Shows This Weekend and Books, Music, and Television Worth Checking Out

Shiny ribs Show Page

I’ll be performing back to back shows tonight at Strange Brew in Austin, Tx with Shinyribs.  The first one is sold out and I have a feeling the second one will be as well.  If you want to go, get your tickets now.  Tomorrow we are in the Fort Worth area.  You can get all the details up above.

Yesterday I watched the latest episodes of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Real Time with Bill Maher.  I also finally viewed Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.  I was struck by how all three of these programs were more informative than anything on cable news.  They were also more interesting and entertaining as well.  The documentary was a serious piece by an award winning filmmaker, so it it is no surprise there. The other two are comedy shows that talk about current events.  Comedians are still our biggest mainstream truth tellers, even after John Stewart and Stephen Colbert have gone off the air.

I’ve been reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.  It is a murder mystery that takes place in an abbey in 1327.  But it uses the genre of the murder mystery, although with a historical twist, as a jumping off point for discussions on religion and philosophy.  It’s amazing the amount of visual and historical detail he is able to pack in, while still holding the reader’s attention throughout.

Next month features a host of records that I am really excited about.  New records by Darlene Love, New Order, Iron Maiden, and Public Image Ltd. all make appearances.

Paul Westerberg’s Folker

One of my favorite albums is Paul Westerberg’s Folker.  It is, like the title implies, a collection of folk rock songs, some leaning more one way than the other.  It’s the kind of thing that could easily be overlooked by a critic as what makes it great are the details and subtleties inherent in the record.  The melodies are knockouts and as always, Westerberg has a feel for music that is natural;  He is a musician that is able to communicate emotion with everything he does.  This record, like a lot of Westerberg’s stuff, is personal music, much like the music of John Lennon, but even more so.  Where Lennon never stopped reaching for the big moment, Westerberg seems content to reflect on his own life.  The record, while not a concept record in any traditional sense, does seem to tell a story if you pay close enough attention.  He doesn’t break any new ground in a larger sense, he isn’t creating a new genre, but the music is unique as it could only be made by one person in one time and place.  Westerberg was growing older, there are relationship troubles hinted at (though these songs may just be a way of communicating inner turmoil), his dad had recently been sick and passed away, and there is a sense of reflection, of looking back and asking what it all means.

The album begins with a joke in the song Jingle, in which Westerberg sings, “buy it now, buy it”, over and over again.  It’s almost as if he is clearing the air, before he begins digging in the dirt of his own personal life.  There are many ways to interpret that song, which stands in contrast to the rest of the record.  Is he purposely creating the contrast, as a way of exposing what most music is, an excuse for a marketing campaign, compared to what should be, the personal music that follows?  I have my theories, but this is the kind of record that will leave you with your own.  The record ends with two songs, Gun Shy and Folk Star, where Westerberg finally gets back on the rock n roll horse and sings and plays with abandon.  Has the deep reflection of the rest of the record allowed him to return to his normal life, or is it that he can only bare that kind of introspection for so long before even he must look away?

One of my favorite songs on the record is Lookin’ Up In Heaven.  (And there are no bad songs.  In fact the entire album plays almost like one long piece, however, a piece in which all the components are great in and of themselves.)  As on much of the record, Westerberg does a bunch of neat tricks as a songwriter.  He writes something that is personal, but that still leaves room for interpretation, for the listener to relate enough that the songs could be about them.  He is also playful and complex in the emotions conveyed.  Although the song has an overall melancholic feel, there are moments of rebellion, humor, and defiance.  It’s not all one thing and I think many of the best songs are like that, reflecting the complexity that one feels in any situation.  We are so rarely just sad or happy or angry.  One of those emotions might take center stage, but they are rarely acting alone.  They rarely block out all other thought.  Westerberg is also playful with language, using different variations of the line, “I look high again”, to various effect throughout the song.

Another thing that I love about the song is the spoken word lines, “They invited me to stick around, but I told ’em there was another place I had to check out tonight.”  I wrote awhile back, when I posted the lyrics of the song that:

This song always makes me think of Mark Twain and about how he thought the traditional view of heaven was everything that people wanted to avoid in real life.  A quote from Mr. Twain:  “Singing hymns and waving palm branches through all eternity is pretty when you hear about it in the pulpit, but it’s as poor a way to put in valuable time as a body could contrive.”

I hope this song will serve as a window into this record.  It’s something that I never tire of.  In fact, I probably listen to it more than any of his other records, even those with The Replacements.  (Though his Mono, under the Grandpa Boy moniker, is a great blast of guitar rock that is ever present in my life as well.  It’s like the Rolling Stones meet the Ramones in Sun Studios.)  Even it’s lo-fi, low key vibe seem strengths to me years on.  It’s has never dated as there is no studio slickness to call attention to the time period it was created in.  And the melodies are gorgeous, but are kept from being saccharine by Westerberg’s ramshackle playing and raw singing.  (I’ve long felt Westerberg to be one of America’s greatest and most consistent melody writers next to Brian Wilson.)  It is a record that again looks inward, but in the best sense possible.  In Westerberg’s mirror one can also catch a glimmer of themselves.

 

Morrissey to Release Novel and Great Books by Musicians

List of the Lost

List of the Lost Press Release

I’m looking forward to reading Morrissey’s first novel.  It comes out September 24th.  The details are above.

I really enjoyed his Autobiography.  Here are five other books by musicians, in no order, that are worth checking out:

  1.  Bob Dylan – Chronicle
  2. Henry Rollins – Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag
  3. Larry Kirwan – Green Suede Shoes: An Irish-American Odyseey
  4. John Lydon – Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
  5. Lou Reed – Between Thought and Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed

All of the books, except the Lou Reed book, which is a collection of lyrics with commentary by Reed, would qualify as autobiographies.  However, each one of them is better than the standard autobiography or biography.  Dylan’s is written with the kind of wordplay and imagery that one would expect from Dylan.  Rollin’s is as much about self-realization under duress as it is about music, though of course there is a great deal of music commentary included.  It’s jet black and deeply funny.  Kirwan is not only a musician, but also a playwright.  His book is not only expertly written, but features a great deal of really interesting information on the history and culture of Ireland.  And Lydon’s book is not only an unsentimental look at his past, but includes commentary by other people that were around him at that same time.  Even if they flat out contradict him, he seems not to give a fuck.  He is interested in getting to the truth, and the truth depends on one’s perspective.

Reflections On Female Singer Songwriters and Women’s Rights On the 95th Anniversary of the Right to Vote

95 years ago today, women gained the right to vote.  Although it is better than before, women still only earn roughly $0.77 for every $1.00 earned by their male counterparts.  Women’s reproductive rights are still under attack by conservative religious groups.

I think you can get a sense of how just a culture is by it treatment of women.  While there are cultures that are far worse than ours, I would nominate any that perform female genital mutilation, for instance, we still have a long way to go.

As a musician, a lot of my heroes are women.  Joni Mitchell’s body of work is as impressive as anyone’s.  Kirsty MacColl, Patti Smith, Sinead O’Connor, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and on and on, have written songs that are poetically profound, that leave most male songwriters in the dust.  Marianne Faithfull, as an interpreter of songs, is the equal of any man.  Yet often critics and writers label them all as female songwriters, or female singers, in a way that imply that they are playing in a different game than the men.  While it is correct to call someone like Mitchell a female songwriter, to say she is a great “female” songwriter is incorrect.  Her work dwarfs all but the very best male songwriters and one can even argue that she is the most unique songwriter from this continent in the last 100 years.  While someone like Dylan combined different forms in unique ways and infused them with a new sense of language, Mitchell almost seems to have created new forms entirely.  There is a reason a lot of the serious jazz guys wanted to play with her.  O’Connor was right about the abuse taking place in the Catholic church and was vilified for being brave enough to say something.  Sainte-Marie was blacklisted by President Johnson for speaking her mind in the American Indian Movement.

Anyone that says women aren’t as capable, intelligent, and brave as men should be laughed at outright.  There are physical biological differences, but even these aren’t definitive.  I’d hate to be thrown in the ring with Ronda Rousey!

Whenever you see something politically that is anti-women, it comes out of the outdated idea of the patriarchy.  But we should be smart enough at this point in history to know that respect shouldn’t be given, it should be earned.  It’s no wonder that some men want to cling to the kind of traditions that bestow power only due to the sex of their birth.  Control is a hard thing to give away.  But an idea is either a good idea or a bad one, based on its own merit and the way it holds up to reason.  With our environment going into the dumps, with endless war, with income inequality exploding haven’t us males done enough damage? I, at least, am ready for new ideas.  If a female can solve those issues, then I say have at it.

It’s far beyond time that we welcomed women as equals in all aspects of our society.  It’s not only the morally correct thing to do and the intelligent thing to do, but with the current state of the world, we are going to need everyone rowing!  So cast aside Medieval religious ideas and barbaric social orders that threaten to drag us under like quicksand.  More now than ever, with problems that are on a global scale, the old order that puts us in groups is going to lead to our demise.  As Kurt Vonnegut once said, when talking about the meaning of life, “We’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”

More Posts On Joni Mitchell Include: The Sire of Sorrow (Job’s Sad Song)

 

 

 

 

 

Pages of Gold by Flo Morrissey

Season after season young female pop singers are paraded out, only to eventually disappear like leaves in the fall.  I spend a ridiculous amount of time listening to new records online and Flo Morrissey’s Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful is one of the few that made me pause.  (She is not related to the other famous singing Morrissey.)  I love how her phrasing is relaxed and effortless, emotional sounding, but naturally so.  The production reminds me of a modernized version of 60’s folk pop.  It’s a sweet kind of melancholy that I find attractive in pop music.  The lyrics are functionary, meaning that they support the song without adding anything truly interesting, but they in no way detract from the music and singing in anyway either.  For a singer of only 20, in our age, this is an accomplishment in and of itself.  It’s too early to tell if she is someone that has any kind of career in her, but she has a voice and authenticity that at least seem real.  In it’s own way it reminds me of Judy Collins singing Clouds, of Petula Clark or Cass Elliot.  The lyric writing is again nowhere near that stuff, and I’m not about to claim she has the personality of those singers.  However, I am interested and hoping for the best.

Public Image Ltd. “Album” – John Lydon, Ginger Baker, and Steve Vai Collaborate

One of my favorite bands, that I have written about from time to time, is Public Image Ltd.  Fronted by John Lydon, former Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols fame, they have continuously pushed the boundaries of music.  If you listen to their catalog, it simply doesn’t sound like anyone else’s, even if certain songs, or parts of songs, are grounded in particular genres.  Punk, dub, world music, rock, and electronic music all play a role at various time periods in the bands history.  I shouldn’t really call it a band.  Although the project started as a band and has been a functioning band recently, the only consistent member has been Lydon.

Tonight I have been watching the documentary Beware of Mr. Baker.  The documentary is about drummer Ginger Baker.  Baker is most famous for Cream and Blind Faith, though he has a long and varied career.  It made me think of his work with Public Image Ltd.

One of the most famous Public Image Image Ltd. albums is Album, or Compact Disc or Cassette, depending on the format at the time of its release.  (Though it is now predominately known by the first title.)  It’s a truly strange release that brings together not only Lydon and Baker, but also virtuoso guitar player Steve Vai, among others.  That is not exactly a trio of musicians that you imagine having something in common, other than the fact that they are all people that have tried to push the boundaries of music in one way or another.

If I’m honest, this is not my favorite record of theirs, though it definitely has its merits.  On several of the tracks producer Bill Laswell pushes them towards heavy metal, though it’s not typical metal by any means.  On these tracks the musicianship and Lydon’s one of a kind personality shine, but music itself isn’t as adventurous as a lot of the PIL catalog.  My favorite two tracks are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The most famous track is the single Rise, which has an African music element, but also incorporates Vai’s unique guitar tone and brief moments of darkness that contrast the major key African elements.  The last track is great as well, and also perhaps the strangest.  The song Ease starts out with keyboards and a didgeridoo, followed by the bulk of the song, which has a majestic rock quality, almost Middle Eastern in sound.  The song closes with an epic solo by Vai, the likes of which is not heard throughout most of the PIL discography.  I’m not even sure if the song is any good, but it is definitely great.  Something that starts with a didgeridoo, then features Lydon singing over almost a Led Zeppelinesque middle passage, and closes out with a solo by Vai, is not like anything else I have ever heard.

Although there are other PIL records I prefer, the sheer fact that Lydon was so willing to reach out into new territory time and time again is inspiring.  And even if I would advise one to start elsewhere with their catalog, I think this one should be added to your collection at some point.  It’s a true one-off, that could only have been created at it’s unique time and place in musical history, by a group of freaks trying to do something new.  I’m always interested in hearing people go down the road less traveled.

More Posts On Public Image Ltd. Include:  Careering

More Posts On John Lydon Include:  John Lydon Exposes Fake Media Behavior

Neko Case and Morrissey Expand the Form – Reappropriating and Deflating the Word “Man”

I love when songwriters try to expand the form, when they have a knowledge of what came before them and are able to write themselves out of the constrains of typical pop song subjects.  I also love when writers, through wit and intelligence, use language to be playful and subversive.  In both these songs, Man by Neko Case and I’m Not a Man by Morrissey, the word man, and the mainstream connotations of it, are flipped upside down in different ways.  Case is reversing gender roles, claiming the right to use the word for herself, using it to demonstrate her strength.  Meanwhile, Morrissey uses the word, and the meanings that mainstream society associate with it, to call out what is wrong in the modern world.  Case is reappropriate the word, while Morrissey is deflating the strength often associated with it.

 

Iggy Pop and David Bowie On Daytime TV In 1977

My brother showed me these clips today.  They are pretty amazing.  Iggy Pop and David Bowie went on The Dinah Shore Show, a daytime talkshow, in 1977 to do an interview and two songs.  (Above is Sister Midnight and at the very bottom is a clip of them performing Fun Time.  Between that is the actual interview.)   I can’t imagine what a daytime talkshow audience would have thought of the heavy weirdness being laid down by the music those two were making back then!  I mean imagine someone going on one of those vacuous daytime talkshows today and singing Iggy’s lines from Sister Midnight:

Calling sister midnight
You know, I had a dream last night
Mother was in my bed
And I made love to her

Father he gunned for me
Hunted me with his six gun
Calling sister midnight
What can I do about my dreams?

Or Funtime:

Fun
Last night, I was down in the lab
Fun
Talkin’ to Dracula and his crew
All aboard for funtime

 

First Original Music On Windup Wire – San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo by No Show Ponies.  I’m putting up this track as a kind of experiment.  I’ve always wanted to create a site where I could put my writing and music all in one place.  One of the things that I like about blogging is the way that different kinds of things can exist next to each other, like a multi-media collage.  I’ve been working to change this site over the last month with my friend Chris Saunders.  Chris has been essential in helping me take full control over this blog.  Unfortunately, because I have been on the road so much, it is slow going, as just keeping it up to date takes a fair amount of time.  Anyway, although I still need to do some work on the site as a whole, for the first time I can post music that I have written directly to this site, without having to use a link.

No Show Ponies is a band that currently consists of myself, on bass and vocals on this track, my brother Ben, on guitar here, and Alex Moralez on drums and percussion.  We recorded some songs, mostly live, to a analog tape machine two years ago with the great Austin musician Ramsay Midwood.  NSP has been primarily a rock band, but we treated this song as minimally as possible.  The only overdub here is some very light percussion by Alex.

I’m still working out how I want to present my music here and because of that, and the fact that I just started working with my brother again after a year long hiatus, I wanted to choose something that was not entirely representative of what we do.  I always really liked the way this song came out though, as it has a haunted quality in the performance.  (If you listen on headphones, and any musician prays that you listen to their music on proper speakers or headphones instead of tinny computer speakers, there are some strange noises in the background that I can’t account for.  Ghosts in the machine perhaps.)

I’m really proud of this song as a piece of writing.  (Pride cometh before the fall!)  Although this song was written with a very specific location in mind, I feel like the writing is expansive enough that it could just as easily become another place in the imagination of the listener.  I purposely cross-pollinated images from Italy with things that could be in a western movie.  (There is an obscure reference to my favorite western, The Wild Bunch.)  I’ve also always been struck by art that includes a memento mori in it.  (Read about memento mori here.)  “Remember that you have to die.”  However, if you think this song is bleak, I hope it also includes the idea that there is love and beauty in the world, as well as an interesting strangeness.

San Lorenzo

Riding down through painted vistas
Against the rising of the sun
Either the dove shall be released
Or it’s the cold steel of the gun

Your beauty it haunts me
Makes me want to do something bold
Last I saw your naked shoulders
Get covered up in San Lorenzo

Kids are burning insects
With lenses in the street
I begin to feel the presence
Of a divine comedy

Your beauty eludes me
I never felt so alone
I’d give anything to go back
And pass the time in San Lorenzo

Walking past mass graves
Endless skulls and endless bones
Merchants and slaves
All sharing the same tombs

Your beauty, it comforts me
Makes me forget all I know
I’m hoping for a chance encounter
On the way to San Lorenzo

By Jefferson Brown

P.S.  If you like the track, feel free to pass it along to friends or to make it part of some other kind of multi-media collage of your own.

 

Shinyribs In San Antonio and Beaumont This Weekend

Shinyribs Shows

I’ll be on the road briefly this weekend, in San Antonio tonight and in Beaumont tomorrow night, with Shinyribs.  We’ll also be in Austin and Fort Worth next weekend.  All details up above.  I believe the Beaumont show is already sold out.

Here is us playing the cut Baby What’s Wrong from our newest album, Okra Candy, on The Texas Music Scene.   Funnily enough, the show’s host, Ray Benson, is originally from Pennsylvania, where I am also from.