The King Tut Vintage Album and Cassette Museum of
(Selected Music Essays by Roy Peak)
The King Tut Vintage Album and Cassette
Museum of Jacksonville is a Facebook page dreamt up by Dave
Roberts. Featuring reflections on classic albums, cassettes,
8-tracks, concerts, and other formats of music, written by
Dave Roberts and several other writers. This is a selection
of a few of my essays which made it into the museum. Check
for more musical weirdness.
Delivery 1179, Saturday, February 4,
Not all that long ago I single-handedly saved the Earth from complete destruction. (Some of you may thank me, others may think I had been better to just let it be destroyed.) How did I come to accomplish this task? Alien beings from Dimension 8 had appeared to me and threatened to implode the entire planet unless I could quickly and satisfactorily answer one single question for them: What is rock ‘n’ roll? And they stressed to me that they didn’t want a long drawn out answer, they didn’t want “Rock ‘n’ roll is a type of music that blah blah blah…” you see, there was no time. Alien beings from Dimension 8 have little to no patience. What they said to me was: “We do not understand rock ‘n’ roll. Play us one song—ONE SONG ONLY—that will explain to us what rock ‘n’ roll truly is.” Oh, and they finished with their ultimatum: “Or we destroy the Earth! Choose! Choose now!” Luckily for the people of Earth I chose “Monkey Man” by the Rolling Stones. Now I could have chosen “Be Bop a Lula” by Gene Vincent, or Elvis Presley’s version of “Hound Dog” or Mott the Hoople’s “All the Way from Memphis,” or even “Violet” by the band Hole or scores of other songs from the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll that may have also done the trick, but this was the first song that popped into my head. Why did I choose this song, you ask? Well, just listen to that churning guitar rhythm by Keith Richards. That’s dirty. Filthy, even. That’s a thrusting sexual rhythm, no doubt. That’s rock ‘n’ roll. The slide work (also by Richards, through the miracle of overdubbing) swoops and dives, adding strengthened chaos to the vibraphone and piano (played with brilliant and studied rock enthusiasm by Bill Wyman and Nicky Hopkins.) Wyman also contributed the muscular and thorough bass on this track. Charlie Watts, known for his blues and jazz style drumming, uses all that knowledge and experience to his complete advantage and solidly thwacks and crashes his way through the song. Watts just doesn’t play a “beat,” as (Contrary to the hip hop samplers of the world, it’s not the beats that matter, it’s much, much more involved than that.) that's really NOT what a good drummer does, he plays “parts.” Underlying rhythms, crashing transitions, pounding rolls into and out of verses, clampdowns on choruses—this is what a drummer does that “beats” totally miss. Great drummers don't play “beats” all the way through a song, they play the song. Let me yell that: THEY PLAY THE SONG. And Watts most definitely plays the song. He plays it as rock ‘n’ roll, learned from the blues, stealing from R&B and jazz and gospel. Watts and the Stones bump and grind their way through the rock ‘n’ roll machinations of this tune. And let’s not forget Mick Jagger who doesn’t just sing this song, he lives and breathes it. He yelps and barks and screams. He articulates wordless emotion. The lyrics of this song sublimely expresses deep down and dirty desires, the wants and needs of decadence, using the corrupt language of the horny, the unwashed, and the wanting. Rock ‘n’ roll is the musical language of sex and Jagger succeeds mightily at expressing this in a way that few singers ever could. That piano interlude. Oh my god, we can't forgo that! Totally unexpected, from out of nowhere it lifts its mighty head and roars, taking over the song completely, transforming it for a few bars into a new creature, never before seen on this planet, and seldom since. Hopkins brings a bit of jazzy ragtime out of the depths of rock ‘n’ roll’s history and plays a most majestic and uplifting part on the ivories, bringing luxurious emotive depths to an already thick and heady song. (Because sex can be majestic and uplifting, as well as confusing and scary and fun and hilarious, all this works.) And when this gorgeous interlude is over, doing the only thing left to them, the Stones bring it to a swampy stomp, with Jagger moaning and yucking it up, beating Johnny Rotten years to the punch with vocal hiccups and argulisms that the likes of Barbara Streisand or even Frank Sinatra could never pull off. That's extremely rock ‘n’ roll. The song continues to bleat and moan for a while longer before it fades out—how could it ever end in a satisfying manner after all that? Like sex it fades to a whimper after the climax. The cuddling, the labored breathing, the continued intertwining. Pretty much everything and anything that is rock ‘n’ roll is summarily contained in that one song. The hedonism. The churning rhythm. The pounding drums. The delicate contraryisms. The mystery. The sex, sex, sex. The surprises. Darkness, and light. All there, undeniably, in one song. Is this the best song in all the pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll? I'm not saying that, there are are others, hordes more, I am assured of. BUT, when I played this song to the aliens, they all shook their heads and danced around while they listened, then thanked me for showing them the way to the blinding truth and the dark light that is rock ‘n’ roll and then they zapped back to Dimension 8. So there is that. The Earth was safe. For rock ‘n’ roll, because of rock ‘n’ roll. You can all thank me now.
Delivery 1140, Tuesday, December 27, 2016. (Note: today’s delivery is on loan to KTVAACMOJ from the private collection of Coadjutor Curator Roy Peak. Roy also wrote and photographed the exhibit.)
Hamell on Trial – Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs
Hamell on Trial first came to my attention years ago while doing internet searches for like-minded musicians. Musicians who play their songs on acoustic guitar, with a “punk” attitude, loud, a bit abrasive, fearless. Folk-punk. Anti-folk. The very first name I came across was Ed Hamell, AKA Hamell on Trial. Ed Hamell is a one-man acoustic punk band playing folk, rock, and even metal sounding music on his 1937 Gibson acoustic guitar, fast and loud, playing it at times more like a machine gun than a guitar, with intelligent and quite often caustic lyrics, not shying away from such topics as the stupidity of war, the foolishness of celebrities, and whatever his keen mind seizes on that might make a worthy song. In 2008 he recorded a song every single day, videotaped it, and posted the results to YouTube. His live shows are peppered throughout with jokes and profanity (Hamell cites comedians Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks as major influences) and his songs are full of biting yet poignant humor. Hamell never lets up on his subjects, he holds back no punches. His song “Coulter’s Snatch” is a seething diatribe on the political polemicist Ann Coulter. In “Values” he tries to make sense of the world political climate from his son’s eyes. When the President is doing wrong and getting away with things how can you chastise your kid for doing less? There’s also a comedy skit or two mixed between the songs just to hammer home Hamell’s left-leaning messages. (This album was recorded during George W’s second term, if that gives you any idea of what was going through Hamell’s mind at the time.) But it’s not all political hi-jinx, we also get a song about monogamy (“Jerkin’”) and the all too familiar problem of how to talk to your kids about all the stupid and sordid things you did as a youngster without giving it all away. “Dad, did you ever do drugs?” “No way!”
This album features a version of the kids nursery rhyme classic “Wheels on the Bus” co-sung by Hamell’s son, Detroit, with non-PC, yet hilarious, lyrics. (Check it out yourself, I won't ruin the surprises for you.)
Hamell is very much an in your face kinda guy, but he’s also down-to-earth, grounded in the reality of what do you do with yourself when you’re an aging rocker, still out playing, facing those demons everyday, unwilling to compromise your artistic vision, trying to make it in this new, scary world we all live in. Wars, filthy politics, drugs, crime, family, life, love, sex, divorce, the fear of getting old, are all frequent subject matters in Hamell’s songs. And as abrasive as he can get, he also has the heart of a softie. When one concert was cut short he played afterwards in the parking lot for his fans, letting them call out the songs they wanted to hear. He dotes on his son, paints pictures of celebrities in a folk art style, travels the country and the world playing his songs for anyone who’ll listen.
Most of the songs on this album are fleshed out with drums, bass, keys, etc. so to really get the full Hamell effect check out Ed’s Not Dead: Hamell Comes Alive or any of the many live videos on YouTube where it's just him and his battered but trustworthy guitar. And if he comes to your town DEFINITELY go to his gig. I have yet to see him in person (we’re friends on Facebook—he asked to be MY friend, what’s up with that? Who the hell am I?) but hope to catch his act if he ever gets close enough. (The last time he came close—if you call Orlando “close”—I had not one, but TWO gigs that same day. Damn my luck.)
Ed Hamell, Hamell on Trial, the world’s happiest man. Check him out.
Delivery 1157, Friday, January 13, 2017. (Note: today’s delivery is on loan to KTVAACMOJ from the private collection of Coadjutor Curator Roy Peak. Roy also wrote and photographed the exhibit.)
The Wrens – The Meadowlands
Wikipedia has this, in part, to say about the family of
birds known as wrens: “…wrens are small and rather
inconspicuous, except for their loud and often complex
songs.” That sort of describes the New Jersey band the Wrens
also. The Wrens, who seem to be plagued with eternal
struggles, released their first two albums and then hit a
creative snag when it came to finishing their third album,
The Meadowlands, recorded in the New Jersey house that some
of the band members shared, on 16-bit ADAT machines from
January 1999 to February 2003. (In the 1990s the Alesis ADAT
was instrumental in many bands deciding to record themselves
instead of spending money on a professional recording
studio. The technology was fairly inexpensive, reliable, and
sounded pretty damn good. You could set up the equipment in
a spare bedroom and record whenever you had a chance. Many
small home studios came to being with the advent of ADAT
technology.) Well, what was supposed to take a month creeped
into four years while the band dealt with marriages, an
unsupportive record company, and their full-time day jobs.
The inherent problem of being in an indie band in the
1990s—and nowadays, too—meant you probably had to have a day
job to supplement your musical art. So the Wrens mustered
on, recording when they had time, working on songs in fits
and starts, taking their time, hoping to get things right.
Often when you work this long on a project you lose focus,
it becomes rambling, you keep adding newer songs and
disposing of older ones to the detriment of the album as a
whole. Happily, the Wrens spent their time wisely, choosing
excellent songs and taking the time to record them with
utmost care and passion, never taking the easy way out, and
continuing to rock out as they did. They may scrape the
edges of shoe gaze, but they rock too hard to let it
contaminate their sound. The album begins with the soft
chirping of crickets, setting the scene for the meadowlands
they named the album after (with just the right hint of
traffic noise) while a soft and chunky electric guitar
rhythmically chimes. A false start or two and then bass and
drums fade in creating an atmosphere of impending patience.
Intentionally buried vocals pull you into the sound, the
song builds up, adding layers of guitars as the bass drives
the song and the vocal gets more strained before it all cuts
out and the second song begins. No, wait—this is the third
song. The Wrens have a habit of melding one song into the
next, which works well with their jangly pop melodramas,
making this one of those albums to be listened to in order,
in one sitting, all the way through. Of course, the mighty
Wrens weren't cognizant of the fact that two decades later
people's attention spans would shrink to the point of only
being able to listen to one song by a band, two at most.
What? You're not one of those? Awesome! So where were we? Oh
yeah, the song “Faster Gun” is modern psychedelic pop that
reminds me a bit of the Minus 5. “Thirteen Grand” morphs
forth and back between spacey piano pop and more janglyness.
Big Star must be one of their influences, I’m sure. The
Wrens mix rock steady drums with touches of lyrical piano,
well spaced synths and a few layers of driving guitars to
their introspective pop songs.
“I can't type, I can't temp
Delivery 574, Wednesday,
June 10, 2015. (Note: today’s delivery is on loan to
KTVAACMOJ from the private collection of Coadjutor
Curator Roy Peak, who also wrote and photographed the
Murder ballads have a long history in the folk realms of these United States, popular in bluegrass and folk and even modern pop, but no one has done an album quite like Bob Frank and John Murry's World Without End before. Ten true tales of unapologetic murder and mayhem, droning guitars, slurred vocals, and bleak no-nonsense lyrics. The stark story-telling of Springsteen's Nebraska with the no-holds sonic intensity of Suicide's Frankie Teardrop. Not for the faint of heart. Seriously. Jim Dickinson said of this album: "This recording is as timeless as death. It will haunt your dreams and follow you down the shadow-filled street just out of sight."
Take these few lines from the chorus of "Boss Weatherford, 1933":
"So lead me down boys
Or this snippet of a verse from the ghostly "Tupelo, Mississippi, 1936":
"Heard his neck snap like a dried up hickory stick
And those are just some of the ones that are safe to print at a family-friendly museum such as this. Lotsa blue language in these songs, you have been forewarned.
Bob Frank is the grizzled veteran here, a Memphis singer-songwriter who would usually perform barefoot and released his first album in 1972 to critical acclaim (Rolling Stone Magazine compared his songwriting to Warren Zevon's) but pissed off his record company and went nowhere fast. He wouldn't release another album until the following century in 2001.
John Murry--at the time, the new kid on the block--worked with Tim Mooney of American Music Club fame and Americana icon Chuck Prophet. Somehow he hooked up with Frank and the two of them decided to write a whole album of nothing but murder ballads. Not the creaky old ones from bluegrass or folk but entirely new ones--ten true tales of murder taken from the history books and newspaper headlines, ranging in time from the late 1700s with a tale of a poor girl killed and then bricked up in a wall ("Madeline, 1796"), to the more recent tale of a man who casually shoots his boss apparently for not much reason at all. ("Bubba Rose, 1961")
Frank fills his songs with hooks (he was a staff songwriter for Tree Publishing, formerly one of Nashville's most dominant forces on Music Row) while Murry fills his tunes with background drones and atmospheric sound effects, adding to the spookiness without making it hokey. Murry usually sings his songs in the killer's voice, sometimes repentant, most times just stating the facts because at times the facts alone are dark enough by themselves. In others he's the ghost of the victim, stating the story of their death in cold, bleak details. Not to be undone by his young whippersnapper partner, though, Frank comes up with some of the goriest lines and pulls no punches. These are songs of death and Old Testament style killings and the most evil and vile parts of the human race and they don't want you to forget that. Vivid, detailed, descriptions of dismemberment, lynching, and death by burning sit side by side with tales of racism, infidelity, and murder--sometimes for no reason at all besides meanness. Johnny Cash wrote "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die," here's a whole album of just that and more. Murry said that the full impact of what they had created didn't hit him while they were recording, it was only afterwards, listening to the final mixes when the full darkness of the material struck him. By then it was too late.
Now we could talk about the usefulness of these types of songs all day. Some people don't like darkness and death with their music, others revel in it. To each their own, for whatever reason. I can say from experience that creating dark, twisted, from the crypt type of material--be it songs, stories, poems, paintings, art of any type--that there is a definite cathartic effect at work. This is why blues music can be so powerful. You release those hell hounds out into the night and they are no longer on your trail.
Oh, and if you get through the first ten songs on this album, you'll hear a hidden track, "At the Battle of Shiloh", a true gem of a song recorded as a demo or perhaps a practice track. Sung from the point of view of a Civil War soldier at one of the bloodiest battles of the war--scared, alone, ready to pack it in. The last line is the kicker--after all he's been through, the violence, the senseless, endless deaths--he states plainly and sincerely: "When this war is over, if I'm still alive, if I throw this rifle down--don't be surprised," and you're there with him. A perfect ending to an album full of so much death and waste.
Delivery 582, Thursday, June 18, 2015. (Note: today’s delivery is on loan to KTVAACMOJ from the private collection of Coadjutor Curator Roy Peak, who also wrote and photographed the exhibit.)
NEKO CASE – FOX CONFESSOR
BRINGS THE FLOOD.
Neko Case first came to my attention around 1999 through the recommendation of a friend. She was described to me as "a redheaded punk rocker with a voice like no one else, doing updated twang and country-fied indie-rock". (Go ahead, you know you're thinking it: "AMERICANA") When I came across one of her CDs in a used music store (remember those?) I snapped it up and enjoyed it thoroughly. A great voice, she knew how to sing (the two aren't always inclusive, ya know), she wrote good tunes, picked good cover songs, and had interesting arrangements. I followed her through a few more albums and always liked what I heard. Then, she released Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I eagerly anticipated it, even driving way outta my way to go to the one store that had a copy around here. Well, after the first listen, I was disappointed. I didn't get it. (Boombox while tiling a floor.) The second time, I still didn't get it. (Snippets of the songs while running errands.) So for the third attempt (Third times a charm--right?) I waited until I was home by myself, put it on the stereo (An early 1970s Pioneer SX-680 with a pair of Norman speakers, in case anyone's interested) and sat on the couch and LISTENED. To the whole thing all the way through. Let me reiterate: The whole, entire thing. All. The. Way. Through.
This wasn't your usual album with one or two singles and a lot of filler, and it wasn't a concept album or rock opera, either, but it was one of those albums meant to be listened to in order, all the way through, while paying attention, no real story, and not really a theme, but somehow these songs hold together--reinforcing one another, even--much more than any modern album I had listened to since Lucinda Williams' World Without Tears (that one's a story for another day: hammock, eclipse of the moon) and it makes an excellent highway album, especially if you're going somewhere that's gonna take you close to an hour to get there with no stops. Which in Jacksonville can at times be "any part of town" to "almost any other part of town."
Neko has excellent musicianship on this album--her usual standbys such as Tom V. Ray on bass, and Kelly Hogan on delicate and necessary background vocals--and it doesn't hurt that she brings in a ringer on a few songs, namely Garth Hudson. Yes--THAT Garth Hudson--who played marvelous keyboard and saxophone tracks for the Band years before Ms. Case was even born and who adds plenty of tasteful flavors to this collection of songs. Listen closely to his shimmery keyboard coaxes on the first cut alone or, even better, the way he ends the second, and be mesmerized. Also mesmerizing is Case's playful and thoughtful use of the English language. It's thrilling for me when I hear someone who takes time with their lyrics, distilling them down to their purest parts. Her songs are smart, but not high brow poetry--insightful, yet full of just the right amounts of noir and mystery. From her vivid description of someone who's brain is snapping in "Dirty Knife" to the details she purposely leaves out of the story which draws the listener in on "Star Witness" to her plea to a poor winged creature in "Maybe Sparrow"--Case leaves no doubt that she's a true storyteller. The album closer, "The Needle Has Landed", mixes cut and paste word fragments with confessional lyrics in a way I've never heard done before. "Margaret Vs. Pauline" tells the story of two women who lived completely different lives--there's no resolution to their fates nor is there any mention that their paths ever cross, but neither is necessary since the simple facts of the story are Beautifully narrated and more than enough for Case to tell the story. "That Teenage Feeling" reveals some of the smartest and most thoughtful words anyone has ever said about romance and love.
This isn't standard alt-country songwriting like Lucinda Williams or Steve Earle, as good as they are. These are folk tales and fables and short noir-fiction and early morning dreams disguised as songscapes.
Now, there are no standout rock god guitar solos or showcase instrumentals on Fox Confessor--it's not that kind of album--but what you do get is tightly written lyrics, dream-like melodies and song-serving musicianship. Think Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, Dylan's Blood On the Tracks, or nearly anything by the Band. Case updates the sound while looking backwards. Hammered dulcimers, banjos, pedal steel, tenor guitars all give voice to abstract songs, glittering tune fragments, reverb drenched vocals, and even a variation of the folk standard "John Saw That Number." Case's voice holds reign over every song, at times rockin' at times old worldly at times other worldly. There's a dark lushness to the mixes, deep, thoughtful, resonant. All the songs flow together in a way that when I hear any of them apart from the album I notice the absence and miss their shared connectedness. Like dinner with family and your favorite aunt's not there.
Now, I haven't been as enamored with the follow up albums to Fox Confessor so far. Middle Cyclone has some good songs but the recording seems rushed and the final mix duller, as if they rolled off too much high end to cover the tape hiss, and Case's latest has too many songs that aren't as finalized--to my ears anyway, jaded though they are. An important rule of songwriting is that just because you wrote a song doesn't mean you should release it into the world. They won't all survive on their own, ya know. Maybe one in ten if you're lucky. And usually less than that.
Where Fox Confessor was timeless and adventurous, her latest are more of the times and Case seems a little too comfortable in her skin. There's a subtle difference between trusting your instincts and doing things your own way.
One more Neko Case story: I was working in my studio one night doing computer maintenance. I was listening to Fox Confessor on the speakers while I worked. In walked my five year old granddaughter, Haley. "That's cool music, grandpa," she said. "Can I listen in the headphones?" Sure, I said, sat her on a stool, gave her a set of headphones and dialed in some Neko for her. "Can I have a microphone and sing along?" she asked. I got her a Shure SM58, hooked it up through the mixer and sent a feed to her headphones. "Make my voice all echoey like hers!" she said so I dialed in some plate reverb, and then some delay when Haley wanted even more "echoes." After a few minutes she was singing along, making up her own words to the songs when she couldn't figure them out. "She sure does go la la la a lot in this song!" she said at one point. "Ooh! Frogs and snakes! She said frogs and snakes!" I was cracking up. "Can I play the drum, too?" How could I say no to that? I set a snare drum in front of her, gave her a set of sticks and let her bang along with the CD which, by now, was on it's second or third repeat. "Make the drum echoey, too!" she asked, so I put a mic on it and went back to work on the computer, my back to her as she drummed away. She really got into banging the drum harder and harder and when she said "Wow! The drum really sounds cool like that!" I turned around in time to see that she had dropped her drum sticks and was beating the snare (sixties era Slingerland for those interested) as hard she could, repeatedly, WITH THE SM58! BAM! BAM! BAM! Before I could run over and stop her, the top of the poor mic came apart, the capsule flying across the room, pieces of microphone everywhere, the snare fell over in its stand, she tore the headphones off--a horrible ScRaNg! ScRaNg!! ScRaNg!!! noise coming from them--and she fell off the stool. Haley was fine, the snare was fine, the SM58 was toast.
Delivery 620, Sunday, July 26, 2015. (Note: today’s delivery is on loan to KTVAACMOJ from the private collection of Coadjutor Curator Roy Peak, who also wrote and photographed the exhibit.)
BOB DYLAN – THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 4: LIVE 1966, THE
“ROYAL ALBERT HALL” CONCERT.
In the fall of 1966 musician folk-singer Bob Dylan had just recently toured Australia and was now touring Europe to sell out crowds. He was getting as much press as any pop group at the time. His concerts at the time were split into two parts--the first half was Dylan, solo with acoustic guitar and harmonica, playing a mix of old and new songs, then, after a short break, returning with a Fender Telecaster and playing a loud, rocking set of his songs with a fully electrified band consisting of drums, electric bass, electric guitar, piano, and electric organ.
Now what I find interesting about these shows is how the audience would pay rapt attention to his solo set but then turn rabid when the band started up. A very bizarre dichotomy, indeed. Why didn't they just leave? Why stick around to boo someone you were just applauding? And not just boo, but act outright mean towards. The crowd claps slowly between songs to throw off the musician's beat, they holler things at Dylan and the band. Name-calling, jeers, hateful slurs. And this is a British audience--aren't they the polite ones? Levon Helm disliked playing to these sorts of crowds so much that he refused to tour with Dylan this time around.
This double-album begun it's life as a much sought after bootleg, but only the electric set was released this way. The acoustic portion wouldn't see total light until decades after the fact. Mis-labeled on the original bootleg as having been recorded at the Royal Albert Hall--which was the last stop on the tour--this was actually recorded at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. This double-disc-album is one disc--Dylan solo acoustic; the second one--Dylan with The Hawks. (Another cool thing about this album is the production is top-notch. Very detailed notes about the concert, the ensuing tour, the bootleg that preceded this album, the recording process, and lots of pictures.) Personally, I love reading about this kind of stuff--it is history, after all, music history--Hell! Rock 'n' roll music history, dammit! The most important type of history there is!--and reading about it while listening to the music, imagining if you were there, makes it even that much better.
The disc that makes up the acoustic portion of the show isn't the protest song Dylan--more the introspective, inward-gazing Dylan, with a smattering of venomous, "yeah--I'm-talking-about-you" Dylan, and the always-interesting-way-with-words-and-phrasing Dylan that so many people parody or think they can copy but they hardly ever even come close. Don't try, people, you'll end up looking stupid, foolish, or both.
He eases into the acoustic set with "She Belongs To Me", an ironically titled song about former lovers, and by the time he gets to "Visions of Johanna" he's warmed up and ready. This is my personal favorite version of this classic Dylan song. The Blonde On Blonde cut of "Johanna" is awesome, with perfect, complementing bass, but this version is more intimate, as if Dylan's singing it to himself for the first time and as if his life depends on it. Listen to his diction on the verses, the counter melody in the guitar line and the haunting beauty of the harmonica. There are a few times on this album when Dylan's harp playing seems haphazard, as if he's just making noise--I have no problem with that, when you're the lone musician on the stage and you're trying to make up for the lack of a band, sometimes noise is your best option--but on this song the harp is subtle, supportive, simply beautiful. This is one of those times where I can put the CD player on repeat and listen to just that one song over and over and over again.
On this album you can really hear why Dylan was so important. Not just his songwriting--which was leaps and pounces beyond anyone else at the time--but also his delivery, which is always spot on. Say what you will about his voice, but Dylan is on-key and in total command of his voice at this time in his career. It's a tough thing to do, singing by yourself with just your guitar and harmonica to thousands of people through a sometimes shaky sound system but Dylan did it night after night, perfecting his phrasing and melodies, always making it look ridiculously easy when it's one of the toughest jobs out there if you're gonna do it right.
During the nearly twelve-minute long "Desolation Row" the entire audience is silently listening, enraptured with Dylan's voice as his seemingly unending rhymes unfold. Song after song he holds them in the palm of his hand. The first disc ends with "Mr. Tambourine Man"--made even more famous at the time by The Byrds. Dylan sings the verses that McGuinn left out, evoking the timelessness of the lyrics.
And then you switch discs. Dylan is back. With The Hawks. And with something different to prove. Right off the bat the crowd seems restless, a trifle louder than before. Dylan begins to strum his Telecaster and you're waiting for the band to kick in and the moment passes, Dylan lazily strumming away as if he has all the time in the world. The band is drawing you in on purpose, making you wait for it--and when the band finally pounces as one, slamming the audience back against the wall--all the mics begin to feed back like crazy! I swear I can hear Dylan and his band smiling at that moment. This song, "Tell Me Mama", is a scorching blues stomper and the band uses it to kick off the second set with a boom, not a bang. The band and Dylan are fearless as they blast through this and the other songs. Renegade troubadour bards of mischief. Knife-sharp lyricism coupled with razor-wire-tight rhythms and genius musical accompaniment in the grand old rock 'n' roll style.
A funny moment during the electric set is when Dylan introduces one song as "It used to go like that, now it goes like this," letting everyone know that he's well aware of what the audience thinks, but doesn't really care. He's the boss and he's doing things his own way no matter if he loses his audience or not. And he's having a blast doing it as when he mumbles incoherently until the crowd quiets down, trying to hear what he's saying, and when they do he hits them with the punchline: "...if only you wouldn't clap so hard," and the audience laughs at the joke.
Also interesting is Dylan's rendition of the folk song "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down." I get the feeling that what he's really saying--at least on these live shows with the Hawks--is "Hey, you should all follow ME," as in: "Pay attention to what I'm doing here, people. This is the future of music and you just might be missing out!" Okay, now this is easy for a guy like me to say nearly fifty years after the fact, but look around, the music Dylan was making then is everywhere now.
But the best, the most thrilling moment, the one that really makes this album a classic when it was a bootleg, and even a more important musical document now, is--not the infamous moment when someone from the audience calls Dylan a Judas, and not even when he retaliates by saying into the microphone "You're a liar. I don't believe you!"--the moment here that really matters is when Dylan turns to the band and instructs them to "Play f***ing loud!" and they do, delivering quite possibly the meanest, rawest, most rock 'n' roll version of one of Dylan's most venomous songs ever. Never had "Like A Rolling Stone" sounded as fierce--which is a difficult thing to accomplish since the studio version of the song is fairly acidic and hold no punches--a rarity in the world of hit singles. Garth Hudson's keyboard (remember, he used a Lowrey, when everyone else used a Hammond) screams through the wall of noise that Dylan and Robbie Robertson's guitars create. Richard Manuel's descending piano lines are like glass about to break. Rick Danko hits the strings so hard on his bass you can hear them snapping against the neck. Mickey Jones hits the snare drum hard enough to echo Max Weinberg who wouldn't do the same thing until Springsteen's "Born In the USA" more than a decade later. This version crosses time and space. Dylan wasn't referring to his electric music as "rock music" or "rock 'n' roll" but as "vision music" and "mathematical music" which decidedly fits. But in my book it's the rock 'n' roll which all others have to live up to.
Delivery 785, Thursday, January 7, 2016. (Note: today’s delivery is on loan to KTVAACMOJ from the private collection of Coadjutor Curators Roy Peak who also wrote the exhibit and Craig Spirko who provided the photograph.)
LOU REED and JOHN CALE – SONGS Lou Reed and John Cale --
Songs for Drella.
I like a lot of music by lots of bands from many differing genres, but there's only a small select handful of albums that I would put in my "ABSOLUTE FAVORITE" list. The Desert Island List. The albums I can't live without. This album is one of those.
Lou Reed and John Cale first worked together in the influential and ground-breaking band the Velvet Underground which received much support from the artist Andy Warhol, who was a mentor to both men, so there was little surprise that the two former band members would team up decades after they swore to never talk to one another again to pay tribute to the man they called "Drella"--a nickname given to Warhol by the actor Ondine, which was a mash-up of Dracula and Cinderella, which fits what I know of Warhol to a T--and write, perform, and record a musical memoir of his life and what he meant to them and so many other people. (Whew. That was one long and winding sentence. Sorry, folks.)
They played a few live performances of these songs together before recording them in a stark format: electric guitar, piano, organ, viola, voice-- allowing the words to hold reign. Many of these songs are sung from Warhol's point of view, giving voice to his thoughts and opinions on art, business, friendship, his early family life, his dealings with fame, his obsession with celebrity-hood, even his death.
It's difficult to pick a favorite out of these songs, they're all so good. And so damn smart. "Images" with its repeating musical phrases and intense guitar bring to life Warhol's genius and obsessive nature as well as his unmatched eye for newness. "The Trouble With Classicists" is a primer from Warhol's viewpoint on differing art forms and types of artists themselves: "The trouble with a classicist, he looks at a tree, that's all he sees, he paints a tree." The song "Small Town" tells you where Warhol came from, where he's going, how badly he wants it. "Starlight" explores Warhol's obsession with celebrities and his quest for fame and validation. "I Believe" is a retelling of when Warhol was shot by Valerie Solanis with Reed not holding his feelings back a bit: "I believe I would have pulled the switch on her myself."
But the big kicker here, the one song to rule them all on this album, is "A Dream," which is an ambient and dark and hazy spoken word piece narrated by Cale. Beautiful, haunting, and mesmerizing. Even though it clocks in at six-and-a-half minutes--more than twice the length of the majority of the other songs here--you can't turn it off as it sucks you into its seemingly innocent story about Warhol vividly describing a dream he had and you only discover the horrible truth of what has really happened when Warhol himself does and by then it's far too late to escape. Cale sets it up perfectly with a catch in his voice that is far too real to be simple acting.
This is one of those albums where EVERY song is essential to the whole. You can still listen to an individual song, but to get the whole story, listen to them in order. I can't imagine a film bio of Warhol being as good as this is. I like that they didn't shy away from the rockin' songs even though there aren't any drums or bass anywhere on these tunes. Cale's rollicking piano and Reed's distorted throbs of rhythm guitars pulse throughout making a joyous noise. To say that there is magic here wouldn't lessen Cale and Reed's accomplishments at all. Creating magic through music is a serious accomplishment indeed.
I was a casual Warhol fan before this album but this album made me dig deeper into his life and art. He was troubled, (aren't all great artists?) extremely intelligent, vain, obsessed with celebrities and getting attention for himself, and was so ahead of his time that most of the rest of us are simply spinning our wheels in vain trying to catch up.
This is a fine album and memorial for Warhol, it does him justice and it's undeniably fine art. Most rock 'n' roll--by its very nature as a disposable and intentionally low brow art form--doesn't need to be in a museum, heck SHOULDN'T be in a museum--throw it away 'cuz there's something new right around the corner--but this one, SONGS FOR DRELLA, most definitely deserves to be.