Friday, May 31, 2013

Oh well

So much for my repeatedly thwarted plans to stay connected to the blog.

But in case anyone was wondering how I've been spending my time, I did get to spend some great time last week in Long Beach to celebrate Son #1's college graduation.

Here's what it looked like in person.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ray Manzarek

This isn't intended to discount his work with the Doors, which in many (if not most) instances is remarkable, but just to point out that he also made a significant contribution (as producer for several albums, and playing organ in a most memorable way) to the success of X, one of the punk era's greatest bands.

I ranked "Los Angeles" as my 48th favorite album of all time, and in that review wrote this about his work on "The World's A Mess, It's In My Kiss":

And then you reach the album’s last song, and my favorite, “The World’s A Mess, It’s In My Kiss.” This is my favorite song on the album, it’s my favorite song by the band, and it’s one of my favorite songs, period. It contains one of my favorite moments of any song that I’ve heard – the organ solo by Ray Manzarek (of The Doors, who produced the album). At the point the solo begins, John and Exene are trading lines, and then suddenly, the organ takes center stage. All you hear is Zoom’s guitar, Doe’s bass, Bonebrake’s drums, and Manzarek’s incredible organ.

For me, it’s a supremely exciting moment. I’ve heard it hundreds if not thousands of times, and the feeling is always the same. I don’t want it to end, and I feel more alive while it is playing. At that moment, the lyrics and the themes don’t matter. All that is left is the music.

If you haven't heard it, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

American Triumph

If justice were to prevail, Patty Griffin would be a household name in the world of music, and her 2002 masterpiece "1000 Kisses" would be discussed in the same breath as American classics like "The Band," "Blood on the Tracks," and "Nebraska."  In the world in which we live in, as Paul McCartney might say, the story is a little different.  I've no idea how many records she sells - I could be wrong, but I doubt her albums go platinum -  but over the last decade Griffin has comfortably occupied and even solidified a notable position in the Americana genre, admired and even loved by devoted fans but residing just outside the periphery of mainstream stardom.  At this juncture, she's probably better known by many as being the current companion of Robert Plant, with whom she has toured and recorded, filling quite adequately the niche established by Alison Krauss on her album with Plant, "Raising Sand."

Since "1000 Kisses," Griffin has not been terribly prolific - two studio LPs that were good but didn't come close to approaching the greatness of her 2002 triumph, a live recording, and "Downtown Church," a compelling but unusual and somewhat inconsistent concept album incorporating old folk and gospel songs with just a couple of Griffin originals.

That all changes with "American Kid."  It is without question a great album; just how great it is will be determined with time.  It's too early to tell, but I suspect there will come a day when Griffin fans engage in strong but good-natured arguments over whether "1000 Kisses" or "American Kid" is the artist's best - the way that devoted fans to this day discuss if not argue about the relative merits of "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver."

The songs on the new album were inspired by Griffin's father, but they tell a universal story about a man - a kid, really - who goes to war and comes home profoundly changed by the experience.  It is a testament to the album's strength that many of these songs could be talking about veterans in any American war - from the Civil War on down to the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The sites may have changed, but the stories remain the same.  Consider these lyrics, from "Not a Bad Man":

I bet you see a stranger
When you look at me
When I look in the mirror
I know that's what I see
I just want a little sleep now
Sleep as silent as the snow
But I am not a bad man
I just wanted you to know

Or these, from "Faithful Son":

Oh, my God
I cry in fear
Afraid you have forgotten me here
Afraid you have forgotten one
Your quiet, dull and faithful son
Who's seen the loneliest of days
And fought the dirtiest of ways
With the main inside
Who would have run away
From the promises I made

The musical approach of the album hearkens back to Griffin's 2002 triumph - for the most part, guitar, bass and percussion, with the occasional banjo or mandolin thrown in for good measure.  And there is also a chilling beauty in many of the songs, particularly two ("Ohio," and "Highway Song") on which the aforementioned Plant sings harmony vocals.

It was too much to ask of Griffin that she replicate the success of "1000 Kisses" on every one of her recordings.  That she has been able to do it at all is reason for jubilation and celebration.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Vinyl Collection: Rockpile

I think I may have found a way to stay connected to the blog during this period at work where I'm writing thousands of words about the state budget and the governor's proposed local control funding formula for public schools.

Recipe - take an album from the vinyl collection, attache a picture, and write as many words as I'm in the mood and/or have time for.  No albums that would be considered an all-time classic, and nothing that I also own on CD.  So now that we have those ground rules set...

"Seconds of Pleasure" was the first (and only) album released under the moniker of Rockpile, although the band - Guitarists Dave Edumunds and Billy Bremner, bassist Nick Lowe, and drummer Terry Williams - had performed on notable albums released by Edmunds and Lowe.

Even though they were pub-rock veterans, both Lowe and Edmunds got thrown into that amorphous, late 70s category that meant everything and nothing - "new wave" - probably because Lowe produced the early Elvis Costello albums and Edmunds covered a Costello song (although so did Linda Ronstadt, and it didn't do much for her artistic integrity).

Lowe and Edmunds each released strong albums in both '78 and '79, and then "Seconds of Pleasure" came out in the fall of 1980.  It was about as far from a new wave album as one could possibly imagine - if anything, it sounded like a recording by a band that had been frozen in the Arctic for 25 years.  It's hard-rocking, and it's fun, and ultimately as lightweight and disposable as they come.  But I really liked it at the time, and still pull it out every now and then when I'm in the mood for some loud and fast fifties-influenced sounds.

Sacramento Horror Story

I have no idea whether David Stern's mother is still alive, but I have a feeling he spent at least part of his Mother's Day wondering what he ever did in his life to deserve the Maloof family.  I get that what Stern is doing in his efforts to keep the Kings in Sacramento is probably against most (if not all) of the precepts of business, but in my book he deserves credit for recognizing that franchise hopping destroys the soul of professional sports.  And yeah, maybe Sacramento didn't deserve its team either.  I don't remember shedding a lot of tears on behalf of Kansas City fans at the time the Kings moved out here. 

I have no idea what will happen in the next few days, and there's a small part of me that just wishes they'd leave and let Sacramento figure out some other way to redevelop the shameful stretch of K Street that would be transformed if a new arena was built downtown.  But damn it, if they do end up leaving, I hope every sports site and pundit across the country recognizes that what is happening here is wrong.  They won't write books about the Kings because we're not Brooklyn and have never had a group of players to match the boys of summer (but then again, no one ever has), but if we do lose the Kings it will be just as much an injustice as when the O'Malleys stabbed Brooklyn in the back and took their team to Chavez Ravine (not right away, but close enough).

And at least the O'Malley family knew how to run a business, turning the L.A. Dodgers into one of the most successful and lucrative franchises in the history of professional sports (strong enough to survive Frank McCourt, baseball's version of the Maloofs).  But the Maloofs?  Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but based on the evidence at hand I'd have to say that the Maloof boys (and they are boys, never having matured into men) have run every golden egg they've ever been handed straight into the ground.  I'm not sure if "evil" fits, because to call someone evil makes an assumption that the subject at hand at least has some sense of what he/she is doing.  These guys are like the worst frat guys you could possibly imagine.  Living on mommy and daddy's money, partying like it was going out of style, flaunting their wealth in the most distasteful ways one could imagine.

What did Sacramento do to deserve this?  Oh, we supported a horrible team for years, leading the league in consecutive sellouts during an era when approaching .500 was considered a successful season.  The entire world (well, maybe not L.A.) fell in love with the great Kings team of the early aughts, and then the Maloofs embarked on their little family project to see how just how successful an enterprise they could turn into garbage.  And now that they've gouged the town and the fans for everything they had, they can't resist taking one last jab at the city, because to accept the bid would mean that...hey, get this...they might actually have to go out and work for a living.  You know, like the rest of us do, except we're not paid millions and we're actually held accountable for our performance.

If the NBA Board of Governors or whatever highfalutin name the billionaires who run the league call themselves agree to ship the team off to Seattle, then it will be a dark day for professional sports.  Because the almighty dollar is what it's all about, I'm prepared for the worst.  But I can't help but think that there's an owner or two out there thinking to themselves right now, "I get what these guys are trying to do, but let's face it - they're just a bunch of dicks, and we don't owe them a damn thing."

Saturday, May 04, 2013

American Horror Story

Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" is a terrifying film made even more so by the fact that there are large swaths of the film where nothing much happens.  You watch high school students during the course of their day at and around school, the students being followed in long-tracking shots reminiscent of the legendary Big Wheel scenes in "The Shining."  You know what is coming, so you watch these scenes with an increasing sense of dread, wondering what lies behind every corner and every door.  But as they unfold, they seem entirely ordinary.

Which is exactly the point.  Van Sant isn't out to make some bold statement about what causes mass shootings and murder, although there are shots where bullying takes place, where violent video games are played, and where weapons of destruction are casually bought on the Internet.  What he's saying is that this could happen anywhere - or anytime.  And that's why the film is so terrifying.  There is no sense to what happens - no one is picked out for anything in particular that they did.  It's nothing more than a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time - in particular, the large rooms like the library and the cafeteria, where there is no place to hide.  The sense of disorientation is enhanced when Van Sant, on more than one occasion, rewinds the timeline of the narrative and shows us a different perspective of the same event.

None of the kids in the movie were professional actors, and they are entirely believable.  They go about their days, and they react to the horror that envelops them in entirely realistic ways.  For the most part, they freeze where they are, reacting a sense of panic and disbelief so strong that it traps them like cement.  Yet even those demonstrating a presence of mind are not safe.  It's entirely random.

"Elephant" is not a fun movie to watch by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a very effective one.