Friday, March 30, 2012

American Top 40 Flashback - Tommy Roe

I admit it, I was a fan of all the late 60s bubblegum hits. And this was one of the best.

Wish I had more to say, but I'm not feeling that great today, so that'll have to do it.

"Dizzy," Tommy Roe - the #1 song this week in 1969.

Monday, March 26, 2012


The best moment in “50/50” occurs when Adam, the character played by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, is about to go into surgery for the cancer that has wrapped itself around his spine. Up until that moment, we’ve seen Adam resist the support offered by his overprotective mother, nicely portrayed by Anjelica Huston. But when the doctor tells the family that it is time to begin the procedure, Adam breaks down and in that moment reverts to being a little boy who is hurt and needs his mommy.

But that’s hardly the only good moment in the movie, which was much better than I expected. Parts of it are laugh out loud funny, but it never feels unreal, or as if it is making fun or light of its serious subject matter. Gordon-Leavitt is terrific as Adam, and Seth Rogen turns in a patented “funny and inappropriate” Seth Rogen-type performance (as opposed to an “annoying and inappropriate” Seth Rogen-type performance) as Adam’s longtime best friend. Also quite good are Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer as a couple of cynical old guys that Adam meets during his chemotherapy sessions. Rounding out the primary cast, Anna Kendrick plays a cute therapist in training who bears a lot of similarities to the cute young professional she played in “Up in the Air,” and (in another type-casting alert) Bryce Dallas Howard plays Adam’s less than sympathetic girlfriend. But both are very good, so you won’t hear me complaining too loudly.

He's been good in everything that I've seen him in, but based solely on "50/50," I get the feeling that Gordon-Leavitt is going to be one of those guys who is around for quite a while.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gray Day

On the Occasion of Elton John's 65th Birthday

Before the Stones, before Springsteen, before Dylan, before R.E.M., before Los Lobos, before Madonna, before Neil Young, before Drive-By Truckers, before Prince, and before all the other artists I’ve become obsessed with over the years, there was Elton John. I’m not sure I’d call him my first musical hero, because even before Elton there were The Beatles and Creedence, but what I do know is that the first album (the first of several thousands, in various formats) I ever bought with my own money was Elton’s “Honky Chateau,” and the first that I just about wore out through repeated listens was “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

There’s no doubt that Elton is one of the most popular musical artists of my lifetime, but the part of his career that I’ll always remember most fondly is that incredible span from 1972 through the end of 1975 – which I’ll go to my grave defending as one of the most artistically successful eras that any artist has had. In that time, Elton released “Honky Chateau,” “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Caribou,” “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” and “Rock of the Westies.” Six albums of at least A- quality, and some much, much better than that. So if you’re gonna make fun of Elton John, you’ve come to the wrong place.

In honor of Sir Elton on his 65th birthday, it is my pleasure to present this special seven-song perfect playlist.

“Rocket Man”

“Bennie and the Jets” – on “Soul Train!”

“Your Song”

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – with The Muppets!

“Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”

“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”


Thursday, March 22, 2012

"The Drop"

It took me 78 days to read “11/22/63,” and three to read Michael Connelly’s “The Drop.” A flight delay of almost three hours at LAX helped, but such is the nature of Connelly’s books – once you get enmeshed in the plot, you just don’t want to let them go.

Plus, a Connelly book featuring Detective Harry Bosch is like a security blanket. Even if they’re a little frayed around the edges, there’s comfort in knowing that what you’re getting is going to be good, and make you feel just a little bit better about the world around you. “The Drop” is the first Bosch book in a while that sticks almost exclusively to the tried-and-true formula, and in this instance that’s a good thing, because it means that Connelly is again focusing on the things that Bosch does best – finding justice for those who have been wronged, proving his adage that “everyone counts, or no one counts.”

Moving Bosch to the Open-Unsolved (“cold cases”) Unit was an inspired choice by Connelly, because that is the ideal place for Bosch to exercise the code that he lives by. The cases that he works on are the ones that cry out for justice, the cases where the person who was murdered was just the first of many victims. These are the cases where open wounds remain for the living as well as those who are dead.

“The Drop” juxtaposes one of these cases with one that is entirely fresh, and reintroduces the character who has been Bosch’s greatest antagonist over the twenty years spanned by the novels – former Deputy Chief, and now City Councilman, Irvin Irving. Irving hates Bosch with a passion, but at the same time recognizes that Bosch is the best at what he does – and will pursue each case to its end, regardless of the ultimate outcome. So when Irving’s son is killed in a fall from the top floor at the Chateau Marmont, Bosch is presented with a classic “did he jump or was he pushed” case. And, as usual, finding the answers may prove to be hazardous to his career, if not his life. At the same time, Bosch and his partner are pursuing justice for a young woman killed many years before, and based on a “cold DNA hit,” they are brought to a suspect who simply could not have committed the crime. The perfect case for an obsessive like Harry Bosch.

Nothing ever comes easy for Bosch, and these cases are no exception. Throughout, he has to juggle his quest for justice with his love for his daughter, his desire to keep doing what he loves while becoming a target for those who would ruin him for political gain, and his always intriguing relationships with the women whose paths he crosses in the course of his work.

All in all, it’s a wholly satisfying mix – meaning that I can recommend, without pause, “The Drop.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Top of the Pops

I'm not sure that I'm supposed to like this band, but I've always been a sucker for a great hook and a song that sounds great when you turn the radio up real loud. And as far as I'm concerned, this one fits both bills.

NFL Follies

I've been actively watching the NFL for almost 45 years now, and I don't know that I've ever seen a week like the one we've experienced over the past seven days.

Let's start with the Peyton Manning Sweepstakes Saga. There's a lot about what happened with Manning that makes complete sense, but I have a hard time fathoming the final few developments.

- The 49ers had a wonderful season with a quarterback who had been relegated to the trash heap, and then did everything but say "dude, we would have done it without you" in their apparent pursuit of Manning.

- The Broncos, after months of riding "Timsanity" to the second round of the playoffs, revealed what they really thought about their young, unique quarterback by signing Manning. I guess they thought that 2-3 years of Manning at his almost-prime (if they're lucky) was more valuable than 10-15 years of Tebowmania. And they may be right. Something about it just feels wrong.

- The Jets, after signing Mark Sanchez to a lucrative contract extension, signed Tebow. Yeah, you heard it right - New York, where the latest quarterback controversy is only a hangnail away, now has two prominent quarterbacks under the age of 26. Good luck with that, Jets.

But all that paled against the fines laid down today by Roger Goodell against Saints coaches Sean Payton and Gregg Williams for their roles in the Bounty Controversy. And what a "holy sh*t!" moment it was - Payton, who everyone in the world seems to agree is a great guy in addition to being an outstanding coach, suspended for A YEAR!? Kind of makes you wonder what "indefinite" means in the case of Williams, doesn't it? And don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Goodell got it wrong. I'm just saying that these are penalties of historic proportion. If I was a Saints player involved in the bounty scheme, I'm not sleeping too well for the next few days, or weeks, or however long it takes Goodell to announce their fate. It could get very ugly for New Orleans all of a sudden.

All in all, I don't think it was one of the NFL's greatest weeks.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


When you write a book about a time traveler attempting to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, you’re taking a big risk. The book has to end with President Kennedy still dead, so the only question left is whether the journey to the inevitable conclusion is worth it.

With Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” the answer is yes – but just barely. The book is 843 pages long, and I’m not sure that it needed to be. While each individual section stands well on its own, at the end it feels like the whole adds up to a little bit less than the sum of its parts. Early on, King establishes that “the past is obdurate” – it doesn’t want to be changed, and it will throw roadblocks up in the way of anyone who makes the effort. By the end, I had lost count of how many times that had happened, but whatever the number, if you’ve lost track that means it was too many.

On the other hand, I have to admit that the somewhat leisurely pace that the novel unfolds – the time portal leads back to 1958, so Jake Epping (who becomes George Amberson in the past) has a lot of time to kill, and a lot of time to plan exactly how he’s going to pull off the feat of the century without getting caught or killed in the process. And since the portal leads to Maine, there is time to spend in the familiar town of Derry, and time to try and change some bad things that happened there before heading on to Texas for the big one.

The longest section in the book tells the tale of Epping/Amberson’s years in Texas, gathering intelligence on Lee Harvey Oswald but also starting a life of his own in the small town of Jodie, just outside of Dallas. While there, Amberson meets people that he comes to value a great deal, including one with whom he falls deeply in love. And all of a sudden, he is wondering whether he has it in himself to finish the job that he came to do.

To give away more would probably spoil the book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. I’ll just say that, as with the best books by King, some of the most effective moments tend to be the smaller ones – a chance encounter with some young kids in Derry who we met many years ago in “It,” the way a man’s wife thanks Amberson, who she instinctively sees as a guardian angel, for spending an afternoon playing cards with him, and the way a couple looks at each other as they share a dance in front of a bunch of unruly teenagers.

So how does King handle the ending? About as well as one could, I think – it’s a very sentimental ending, sad and uplifting at the same time. And at that moment, you care more about Jake/George than you do about the fate of President Kennedy. Which is why the book counts as a success – even if it did take a little long to reach its destination.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Modest Proposal

OK, who's with me on this one - the first two days of the NCAA tournament as National Holidays?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wrecking Ball, Part 2

I admit that I sometimes fall into the trap of overrating new Springsteen albums. Over the past decade, the one exception was “Working on a Dream,” which I enjoyed but knew right away would never be confused for “Born to Run” or “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” The point is probably most apt for “Magic,” which I placed above “The Rising” a few years back when I compiled my list of Top 25 albums from the 2000s. Given the opportunity for a re-do of that list, the order would be reversed – there are just too many songs on “Magic” that I’m tempted to skip (they’re not horrible, just not that memorable), whereas with “The Rising” the only song I don’t care if I ever hear again is “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin).”

So, perhaps one way – not the only way, and maybe not even the right way – to judge new releases is to identify those songs which serve as the album’s core – the “instant classics,” so to speak – and compare that group of songs with a similar group from a past release. Let’s try that today, and then in a future post I’ll talk about the songs that I wouldn’t put in the “core” category.

Here are the songs I’d identify as being the core of “Wrecking Ball:”

1. We Take Care of Our Own
2. Jack of All Trades
3. Death to My Hometown
4. Wrecking Ball
5. Rocky Ground
6. Land of Hope and Dreams

There are a couple of other songs that might bubble up to this list, but they’re not quite there yet. But even with just those above, you’ve got 6/11, which is a very solid showing. I’d give “Magic” a score of 6/12, while “Rising” clocks in at an impressive 10/15 (and for now, you’ll just have to guess which songs are which).

Of those songs above, Numbers 1, 3 and 4 are pretty obvious choices because they are the album’s “anthems” – the songs that are going to get the crowd going, and get Bruce and the band energized. “Land of Hope and Dreams” has to be on there, because even though it’s an old song, it’s also (in my not-so-humble opinion) one of his all-time best songs. Right now I still prefer the original version (captured on “Live in New York City”), but that’s a quibble. This version is different enough to keep it fresh, and with a song this great, you really can’t keep it down.

But right now, I think the two best songs on the album are “Jack of All Trades” and “Rocky Ground.” The former song is fairly easy to make fun of (as son #2 has proven, with a pretty amusing impression), but there’s a reason for that – it is archetypal Springsteen, doing the things that he is known for, things which bring admiration from some quarters and disdain from others. The camp I fall in was decided long ago, so I have nothing but praise for the song. The story it tells is a stark one, but it is a story for our times. It begins with this:

I’ll mow your lawn, clean the leaves out’ your drain
I’ll mend your roof, to keep out the rain
I take the work that God provides
I’m a jack of all trades, honey we’ll be all right

And ends with this:

So you use what you’ve got and you learn to make do
You take the old, you make it new
If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ‘em on sight
I’m a jack of all trades, we’ll be all right

But so far, the song that has taken over my brain is “Rocky Ground,” which in its music and lyrics sounds like it came straight out of a revival meeting. In fact, it reminds me of something off of a Moby album, the songs where he has recorded a new musical backing over a track of an old-time minister preaching to the flock. Essentially, that’s what Springsteen is doing here.

Take a look:

You use your muscle and your mind and you pray your best
That you best is good enough, the Lord will do the rest
You raise your children and you teach them to walk straight and sure
You pray that hard times, hard times come no more
You try to sleep you toss and turn the bottom’s dropping out
Where you once had faith now there’s only doubt
You pray for guidance only silence now meets your prayers
The morning breaks, you awake, but no one’s there

But the song is a musical triumph as well, with Michelle Moore’s impassioned, insistent refrain “We’ve been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground” lifting the song to a level of tension that it could not have reached without her, good as Bruce’s vocal is.

So far, I’m liking how "Wrecking Ball" stacks up against its immediate predecessors. And if, like I said, a couple of other songs bubble up into the core, than it might be time to do some comparisons with the giants of the catalogue.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

View from Above

A shot of our living room, taken with an iPod Touch using the Hipstamatic app - which is pretty cool.

It's the first app I've actually spent money on - a whole $1.99.

Netflix Catchup

If I don’t do this soon, I’m never going to get Son #2 off my back. So without further ado, it’s time for another Netflix Catchup. And I do believe this will bring me completely up-to-date.

Let’s start with what we watched last night, since it’s still fresh in my memory. I liked “The Ides of March” a lot, even if it didn’t quite reach classic political intrigue status. But I’d rather praise it for what it was rather than criticize it for what it was not – and what it was, was a taut, well-acted and well-written political drama. It was a tad predictable (I’d figured out how it was going to end as soon as the “shocking” plot development occurred), but sometimes you can find great pleasure simply in watching a lot of great actors have fun with a well-done script. Ryan Gosling more than holds his own with the other luminaries on screen, George Clooney turns in a typically excellent “I know I make this look easy, but just you try it” performance, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are terrific as the world-weary campaign gurus who are always looking to find that slight edge to put their candidate over the top – whether it’s strictly moral or not. Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Evan Rachel Wood, and even Gregory Itzin (the all-time classic bad guy from “24”) round out an incredible supporting cast. Overall, the movie doesn’t really teach us any lessons about the political game that we didn’t already know, but it’s a fun ride nonetheless.

I would not have thought one could make an entertaining movie about the research into human sexuality conducted by Dr. Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and 1950s, but I was wrong. “Kinsey” was quite good, both at drawing a portrait of the somewhat unconventional Dr. Kinsey and at depicting a world quite different from the one we live in now – where sexual advice is but a mouse-click away. Liam Neeson is clearly having fun in the role of the good doctor, who delights at knocking down conventions that, to his way of thinking, exist only to get in the way of healthy human relationships. But the film is also honest about the emotional pain that can result from the kind of free-thinking that Kinsey and his merry band of researchers engaged in over period of years, as they were conducting their research.

The best reason to see “Iris,” which tells the story of the beginning and the end of the relationship between novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, is to savor the great acting on the screen from Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent as the couple when they are old, and from Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville as their much younger counterparts. Both pairs of actors do a wonderful job with their characters, and one never doubts that they are indeed watching the same people, at different times in their lives. Because the movie focuses primarily on Iris’ decline from Alzheimer’s Disease, it is very sad – and when it delves into the past to show a scene from their courtship, it becomes even sadder, because you realize what a wonderful, free spirit Iris was in her youth, and understand how the disease has ravaged her mind. But in a way it’s also uplifting, to see Broadbent (as Bayley) becoming the very manifestation of “in health and in sickness,” as he never gives up on her, difficult as the job of being her caretaker has become. “Iris” is a movie small in scope, but very big in heart.

“Under the Tuscan Sun” fits very nicely into the classic definition of “chick flick,” but it does have a lot of appealing moments in it. For one thing, anything that has Diane Lane in it is probably worth watching, in my view. She’s been around forever, going all the way back to her performance as a 12-year old girl in love in the wonderful “A Little Romance.” She’s one of those actors who just seems to be comfortable in their own skin, and her performance, along with the great photography of the Tuscan countryside, is the best reason to see the movie. The plot can best be described as “heartbroken woman heads to Italy to heal and meets quirky, fun characters,” which is hardly original but executed competently. Overall, I can think of worse ways to spend two hours.

And finally, “Billy Elliot,” a classic “fish out of water, feel-good, Rocky type” movie about an 11-year old boy who learns early on that he prefers dancing to boxing. However, he also finds himself growing up in a lower-class neighborhood in a coal-mining town in England, surrounded by testosterone-fueled coal miners (including his father and brother) who tend to frown on such things. The story alternates between the story of Billy and his growing passion for dance, and the struggles of his family to make it during a period when the entire town is out of work due to a strike and is struggling simply to survive from day to day. The arc of the story may be somewhat predictable, but it’s done in a way that doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience – making the climax even more powerful.

Thursday, March 08, 2012


It is indeed surprising that Peyton Manning will not end his superlative career with the Indianapolis Colts, but I'm not sure that his departure should serve as evidence that all employers are evil and are looking to do nothing but exploit their workers.

That doesn't mean I don't believe that notion - in fact, for reasons that I won't go into here, I have good reason to believe that gratitude and loyalty to employees are not notions that come to some employers easily. But I've always had a little difficulty believing that with professional sports teams, and particularly when it comes to superstar athletes.

In fact, what the Colts are doing, at least from a sports sense, makes absolute sense. It's the same approach that the San Francisco 49ers under the stewardship of Bill Walsh and Eddie DeBartolo took. The 49ers of that era were masters of knowing exactly when to let a player go, and the list of great 49ers of that era who ended their careers with other teams is a long one. Even the greatest quarterback of his (and perhaps any other) era, Joe Montana, ended his career somewhere else. I think the only time the Niners blew it was with Ronnie Lott, who obviously had a little bit left in the tank when he was sent packing.

So while it will be strange to see Peyton in another jersey next fall, I can't blame the Colts for what they did, especially when a commodity like Andrew Luck is on the table. And 25 years from now, what people will remember is Peyton as a Colt - not Peyton with any other team.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Wrecking Ball, Part 1

When you've been in business as long as Bruce Springsteen has been in business, there are going to be few people who haven't already made up their minds about the quality of your work and your role in the rock and roll continuum. It's an ongoing, never-ending challenge - how does an artist maintain his identity, while sounding new and fresh at the same time? Go too far in either direction, and that artist is bound to hear things like "sounds like everything he's ever recorded before" or "why is he trying to sound like something he's not?"

Put another way, everyone in the world made up their mind about Bruce Springsteen long before the release of "Wrecking Ball." So when you write about the album, you can't do so with the expectation that you're going to change anyone's mind. It just isn't going to happen.

So maybe this is written for the fans. And this is just the first glance; there will be more. But after just over 24 hours of listening, I hear something in "Wrecking Ball" that I haven't heard for a very long time, perhaps since "Tunnel of Love" 25 years ago - a fully realized, wholly consistent view of the world, unified both in themes and in sound. No, it's not going to change any minds; it's far too late for that.

But this isn't "Working on a Dream," or even "Magic" or "The Rising" - as great as some parts of each of those albums were. This is something different. I feel confident in saying, even though it's only March, that this is the album of the year.

More to come.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


On my drive home from work, I drive past a golf course that is hard on I-5. There's a big sign at one corner of the course that you can easily see from the freeway, and it's usually about a month out of date. So if you drive by in, say, mid-August, you're likely to see what the July 4 special promotion was. You can almost imagine the conversations that go on when it's time for the sign to be changed:

"What, you want me to walk all the way out there? It's hot, man!"

"Well, hell, I'm not going out there...someone overhitting the second green might bean me!"

For over a month now, what the sign has had to say has been my all-time favorite:

"Special Valentine's Day Dinner - 2 for $25."

Let's think about that for a minute.

First of all, how many people - men or women - were clamoring on Valentine's Day to go have dinner at a golf course?

Second, you can't help wondering exactly what you would have gotten for your $25. And I know for a fact that it didn't include a bucket of range balls, because this particular course doesn't even have a driving range.


It should not come as a surprise that the great Joe Posnanski absolutely nails the New Orleans Saints bounty hunters story.

For those who don't care to read it all, here is the powerful conclusion:

And it makes me wonder if the overpowering popularity of pro football has simply made us numb. You know, over the last few years we have seen the past heroes of pro football suffer in agony at the end of their lives. We have watched spectacular athletes deteriorate and be discarded by the sport again and again. We have only begun to learn about how head injuries destroy people.

And now, we have the New Orleans Saints -- perhaps not alone, but the ones dumb enough to get caught -- paying each other extra money to hit opponents so hard, so viciously, so recklessly, that they would be carried off on stretchers. We have a coach, Gregg Williams, who not only oversaw this but put his own money into the pot. We have come to see that other coaches and players were well aware of all this. I fully understand that many people don't care; they are outraged that anyone would care. Which leads me to this question.

Is our love of pro football -- the spectacle, the violence, the thrills and sheer ferocity of it all -- so insatiable that nothing will ever shock or disgust us again?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Seven Song Perfect Playlist - Second Annual Jack Gallagher Edition

We had the great pleasure last night of attending "The Joke's On Me 3.0," Jack Gallagher's third annual show of stories and music.

Anyone who has flown into Sacramento's Terminal A is familiar with Gallagher, whether they realize it or not - his is the wry voice that you hear warning you not to leave your car out on the curb, or leave your luggage unattended. If you're a devotee of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," you've also seen him in a recurring role as Larry's doctor. I met him via his wife Jean, with whom I worked during my seven years at CSBA (I'll be eternally grateful to Jean for introducing me to the Drive-By Truckers, and a wealth of other great music). I'm pretty sure (actually I'm quite certain) that Jack is the only person I've ever known who's appeared on Carson, Leno and Conan.

Last night's show was great, just like the year before. And so in honor of a great show, here's a special seven song perfect playlist consisting of songs that Jack and the band tackled last night.

And a special request from the audience, in honor of Davy Jones:

If 4.0 comes around this time next year, be sure to see it - you won't be disappointed!

Top 50 Albums, #32 - "Rust Never Sleeps," Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Neil Young didn’t even merit a chapter in the first edition of “The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll.” He got one in the second edition that was released in 1980 (the monumental first edition had come out in ’76), but if he read Dave Marsh’s essay, I doubt that he cared for it much. Marsh called Young “Dylan’s greatest disciple,” and concluded that “Young has mastered that Dylanesque trick of selling whatever he does as a major statement, no matter its inadequacies.”

But Marsh went even further than that – he wrote, “nor does his dabbling with a variety of styles mark him as an eclectic, like the Beatles. Rather it is symptomatic of that refusal to commit himself fully, which is the bane of everything he’s ever created. Instead of a unified body of work, Neil Young has forged only a series of fragments, some relatively inspired, some absolutely awful.”

Damning with faint praise, indeed.

Yet, Marsh has a point. And he wrote this before the most significant (and longest) fallow period of Young’s career, which (coincidentally or not) coincided with the 8 years of the Reagan Administration. During that 8-year period, Young released albums every year, and not a single one of them was memorable. So yes, Young’s lack of consistency has been maddening, sort of like that guy Marsh compared him to – what was his name? Oh yeah, Dylan.

Set the inconsistency aside for a moment, and consider the albums that Neil Young has recorded over the course of his career – some with Crazy Horse, some with the close-knit group of musicians he tends to use for his collections of softer songs, and some with both: “After the Gold Rush,” “Harvest,” “Tonight’s the Night,” “Zuma,” “Comes A Time,” “Rust Never Sleeps,” “Freedom,” “Ragged Glory,” “Harvest Moon,” “Sleeps With Angels,” “Mirror Ball” (with Pearl Jam!), “Prairie Wind.” If you’re a Neil Young fan, you probably have a couple of others to throw in the pile. But right there you have a dozen albums that I’d call excellent or downright great, depending on my mood.

With “Rust Never Sleeps,” there is little doubt – it is a great album. And it provides the listener with a slice of both genres that Young has mastered so well – the acoustic ballad, and the screaming electric rocker. But even though the songs are acoustic, they’re hardly “soft” – the record is thematically unified, most strikingly through its first and last songs – “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).” It’s the same song, first performed by an unaccompanied Young on acoustic guitar, and then with Crazy Horse at their hardest and loudest. The album depicts the journey from out of the blue and into the black, setting the tone with these words:

The king is gone but he’s not forgotten
This is the story of a Johnny Rotten
It’s better to burn out than it is to rust
The king is gone but he’s not forgotten

Remember, it had been just two years since the death of Elvis, and a little over a year since the Sex Pistols performed their final show at Winterland in San Francisco.

The entire first side is acoustic Neil, with the intricate ballad “Thrasher,” the odd little ditty “Ride My Llama,” and the transcendent “Pocahontas.” Some might suggest the latter is just another in the long line of Young songs decrying the fate of Native Americans, but this is one of the best, featuring these memorable lines:

I wish I was a trapper
I would give a thousand pelts
To sleep with Pocahontas
And find out how she felt
In the mornin’ on the fields of green
In the homeland we’ve never seen

The second side begins with the legendary “Powderfinger,” legendary because of its status as the song Young gave to Lynyrd Skynyrd just prior to the fiery plane crash that took the lives of Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines in the fall of 1977. Appropriately, it’s a song about death, the protagonist being a young man set to defend his homestead from (likely Yankee) invaders. The song sets up the boy to be a hero, but ends just as you might expect:

Shelter me from the powder and the finger
Cover me with the thought that pulled the trigger
Just think of me as one you never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love, I know I’ll miss her

After the quite funny “Welfare Mothers” (yes, it is a joke) and the harrowing “Sedan Delivery,” the album reaches a climax with the guitars of Young and Frank Sampedro turned up real loud. This time, amidst screaming feedback, the words are a bit different:

The king is gone but he’s not forgotten
Is this the story of Johnny Rotten?
It’s better to burn out ‘cause rust never sleeps
The king is gone but he’s not forgotten

And with that, the album completes its journey. And it’s one that should not be missed.

Rust Never Sleeps (1979) Produced by Neil Young, David Briggs and Tim Mulligan

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)/Thrasher/Ride My Llama/Pocahontas/Sail Away/Powderfinger/Welfare Mothers/Sedan Delivery/Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Three More Days...

Bruce and the E Street Band were the stars of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last night, along with special guest Tom Morello. The band turned in three pretty amazing performances, all of which had me wishing I'd been a little less responsible and decided to get tickets for an out-of-town show in late April - even though I know it will be an incredibly busy time at work.

I've now heard three songs from the new album (four, if you count "Land of Hope and Dreams," which has been recorded in a new version for the new album), and if those songs are any indication, this is going to be a hell of an album.

But we'll know soon enough, won't we?

Friday, March 02, 2012

American Top 40...No, Scratch That...

Instead, the song that I currently turn up on the radio every time it comes on.

Even though this album came out late last year, I'm counting this as a 2012 song, and I can almost guarantee that you'll be seeing it again at the end of the year when I do my annual countdown of my favorite songs of the year.