depths of despair, depression and bad-luck stories their songs evoked. Tuneful, well crafted, laden with nicely arranged guitar textures and incidental instrumentation,the sweetly harmonized lyrics were a first rate evocation of bankrupt imaginations trying their best to out -bottom the rest of rock and roll's iconic desolation row residents. In meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous there there is the tradition of a having a leader "qualify" , that is, telling their tale of what it was like, what happened and what it's like now. The telling, or testimonial , if you will, would normally contain some sordid tales of their past that their  powerlessness over alcohol led them to, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly; the point is to make the listener understand the inevitable destruction this path results unless the alcoholic or drug addict has their moment of clarity and grasps a solution, which are the components of the "what happened" and "what its like now" parts of the formula. There is the habit of some members with years of recovery (such as it might be for them personally) who eschew the solution and instead tell one horrible anecdote after another; this is not generally appreciated by other group members seeking a confirmation of the hope that is supposed to be contained in the rooms where those meetings are held. This turns testimony in a drunkalogue and the effect is of someone who takes an inordinate pride in the horrible things they have done--each instance of bad luck,lying, theft, jail time, divorce, traffic accidents, job loss,  sexual misbehavior become like bullet points on a resume. 

Whether they intended to or done, those who overshare such things wallow in the gloom and their words become pointless. So with the Eagles, who have spent decades writing songs as if they are the only witnesses to the end of the world, a world where only they are citizens worth listening to. Theirs was a music akin to an old car with a great, shiny new paint job; attractive surface gleem, noisy and tired under the hood. For all their gold records and fanatical fan base, they have proven to be even more tiresome than U2. 

GREATEST SCREAMER OF ALL TIME

 Dickie Peterson, bassist and lead singer for the proto heavy metal band BLUE CHEER,  ascended to the giant E CHORD in the sky in October of 2009, which is another w ay of saying that he's dead, still dead to this day. But lately I've thought of him as I've done my research into outre electric guitar solos. His bandsaw -on-steel vocals, joined with guitarist Leigh Stephens' PULVERIZING ATONAL GUITAR SOLOS and drummer Paul Whaley's trash can demolition, Peterson and crew lay the ground work for a generation of metal and punk bands to come: MC5, STOOGES, MOUNTAIN, LED ZEP, RAMONES, MOTORHEAD, DEAD BOYS. Even the Velvet Underground, with their feedback skronk , couldn't match Blue Cheer's steel-belted forays into electricfied abandon; the Velvets merely taunted the strings of their guitar, Blue Cheer sounded like they punched holes in oil tankers. And Peterson's vocalizations where the perfect match, screech, rasp and banshee wail all rolled into one bag of verbal outrage, maintaining a punk's slouch . He was the white blues belter who deserved the praise. Sorry Janis.It's appropriate to remember that their early manager, a fellow named Abe "Voco" Kesh , bragged that Blue Cheer played so loud that they killed a dog at an outdoor concert. It is true that they played so loud that they recorded parts of their second album on piers in San Francisco, amps and speakers faced toward the bay, because they kept blowing out the studio soundboard.

HIP HIP, VULGARITY

 

Kalefa Sanneh weighs in on the renewed focus on hip-hop's intransigent vulgarity in the New York Times and offers a typically middle of the road position about the music's part in encouraging violence and the furthering coarsening of American life. Don't blame the music, Sanneh writes, these words, these jokes, these attitudes have been part of African American and urban culture for generations, evolving from   

the tradition of "toasting" and graduating from the streets and the rent parties to the airwaves, discos, and television. The point of it all was to shake up the mainstream, upset the comfortably settled, and give voice at the same time to a vital life that boiled and roiled in the heart of every poor neighborhood languishing in the shadows of corporate America. Blame the corporations for disseminating the material to the larger population, blame your own uptightness if you are offended and taken aback by the rough language and general ugliness of much of the work. Some points well taken, and I'm of the mind that music and lyrics, whether Muddy Waters, Elvis, the Ramones or NWA in themselves cause people to have unprotected sex and buy "cop killer" bullets--this is a controversy that gets replayed every few years when media critics and their employers have exhausted the current crop of pseudo events for their capacity to inspire unending opinion-mongering whose collective outrage seems more scripted and assigned than spontaneous and reflecting real offense.What's irritating is the casual implication that if we'd relax and take a broader view we wouldn't get so upset. Some terms of  insult are like the half life of plutonium 239, which is roughly 24,000 years.  The comparison is this: frequent exposure to plutonium will still kill you no matter how much it ages in  our collective lifetimes, and there are words that have a seeming permanent capacity to offend and create havoc, discord , gross results. The N-word is so freighted with a foul history that repetition of use does not make it harmless, does not leach of it's  destructive purpose.

That's the old Lenny Bruce theory on foul language, that words are only words and that if we use them frequently and openly, they would lose their shock value and their capacity to offend. Nice theory, but very Fifties in fact, and one that does not travel well. Lester Bangs, writing of the N-word in a seventies piece called "White Noise Supremacists" in the Village Voice, examined his own adherence to Bruce's notion to defang the quarrelsome words and found the formula lacking. The word is generations old, used as powerful weapon to reinforce cultural and institutional racism and oppression, so much so, he found, that no matter how ironic one tried to be in their attempt to liberate the term from it's originating pathology, the N-word hurt, it hurt deep, it still caused anger, as it was designed to. Violence is an inevitable consequence for some when this word gets used, and so it goes with the hip-hop's street-level idiom. The language isn't going to be less upsetting merely because most of us shrug our shoulders and do nothing. The republic will survive, and the language we might object to will cease finding it's way into our public spaces only when the reality the words reflect ceases to be attractive, enviable, romantic. We return to our original and ongoing problem as a country: the transformation of a political apparatus into a means that allows people to achieve lives worth living. 
                                                                                       --Originally written in 2007.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Incomparable jazz flutist Lori Bell gives the world a swinging jazz love letter to Brooklyn

In the 1970s and early ’80s I worked at the Summer House Inn in La Jolla as a combination desk clerk, switchboard operator, bell man, reservationist, and whatever odd job that needed to be done that didn’t require driving the company car. It was an okay job, nothing great, but the greatest benefit of working there was that Elario’s, at the time one of the best jazz clubs in Southern California, was perched on 11th floor of the high-rise. It was at Elario’s where I was introduced to the music of Brooklyn native and San Diego resident Lori Bell, a jazz flautist (or flutist?) in live performance. Playing with the very fine pianist Dave McKay and with her own groups, Bell’s flute work was a revelation of sorts. Her tone is firm and she shows a virtuoso’s command of the sounds it produces. Whether digging into the sub-atomic emotions that are the genius of the blues, releasing a torrent of inspired runs on the obstacle course complexities of bop or the nuanced, minor key subtleties of a ballad, Lori Bell played her flute in any fashion she chose. Delicacy and strength, firm and rhythmic, unfaltering and malleable, hers is a sound with verve and lyricism.That said, Bell has released her ninth studio album,  2016's impressive Brooklyn Dreaming, a tribute to her place of birth and where her heart and roots remain. She is joined her by Matt Witek on drums, Tami Hendelman on piano, and Katie Thiroux on bass, an ensemble reveling in what seems like telepathic communication during in both the softer and more dynamic album selections. The album is a tribute to the vital elan of Bell’s fabled native grounds, but over anything else this album’s main attraction are the top shelf performances. These sessions wails, soars and swings on the good grace of superb musicianship.Noteworthy are the hard-charging interpretations on the twisting turns of Charlie Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square”; brisk, given to fast tempo changes and the odd quirks Mingus is known for in his writing, Bell’s solo is magnificent, building with simple statements and gradually accelerating the speed, upping the ante, and dancing on the edge of the rhythm section’s sublimely kept pace. Bell’s original compositions–“Times Squared,” “Brooklyn Dreaming,” “A Dog on Coney”–provide what we can take as the New York attitude: fast, in-your-face , loquacious, but friendly and swinging. Bell finds the mood, explores the variations, makes it all swing, her notes precise and rounded, fleeting and wild in their spirit. Hendelman’s piano work has that extra-sensory element suggested from before. His chord voicings chime magically to provide a suitable push and texture to the ensemble, and his solos are rich complements to Bell’s, matching her in stratospheric outlay of ideas but adding his own deft touches. Half chords, short runs, and bell-tone octaves make him the necessary musician to have around. Likewise, the teamwork of the Witek and Thiroux rhythm section move this wonderfully realized session with an ease dually dynamic and apt. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

BEACH BOYS GET INTROSPECTIVE

 
The old and admittedly stale joke about the positive side of having Alzheimer's is that you're always meeting new people. Too often it seems I have forgotten the old joys of tunes that lie in my record collection , only to have a pleasurable re-acquaintance with the music decades later, out of now where.The effect is just a little like wandering around your house looking for something you need but that you forgot what it was you  began the search for. And then presto!, there they are, your house keys, that thing you need and can't get along without. It's a moment of revelation, surprise aplenty, a  great and rushing relief.  

This Beach Boy tune, from their landmark album Pet Sounds , is one of those songs, significant because principle songwriter Brian Wilson had begun to wander from the teen beach-babes-cars-surfing tropes that endeared he and the Beach Boys to the world and began to write material that contained a telling element of introspection. This melody is gorgeous, the peerless harmonies gliding along like light feathers on the breeze of a tentative and ascending melody, the odd intervals combing for an effect of naive plain speak, a young person aware that there is something more to this world than distractions. A writer greatly influenced by the subversive genius of Chuck Berry, a black musician vested in the blues and swing, who could bright and verbally inventive lyrics about being a white  teen innocently looking for fun and distraction,  Wilson here seems to pick up the theme of where the Brown Eyed Handseom Man had left off:  School is a drag, and cruising for fun is fine and all, but a whole world  unknown is rearing itself over the horizon as senior year ends and graduation ends.What now ? This seems to be what the song is asking. The narrator remains painfully young, but there is genuine introspection in a mind formerly the exclusive property of youthful impulse. Who is one going to be in the world of jobs, mortages and taxes? 

What is one supposed to be in this world? What others expect him to be? Or to be his own person, ignoring advice, constraints, societal mores and laws? Or a combination of all these things, somewhere in the middle, defined, distinct, whole, happy, productive, creative? The song is not profound in message, it is not even poetic or artful in any way rock critics would desire,but it is beautiful in terms of being that moment when the music softens,the drummer lays out, and someone removes them self form where the action is to some other space inside their soul, reflective for a moment, perhaps indicating a prelude to a searching, innovative life. Nice jam/