Monday, July 23, 2007

New Bullz-Eye review: Their Satanic Majesties Request

Since that Slayer interview got published over at Bullz-Eye last month (are you sick of the regular Slayer mentions in this blog yet? It's not over -- I have uncovered my 'lost' 1998 interview!), I've officially become a "regular contributor" to the site. Hooray! It's a great entertainment site targeting manly men, i.e. the types who read old-fashioned paper magazines like FHM and Blender... the type depicted by Charlie Sheen in "Two And A Half Men"... the type epitomized by Howard Stern. The types who frequent Hooters for those great hot wings... you get the picture. About 5 million unique monthly visitors get the picture too.

Anyway, hop on over to Bullz Eye to check out the Summer Of Love feature that just went live today. In particular, pay attention to the three-star review of The Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, penned by you know who, among the 14 "essential" rock albums of 1967 spotlighted in this very cool feature.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Slayer" cited on Wikipedia

Every once in a while it's fun to google your name and see what comes up. Yesterday I did just that for the first time in months, and found this little surprise:

A Wikipedia noticeboard on "reliable sources" was re-posted on a site called Thinking Australia. The first issue of debate on the noticeboard is whether citing my reference to the backwards "join us" chanting in Slayer's "Hell Awaits," as written in my "Idiot's Guide" on, in Wikipedia's Backmasking article was appropriate under Wikipedia's guidelines. The debate was whether a weblog is a "reliable source," no matter how "well-written and credible" the weblog is.

In the end, the citation stuck, as a footnote (number 39) in the backmasking article with two other sources to back it up.

And that was my giddy simple pleasure on a sunny Saturday. Giddy! My inner geek is coming out...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Beautiful Wreck

When you're sitting alone in an airport, having shown up extra early to get the mandatory (in)security strip search over with, waiting to board that big bus with wings, you have a lot of time to think. Or read. Or listen to your preferred portable music device.

In my case, the last occasion in which I had the honor of experiencing air travel in the 21st century, I did some of each. Now, if I was smart, I would have bought myself a laptop computer so I could chronicle my thoughts as they arrive (much earlier than the plane I'm waiting for), then I wouldn't have to force myself to extract something from my brain that I stuck way on its back shelves weeks ago. You know what happens to thoughts when you do that? Same thing as the food you forget about in your refrigerator -- they ROT. Or they ferment and take on a richer flavor, if you prefer the vintage wine perspective.

Actually, it's probably safer to go with the fermentation explanation here. Because, you see, I don't like to air my thoughts before they're ready. It's not always easy to know when "ready" is, and many times you just have to take comfort in the idea of a late expression being far superior to no expression at all.

Which brings me to the reason I'm writing tonight. Marvin Gaye. I had just acquired the "Expanded Love Man Edition" (more on what this means later) of Marvin's 1981 album In Our Lifetime, the record that turned out to be his last for Motown, and it was getting some serious play on the old (2 years old this month and still going strong!) iRiver. Now, this is a serious record with a very interesting story, even without the extra 90+ minutes of music. And it was cause for some serious thinking while sitting in the airport.

See, Marvin's method of creative madness was much, much different from mine. Whereas I tend to work things out in my head and try to spit out my words and thoughts fully formed so that there are as few mistakes as possible to go back and correct, Marvin took an equally inefficient route. He would, rather than write words out long-hand (or even short-hand) and be ready to sing something, he would waltz into the studio with nothing, and just improvise over and over until he came up with something he liked. With the kind of money he was making in the '70s, he could well afford the extra studio time to make this happen. Except by the time he got around to making what became In Our Lifetime, he had unfortunately tried the patience of Motown a bit too much.

Marvin started the album in early 1979, and had intended on calling it Love Man. It was to be a return to commercial, get-down-and-get-it-on music following the fascinating but commercially disastrous Here My Dear, which chronicled the breakdown of his first marriage. In spite of his intentions, the first song Marvin finished and released as a single was a philosophical, self-deprecating, and not-very-popular song titled "Ego Tripping Out." He started off the song with a pseudo rap boasting of what we'd refer to now as his "bling" (are we still calling it that? or am I five years behind the curve here?) and his sexual prowess (an irony in light of biographer David Ritz's revelation that Marvin suffered from, uh, "performance issues"). From there, Marvin goes on to take down the pimpin' party state of mind, declaring that "the toot and the smoke won't fulfill the need." Of course he couldn't heed his own advice, but he at least had the decency to warn the rest of us.

Even though "Ego Tripping Out" stiffed (no pun intended) as a single, Marvin nevertheless felt that the Love Man album he started and never completed was "jive" and sought to re-write the lyrics of all the songs to reflect his more philosophical state of mind. Good thing he kept the music mostly unchanged, because those Frank Blair bass lines are all priceless. They jump out of the floorboards and dance alongside you, whether you decide to shake your booty or not.

So, with a perfect set of funky, danceable, irresistible grooves -- perhaps the finest tracks in Marvin's entire catalog -- the master went about converting his Love Man album into the daddy of 1999. Marvin, who was once known as the prince of Motown, was a bit peeved that another R&B superstar was in the making in '79, simply called Prince. "I'm the prince!" is what Marvin thought, and he also recorded "In Our Lifetime" before Prince recorded his big hit with the same theme -- that the nuclear holocaust is probably going to wipe us out "in our lifetime," so let's get down and get funky while we still have the chance. Problem was, Marvin's song, while funkier than a motherfucker, was a) lacking a memorable hook, b) too long, and c) didn't even aspire to be a hit. He had earned the right to eschew blatant hitmaking in favor of high-minded funk, but that choice came with a price. Prince and Rick James stole his thunder (Prince even mined Marvin's oft-used sex vs. sanctity theme to great effect in later years), and In Our Lifetime would lose that battle whether it came out the way Marvin wanted it or not.

And it didn't come out the way he wanted, because Motown grew impatient after waiting two years for him to deliver a final record (two years! How long has Axl Rose been keeping the new Guns N' Roses album under wraps? Ten?), the tapes were secretly taken from Marvin and released without his final approval. In the process, an unfinished piece found its way into the marketplace not only as an album track, but as a b-side to the "Heavy Love Affair" 45. "Far Cry" gave us a view of Marvin's improv composition method -- many of the lyrics were mumbled and almost unintelligible, and sung without much confidence. It's the one song on that album that makes little sense, and this pissed Marvin off so much that he left Motown for CBS (which we now know as Sony-BMG).

Now, we get to hear not only "Far Cry," but all those Love Man outtakes where Marvin sings all those "jive" lyrics he tossed aside. Go backwards from "Heavy Love Affair" to "Life's a Game of Give and Take." Devolve from "In Our Lifetime" to "I Offer You Nothing But Love." Fall from the heights of the morality tale that is "Love Me Now Or Leave Me Later" to a half-hearted come-on, "Just Because You're So Pretty." The A-B comparison between the In Our Lifetime and Love Man versions is striking, and certainly makes a good case for Marvin's decision to re-write the record (dig the off-kilter scatting in "Just Because You're So Pretty" if you dare).

So in effect, we now have two full discs of sessions that never were deemed "ready" by the artist. And in his case, the plane took off while he was still preparing to board. Someone at Motown had the good sense to realize that it was going to crash anyway, so why delay the inevitable? In Our Lifetime is still a beautiful wreck. And if you don't agree, you can at least agree that saving Marvin from what could have easily become his SMiLE was probably a big favor for him -- one that drove him to a new label and, ultimately, "Sexual Healing."

Monday, July 9, 2007

More ways to commemorate the Summer of Love

The first thing I tend to think about when the phrase "Summer of Love" is uttered is music. Swirling, psychedelic, jammed out, fuzzed out, hippie-fied music. Then comes the tie-dye, the funny dancing, nudity, San Francisco... there will be plenty of TV specials, print and online columns (such as the San Francisco Chronicle series that ran in late May), and outdoor music festivals commemorating the 40th anniversary of the year that launched the youth of America into a downward spiral of risky sex, rampant drug abuse, bone-headed politics... um, I mean a spiritual awakening that gifted Western culture with an enlightened approach to the way we treat our environment and our souls.

So, one of the ways I will be commemorating the Summer of Love (along with attending the free Summer of Love 40th Anniversary concert in Golden Gate Park) is... (drum roll, please):

I will begin practicing yoga.

Actually, the truth is I've been feeling like my brain needs a different sort of workout than what it's currently getting, and I have a girlfriend who is a big proponent of the benefits of yoga. I was ready to do it, the right person convinced me, and what do you know, it also coincides with the 40th anniversary of the beginning of America's fascination with the spiritual exports of India.

The fascination really took hold when the Beatles made their famous trip to Rishikesh in early 1968 to study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Beach Boys' Mike Love was one of the other big rock stars on this trip, and he turned out to be one of the longest-lasting, most vocal practitioners of the Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation.

I remember reading many years ago about a marathon levitation session, or some other such activity that may have involved fasting and very little sleep, that Mike Love embarked upon back in 1988. He made this speech at the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony afterwards, preaching about love and harmony at the beginning and end. Something went kinda wrong in the middle though:

Dig Elton John at the end! He obviously knows how to levitate.

Mike Love still practices TM to this day, and still preaches the virtues of love. Or rather, he'd like us all to unleash the love.

I recommend that whatever you choose to unleash, please do so in the privacy of your own home. In the meantime, I'll content myself with some beginners Ashtanga yoga.


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

13 excuses for the 13 day lapse

There's been a lapse here! I'd apologize but I have this gut feeling that tells me it really isn't necessary, unless I feel like being sorry for myself. Which I don't. It's the blog itself that could use some Metamucil right about now. But anyway...

Since I do feel compelled to get the literary lead out, or at least spew some text that's more indulgent than useful (useful? what's that?), let's have some fun here. Thirteen days of lapse? Let the excuses begin:

13. My band workshop was winding up, and finally wrapped with a performance last Thursday at the Red Devil Lounge. A more detailed run-down than I have the patience or time to write out at the moment can be found at my good friend and co-worker Julie's blog. Julie was also the keyboardist and one of three singers in the group, the other two being guitarist Djuna and myself. I sang lead on the Modest Mouse tune "The View" while also playing rhythm guitar parts and leads. I had never done anything like that before, so it really did make me a bit nervous. But I got through it. All those nights of practice, and the performance itself, hogged precious blogging time.

12. My grandmother died. Last Saturday, my mother called to tell me that my 85 year old Italian "Nonnie" was back in the hospital, this time with pneumonia. That night she was gone. It brought to an end five weeks of back and forth with hospitals and nursing homes since she fell and broke her hip. So Monday morning I flew out to Rhode Island, arrived that evening. The wake was Tuesday afternoon, the funeral was Wednesday morning, and by Thursday night I had arrived back in San Francisco with just enough time to eat, change, and get over to my performance. Precious blogging time hogged yet again.

11. I actually did plan on writing about four recent CDs I picked up. There was that Amy Winehouse disc, Back to Black, which just blew my mind. She sounds like she was plucked right out the '60s girl group scene, but she surely would have been banned for singing songs about not wanting to go to rehab and asking such bold questions as "what kind of fuckery is this?" And then Queens of the Stone Age's Era Vulgaris has been spinning quite a bit, along with the new McCartney album, Memory Almost Full. Not in the mood for a full review just yet, but I will say this about the latter: I feel it just might be one of Paul's all-time best albums, right up there with Ram, Band On The Run, McCartney II and Tug Of War. Call me crazy if you must. The one that is fascinating me the most right now is the recent double disc reissue of Marvin Gaye's In Our Lifetime. That one I must write about soon. But not now. Too many discs all at once, too little time!

10. Work is stressing me out. I get home and I don't want to think too hard. Writing does take some thought, you know. Right?

9. My other site, The Front Parlour, needed an update. And if you check it out, you'll see that I had another review published in the June issue of Performer Magazine. Which I didn't bother to notice until... the end of June.

8. I spend too much time reading other people's blogs. Actually, mostly I spend too much time reading the most excellent jefitoblog. Check out the new Friday feature called Chartburn, where jefito and a team of others skewer rock hits of the past with the help of some youtube videos and lots of wit to spare. I swear you'll become addicted. It's a music geek's heroin.

7. I stumbled onto Lost-In-Tyme, another most awesome music blog, and suddebly found myself indulging in super rare slices (nay, loaves!) of R&B. Somebody stop me!

6. I started reading a collection of Lester Bangs writings called Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, edited by the esteemed Greil Marcus, and realized just how shitty a writer I am. Lester Bangs was one bad motherfucker. I, on the other hand, am a clean-cut hack. Lester Bangs was the Jimi Hendrix of rock criticism. He elevated it to a literary art form. He makes me want to quit, just like how listening to John McLaughlin makes me want to put my guitar away for good. Read it and you'll understand what I'm talking about. On second thought, don't. I'm not ready to quit just yet. I think.

5. I actually took the time to read through all of If I Did It, the O.J. "confession" referenced in my previous post. What can I say? I was curious. And I can confirm for you that it's every bit as crass, arrogant and "confessional" as you already figured it would be. According to a recent AP story, the Goldman Family now owns the rights to the book and expressed a desire to release it under a new title: "Confessions Of A Double Murderer." Hoo boy!

4. Oh, guess what? There's no 1-4 because: the phone just rang, and... I GOTTA GO!

Consider this the SMiLE of my blog-posts -- unfinished, ahead of its time and too late all at once.