It’s a World of Love and Hope

Posted: January 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

OK, I know that sounds all wrong for the Empire.  I would add a “fuck” in there, but it would make the joke not work.

Extra introduction.  I left a teaser back in the last Year of Hell, and this is just easing me in.  My music posts have always been easier than my political posts; talking about things I love is much easier than about the things I hate; unless I just went on an unrestrained primal scream of FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK…. (yes, I realize, I did that as well).  But I recently had a reason to dredge up the beginnings of the proto-Empire, and it was the constant horror of the Cheney Regime that made me start doing that. So I am thinking that  I will likely go to rage, horror, mockery and incessant zombie apocalypse jokes in Our New Reich (I promise to never refer to Orange Hands MicroPenis as “President”).  Heavy on the mockery, because that is what gets him the most irate.  In the interim, I am easing myself, and you, Dear Reader(s) into that with a music post…..

Here’s the source, a new album by Chicago Musician’s Band, The Flat Five.

Word of warning, it is music that will make you wonder if I took a blow to the head, as it is jazzy, poppy, unabashedly retro, and pretty much nothing that I normally like.  ZOMBIES, THEY DO THE UNEXPECTED!

But really, the band – Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough, Alex Hall, Kelly Hogan, and Nora O’Connor- do hit me in two of my sweet spots; first, a bunch of musicians who truly love to do what they do, and second, an amazingly adept mix of stupendously talented singers making your hindbrain tingle with their harmonies.  They are a band that has been performing around Chicago for ten years (!) and this was the first time they played Milwaukee….

Here’s the crazy shit. I had been aware of Kelly Hogan for a bit of time, and when she did a show in the Pabst Theater (bar) Good Friend Rory and I went , and it was SUBLIME indeed, friends and guinea pigs, yes it was…and in the after, going to the merch table, I realized I had seen this amazing talent once before:

just out of college, in my first professional job I was delegated with one other guy to go down to Atlanta to a CAD convention try and find the best system for our operation.  And after a day or so of doing so, we went to what looked like a coolish pub to get food and drink.  And a band started playing, The Jody Grind.  I loved it.

And I recognized that she was the amazing vocalist that sang for that band, and she remembered the bar we saw her in.  She is a flat-out fucking ASTONISHING vocalist, and she is currently singing with the Decemberists, Alejandro Escovedo, and Mavis Staples.   But really, that is the story of all of the people in this band; they are the kind of band that other musicians say is the best band they’ve seen.  And THAT, is, of course, my ultimate sweet spot.

So yeah, Wife Sublime and I braved the fucking cold to see them on Saturday (not far from ZombieHome and directly next to one of my projects, yea!) with about 150 other people (in a venue that had insufficient toilets for that number of people, LOL, that’s what I notice)

The sticker on the band’s vinyl says “Chicago’s underground twisted sunshine pop vocal band” and while that sounds like adjective mania, it’s not bad.  The played all the songs off their new album, which are mostly jazz-pop (play them quiet, and they are easy listening) but an amazing array of covers; ranging from Beach Boys, to Phish, to Nilsson, to somebody they found on YouTube.

The thing about this band is that as a group and as individuals, they are all embarrassingly talented. they trade instruments, while Hogan mocks their inability to get their shit together.

And at one point, Hogan admits they have been playing together for ten years (What the FUCK Chicago; are you keeping them secret, as bitter retribution for your sports teams?  And now, with a World Series, you let us see them? I will need to see documents) and that a few years back, they decided they wanted to focus on, more positive, sunnier songs.  DAMN!  There goes my hope of seeing a stupendous version of the Magnetic Fields’ genius song “Papa Was A Rodeo”….

One of my favorite songs of all….

So anyway, here’s the thing.  The band admits this is dark times.  We all do.  And there is nothing wrong with that, recognition of Darkness On The Edge Of Town is an important element in being able to approach and deal with that fucking orange darkness… but I know my readers are not hopeless. Not lacking hope, I mean.  And even if you are feeling a bit down, then this band and their album is like a sweet sunshine ray of hope from the 60s and 70s to help you out.  The band, themselves, who have individually and together explored all kinds of musical genres (including gospel music that doesn’t mention Jesus. “short set list”, they say) said that they made the conscious decision a few years back to concentrate on music that has positive connotations.  Without being overly chirpy, you understand…

As you all two may know, I say that I think music is one of the most noble ways of making people better.  And after watching the Flat Five assault me with positive pop perfection, am I better?  Well, fuck me I am more cheerful and I treat that gassy orange dog better.  YOU TELL ME

The band played two sets, and Hogan said that as the daughter of a police officer, she knew she was playing with fire by playing overtime, but they felt like they had ignored Milwaukee for far too long (and you HAVE, Hogan, you have).  To our pleased amusement, Wife Sublime recognized one of the songs (Bird of Paradise) although she mis-identified it as a Phish song although it is a Joe South song (THANKS STEVE JOBS).

It was a helluva night, yes it was.  The band was as good as anyone could ever expect, and better than they have any right to be.  The songs were fun and varied and rendered with amazing versatility by wonderfully talented musicians.

And to circle back, they help me find a focus for the Empire going forward. As I have hinted, I feel like I have to re-invigorate the shit out of this damn ugly blog, and was looking at the worst days of horror, rage, spit, and breaking shit but I started to realize something…. the thing that aggravates the Idiot Bigot Brigades the most, is the fact that not only do we not knuckle under to their Reich, but we continue to NOT take them seriously, we continue to fight for our goals and our ideals, and continue to argue that they are objectively wrong.  They feel like they won, so we should perforce be obligated to acknowledge they are right.

Well, they’re not.  

THEY REMAIN WRONG.  THERE ARE FOUR FUCKING LIGHTS!

But what they hate most of all, we continue to tilt against the Knights of Ni, laughing at their idiocy and mocking their shrubberies.  We continue to laugh at their ridiculous concepts, their laughable logic and imaginary science, their small hands and tiny weeping swords.  As Molly Ivins, a liberal in Texas, said, this is a fight that you can only take on with laughter in your heart.  We will lose battles.  Things will get horrible.  And I am not saying we belittle the losses of other Americans we care about who will be damaged and, yes, killed.  But, like vampires who shrivel in daylight, the Right is allergic to two things:  Facts.  And humor.

So, going forward, while I will not lie to anyone by saying that the Empire will not devolve into anger, Fuck You Fridays, and screaming Diz-Buster fits of pinwheel rage; I think my major effort will be to take Molly’s lead (Chthulhu grant me the blessing of a modicum of her talent) to make mock of them.  Make much mock of them.  Mock mock mock.

Jebus.  Lucifer, the Orange, Leaky Ass Dog Who Has Been Less Leaky Ass Of Late, is now leaky ass again.  I’m not looking forward to getting older….

It’s a Holiday Tradition at the Empire!  The Piano Story.  And, since the country started holiday drinking early, we have a new Un-President who is eager to get that nuculer war under way, so here’s a jolly little ditty:

In a more generous and Christmas-ey note, Milwaukee musician and Empire fave Trapper Schoepp got his piano this year.

Merry XMess

THE FIRST LAUGH
Recently, someone pointed me towards an online humor carnival. I didn’t throw anything into it, but it made me think about funny moments.

And one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen personally was such a minor slapsticky moment, it didn’t seem worth it. It was a time when my girlfriend at the time walked full into a glass door. Did you ever see a Star Trek Blooper where Shatner charges into one of those Enterprise doors, expecting the stage hands to pull them aside in time for him to lunge through, and they don’t? Shatner makes a thwock sound and bounces back five or six feet. This was exactly like that except funnier, and I fell over laughing helplessly.

Well, for some reason that girlfriend didn’t immediately drop me as an inconsiderate buffoon; several years later after getting married, graduating, getting a job and finding a real apartment, it was a good time to show how much she meant to me; it was time to find The Perfect Christmas Gift.

THE SET-UP
My wife constantly lamented her family’s inability to afford a piano as a child. As a good husband, one only has to mention something 3 or 4 hundred times before I clue into it, so I struck upon the inspired idea of giving her a piano for Christmas. A Piano!

….uuhhh, how does one go about procuring a piano?

Let’s start with the Yellow Pages! (pre-internet, kidsos, keep up here.) Ahh. A place right downtown called the Piano Gallery. Good place to start. Could I BE a bigger idiot? It was a friggin’ GALLERY. With Pianos, beautiful, gorgeous pianos of spectacular finish and epic, gorgeous tone; pianos that could make you weep. Both kinds: Grand and Baby Grand. Reconditioned, starting at eight thousand dollars. Whoops! Maybe this idea won’t be going anywhere after all. Let’s look at calendars.

Well, after puttering around a couple of mall-style stores that seemed to specialize in automated piano-like organs with automatic beats aimed at little old ladies to jazz up rhumba night at the retirement home, I resorted to the For Sale ads. (These are like an analog version of Craig’s List for you kidsos. newspapers used to have them. Ask your grandfather what a newspaper was.) Finally I found an upright for sale right in the sweet spot of my price range. Oddly enough, when I came to look at it, the address was…a waterbed store? Weirder and weirder. I went in and asked for Mark, who was apparently the manager.

He took me back to the loading dock, and I asked… “Why are you selling it ? And… why in a waterbed store?” Mark replied that he had moved to town recently, their condo did not have room, and so it had to go.

The piano was an upright made in Chicago by Camp & Company around 1914; the wood had warm golden finish that was soft and deep. There were some carved and applied wood details, that were more of a crude craftsman style; they imparted an unassuming , almost home built character. The ivory on the keys was yellowed, but smooth, evidence of its age and the thousands of fingers that had played it. As an architect, I am always sensitive to the way built items age and acquire historic patina; the instrument appealed to me on an aesthetic level.

He asked me if I wanted to play it, and I replied that it would be a gift for my wife, that I didn’t really know how to play and knew little of pianos. So he sat on the railing of the loading dock and pounded out some boogie-woogie, and a little christmas music. Although the instrument was maybe a bit out of tune, it had a lively, ebullient sound. (Later I found that through dumb luck, we had acquired an instrument that was well built with a nearly-intact soundboard and a serviceable action). It was obvious that he loved the instrument, it sounded passable to my tin ears, and I said it was a deal.

THE ROUND-UP
Now here’s where things get intricate, and I maybe tried to be too tricksy. I wanted to deliver it on Christmas eve, which was a Saturday this year. Mark said he would be able to work with that on two conditions: First, it would have to be in the morning, because he would have to open the store to get it; and second, that I pay him in cash, because he and his family were leaving for a Holiday trip that day. This seemed workable to me; how vainly optimistic one can be!

I arranged for a couple of friends, Mike, Rory and Jack to help me out, and spent several days congratulating myself on achieving the Perfect Gift. I was just counting chickens, friends and guinea pigs, when the eggs were alligator.

THE HOOK
Saturday Morning, Christmas Eve. My wife got up and needed to do some last minute shopping; how perfect! I could barely keep from laughing and telling all in glee as I kissed her goodbye. My helpers were due to be here by 10 AM, so I had to get to U-Haul to get a truck. I have no compunction about mentioning the company here; you will soon see why.

The U-Haul store was a bit busy, but they had assured me they had a truck when I called. They certainly did: a nineteen foot delivery truck. NINETEEN feet. For a single piano. Of course, the advertised $19.95 rate was not available for this truck. The small truck with the $19.95 banner parked right next to this one? Not serviced; not available. Oh well, small concern, considering the cost of the gift. Gimme the keys. Took the truck home, to wait for my helpers.

9:30.

10:00

10:30

10:45. By now, i started calling them. Rory? no answer. Jack? No Answer. Mike? Finally an answer! Hoarsely, “I don’t think I’m gonna be able to make it….” Rory? Still no answer. Jack calls back. Jack! He wasn’t going to be able to make it either, unless we could be sure he’d be done by 2 PM. Oh, no problem! Come on over! Okay, fine, after you’ve had some coffee. I didn’t tell you to go drinking last night.

So, Jack and I -just half of the movers I had anticipated as necessary – finally got back into the truck by about quarter after eleven, and got on the road.

THE TALE
Hah. Fooled you. It wasn’t that easy, of course. The truck wouldn’t start. Not a dead battery; it was a gap in the flywheel. For you non-gearheads, this meant that the starter would just spin away without turning the engine at all. I looked at Jack; he looked at me. Ummm. After fooling around for ten minutes, Jack had a brainstorm – he disengaged the gear shift, which moved the flywheel – just enough – that the starter caught and the engine started.    Wooo! Here we go. Down the highway, back behind the waterbed store and back up to the loading dock, killing the truck and running in to meet Mark, who was very impatient by now.

Now go back and read that last sentence again, and see if you can catch our mistake. Let the adventure begin.

I went in and paid Mark, and while Jack and I were securing the piano, Mark closed the door and hit the road. Jack and I laughed to see the piano – just an upright – sitting in that cavernous truck, roped to the side.  We could have fit a whole CAR in there and never touched the piano.

Back to the cab, ready to go. As you may have guessed, the starter was whiffing again. We tried the gearshift trick, but this time were not so lucky, it didn’t help. The truck was in a loading dock depression, so we couldn’t push it . Now Jack and I looked at each other and had little in the way of ideas. You know, keep in mind that at this time cell phones were bigger than bricks and cost thousands of dollars.

Settle in now, this is getting interesting.

Hey, there’s a phone by the gas station across the street. (station closed, of course). But who to call? I can’t call my wife, besides the awful giveaway, she’s not home. Try calling U-Haul? They’re no longer open. Isn’t there an emergency number? If I ran U-Haul, it would be plastered all over the inside of the cab. After half an hour of searching, we finally find it, in the small print of the Operations Manual. So I give it a call.

And get an operator. In Arizona. Who wonders whether it’s cold in Wisconsin. Ha-ha, yes, and we’ve got snow. And I’m standing outside in an open phone booth, trying to get help for the broken-ass truck that I rented from a Local U-hauler. Ha-ha, yes it’s not a good day for it, is it? Enough with the levity, let’s start discussing how you’re going to help me. You what? You need to call the local 24 hour service, who will get back to me? Fuck me sideways with a christmas tree, did I mention I am standing outside an open phone booth? By a highway? Oh, yes, please do try and get him to call as quickly as possible.

I run back to the truck to tell Jack that I got somebody, but now I need to wait for a return call.

And run back across the road to wait. It starts to snow.

UNDER-SERVED
While I’m waiting, Jack comes over to give his sister a call. It is now after 1 PM, and he’s got to get on the road somehow. After he calls, we notice a bar across the highway that appears to be open. Hey, just the thing! A nice hot drink, some brandy certainly, maybe a snack… we can call Arizona Lady back and give her the bar’s number. This works! We dodge the traffic to get across and tumble through the door, savoring the warmth and the welcoming smells of a tavern … aaaaahhhh.

“Hey, gents! Can we do something quick for ya? We’re closing down.”

Gaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh…… A quick explanation, and no, we can’t hang around even if they’re closed, whattaya, nuts? Gotta get home to the family!! So – it’s back to the phone booth. And the snow.

BYPASS ON THE BYPASS
Now, this is the place where the Universe looks down and… decides to fuck with me. I mean more. As I stand and wait for someone, somewhere to dial this phone on an icy intersection in the deepening wintery gloom, there’s little to do but watch the cars go by. Lights change, cars go one way; the lights change again and they go the other. A fair amount of last minute shopping traffic, actually. The phone is close enough to the street to be able to see drivers clearly. Once in a while, one looks over at me; maybe one out of four looks at me in puzzlement, obviously wondering what in hell is possessing me to stand there. But most of them are just driving past, much more intent on finishing their shopping and getting the hell home. And as I am watching the cars, I see one at the next light that looks an awful lot like ours. At the time, we had a last-year-model Fiero, you see, and there were not that many of them on the streets. Kind of unusual. This one matched ours. I couldn’t make out the license plate, though, and as it swept around the corner, of course I saw quite clearly: my wife. In our Fiero. Driving blithely right past me. Stranded at an abandoned gas station, with her gift stranded in a truck across the street.

The impulse to try and wave her down came, but the car was gone before any frozen limbs could be cracked into action. She was one of the drivers who paid no attention, of course. If someone had driven by with an open window at that moment, they might have been able to hear a few cracked, desperate laughs through the wind and snow.

OVER THE WIRE
After some indefinable amount of time passed, the phone rang. It was Arizona Lady.

Well, things were going great down in Arizona. She had located the service company up in Milwaukee, and left a message for their driver….

“Hold on. Left a message?”

“Yes sir.”

“Your truck has left me stranded by a highway in the Wisconsin winter, and you left a message?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I know it may not seem terribly urgent down there in Arizona, but did it ever occur to you that I am sitting here with a defunct piece of shit truck, freezing while I’m waiting for help, and that maybe it could use a bit more effort than leaving a message?”

“Sir, I have done what I can. Why don’t you run the truck heater?”

“IF I COULD START THE TRUCK TO RUN THE HEATER, WE WOULDN’T BE HAVING THIS CONVERSATION.”

“I AM sorry sir.”

“…yea, me too. Just….do what you can, OK? It’s not Arizona up here.”

The tow truck driver would be calling me at the pay phone number after he checked his messages; he would let me know when he was ready to come and get me. Thankfully and against all expectation, the driver called me within a few minutes, and after getting the location, let me know that it would likely be about 45 minutes, because he had another job to take care of first. Busy season, ya know. I agreed; next time I would plan my breakdown emergency better and schedule ahead.

Jack’s sister showed up soon with their car packed for their own holiday trip, full of clothes, gifts, and their two large dogs. Although cramped, we all piled into the front seat grateful for the warmth; the truck cab had gotten down to air temperature by now and we were chilled. Jack, his sister and I shared passed around…. well a little bit of holiday cheer, I guess you could call it; by the time they left for their own holiday gathering, most of my despair had been blunted, for a short time at least. It was three PM, and the sky was leaden gray, although the snow had mostly stopped.

I walked across the road once again to use that cursed open phone to call home and leave a message.

“Hi, it’s me. I….well, I’m having quite a day. I will probably be home in an hour or two. Nothing’s wrong, really; I’m OK. It’s just….well, I’ll explain when I get home. Don’t worry.”

Then, I settled into the cab alone to try and stay warm and wait for the tow driver, hoping this wouldn’t be too long.

THE HOOK-UP
I was a little surprised when I saw the tow truck pull into the parking lot. I had forgotten that U-Haul had given me the 19 footer. The tow truck was a 6 wheel monstrosity with dual booms, as large as a semi truck cab. It was about 4:30, and it had gotten fully dark by now. I stepped out and Chris introduced himself. He asked me what was wrong with the truck, and then spent some time looking it over. After a few minutes, I asked if I could sit in the cab of the tow, because I had been out here in the cold for hours.

“Oh, sure! Go ahead! Why didn’t you run the heater?”

Grrmmph.

THE SHOVE-OFF
Chris came back and said that the truck was in pretty bad shape. No news to me, of course, but I was just thankful to be warming up. Now, he started to explain to me that he was on a 24 hour call cycle from the Milwaukee Police department, and that all weekend he would be on call to clear accident sites for them. I was concentrating on getting warm, and didn’t really register what he was saying, until something like this came out:

“…so I would have to leave you and your truck and take care of it…”

“…wait, what?”

“Well, if the police call with a tow request, I’ll have to dump you and your truck and take care of their needs first. I just want to be clear about that before I start towing you.”

“Um. What’s the alternative?”

“I could try calling one of the other towing services for you, but I don’t know anybody else on call this weekend. It’s a holiday, you know.”

“I’ve been made aware. I’m gonna take the chance. Just one thing; if you get another call, can I ride with you, rather than sitting in that broken-ass truck?”

“Well…I’m not supposed to. But maybe…. OK, but just stay in the truck when we do, OK?”

“Fine. Great. Let’s go.”

So Chris turned up the heater for me, and went back to disconnect the drive shaft and get the truck hoisted. He came back into the tow cab to fill out some paperwork, and then he got back out to check the connections.  And then he put the hoist back down, because guess what? Yes, he got a call from the MPD. And off we went to an accident site.

HOOKED
It was a pretty minor fender bender, all things considered, right outside of a gas station. I sat in the cab and watch Chris and the cops work, and looked into the convenience store to see a clerk waiting on people for gas, beer, and cigarettes. When Chris got back in, he mentioned that the car was probably drivable, but the driver was DUI, so he had to tow it to the impound lot. Now warm, I could even muster a bit of humor; “Someone who’s having a worse Christmas Eve than I am.” I said. I asked Chris if he’d mind if I stepped out to use the pay phone and call home. This time my wife was home. Now, will it be possible to not let the secret out?

“Hi. I’m still having a bit of , umm, delay . Adventure. But there’s progress and I should be home in a little while.”

“…ohhh-kaaaaay…”

“Ummm, is Tom home upstairs?”

“…yea, I think so.”

“Could you ask him if he might be around a little later? I might need some help.”

“…ohhhh-kaaaaay….what kind of help?”

“just – umm,  help moving something. OK?”

“….ohhh-kaaaaay…”

Chris had gotten the car hooked up and we were off to the impound lot. Which is not the holiday destination you’d expect it to be.

It was after 7 by the time we got back to ‘my’ truck. Chris just had to hoist it at this point, though, and were on the road relatively quickly. I almost cried….no, I did cry. A little bit. After all this time, to actually be making some progress, some distance, in the direction I wanted to go….it was too much.

After about ten minutes of travel, the radio squawked. I looked up, startled, Chris looked at me and answered – another MPD call. Chris was apologetic, but duty called first and we dropped the crippled truck in a closed mall’s parking lot. It looked abandoned, sitting alone in the middle of the paving under a single light, no other vehicle around it. I worried, briefly, about someone burglarizing it. But what would they do with a piano? As we turned the corner, I wasn’t sure I cared.

THE BIG ROLL
This accident was a good deal less significant than the previous, and Chris just had to clear the street. Another tow truck was coming for the vehicle. So amazingly enough, we were back on the road toward my abandoned truck within half an hour or so. It was 8:30.

Again, Chris hoisted the U-Haul truck, and we turned out onto the highway. Chris was conciliatory at this point, and he vowed that if he received another call, he would make sure he dropped me off before answering it. I wasn’t terribly concerned at this point; I was warm.

He didn’t get another call, though, and just after 9 PM on Christmas Eve, we pulled up in front of our duplex. Turns out I didn’t need Tom from upstairs to help us move the piano. Chris was a large guy, and being sympathetic to the effort it took for me to get this far, helped me unload the piano and get it in our apartment.

My wife, of course, loved the piano and still does; it took several drinks to tell the story and still is a holiday favorite.  But I always find myself thinking to what it must have looked like to my wife, keeping a watch for me to come home through our front windows.  Eventually, the tow truck turned the corner, with it’s full array of running and flashing lights, and the lights of the U-Haul truck also lit up.  I have no idea what this 40-plus feet of contraption looked like, coming to a stop in front of our apartment.  Normally, it would be the results of some large, appalling accident.  But for this one year, at least, it looked like Christmas.
Epilogue:  THE STING
Chris helped me move the instrument into our apartment, and I insisted on tipping him all the cash I had left. He had performed above and beyond the call of duty. He asked whether I wanted him to drop the truck.“I never want to lay eyes on that vehicle again. If I see it out there tomorrow morning, I’ll probably set it on fire; so you could leave it at the U-Haul store, their repair lot, or push it into the lake, makes no difference to me.” He said he’d drop it at their repair lot.On the first business day after the holiday, I received a phone call from my favorite truck rental company.“Sir, we have you on record as renting a truck from us two days ago.””Uh-huh.”“Sir, we need to know where the truck is.”

Oh, let’s close the curtain on that scene; and you can just fill in the blanks for the rest of THAT conversation.

To all my imaginary digital friends, acquaintances, visitors and general pains in the asses, enjoy your own holidays, love your friends and family, and I hope someone brought you YOUR piano.

The Shape Of Things To Come

Posted: November 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

Watch this space….

I brung this over from Facebook, because it became apparent that I would go long on this.

http://web.musicaficionado.com/main.html#!/article/The_Classic_Rock_Band_Current_Lineup_Scorecard_by_craigrosen?campaign=fbbandscpc

This is an interesting digression. Because, as we all get older, the people in the bands we love tend to die. Now, loss of Kurt Cobain obviously meant Nirvana was no more, as he was singer and principal songwriter. But for a band like the Mekons, every song is credited to Mekons and they are legendary for mixing and matching band members not only over time, but over a year. (They leave themselves an out, in that all people who have performed with the band are Mekons or Deputy Mekons, forever and anon and, as Jon Langford once said “The only way out of the Mekons is in a box”. Maybe not so funny now that people are actually taking that exit…)

But here’s where it gets to the nub for me. Because, you know, before you knew the band they changed members. Pretty regularly. It is, in fact, very rare that bands maintain any kind of band roster, even after they get a recording contract. For instance, many people will not know that Steve Perry was not an original member of Journey.

Also, as far as I am concerned, kicking Dennis DeYoung out of Styx was simply a reasonable use of a fortuitous occurrence to being able to play on stage without wearing robot costumes EVER AGAIN….

The examples are Numerous.  The Who went on without Keith Moon, but some would say they were never the same.  I have personally seen Springsteen with and without the Big Man, and the show without was better (although not because of the change, admittedly).  REM soldiered on without Bill Berry, but the spark seemed missing.  Pink Floyd are a completely singular case, as they seem to need to discard primary members on a regular basis…

Elvis Costello and ELO had a singular driving personality, but they benefitted from band consistency, but it did not turn out to be crucial  Red Hot Chili Peppers had to deal with rotating drug use/ guitarist flaking, but they seemed to go on just fine; the time I saw them was post-Hillel and they were pretty fucking awesome.  The Pretenders stopped pretending and just have a band backing up Chrissie at this point.

The English Beat are one of the worst, with Dave Wakeling leading a band of much younger people through the songs he wrote and sang when he was much younger.  But you know what?  The songs are the same….

And that, to me is where the dividing line happens. When the band has new members, do they move on and try to move into new music, or is it a simple desire to recapture past glory and serve the nostalgic impulses that people will pay money for?  Because, like I said, bands change members all the time while they are building audience and writing material.  So, after they get famous, what is wrong with them continuing to do so?  Except, of course, for the fact than no one comes out to their shows to hear new music.  Mick Jagger once said in an interview that “No one wants to hear your new songs”.  To which, David Bowie SHOULD have replied “Well, maybe they don’t want to hear YOUR new songs”…

A long-lived band has that tough row to hoe.  I can see how it is much easier to just go into the nostalgia circuit (hell, I just went to see X play from their first four albums.  I saw Matthew Sweet do Girlfriend.  I am Guilty).

So I am going to talk about two bands I am most familiar with and you know who I am going to say. Blue Oyster Cult and Mekons.  Come on, you knew where this was going.

Blue Oyster Cult was existing in a couple of different incarnation in the late 60s and early 70s, mainly revolving around Buck Dharma and the Bouchard brothers. Their early stuff was more psychedelia filtered through garage rock; but adding Menacing presence (although oddly short) Eric Bloom and sharing songwriting with Sandy Pearlman took them in a darker tone.  Yes, they spent the 70s with a single lineup.  But when band members started dying, Bloom and Buck kept on, tapping some great musicians and continuing to record albums resulting in great songs that you never heard like “Dance On Stilts” and “Harvest Moon” which should have been hits.

Look, here is a timeline of band members:

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That is what every band’s life looks like.

At this point I will not even get into the Mekons band life, which is twisted even by that standard.  So here’s what I have to say.

I really respect bands who continue to work past their supposed “high point” by working hard and writing new music (Hello, Cheap Trick!”)  and I am the guy out there cheering for your new songs, because new music is the fuel I use to keep moving….

But there are bands that helped make us the people we are today, and sometimes the best you can do is to see them in some weird modern incarnation.  I mean, for me, seeing the Beach Boys without Brian Wilson would be meaningless, but many people like it.  Of course, none of them want to hear any new songs, but want to hear a greatest hits compilation .  This is where I should badmouth them, but I saw the Police reunion tour (and Elvis Costello, opening, with vital new music, was SO MUCH BETTER but that is me).

I have seen Styx several times, and I think they are better without Dennis DeYoung.  I saw Blue Oyster Cult in various levels of original members, and with one notable exception, they were always great. I have never seen Cheap Trick in a any way not be fantastic. But there are tribute bands, that are working the circuit to compensate for bands that no longer perform.  I have been a great fan of Chicago’s Think Floyd, who I have seen prefer an entire Wall show.  Toronto’s Musical Box performs full theatrical performances of Genesis, true to their performances in the 70s including costumes. I have seen them do Lamb Lies Down on Broadway three times.

Sometimes bands pull it together for a cash-in.  The Violent Femmes are way guilty of this (although once they did it in a Tsunami benefit; for which we have a signed band-aid poster).

Because here: it’s about the music.  Its about what it means to you.  The music happened, once upon a time.  Sometimes, people perform it for you.  Some of them may have been part of the original band, some may have not.  If you love classical music, no one involved is still alive… But enjoy it or not, based on the skill of the musicians involved….and then, at the end, say wasn’t that the best?

With that offhand comment by Jon Langford, the Mekons had a mission statement, and proceeded to act it out.  Because of course they did.

At this point, they not only are perfectly willing to completely throw any conceptions about music, songwriting, and performance away, they have earned the right to do so.  If you have hung out here for any amount of time, you may have absorbed some of their background; art-school punks who not only COULDN’T play their instruments (actually, Gang of Four’s instruments, but that’s neither here nor there) but they REFUSED to.  And they’ve been unceremoniously dropped by more record labels than you have parents.  But they still keep on; and as was said in Joe Angio’s stellar doc “Revenge Of The Mekons” it may be argued, with little disagreement, that here and now, nearly 40 years on, they are making the most vital and important music of their career….

It has been a really good time to be a Mekons fan.  Langford has been as prolific as ever, solo and with the Wacos.  The Mekons released a wonderful collaboration with the amazing Robbie Fulks (Jura), recorded in a remote Scottish island.  There was a tour that came to Mineral Point Wisconsin, which brought me back from the dead. The afore-mentioned documentary, which had great reviews and had TWO showings (with band members for Q&A!) at the MKE Film Festival (yes, I went to both!)

I have said several times, and I expect I will again; that I deeply regret not being able to attend this event, held at a small art place in Brooklyn; Jalopy (BBBB was SINGULARLY unhelpful in getting me a ticket NOT THAT I AM ANGRY).  75 Mekon fans and the band with a single mic input recording all-new music and the audience was the on-hand Feral Choir.  I mean, I am as feral as anyone!

And, being the Mekons, they also did a book and full-length video.  Because, again, why not and they have earned the right to do whatever the fuck they want.

The video is by Barry Mills, who has worked with them on several projects.  I saw his work when Langford and Timms brought The Executioner’s Last Songs to Alverno Theater.  This is, essentially a full album rock video; last done by REM for their second album.

The book is filled with prose and poetry, lyrics and art and free-association diatribes.  It will be best read while drunk.  Or maybe sober.  Or maybe while stoned.  Out loud?  On the beach at midnight, maybe. In any case, like the music that is not easy-listening, this is hardly easy-reading. As a friend, Boocock, says, this will take much reading and listening to digest.

The music is some of the best I’ve heard from them.  it is simple and straightforward, and the Feral Choir is a great addition (although maybe lacking for zombies).  I hear some echoes from the electro album, Me, in some of the drum-n-bass lines and some of the guitar work.

It is deceptively simple, but the references are thick and fast, not only to their own prior work, but the whole recorded history of music. There are even parts that sound like their first two albums.

In the book, one writer used the phrase “shambolic precision” and that is a perfect distillation of the Mekons.  You watch them play, listen to them, and you don’t know whether they know what they are doing or whether they are just getting lucky. It always seems to be just this side of going off the rails, and that is what makes it so engaging when it turns into anthemic rage or a lovely dirge.

I know that this will do little for most of you, but here is a part of the video, for a song called “Fear and Beer (hymn for Brexit)”  featuring normal violin playing Suzie Honeyperson on piano:

 

To me, this album has really built on and taken the best from their last four or five albums (which were mostly really good, with one stellar).  It is deceptively simple, but keeps surprising you.  It has a wide variety, but the enforced order of the recording process keeps a common thread.  It may be noted that the contributions of Steve Goulding and Lu Edmonds may help to keep it on the rails more often than not. But  It also sounds like they were having a helluva time, playing in front of a bunch of friends and fans.  And let me tell you, watching the Mekons play when they are having a good time is a special thing indeed.

It’s worth mentioning that the first time I saw the Mekons, they were on their first major label tour, and they were having a blast.  The next time, I brought Wife Sublime, and they had just been dropped by the label, in the middle of America.  They were decidedly NOT having a great time.  We left.

It is very odd, when I think about it; why this band has come to mean so much to me.  You may also be perplexed and you are allowed to be.   They are, yes inconsistent. Although they came out of the first flush of British punk, they moved on from that long ago.  Although they pioneered the ‘alt-country’ genre, they do not play the American version of it like Wilco or Old 97s (both of whom I love).  They WILL play a song you hate just to get a reaction.

However, they are perfectly happy to drink with you before and after a show, and they have absolutely no pretensions of being ‘rockstars’.  They are musicians and artists who respect that you have paid money for their work, and they kind of love you for that.

But I think the basic reason I love their work so much is that they are unwilling to repeat themselves; they have no interest in doing similar things, over and over but rather want to explore, to find the things that interest them and where that takes them. This extends to all of their creative artistic endeavors, art writing whatever.  They are not content to sit still.  If you look at the difference between “Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Curse Of The Mekons” ; although the band thought they were delivering what the record label wanted, it was different enough that the second record was never released and the band was dropped mid-tour (see above).

They have said that they only get together when they feel like there’s a reason; memorably, they had an introspective, acoustic album called Natural that happened when a mutual friend died, and they were all in one location for the funeral proceedings.

Everything they have ever published has been credited to “Mekons”, even though there have been like 300 Mekons and Jon Langford has said “the only way out of the band is in a box” and since a couple have died, that is not so funny…

I ramble, on I ramble, like Brian Jones I ramble, and I don’t know where I am going or where I should be going.  I have tried to grapple with my affection for these art-school dropout weirdos, and am not sure I have gotten any closer.  But I will say that after three listens and the video, that I think this album is one of my favorites.

The Mekons started in the late 70s.  I saw them first in the mid-80s.  The album “Rock ‘n’ Roll” catapulted to my favorite list and yes, i put it on top of London Calling.  And since then, as weird and off-kilter they have been (or maybe because of it?) they have remained there. To me, they never disappoint, and I think that is mainly because they never bother do work that disappoints themselves…

Across The Universe

Posted: August 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

It may come as little surprise to you folks that I was a bitt odd as a teenager.  I loved heavy metal, but I was also bookish.  I was heavily involved in arts classes, science classes, English classes, and shop classes.  My assigned counselor took a look at my class history, and that I had As and Bs in everything besides athletics, and threw up his hands.  When I told him I already had and after school job in an engineering firms’s drafting department, he said “sounds good to me!”  Thanks, guy!

The company was kind of hi-tech for the time, creating scientific and medical scanners.  The drafting department was one of the first to incorporate serious CAD equipment, to the extent they had to have a climate controlled room for the mainframe.  the rest, of course was done by hand; some by pencil and some using line-tape on mylar.

Although I only spent a few hours  daily, I soon proved my worth and moved up from basic filing and such and started doing real drafting remarks and such.  I was pretty good at it and it was a damn sight better than other work I had available.  One of the other draftsman, Kell, took me under his wing or maybe he just liked that I could be effective; although older than me, we became friends.  At a company picnic, when another employee got me shit-faced on Yukon Jack, Kell made sure I got home safe.

Kell was a great guy.  His mother had been treated wth Thalidomide when she was pregnant, and he was ‘fortunate’ in that he was ‘only’ born with the lack of two vertebrae in his neck.  he had to turn his upper body to look at you….but he was an awesome athlete and even made the Pittsburgh farm team.  But he decided he needed a career.

He introduced me to lots of great music.  Genesis.  And he also introduced me to good pot.  And he introduced me to 10cc….

I linked on Facebook to a This Day In Music post. And I have been on a 10CC kick since….may not stop for a few days.  If any blog readers would actually stop by our party, it might be a 10cc/related loudness….

I don’t know what it was that clicked for me with this band.  Previously, I was much into metal and loud rock.  They are hardly that.  They have an amazing background in music, and also were in school for graphic arts (like the Mekons!).

They are gifted songwriters, as you are likely to know because you all have heard their hits.  But they are also sarcastic and sardonic and snarky.  Kell introduced me  by playing “Good Morning Judge”.  “I’m Not In Love” is a vicious break up sex song.  FFS they wrote a prison riot song called “Rubber Bullets”.  AND IT WAS A FUCKING HIT.

“The Dean And I” was about screwing the Dean’s daughter. “Clockwork Creep” was about a guy who planted  a bomb.

They are fucking hilarious, and they are such great musicians.  They once did a prog rock masterpiece called “Feel The Benefit” and made it fucking FUNNY….

And on top of that, they invented a guitar effect, called the Gizmo, and used it to create one of the most intense prog-rock-concept album masterpieces called Consequences.  I actually have the full release vinyl version of it. Smut Clyde can be jealous…

At the time I was a huge Queen fan, so I was very open to varied musical influences and histrionic effects.

I will say, however that 10cc had a huge impact on me and I still love them and all the musicians who have been part of them.

And their cover of this song made me buy the Beatles album, but fuck you, I think this is the right way to play this song…

Saw X last night, with original Guitarist Billy Zoom.  I think this was a kind gesture from the rest of the band, since he is recovering from cancer.  Yes, he spent most of it on a stool, but he spent the time playing Punkabilly riffs with never looking at the fretboard, like Buck Dharma.

X  is like the punk Black Sabbath.  The first four albums are FLAWLESS.  I didn’t get into them until Under The Big Black Sun, but holy hell did that burn holes into my psyche, and the songs that dealt with the death of Exene’s sister managed a way of being sad and screaming into the void that I have always loved about my all my favorite music.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about .  Here to talk about the draft.  Wait a minute.  Let me back up.  Get a new drink.

I’m here to talk about Republicans.  Conservatives.  Bigots.  Tea Party.

Mikey and I had much of this discussion on a prior post.  But I want to kind of go on to enumerate things that I see on the Uncle Liberty and Wingnut Facebook network.

  • Hillary is a liar.
  • Hillary is a criminal
  • Hillary is a murderer.
  • The Democrats will ALWAYS steal an election
  • Al Gore is fat
  • Hillary has brain damage.
  • Hillary has bad personal style.

At this point, I will not bother with the Benghazi benghazi BENGHAZI! bullshit or the email fucking beating of a fucking dead horse.

Seriously, I have to laugh at the conservatives I see.  The only thing they have is to be able to use photo memes that solely reinforce the above list with no actual links or references.  In fact, on FB I recently saw one of them hijack a quote from Andy fucking Borowitz, swapping out “Trump” for “Hillary” like that somehow proved something….

Which is the funny thing I find about the Republicans respond when you respond with actual facts and links; without fail they do one or both of these: tell you that mainstream media links are not worth considering, and then going into a Gish Gallop.

Here is the reality:

Hilary Clinton has spent her entire life trying to help other people.

She spent much of her early life going into poor and minority neighborhoods, finding out what the worst things were, and directly attacking those problems. With much success.  Doing it in a very direct, face-to-face way that made many black people lover her and her work

And she did that as the wife of a Governor.  Continuing to go out and doing the fucking hard work of hitting the bricks and finding out what the problems are, and meeting the people who had those problems. And making helping those people one of the most important things ever.

As a daughter of privilege, she bought into the hippie idea that we have to help the lowest FIRST, and she did that with everything she did ever after.  She started her life by declining a law career in favor of helping the poor and children who needed health care and education.  A white girl going into poor African American communities.  And the Republicans say she doesn’t care about black people….

She tried to help America with doing something better with health care (HOW EVILE)  and when that crashed, she pivoted and started working directly to create SCHIP, which put millions of kids under health care.  Of course, the Republicans have opposed that….

hmpf.  I once thought I would go through all the stupid bullshit.  But you know, it is all more than obvious, so fuck that.

Here’s the summary:

  • Hillary is not the antichrist
  • Hillary is not the devil
  • Hillary is not a lesbian
  • Hillary never murdered, or ordered the murder, of anyone.
  • Hillary, at 68, has no more health concerns than 70 year old man. Maybe fewer; most women are better at managing their health than men….
  • If you think Hillary having problems in heels, going up stairs, then let’s see Trump doing the same thing….
  • Election Fraud is non-existent.
  • Election Fraud is a fake reason to allow for voter restriction.
  • Hair and personal style is only allowed as a criticism against women, never men.
  • I kinda love the idea that they have resurrected the Clinton Kill list.
  • The Clinton Foundation is as scrutinized and high profile a charitable foundation as ever created.  They return 88 cents on the dollar to actually helping people around the world, Bill and Hillary take no salaries, and both of them are revered around the planet for the good they have done.

I remember back eight years, when SO MANY people told us how voting for a Democrat, was going to be horrible terrible and so horrible and this was horrible. It ws going to result in wars, death and devastation, the destruction of the economy and the takeover of America with sharia law or some damn thing like that.  No, it never made any sense but then paranoid racist fantasies never do.

None of that happened.  Not a single thing.

Obama managed the most significant progressive legislation in many years.  He salvaged the economy. Record advancements in LGBT rights.  the Iran Deal.  making Republicans shit-eating crazy….

As OBS says, this election is going to set some very bad precedents; it already has.  Releasing tax returns is now a thing of the past.  Treating opponents with respect is now abandoned in favor of infantile insults and grade school nicknames (which do, I admit, seem to be effective at least on one side of the spectrum). Dick sizes have been measured in a televised Presidential debate.  I am sure we will see many more accepted norms be blown up in a spray of orange cheeto dust and flash of flammable hairspray.

But you know what?  After watching Clinton in the 2008 primary, and her ability to put it behind her to become SoS, and watching her deftly handle a serious challenge from Sanders…not to mention the decades of scurrilous, sexist, rightwing whack job hit pieces on her and her family – and she is still perfectly poised and never actually losing her shit at any point of the way.  The wing nuts are mocking her for her delight in the Democratic balloon drop, but I have to say, after the past few decades, a few minutes of delight at a momentous occasion?  She fucking deserves it.

She is a long-lived politician who, despite constant attacks from opponents, is still standing.  And that drives them absolutely fucking crazy.  And she mocks them for that. I think, after all these years, she is kind of looking forward to giving them the back of her fucking hand.

And yes, THAT is kind of exactly the person I want to be leading our country.