Thursday, January 26, 2012

Your Guilty Pleasure: Maybe Just By Holding Still It'll Be There

What happened to Joan Osborne? I know you are already pissed at me because now you have that song in your head at the mere mention of her name, but let me tell you that one of the real shames of 199-whatever was that that song catapulted her into everyone's consciousness, where she was widely hated for it. It was an earworm that ultimately only open-minded high school church youth groups and office workers who lived for Lite FM ease-you-through-your-workday radio could love.

That song unmercifully branded her as a one-hit wonder when I'd posit that Joan is actually an unusually talented musician. She's got Sheryl Crow's prowess and mid-America charm, but none of the Nashville/LA gloss and high-profile romantic partners (but don't get me wrong, I still to this day love this, and I will sing it in the car every time I am ever on Santa Monica Boulevard, and it is one of my go-to karaoke songs). But I'd go head-to-head with anyone who claims that Jewel's cheesy, free-spirit persona and whine or Alanis' carefully groomed nutjob ex, free-spirit persona and whine supercedes this woman's extravagantly lush blues growl.

On the other hand, while it imprisoned her, that song has also given Joan Osborne freedom that most artists dream of from their mattresses on the floor and day jobs and rusting Honda Civics.

Plus, she is from Kentucky. 

That song--Joan Osborne didn't even write it, and it was allegedly filler on her first album, which I can't say that I've heard. Well, maybe I have, but god only knows where or when, or if it was under duress or during a lift home. Look, the point is that this song, which is on that album, and which I probably first heard someplace like XRT, which was my FM ease-me-through-my-workday radio when I first landed here, this song is what that song isn't. Caffeinated blues-funk-old-upright-pianer fun--and that voice. Oh, that voice. I for one, forget every warble and strum of that other song when I hear this.

You know what, I used to wear my Beastie Boys "Aloha Mr Han"/Chevy Van ringer tee (purchased en concert, so fuck off) just like Joan wears whatever ringer tee-shirt she's wearing, over a skirt just a tad too nice for it, for, you know, some declasse contrast, and I'd feel all right, in it, because a. I looked cute in it, and b. the B Boys were my thing for a solid several years, and---oh god I am still so fucking angry that I let ***** borrow that shirt, that shirt which by that time I had moved through three apartments and into a new city--seven years!--and then we broke up through sudden and (then) chronic lack of communication (except the one time he finally returned my front gate key to me so that I wouldn't have to enter through the alley only, and that transaction only happened because I called him several times, ultimately leaving a message that said, "bring me my key because THERE IS A RAPIST IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD," which there was), and I every time I think about how I didn't think to ask for the return of both the key and that shirt my eyes practically bleed because musical group commemorative clothing only really means something to me when I've purchased it near or on the premises of the experience being commemorated.

Oh, it's available in the great big vintage store in the intertubes, but like hell I'm going to buy it when it's been carefully "curated" aside a sixty-fucking-five-dollar "Hip to Be Square" t-shirt and sterling fucking silver Kokopelli earrings .

...I'm not angry at or about him any more, or the unsolicited Kokopelli jewelry I've received in the 90s.

Or, really, the shirt.

Because, alright, these small oh-that's-RIGHTs are going to crop up, even years later, but what is key now, what persists now, more strongly than Joan's on-trend for 94 outfit, is how this song is an ode to, well, hooking up, but also to not to looking for, but knowing that there'll be the now-faceless person who'll follow you up your stairs one late night (or, rather, from whom you will borrow a toothbrush after squishing your underwear into your handbag). Whom you'll like so much you'll loan him your favorite, seven year-old t-shirt. When Like is in the air but not yet because they (and you) are just not quite there yet, even if you are standing next to a reasonable facsimile who reminds you that, even if he can't fix it, you can find someone who can.

It's the same jumbled-inside feeling that something's coming. 

I pretty much always think of Tony singing under the clotheslines when this Joan Osborne song crops up. I think about how laughter about something that hasn't happened yet bubbles in your throat, how you walk differently in the street when there are some definite maybes on your mind or social calendar, and how knowing, knowing like this can be either sly or pure, and how it feels to stop looking back at stained mind  pictures but ahead, toward dim images, from which something will emerge. 

Who knows?

Must Play Loud: I May Not Know Where I'm Going, Babe

This song cuts into my gut--even when I'm standing in a shabby office building hallway sheathed in migraine-inducing fluorescent lights. The harsh bulbs jailed by a metal grill, but they pulsed with something else while I stood there and listened to this instead of the mechanized wail of the heating system.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Today's Shuffle: Til You Thank Them for the Tea and Sympathy

Every Friday for about a half a year straight I used to play this album off the big ol' pc at my desk.

What up 2001?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

And Sudden Silence, Shhhhh

I am playing this because it is my favorite Duran b-side and yesbygod I still have this tattered 45. And, hey, look--it's also what appears to be a goth/punk vintage store in Austin.

2:48 of delicate, rhythmic synthesizer bliss. Possibly, I could tell you more but this is blacked out today.

All the talk seems to verge on hyperbole, but still, I wouldn't want a world without free knowledge.  If this happens, then I may no longer be able to bring you stuff that you want to feel good about feeling bad about feeling good about, like this:

Monday, January 16, 2012

That's All That Matters

It took me basically a year after Gerry was raised, sadly, into everyone's consciousness, to take a closer listen. Purportedly a victim of alcoholism (he died of liver disease), Gerry made delicate, graceful pop that seems to layer a sheen of hopefulness over despair. That's palpably clear with this track from his blockbuster, "Baker Street"-spawning City to City, an album which, according to a contemporary article, was born of long London-to-home in Scotland commutes and a transition from a certain destination -- success for his once-successful, now not, band -- to who-knows-what.

It's exquisite, even despite the braying commercial included by his corporate overlords (this was the best alternative to homemade videos of dissolving photos of sunsets and country lanes, trust me).

Actually, until just now I didn't realize until today he was in Steelers Wheel. At least Tarantino will keep that part of Rafferty's legacy alive, albeit gruesomely, forever.

(You're welcome for The Simpsons in deutsch. That's just how this round of copyright evasion played out, I guess.)

Today's Shuffle: One Day I'm Going to Grow Wings

Saturday, January 14, 2012

You Laid It Down for All To See

For my cat, who just draped herself all over the seat cushions I just--just--vacuumed.

Not that she gives a shit.

Besides, PaulWellerBeatlescoveryum.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Must Play Loud: The Way We Stand

Every bit of this is awesome, from the Electric Company logo-ripoff held too long in the frame (step away from the line you're doing in the booth, producer) to the accelerated live performance of this usually laconic track, to the furry animal tails and legs (LEGS) hanging off of one Brother Johnson's leather nudie suit. And Lightnin' Licks (yep, that's Brother George's name) is getting those buzzsaw grooves out of Gibson Les Paul, my favorite. It's just so pretty. And it would look good on me.

The other brother's name? Louis--or Thunder Thumbs.

And don't tell me the mid-70s weren't flush; Burt Sugarman clearly had enough money to emblazon the name of the groups that performed on his show in a garish, prodigious neon sign, no matter if the groove was really, really white, or super-white, or ironically white. To wit:




Well, that last one's neon sign seems a little cheaper, chiseled out of a big LED screen...but still.

It's Friday, at last.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Today's Shuffle II: We, the Synthesis of Then and Now

See, this played when I was walking through the snow, still resting, opaque and fragile, on all the branches.

And it's entirely sampled from Kool & the Gang's "Summer Madness," which has got to be in my soon-to-be-playable vinyl collection.

Go ahead. Listen to all nine minutes. It's January 12, and you're welcome.


Today's Shuffle: Wondering of that which is now that which has been and that which is to be

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I'll Still Believe in Love

I appreciate the story of The Human League because it's one of those in which some guys pick up an instrument (in this case, a Korg synthesizer--which might be heavy, har) during a time when you could pick up an instrument you had no idea how to play (in this case, the late 70s), in a place where kids inspired to be creative but with no discernable talent or skill could within a year create a cheap demo, get signed by a small label, play prominent city clubs and support better-known bands (in this case, Sheffield, England and Siouxsie and the Banshees, respectively). And then be called "the future of pop music" by no less than Bowie.

I also appreciate that someone designed a Wikipedia-busting website detailing all this eyelined trivial goodness, because at the outset of this post I thought I was going to be writing about my favorite THL single, or at least the one that I kinda liked hearing on the radio despite the fact that it sounds like a too-produced New Wave vocals over a pedestrian, mid-80s Whitney Houston hit. No, this story is better than a bunch of photogenic Brits paving the way for Boy George and Wham!

The particular instrument picked up by the proto-THL was picked up because of its ease of play. These guys just wanted to make music and didn't want to shred their fingers on guitars or build biceps behind a kit. A proper vocalist was eventually added, one who became, ironically, the only consistent member of The Human League.

They, in fact, trumpeted their inexperience, proclaiming in a press release that the band preferred "to regard compositions as an extension of logic, inspiration and luck. Therefore, unlike conventional musicians, their influences are not so obvious." 

The Human League created a real persona, an almost theatrical presence. This was about more than lipstick and haircuts. I mean, in early photos, one of them looks like he wandered over from a 10cc photo shoot.

A few equipment upgrades and determination not to sound like Kraftwork pushed them ahead. Nevertheless, due to logistics (lots of synthesizers) and embarrassment (behind-the-bleeps-and-bloops shyness), they did not want to play their music live. When they were finally persuaded to do so, the band would place a tape recorder, loaded with the backing beat and rhythm, center stage--right where the drums would be. In 1978, this went over like an empty case of beer at a punk show in 1978. Still, they did it, even adding the voice of a "presenter" to introduce each of the pre-recorded tracks. Ever since my own most recent show, I'm all about calling out the awkwardness in what you worry are going to be awkward transitions or stage circumstances. I wish I could have been there.

Around the time of the Bowie compliments, the group also shared a bill with a very, very proto-Def Leppard. Let me say that again: The Human League and Def Leppard.

So, it sounds like your basic Nirvana story, just without dirty jeans, when actually it's more like a Uncle Tupelo tale. See, creative friction--not the good kind--grew between he two men who evolved into the core of the band, Martyn Ware and Philip Oakey. The band was already glum that they were still toiling in obscurity while Gary Numan stole their sound and thunder by releasing the really electronic "Are Friends Electric" as a follow-up to his apparently punkier stuff. I'm not surprised that Gary and Tubeway Army surpassed The Human League 1.0. Tubeway just sounds less straight out of the box, so to speak, perhaps because Gary apparently ran all of the synthesizers through guitar amps. THL's only significant hit--not even a Top 40 one--before "Don't You Want Me," "Only After Dark" clearly lacks the warmth of "live" instruments and subtle lyrics of "Electric:"

And things that I just don't understand
Like a white lie that night
Or a slight touch at times
I don't think it meant anything to you

The Human League split into two bands: Martyn and Ian Craig Marsh took off to form Heaven 17; Philip remained as The Human League. Famously, Philip promptly had to go recruit new members for a tour. In a move straight out of a meet-cute Hollywood comedy, Philip picked two teenage girls off a dancefloor in a Sheffield club because they looked cool and with-it enough to stand on a stage in a band. No, she was not working as a waitress in a cocktail bar.

Perhaps it's not so Tupelo, since one artist retained the band name, but still. Could you do as my dear friend Mikey suggested years ago with Son Volt and Wilco, load a Human League and a Heaven 17 cd into the hopper and hit random (this was the 90s)?

Not really.

Heaven 17 is, like, really super-serious and dark but not even in the effortless and real way that Gary Numan was. It's all a little much:

Once there was a day
We were together all the way
An endless path unbroken
But now there is a time
A torture less sublime
Our souls are locked and frozen 

So, it turned out that the couple-three guys that started out noodling on synthesizers in an old factory building never got to reap the benefits of those bleeps. Something tells me that without those girls, and without the simple you-done-me-wrong, no-you-done-me-wrong duets that followed, The Human League wouldn't have become so, um, human, and, I daresay, put out electronic pop that, uncharacteristically for the grim, gray, kohl-eyed British early 80s, was hopeful:

I believe, I believe what the old man said
Though I know that there’s no lord above
I believe in me, I believe in you
And you know I believe in love
I believe in truth though I lie a lot
I feel the pain from the push and shove
No matter what you put me through
I’ll still believe in love
And I say

And you tell me: when have you heard anyone sing a Heaven 17 song during at karaoke night?

Today's Shuffle: Hold Feel Save Me

I feel wholly and exactly back there when I hear this.