When Morrissey Ruined Bill Cosby’s Tonight Show

When Morrissey Ruined Bill Cosby’s Appearance On the Tonight Show

A great read on many levels, and definitely so if you are a Morrissey fan.  Just reading about Cosby, Johnny Carson, and Ed McMahon bewildered by an audience they weren’t expecting has its own charms.

However, another part of the article deals with Morrissey’s highly successful tour during almost complete neglect by MTV and radio:

Two weeks prior to his scheduled Tonight Show appearance, Morrissey touched down in the United States to embark on the six-week leg of a worldwide tour to promote his third solo release, Kill Uncle, after having just wrapped up a successful 11-show run of Europe. The Kill Uncle Tour kicked off in California, where there were six dates lined up: San Diego, Costa Mesa, Inglewood, Santa Barbara, Berkeley, and Sacramento. The shows sold out fast. The entire tour sold out fast, but the West Coast stretch sold out faster. Much of Morrissey’s popularity in the area could be attributed to heavy rotation from the area’s influential radio station, KROQ, one of the few outlets to lend support. 20,000 tickets to the show at the San Diego Sports Arena went in a flash, gone in less than an hour, faster than any predecessor, including Madonna and Michael Jackson. Tickets for The Forum in Inglewood went even quicker18,000 in just 15 minutes.

Aside from the Tonight Show appearance and KROQ airplay, Morrissey was almost never played on MTV, and not at all during normal hours, and barely played on mainstream radio. (Despite selling out venues faster than the biggest pop stars of the day.)  There may be reasons for this that are specific to Morrissey, but I must wonder about the bigger picture.  (Morrissey is a highly subversive artist that has always threatened many mainstream forces.)  After the 1996 Telecommunications Act corporations, such as Clear Channel at the time, consolidated their control of radio playlists.  One can remember songs such as John Lennon’s Imagine being banned after September 11th on radio stations owned by Clear Channel, now known as iHeartMedia Inc.

So here are the questions:  What large forces shaped musical culture before that act?  How is music of today shaped by forces outside of consumer demand?  One thing that is a no-brainer is that people, unless one is an obsessive seeking things out, can only like what they are exposed to.  Why is it that so many pieces of pop music today sound so similar and are so often completely devoid of any substance or ideas?   Aside from substance and ideas, which have been lacking at other times during popular music, why is pop music that is readily available for the general public delivered by performers lacking strong personalities?

Questions, as always, questions…

My New Band, The Savage Poor, at the Saxon Pub Tomorrow Night

Savage Poor Saxon

My new band The Savage Poor will be playing the Saxon Pub tomorrow night, June 5th, in Austin, Texas at 10pm.  The band consists of myself, my brother Ben Brown, drummer Alex Moralez, and bassist Roger Wuthrich.  This is without question a rock n roll band, but like the Clash rock n roll is more the attitude in which we approach a stylistically diverse set of songs.

Sunday night is a tough sell, but feeling good on Monday morning is overrated.  Join us and take joy in the fact that you will be able to freak out your coworkers Monday morning when you look like you have been to space and back.

We will not “just shut up and sing”.  We will make you think and question all while shaking your hips.  So many forget, but rock n roll is meant to be a subversive cultural force.  It just happens it is one that you can party, celebrate, and sweat during as you have your mind expanded.

Listen to our latest single and B-side here to get two of the many shades of our color palette:

Everyday American Thoughts – New Single Release

Lou Reed’s ‘New Sensations’

An album that never ceases to raise my spirits is Lou Reed’s New Sensations.  Reed faired much better than most 60’s artists in the 80’s. The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, Live in Italy, and New York are all extremely well regarded records.  Only Mistrial falls flat due to extremely dated production.  I personally think New Sensations belongs with his other gems from the decade, but it’s a different kind of work than the others.  While the other records are stripped down fairs, highlighting a four piece rock band with limited overdubs, New Sensations utilizes pop production, some of it of its time.  However, instead of marring the record, the more commercial production only seems to play a perfect foil for Lou’s literary and often darkly funny lyrics here.  Sometimes they heighten the absurdity that Reed is commenting on, and sometimes they simply help bring the melodies of Reed’s lyrics to life.  On the song Turn to Me, Reed sings:

When your teeth are ground down to the bone
and there’s nothing between your legs
And some friend died of something
that you can’t pronounce, ah
Remember, I’m the one who loves you
hey baby, you can always give me a call
Turn to me, turn to me
Turn to me

The over the top gospel backing vocals make that song seems as if it is being delivered by a late night TV preacher, preying on the desperation and insecurities of those all too alone at night.  Reed never lets the song lose its rock n roll power, but the extra element helps to create a theater of the mind.

………………………………….

One of my favorite songs on the album is the song Doin’ the Things That We Want To.  In it Reed pays tribute to other artists, specifically Martin Scorsese and Sam Shepard, that try to infuse their work with deep meaning.  Reed created music that had literary ambition, that was cinematic in scope.  He was aiming for the moon when so many other songwriters just aim for spring break.  If only more would try to follow in his footsteps, perhaps our culture wouldn’t feel so empty…

There’s not much you hear on the radio today
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
But you could still see a movie or a play
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
Here’s to Travis Bickle and here’s Johnny Boy
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
Growing up in the mean streets of New York
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
I wrote this song ’cause I’d like to shake your hand
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
In a way you guys are the best friends I ever had
(Doin’ the things that we want to)

Anohni “Drone Bomb Me”

The new album Helplessness by Anohni, formerly Antony of Antony and the Johnsons, has caught my attention.  It is an album of glistening, beautiful, disturbing protest songs.  I don’t know the album enough to give it a proper review.  However, I have heard the song Drone Bomb Me several times.  (The video starring Naomi Campbell is worth tracking down.)  The narrator of the song is a girl from Afghanistan whose family has been killed by a drone, and who now begs for a drone to grant her a similar fate.  I have a super high threshold for artistic things that a lot of people won’t go near.  This song even made me uncomfortable for a brief moment.  But that is exactly why it’s a brilliant piece of political music, even if I haven’t decided what to make of it in a larger sense.  In an era of repetition and cliche, there is something new and interesting going on here.

Dirty Blvd. Book Review

Dirty Blvd. Book

Aidan Levy’s Lou Reed biography, Dirty Blvd. (The Life and Music of Lou Reed), was fantastic.  It was a a great career overview that examined everything from his work with the Velvets to his lesser known solo albums.  It was well written, a few steps above the usual rock book, and should interest anyone that is even the slightest Lou fan, or anyone that is interested in late 20th century pop culture.

Most rock biographies make the following mistakes:

  1.  They make the childhood part excruciatingly boring:  Levy  not only makes Reed’s childhood interesting, but makes us understand how it influenced him later in life.
  2. They talk down to their readers: I’ve read a lot of rock biographies that seem like they were written with junior high kids in mind.  Especially for someone that was so literary, it just wouldn’t do for Reed’s work.  Levy writes a book worthy of his subject.  If anything there are occasional moments where the language could be slightly less pretentious, though it is not nearly as bad as some reviews make it out to be.
  3. They focus only on the most popular works of an artist:  Therefore all the books end up covering the same information.  Levy touches upon all of Reed’s work, even lesser known solo albums like Growing Up in Public.  You get a true sense of the arc of Reed’s career from this book.  A studio album had to be important to an artist at the time they were working on it, or it would have never seen the light of day.  Most writers focus on what they think people want to hear, not what people need to hear.  Growing Up in Public, for instance, lyrically pointed in the direction that Reed would go in with greater musical success on The Blue Mask and Legendary Hearts.  It was the last of Reed’s albums to feature his 70’s band.  He had already started growing as a lyricist, but it wasn’t until he streamlined his band, hiring Robert Quine and Fernando Saunders, that his music came to reflect the gritty realism of his lyrics.

Reed was one of the most important artists of the 20th century and this book is a great look at his life.  You can’t go wrong here.  I could say more, but there is no need to.  Go get this book if you find yourself even momentarily interested in its subject.

 

Drone Bomb Me

Drone Bomb Me by the singer Anohni.  I like the political by way of the club.  For some reason it is more uncomfortable dressed up in these clothes.  It’s more emotionally striking.

I like art that makes me feel uncomfortable.  It’s rare that it I find anything that does, but when I do, I run towards it.  If my first impulse is to turn it off or turn it down, I try to do the opposite.  I don’t do this because I am trying to prove some point.  I may end up disliking whatever it is.  But I realize that if I feel that strongly about something, it is hitting me on a very deep emotional level, and that is rare and worth investigating.

That’s Life

I have been on tour for the last two weeks, greatly diminishing my ability to write.  Touring doesn’t always do this, but I’ve been a little under the weather this tour, leaving me blankly staring at the wall between gigs.  I’ve been to Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee.  I’ve read a Lou Reed biography and am now reading a Prince biography.  I’ve listened to more hours of music than I could possibly count.

Ted Cruz has fallen by the wayside, as Donald Trump has risen.  Bernie Sanders still hangs on by the skin of his teeth.

Do I really want to live in a world where Prince is dead and Donald Trump represents the face of one of our two main political parties?  It seems like some weird sci-fi movie where someone went into the past and fucked something up.  But it is here and it is now and that’s life.

I’ve read some interesting articles:

Andrew Sullivan tries to make sense of the rise of Trump.  I don’t agree with everything in his article, but it is a brilliant piece of writing that deserves to be pondered.  Sullivan dives into history and political theory to try and communicate just how dangerous Donald Trump is at this moment in our history.

Brittney Cooper has an interesting piece over at Salon that uses the death of Prince to talk about how our economy and culture has not only devalued black lives, but literature, music, and art as well.

 

……..

There is more, so much more, but right now I need to get my day underway before I head out to a sound check.  Just a few records worth checking out:

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo – West continues his winning streak.  For all those of you that don’t understand, West simply dreams bigger, goes further than most recording artists hight now.  He is simply one of the best producers and creates gigantic, imaginative soundscapes.  This record mixes the sacred and profane on equal levels.  A futuristic gospel record with lots of swearing?  Something like that.

The Wedding Present – Seamonsters – An early 90’s album that got lost in the shuffle between 80’s rock and the 90’s alternative movement.  A devastating series of relationship songs recorded by Steve Albini.  The textures of this album are so vivid that you feel like the album is in 3D, like you could chew on them.

Prince – 1999 – Never forget that Prince is a great album artist.  One of the things that I find shocking with this album is how he is using technology that is completely of its time, yet somehow hasn’t aged.  He is using synthesizers and drum machines that are now long outdated, but he uses them so well that it never for a second gets in the way of the enjoyment of the record.  Also for an artist often associated with sex, one should always remember that his music was always stuffed full of ideas as well.  The title track ends with a group of voices intoning, “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?”  I only wish there were more modern artists subverting our radio stations.

 

 

 

The Meaning Behind The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’

Today I was reading Aidan Levy’s excellent Lou Reed biography, Dirty Blvd.  I’ve been listening to The Velvet Underground since I was 13 or 14.  I always felt the first song on their debut, Sunday Morning, to be a pleasant, but slight, addition to their catalog.  But it is easy to overlook things if you aren’t paying attention.  In the book Levy talks about how the song is actually dealing with the issue of paranoia.  The song features the lyrics, “Watch out, the world’s behind you.”  I noticed, as I’m sure many others have, that the song adds reverb to the vocal part of the way through the song, an effect that makes a sound seem farther away, mirroring the sense of uncanny by the narrator.  Levy states that this song was chosen as the first song as a way of warning listeners at the time about the sonic insanity that was to come.

‘The One and Only’ – Kirsty MacColl

There is probably no artist that brings me near tears more easily than the late great Kirsty MacColl.  She has filled my life with a great amount of joy.  I’ll sometimes listen to her records while walking around Lady Bird Lake in Austin.  It might be months without a spin, but there I am again:  With an ear to ear smile, or trying to hold back tears, depending on what emotion is pouring out of her in any particular song.

I’ve written about her before, but whenever I listen to her I can’t help but think, “God, how do more people not know?”

One of my favorite songs of hers is the last song on her album Electric Landlady, called The One and Only.  The last few lines of the song destroy me every time:

Some lives read like a postcard
And some lives read like a book
I’ll be happy if mine
Doesn’t read like a joke on an old Christmas cracker

(Here is what a Christmas cracker is if you are unaware.)

Like Moonriver or Somewhere Over the Rainbow, this is one of those happy/sad songs, that can be mined for more or less of either emotion, without ever completely shaking off the other feeling.  Even if that place over the rainbow doesn’t exist, even if it is a dream that never comes true, the dream still allows us to temporarily transcend our circumstances.  You can sing a song like that and communicate the sadness of the reality, or the beauty of the dream, you can choose one emotion over the other, but that other emotion is still there, giving the song a complexity.

The One and Only can be viewed as being defiant in the face of heartbreak, of one refusing to give in, of transcending.  Or it can be listened to as being sung by someone that is trying to put the best face on the sadly realized reality of lowered expectations.  The song can be one or the other at different times, or it can even be both at the same time.  The song ends on a hope, that just as easily could be posed as a question.

I once read author Nick Hornby say something along the lines of how pop songs are puzzle, that they hold are interest until we can solve them.  The thing that is so beautiful about a song like The One and Only is that there is an interpretive element to it.  It can’t ever be solved.  Therefore, it will always be out there if needed, like Kirsty, ready to move us again.

 

The Molly Maguires – Free Download

MOLLY MAGUIRES, Sean Connery, 1970, mustache
MOLLY MAGUIRES, Sean Connery, 1970
Download Now

Make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

Down the mines no sunlight shines
Those pits they’re black as hell
In modest style they do their time
It’s Paddy’s prison cell
And they curse the day they’ve travelled far
Then drown their tears with a jar

So make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

Backs will break and muscles ache
Down there there’s no time to dream
Of fields and farms, of womans arms
Just dig that bloody seam
Though they drain their bodies underground
Who’ll dare to push them around

So make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

So make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

An old Irish folk song, recorded at 4am.  I love this song both as a song and for its topic.  My favorite version is Luke Kelly singing it with the Dubliners.  There is no point in even trying to match there version, which casts it as a celebratory drinking song, so I did something different with it.  I know where not to tread!

As the media drifts further on into the realm of the ridiculous, as income inequality builds, remember that people actually fought for the rights working people take for granted every day.  Though there is some dispute as to the exact story of the Molly Maguires, their story is not near the only one.

The photo above is Sean Connery and it is from the 1970  The Molly Maguires.  It’s a film I saw as a kid.