Guilty Pleasures and Irrational Aversions – Round 3

1 Dec
I’m not sure if this is truly a guilty pleasure; even though I’m still feeling guilty, the pleasure is long gone.

The kid finally fell asleep. We were winding down from a long day, lying in bed, watching TV for lack of a better term.

Janice has generously ceded the remote control to yours truly, mainly because she doesn’t really care about TV. However, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of mindless entertainment from time to time.

guilty3-Axn(3)Our cable subscription includes about two-dozen channels that I routinely surf, one of which happens to be AXN.

guilty3-wipeoutFirst of all, AXN Asia carries several of my favorite programs, notably Wipeout! and The Blacklist.

While the commentary on Wipeout! can be hit or miss, the spills and thrills more than makeup for bad puns; and it’s the only “game” show I’m the slightest bit interested in.

guilty3-the_blacklist_2_-_marquee_newThe Blacklist has two things going for it: James Spader and labyrinthine plot lines. Is the backstory even vaguely plausible? No. But I’ll watch anything with James Spader, one of my all-time favorite actors in any genre.

Anyway, this kind of explains why I clicked over to AXN, but doesn’t really explain why we were camped out on The Voice, which is not the worst program of its ilk, but there isn’t really a “best” American Idol-type show. Line ‘em up and they’re pretty much all the same; contrived and forced, the unsavory, pushy salesmen of product, directed by marketing sharks of disposable waste.

Regardless, there are at least three reasons I’ll watch The Voice for five minutes or so.

Number one: The plastic surgery disaster formerly known as Gwen Stefani.

guilty3-slide-gwen-stefaniNumber two: Pharrell’s hat. He’s going to be wearing a hat, and I’m subconsciously keeping score.

Number three: Begrudgingly, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton each get half a reason for not being Simon Cowell, perhaps the most insufferable chap on television this side of Fox News.

Adam Levine is a social terrorist on par with any formidable character from an episode of Batman (original 1960s TV series), no more, no less. Clearly a talented cat, I don’t enjoy his music.

Blake Shelton is negligible. He’s the rye bread of rate-a-dummy talent shows.

liver-sausage_3_I never think to ask for rye bread unless I’m ordering a sandwich. I’d never heard of Shelton until he appeared on the program, but that’s no surprise. But cowboy hats are only funny if you’re being ironic. Personally, I dig rye bread. It’s the slice of choice if I’m talking about lebewurst (liver sausage).

Jesus, 434 words and we’re only halfway there.

So we’re watching The Voice and Janice says to me, as she often does, vaguely amused, “Why are we watching this?”

Simultaneously, the program cuts to Adam Levine in the studio with some kid who’s singing “God Only Knows”.

As in, The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” from Pet Sounds (1966).

PetHe can’t do that!” I huffed.

Janice rolled over, “Do what?”

“He can’t sing that song.”

“Why not? It sounds like he is [singing].” Confused silence. “I thought you like that song.”

“That’s part of the reason why he can’t sing it. It’s sacred.”

“Sacred?” suspiciously.

“Sacred. It is. Nobody can sing that song. There were two people who could sing that song, but now only one person on Earth can sing that song.”

Long pause. “OK.”

guilty3-my_way_sid_viciousThere are a handful of sacred songs in the repertoire of popular music. Take for instance “My Way”. Both of the cats who can sing that song – Frank Sinatra and Sid Vicious – are dead. Therefore, anybody else is committing an egregious act of profanity. According to urban legend in the Philippines, doing a videoke version of “My Way” will get you shot.

Despite its hokey hippy sentiment, John Lennon’s “Imagine” is also untouchable. Off-limits. Not only do I not want to hear a cover version, I’m pretty much saturated with the original. Retire this song, people. Let it go, let it go, turn your back and slam the door…

Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Freebird”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”…

guilty3-pharrel-hatOn a contemporary level, there are songs idiosyncratic to certain artists that I consider off-limits. Nobody should be doing a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”. After Jeff Buckley, it’s hands-off “Hallelujah”.

The list could and should go on, but at the very top is The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”.

Let’s not get into semantics and philosophy about the “best” or “sacred”. In my book, “God Only Knows” is the most beautiful, perfect, transcendent song in the last 50 years of popular music. While it may not be my favorite song of all-time – the older I get the more I think it’s silly to have just one favorite song – it is the best song of all-time.

The thing is I’m not always in the mood for goosebumps and crocodile tears; generally speaking, I’m interested in toe-tappers.

Above all, “God Only Knows” is not a song to be taken lightly. It’s a song you can sing along to, but not on The Voice, unless you’re Brian Wilson.

So now I’m transfixed on the screen. The kid in question, Matt McAndrew, is being coached by the abovementioned Adam Levine, and at about the :30 point, I’m ready to launch myself into the TV screen and throttle the both of them.

I continued to prattle on. Janice was vaguely amused.

“I can’t watch this.”

“Change the channel.”

“But I have to watch this.”

“Well?”

And so we watched Matt McAndrew sing a perfectly lovely rendition of “God Only Knows”, as seen below.

Matt McAndrew – God Only Knows

When it was over I said, “You know, it wasn’t that bad. He did a really nice job.”

I’m still feeling guilty. But at the same time, I never want to see that shit again. Ever.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

The Black Keys

guilty3-watermelonindexTo this day, I have never knowingly eaten watermelon. And I’ve got nothing against watermelon in general. Everybody seems to enjoy it. As a kid, I was envious when all the other kids were running around with cool chunks of watermelon, pink juice all over their hands and faces, especially during the summer.

The sight and smell of watermelon was one of several signposts of the average Midwestern summer afternoon. The wide expanse of freshly cut grass and lush green carpets of lawn. Flies buzzing, crickets whirring. Picnic tables and swimming pools. Water balloons and flip-flops. Hot dogs roasting over charcoal. And then, my older sister sneaking up from behind and smashing a slice of watermelon in my face, just for kicks.

Jolly Rancher’s watermelon hard candy doesn’t bother me. Both Hubba-Bubba and Bubble-Yum chewing gum had tasty watermelon flavors.

If I see a cut watermelon from across the room, it sparks a certain amount of panic – I’ll scout the perimeter for an exit of some sort – the visual impact is really more about avoidance and fear. Otherwise, if it gets close enough to actually smell the fruit—the inside, the pink flesh—then it’s over. Sometimes it’s just a little bit of puke in the back of my throat. Most times I’ll sneeze really hard three times in succession, and get overwhelmed with a sense of nausea. Funny, heroin had the same effect.

guilty3-blackkeysEvery now and then, someone in the crew bought a round of watermelon shots, and I’d do it out of respect and etiquette, but I always wound up puking that shit up.

For my son’s second birthday, we hosted a pool party, and of course, two guests brought whole watermelon. At some point in the affair, Janice turned to me and said, “Somebody needs to take these [watermelons] upstairs, and chop ‘em up,” so the crowd could ostensibly eat ‘em.

“I got it.”

“Are you sure?”

Janice was well aware of my aversion to watermelon, but it was one of those moments: facing one of your greatest fears or aversions, head on. I thought, “OK. I’m going to chop these fuckers into slices so everyone can continue to enjoy the party.”

For the record, I didn’t actually puke during the process, but it was touch-and-go for a while there. In the end, everybody enjoyed the watermelon.

The Black Keys are the watermelon of rock music.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Pissed Jeans – False Jesii Part 2

I’m gonna be honest with you, kids. When Jesus Lizard was in their prime (early to mid-90s), I was not a fan. Not at all. Saw them at Lounge Ax in Chicago and I thought they were meh. But then again, I wasn’t a fan of the Melvins, Tad, Mudhoney or Nirvana. I didn’t even really like Naked Raygun, for godsakes. Anyway, maybe ten years later, I came around to having at least an appreciation for Jesus Lizard.

Pissed Jeans is the first band I’ve seen who’ve successfully taken the next step forward in post-hardcore. This is the first of their jams I ever heard, so it’s got sentimental value.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

Frank Sinatra

RossEllisPDF-Sized&Ready.inddSpeaking of Sinatra, violence is not cool and I do not endorse shooting people, let alone because of a song made popular by this guy. However, if it were up to me, I’d wipe Sinatra’s entire oeuvre from the annals of popular music and film. And I think I’d be doing everyone a great favor.

First of all, Frank Sinatra hated rock n’ roll, which he said was “sung, played, and written for the most part by cretinous goons. It manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.[38]

Think about it. Couldn’t you live without his versions of “Luck Be a Lady” or “I’ve Got You (Under My Skin)”? I know I could.

Whatever. Most of all, Sinatra was the anti-thesis of rock n’ roll. My world is a better place without him.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Tool – The Pot

True story: I hated Tool until I moved to Taiwan in 2008.

10,000 Days (2006) is Rush meets the Cure, done well. And it makes excellent housecleaning music. Do not put on a random Tool record and wait for something to happen, cuz you might be sitting there for a while. “The Pot” is one of the few songs that gets off to reasonably fast start.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

Cocaine – the song and the drug

The other night I was in a taxi headed down Makati Avenue toward Greenbelt Mall, a shopping and entertainment complex in the Central Business District.

guilty3-makatiaveThe driver was listening to one of three “classic rock” stations in Metro Manila, DWLA Retro 105.9 FM, which is coincidentally the same FM frequency as the classic rock station I grew up listening to in Chicago, WCKG, former home of the progtastic radio show, Bob and Ron’s Record Club. BSM hosts Bob and Ron’s Record Club Radio Archive, where you can listen to episodes from their WCKG days.

This particular taxi ride was a bit of an anomaly. At least 50% of Metro Manila taxi radios are tuned adult contemporary stations, and worse, the other 49% are tuned to talk radio. Thank God I only understand about .01% of what they’re saying. Finally, there’s a scant minority of drivers who pipe original Philippine music into the ride via iPod, CD or MP3.

Anyway, DWLA Retro 105.9 FM – like most radio stations – has particular programming slots, and popping into the taxi I happened to catch the mid-section of a slot called “High on the 70s”, which leaves little to the imagination.

We had just wrapped up the fade out of Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” when the DJ introduced a personal nugget of musical kryptonite: Eric Clapton’s studio version of “Cocaine”.

guilty3-eric-clapton-cocaine-rso-4Listen, I want to get this straight. I like both Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn. However, if I’m in the mood to hear blues, I’m going to the source. Why do I need these guys when John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Lightnin’ Hopkins are at my fingertips?

When I was nine years old my favorite song was Foghat’s version of “I Just Want to Make Love to You”. I didn’t know any better. Now I do.

The early British blues movement was completely lost on me at the time of initial exposure. Paul Butterfield, the Yardbirds, and Eric Burdon didn’t sound like the Monkees, so turn that shit off. A couple of years passed and I began to appreciate the second generation of Brit blues like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

EVHEven though every guitar player in his right mind cites Eric Clapton as an influence, yours truly can beg to differ. And again, I dig some of his music; in fact, he’s one of my favorite rock vocalists, and I savor the irony; Clapton’s biggest insecurity was his singing voice. However, his guitar prowess never really wowed me. It was underwhelming. He had a few great jams (“Layla”, “Tales of Brave Ulysses”) and he had stinkers like this “Cocaine” jam plus “Tears in Heaven” and “It’s in the Way the You Use Itet al.

On the other hand, my guitar hero Eddie Van Halen was profoundly influenced by Clapton. Thus, Clapton was not a conscious influence  except in the negative. And it’s always helpful to know what you don’t want to do.

guilty3-howlin-wolfMeanwhile, Stevie Ray Vaughn could play, man. No denying that. Hop on over to YouTube and see some serious guitar wrangling. Dude was phenomenal. But if I want to hear an incredible version of “Little Wing”, there are at least three versions by the original artist, Jimi Hendrix, which even prior to the Internet Age, I could access at will.

You know how you’re driving in your car, listening to the radio, and some song comes on that triggers an instinct to change the station? Like, ASAP? Both Clapton and SRV are station-changers for me. Because both have such a distinctive sound, it only takes one bar to identify the jam. Off we go.

It’s not so much that the track is Clapton at his most flaccid, it’s that it reminds me of cocaine itself, which despite plenty of familiarity with the substance, was never my thing. I dunno why except I don’t like the way it makes me feel.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Long before I met my wife, I heard the stories of debauchery coming from Pattaya, Thailand, so I decided to pop down and check it out. I wanted to see it for myself.

It was late afternoon by the time I arrived in town and I’d fallen into a pensive mood. The previous night in Bangkok was unhinged. Following the bumpiest three-hour bus ride of my traveling career, sleep deprived and roasted from adrenaline, I literally stumbled into a low-ball hotel on the main drag, and tried to take a nap. Normally, I would have had things planned out in advance, but this was a special situation.

56_beaverNevertheless, between the ambient noise and a restless mind, I couldn’t fall asleep. And I knew the only thing to do was start drinking.

Many of the low-ball hotels in Pattaya have their own bars on the main floor, and this one was situated on a busy stretch of Pattayasaisong Road. After a quick and cold shower, I went down and had a few beers, sitting at a table that was a few feet from the sidewalk scene.

It was typical Thailand, or rather sex tourism destination bullshit. Pot-belied, greasy geezers with barely legal women, walking down the street hand-in-hand like, “Oh, us? We’re just a regular couple out for an afternoon stroll.”

The bottom line is unless you’re there to partake in the local trade, which I wasn’t, places like Pattaya can get real depressing, real fast.

Over the course of an hour I was approached by half a dozen bar girls, and so on and so forth. A couple of girls gave it their best shot, but then they seemed to get the hint.

I went off to walking in no particular direction, exploring the vicinity and cruising along the beachfront, stopping at several main hotspots, for instance, the infamous Walking Street. The next three hours were redundant except for buying an eighth of low quality weed for $30US from a hustler on Beach Road.

It was well past sundown when I headed back to the low-ball hotel and posted up in the bar for a nightcap.

The sound system was playing current rock music, and I was feeling just a little less morose.

55_wrongAfter a while, one of the bar girls came over and started giving me the business. She was exceedingly persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally noticing my distress, the mamasan came over and the bar girl scampered away.

Mamasan quizzically, “You don’t want girl?”

Me, weary yet emphatic, “No girl, thank you.”

I ordered one last beer and paid my tab. The girl was back out on the sidewalk, and every now and then she would look back at me with the most disappointed look.

Just then an unfamiliar song came over the sound system. It was rock music I had never heard.

If ever a record had the opportunity to capture my attention, it had to have been this moment. I didn’t know what this guy was singing about, but it moved me. All of a sudden, I heard myself asking, “What are you doing in this snakepit? Good Lord, man. This is not where you want to be.”

Pounding the remnants of my beer, I went upstairs, collected my things, and checked out of the low-ball joint and into a nice place around the corner, where I was up on the tenth floor or whatever, slightly removed from reality.

The next four days were spent lounging at the rooftop pool-slash-bar, working on my tan, and smoking fat joints. Caught up on my sleep, watched some TV, and took half-hour showers. The joint had fabulous water pressure.

As far as I recall, I did not have a conversation with anyone except the service staff, and by day three we were communicating with hand signals and facial gestures. The only time I left the hotel was to dine at a Bavarian restaurant down the street.

Kings of Leon – Use Somebody

20/20: The End of the Power Pop Rainbow

18 Nov
2020_1I’ve been meaning to write something/anything about these 20/20 cats for at least two years; for whatever reason, they consistently fall through the cracks. Yet, this may be the most appropriate introduction for a band that went virtually unnoticed during its lifespan.

I’m going to let Allmusic fill you in on the details, but 20/20 to me is a band that takes everything good about Cheap Trick, The Who, Small Faces, T. Rex, David Bowie, Badfinger, Big Star, Slade and a wash of similar bands, and wraps ‘em all into one song. If you’ve ever wondered where Guided by Voices got their schtick, now you know: from these guys.

2020_3Adapted from original biography by Mark Deming

20/20 was an American power pop band based in Hollywood, California, active from 1977 to 1983. Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the band relocated to L.A. in 1977 after fellow Tulsa natives Phil Seymour and Dwight Twilley met with success. The band signed with Greg Shaw’s Bomp! Records in 1978, and released and their first LP on Portrait Records.

20/20 is considered one of the key bands in the L.A. power pop explosion of the late 1970s and early ‘80s (The Plimsouls, The Knack, Shoes, Off Broadway, etc.). They never quite scored a hit single, but their signature song, “Yellow Pills,” became a cult favorite.

Following the success of power pop acts like the Knack, the band’s second album Look Out was darker and less immediately inviting then the debut.

2020_2wt8SbHowever, the track “Nuclear Boy” received airplay but the group parted ways with Portrait Records and dissolved in 1983.

In 1995, after 20/20’s first two albums were reissued on CD, Steve Allen (guitar, vocals) and Ron Flynt (vocals, bass) assembled a new edition of the band.

20/20 – Yellow Pills

20/20 – Nuclear Boy

20/20 – Cheri

20/20 – Remember the Lightning

Guilty Pleasures and Irrational Aversions – Round 2

5 Nov
For most of my life, I have enjoyed beer as much as it has enjoyed me. Somewhere along the line, I stopped enjoying beer. As much as I didn’t like the taste, I really didn’t like the way it made me feel: bloated and sloppy. Then beer became an aversion.

Fortunately, drunks have options. So I switched to a strict regimen of red wine, and couldn’t be happier. In fact, every so often I’ll revisit my old friend Beer, just like old times. And then the next morning I’ll wake up and say, “Man, I sure don’t miss ol’ Beer. He’s kind of a drag.”

In the end, there’s a sense of reasoning at play that justifies the aversion. Sometimes though, I’m not really sure why I don’t like things. I just don’t.

GUILTY PLEASURE TAG TEAM

Missy Elliot – Work It

“Work It” is by far my favorite song of 2002, and contains a bunch of my favorite song lyrics of all-time. Number one on the charts:

If you a fly gal get your nails done
Get a pedicure, get your hair did

And while we’re in the neighborhood…

Jimmy Eat World – Sweetness

Yeah, I dunno. It’s just a catchy jam.

guilty-2-missy-photo7OK, I’ll come clean. Both “Sweetness” and “Work It” were all over the radio during a very specific AND particular period of my life. At the time, I was super-jammed; finishing my degree at SFSU, playing in a band, and working a full-time job. I was driving back and forth to work and school, probably spending two hours per day in the ride, hence listening to the radio, since I couldn’t be bothered with having CDs in the car. Having CDs in your ride was an invitation for a crackhead to smash your driver’s side window. Regardless, I basically flip-flopped between the mainstream rock station and the hip-hop station, so that’s all I was listening to for about nine months.

Also, I had been involved in relationship that had left a very bad taste in my mouth. This song doesn’t necessarily remind me of the relationship, only the fact that I had a sour taste in my mouth, and some sweetness would have been a welcome respite.

Meanwhile, I was impressed with the production of the Missy Elliott track. The song makes me laugh. Dunno why.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

Pink Floyd sans Syd Barrett

Look, I had been indoctrinated by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979), long before I knew anything about The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967). Christ, I owned Ummagumma (1970) at 13 years old; it was the weirdest record I’d ever heard in my life. Didn’t know what to make of it. For a couple of years, I wouldn’t even play the damn thing; I’d just marvel at the album cover. It wasn’t until I was out of high school that I heard Piper and said, “You know what? FUCK Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd was Syd Barrett.”

Pink Floyd – Lucifer Sam

guilty-2-PinkFloyd-album-ummagummastudio-300Of course, I’ve argued with people about Pink Floyd, and I admittedly don’t have a solid foundation of attack. Aside from arguing about the name – it’s a great name, but I think they should have changed it after Syd left/was replaced by David Gilmour – all I can do is stand there with my arms folded and say, “I don’t like it anymore.”

And then Roger Waters left. The two guys largely responsible for everything they ever did were no longer in the band. You cannot call that Pink Floyd, I’m sorry. You can call it David Gilmour’s Pink Floyd, or David Gilmour Plays Pink Floyd, or David Gilmour and a Bunch of Guys Who Are Not Pink Floyd.

Listen, it’s the same thing with Lynyrd Skynyrd. You can’t replace Ronnie Van Zant with his little brother. It’s upsetting.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Def Leppard – Let It Go

Somewhat of a counter-intuitive pick – on principle alone – this jam has several redeeming qualities or factors; most importantly, it comes from their second album High n’ Dry (1981), produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, The King of Hard Rock, who had just produced the most quintessential, untouchable hard rock album, AC/DC’s Back in Black (1980).

And there’s little doubt who and/or what Def Leppard is trying to do here – equal parts homage and rip-off. Either way, it’s a superbly crafted rock jam and sounds amazing. In my book, it’s one of the best jams AC/DC ever did.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

The Rolling Stones

StonesI know you’re thinking, “Nah, man, it ain’t possible” but it’s actually true. While I appreciate their contribution to music, I don’t really like it. I’m a total faux fan. The subject comes up and I’ll be, “Aw yeah, dude, the Stones are great”, but here’s what I really think.

Mick Jagger’s affectations are a huge turn-off, and Keith Richards, man, everybody keeps telling me this cat can play guitar, but it always sounded to me like the second-string dude was doing all the work. On the other side of the stage, it’s hard to say which member of the rhythm section has a pulse. Has Charlie Watts ever played in a time signature other than 4/4? In his entire career? This band has been inactive since 1982. Whoever is putting out records under the Rolling Stones brand umbrella is running one hell of a scam.

Meanwhile, I would never put on a Stones record at home, except for maybe Beggar’s Banquet. I can count the number of times I’ve played Let It Bleed on exactly zero fingers. I dunno. They have a zillion great jams. I just don’t care.

GUILTY PLEASURE

U2, October (1981)

I like this album precisely for all the reasons you might assume I wouldn’t. As Bono himself said, October “goes into areas that most rock n’ roll bands ignore.” If by that he means areas where Jesus is found, then that’s a profoundly accurate statement.

guilty-2-U2 - OctoberFirst of all, this is the first and last mainstream Christian rock album I ever bought. I like my rock n’ roll to be of the secular variety. While there are many solid reasons to hate this band, their first four albums are quite remarkable.

And frankly, as a teenager I was far too dense to be in any way influenced by spiritual yearning on a rock record. I had no idea what Bono was singing about on “Gloria”, and had completely misheard the Latin phrase in te domine as “Here today, gone today.”

After October, U2 had two more records left in them before everything went to shit and they got B.B. King embroiled in the farce.

This live version of “Gloria” is from the concert film U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky.

Years later, I would cite this song as an example of why band introductions are a bad idea. U2 never quenched anybody’s spiritual thirst. They simply made salty chips that made everybody thirsty.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

U2, The Joshua Tree (1987)

Whenever I hear a track from this record, I cannot help but think, “It’s really good, but…” At the time of its release, U2 was arguably the Biggest Band in the World. Their previous record, The Unforgettable Fire (1984) was in my estimation, about as far as they could go in the genre without completely jumping the shark, which they had previously avoided by releasing such an uncompromising album as The Unforgettable Fire.

guilty-2-joshua-u2As I said, The Joshua Tree sounds really good and contains a bunch of hot jams. Another reason I should have loved this record: it was produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. For many years, I could never put my finger on why it rubbed me wrong. I could say it was the maudlin power ballad “With or Without You”. Maybe it was the video for the hyper-anthemic “Where the Streets Have No Name”. It definitely had something to do with the gospel style chorus of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, one step beyond John Cougar. It was kind of like “Pink Houses” crossed with a prank phone call – again with the spiritual yearning.

The term “jump the shark” didn’t come into the modern lexicon until 1997 – ten years after the release of The Joshua Tree. Finally, I realized that this record is the first of many sharks U2 would jump in their long and industrious career.

Guilty Pleasures and Irrational Aversions – Round 1

4 Nov
We’ve all got ‘em – things we dig that we shouldn’t, and things we should dig but for one reason or another, do not. Dig.

There are dozens if not a hundred bands and artists I used to like which now make me cringe. Billy Idol, for example. The difference between a cringe-worthy, passing infatuation, and a guilty pleasure can be summed up neatly: I don’t listen to Billy Idol anymore. Meanwhile, the polar opposite of a guilty pleasure would technically be an “innocent irritation”, but honestly, that doesn’t read as well as irrational aversion.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Slaughter – Fly to the Angels

The amount of pleasure received from Slaughter is limited to this one song, but it’s a boatload of good vibrations, for sure. When it first came out in 1990. MTV was still playing videos. Pepperidge Farm remembers.

For years, I never to the best of my knowledge ever told anyone that I had a huge crush on this jam. One day in the mid-90s, I was hanging out with Bill Dolan, talking about cover songs – we had recently formed a band with the express intention of playing (mostly) covers. Anyway, Bill had an eclectic range of rock songs he wanted to play, and I had only two memorable suggestions, both of which I reckoned Bill wouldn’t be cool with.

The first was “The Hellion/Electric Eye” by Judas Priest – which is not a guilty pleasure, and a different subject altogether.[1] Bill shook that one off. The second was “Fly to the Angels”, which I almost didn’t suggest because Bill hadn’t liked my first idea. To my delightful surprise, Bill said something along the lines of, “That’s a pretty hot jam, actually.” We never did play it in the band, but from that point forward, I thought, “Hell, I was right all along. It was a hot jam.”

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

T. Rex

TrexI’m perfectly aware of the fact that saying you don’t like T. Rex is not cool. I’m not saying I don’t like T. Rex. For whatever reason, they just didn’t hit a groove with me. “Bang a Gong” would come on the radio and I’d think, “Well, at least it isn’t Pablo Cruise,” but I wasn’t excited or encouraged by any means. At the same time, I was subconsciously trying to avoid artists who wrote songs with “boogie” or “choogle” in the title. Marc Bolan and T. Rex had several of the former, and at least one of the latter.

It wasn’t until much later that I began to appreciate T. Rex to the point of respect and admiration. However, my two favorite T. Rex jams are covers of their songs by other artists: “Jeepster” by the Polecats, and “Children of the Revolution” by the Violent Femmes. I don’t know if it would have been a different story had I been turned on to his relatively obscure television show, Marc, which ran for six weekly episodes in the autumn of 1977, before Bolan died in a car crash.

A pop music show, [Marc] gave Bolan a chance to showcase punk bands such as Generation X, the Jam and Eddie and the Hot Rods. T. Rex performed at least three songs each week, a mixture of new versions of their old hits, and fresh tracks, while the guests were slotted in between. Not all were as notable as those listed above, though they also included Roger Taylor, drummer with the rock band Queen, in a rare solo TV appearance. They were also joined by a dance troupe called Heart Throb.

Marc – Episode Six, September 28, 1977

 

GUILTY PLEASURE

Pizzicato Five – Twiggy Twiggy (Twiggy vs. James Bond)

Don’t know why, but I vaguely remember when, 1994-95, so that’s a good starting point. Made in USA was Pizzicato Five’s second release in the U.S. on Matador Records.

guilty-1-Made_in_USA_Pizzicato_FiveI had somewhat recently started writing for a couple of local ‘zines and they’d have stacks of promo packs and new record releases for writers to review. Matador was one of the premier indie labels, and so most of the big names would have been snatched up by other writers. Peons like me got the runts of the mailbag litter. Anyway, the Matador label flashed at me, and I grabbed Made in the USA without reference. They’re Japanese? OK, let’s check this out.

While the ensuing review was irrelevant and lost in the ether of time, I couldn’t shake this “Twiggy” jam. There was a point in time when I could recite most of the lyrics, and even now, I’m a little surprised at the familiarity.

Sanjikan mo matte ita no yo
Watashi neko to issho ni

Sono toki denwa no beru ga
Watashi neko mitai ni shabetta
Terebi no volume sagete
Watashi uso mitai na koe de

Twiggy no mini skirt de
Twiggy mitai na pose de
Twiggy no mini skirt de
Twiggy mitai ni yassepochi no watashi

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

The Grateful Dead

gulity-1-Grateful_Dead_-_AoxomoxoaBy nearly all criteria, I should like and/or love the Dead. First of all, they were contenders for Highest Band on the Planet honors. Second, their concerts were a major social event – the parking lot of a Dead show was a really fun place to be. Finally, they had two drummers, which I have to almost love by default. The rest of it, the songs and the endless jamming should have fallen into place, but it didn’t.

The great thing about music is that generally speaking, you can be like, “Eh, I’m not listening to that nonsense.” And there’s no problem. In the old days when Jerry Garcia was still alive, it was a much more contentious issue. It didn’t take much to twist a Deadhead’s nipples. On the whole, Deadheads were a very defensive fan base. Though it was simply a lot of fun to have a point of contention, the truth was I really didn’t like the vast majority of the Dead’s music. Your arguments are much more compelling when you believe your own bullshit.

guilty-1-grateful_dead_aoxomoxoa_Courtney_love_back_coverThis veers into guilty pleasure territory but there is one Dead album that I owned and listened to on a regular basis for nearly 20 years, Aoxomoxoa (1969). AND I bought the 2003 reissue. Anyway, fun fact: a four-year-old Courtney Love appears on the back cover, as her old man was an associate of the band.

Aoxomoxoa is the band’s third studio album, and many Deadheads consider this era of the Dead to be the experimental apex of the band’s history. If I had to pick a favorite Grateful Dead song, there are two things for certain. One, it’s on this album; and two, it’s not one of the 2003 reissue bonus tracks.

Grateful Dead – St. Stephen

***

Footnotes

[1] Judas Priest – The Hellion/Electric Eye

Here we are at the diamond of the hard rock spectrum. One could argue Judas Priest was a metal band at some point in their career – MTV ranked them the second greatest heavy metal band of all-time, pffffhhhsssttt – but frankly, very little of their work is true metal; Sad Wings of Destiny (1976) is pretty metal, but most of their work hardly ventures outside of the confines of hard rock with an eye on the pop charts. Having one dude in the band with a Flying V does not automatically make you metal.

guilty-1-Judas_Priest_Screaming_for_VengeanceAnyway, here’s a fact. All dolled up in motorcycle leather and spiked collars, Judas Priest either looked like the baddest, meanest rock band on the planet – or, if people had put two and two together, a gay porn film waiting to happen. Regardless of their true intentions, Priest made bands like the Scorpions look like a bunch of students. We imagine them recording their albums in some dank, putrid S&M dungeon with scenes of untold mayhem and depravity, but in fact, following their cult-breakthrough with 1980’s British Steel, the band spent the next decade recording in hellish places like Ibiza, Spain, and the Bahamas. The dudes in Judas Priest turned out to be a bunch of regular European tourists in Speedos at the beach. And good for them.

Whatever. This jam opens their eighth album, Screaming for Vengeance (1982), which also contained the Top 40 hit “You Gotta Another Thing Comin’”, and truly gave them critical mass appeal. Prior to this record, Priest had been touring non-stop and had a handful of big hits (“Livin’ After Midnight”, “Breakin’ the Law” and “Headin’ Out to the Highway”), yet seemed headed for the cut-out bin following 1981’s sluggish Point of Entry. Although British Steel is considered the band’s coup de grace, Screaming for Vengeance – in part because of this jam – broke the band in North America, paving the way for a decade of mega-success.

Taiwan president: I will not discuss reunification – CNN.com

4 Nov

Taiwan doesn’t make the front page of CNN very often. It happens, usually due to a typhoon, but even less common is President Ma Ying-Jeou showing some backbone. While I don’t truly have a dog in the fight, I’m 100% behind the people of Taiwan. Perhaps this is cynical ploy by the Ma administration to show him in a positive light, but the most important thing is that people are talking about it.

Taiwan president: I will not discuss reunification – CNN.com.

The Recording of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” is Far More Complicated Than Anything You Will Ever Do

3 Nov

Best 10 minutes of You Tube I’ve seen in a while.

Even the Godmother Has Bills to Pay

3 Nov
Long before she was dubbed “the Godmother of Punk” – or subbing for Kurt Cobain in a sad but necessarily reunited NirvanaJoan Jett was just another rock n’ roll star trying to make the best of her career.

joan-jett-runawaysA founding member of the legendary all-female rock band The Runaways, Jett embarked on a solo career in 1979, teaming with a cat named Kenny Laguna, who played keyboards for Tommy James and the Shondells (“Mony Mony”), Ohio Express, and The Lemon Pipers (“Green Tambourine”); and Jay and the Americans (“This Magic Moment” and “Walkin’ in the Rain”). Oh, and he produced Bow Wow Wow’s version of “I Want Candy”.

Given their collective pedigrees, it seems like the Jett/Laguna collaboration would be a slam dunk, but it took extraordinary persistence. Jett’s solo debut Bad Reputation (1980) was allegedly rejected by 23 record labels. With Laguna’s help, Jett assembled a backing band and finally grabbed the proverbial brass ring with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ blockbusting, chart-topping album, I Love Rock n’ Roll (1982).

Following the massive success of the title track, Jett enjoyed a string of Top 40 hits, most notably a cover of “Crimson and Clover” and Gary Glitter’s ingenious “Do You Wanna Touch Me”. Her debut album was reissued and the track “Bad Reputation” became something of a cult classic.

I_love_rock_n'_roll_-_joan_jett_(album_cover)However, Jett’s second biggest contribution to popular culture has to be the unfortunate “I Hate Myself for Loving You” co-written by Satan himself Desmond Child. Released in 1988, reaching #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, it was later used as the theme song for Sunday Night NFL games (2006-2007). And you know that’s some serious coin.

Anyway, her career most likely buoyed by the inexplicable success of “I Hate Myself”, Jett released an album consisting entirely of cover songs, The Hit List (1990) which wasn’t out of her realm – most of her big hits were covers.

What’s perplexing is the overall direction and presentation of Jett’s image. To be certain, I wasn’t paying attention in 1990. No longer depicted as the tough, swaggering ‘original Riot Grrl’, Jett was re-branded and packaged as a more mature sex symbol of sorts. A Pat Benatar for the new generation. At least, that’s what they [record company executives?] were shooting for here.

joan-jett-hit-listThe history of cover versions is rife with bad decisions and poor judgments. One only need to read the fact that Avril Lavigne did a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” in order to know it’s one of the more sacrilegious recordings in the history of time.

Ahem, I don’t want to be down on the women in rock.

To be fair, what Rod Stewart did to “Downtown Train” is unforgivable.

And Motley Crue’s “Anarchy in the U.K.” is treasonous.

On the other hand, Britney Spears’ tepid version of Jett’s “I Love Rock n’ Roll” is pretty stinky, but its stench pales in comparison to Madonna’s version of “American Pie”.

It doesn’t seem possible that someone could take Don Maclean’s “American Pie” and make it stink any worse than it already does. Tut-tut. Not when Madonna’s on the job. No, sir. She can make anything worse.

Anyway, it doesn’t really surprise me that Jett had the moxie to cover AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”. What really sort of shakes my rock n’ roll foundation is that she somehow, for some reason, agreed to make a video for the song. And the video looks like this:

Joan Jett – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

joan-jett-ihateClearly, I don’t know Joan Jett. Maybe she was onboard with the image. The implicit sexism is neither extreme nor offensive, but it is obvious. Maybe she has courting the lipstick lesbian demographic, I dunno. And I’m gonna cut her some slack. Even the Godmother of Punk has bills to pay.

To be honest, The Hit List looks like a fun record and covers some fairly amusing stuff. I’ve enjoyed the irony of her take on ZZ Top’s “Tush”; I’ve cringed in delight during her version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Up From the Skies”. And you can, too!

Joan Jett – Up From the Skies

However, when she does get inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame – it’s a WHEN, not an IFI’m fairly certain there will be no mention of “Dirty Deeds”. And she probably deserves the free pass. She’s a cool chick.

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Joan Jett and the Blackhearts in the opening slot of the Police’s Synchronicity World Tour in 1983 at Comiskey Park, Chicago. The boos and the jeers started from the minute Jett took the stage, and the heckling gathered steam during her set. The band couldn’t have been on stage longer than 30 minutes before Jett stopped, said something to the effect of “Fuck y’all”, flipped us the bird, and walked off stage. That was pretty cool. That was rock n’ roll. I love rock n’ roll.

 

Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 8: A Long Story About Regulars, Vultures, and Compilations

31 Oct
The term “album” originally applied to a compilation of documents, manuscripts, or other items assembled and preserved in a “book” format, i.e. photo album.[1]

juke8-photoalbumSiam-Joe_1571549cBeginning in the 19th century, the word was related to anthologies of printed sheet music and poetry.

The invention of the gramophone gave rise to what we now call records or simply, vinyl. In the early 20th century, collections of related 78rpm records were packaged in book-like portfolios or albums.

When long-playing records (LPs) were developed, a collection of tracks on a single disc was logically called an “album.” The popular music compilation album can be traced to the mid-20th century, when music publishers began distributing “samplers” of artists on their roster.[2]

juke8-Rock_with_Bill_Haley_and_the_Comets_coverThe earliest known LP release of the rock n’ roll genre, Rock with Bill Haley and the Comets (1954), also happens to be the first rock compilation album, featuring singles released by the titular group in 1952-53, including the hits, “Rock the Joint” and “Crazy Man Crazy”.[3]

Most jukeboxes are heavy on compilations, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. Give the people what they want. The jukebox is a sort of electronic compilation “album” in its own right, if you think about it in a certain way.

The items (records) have been compiled (placed in the jukebox) and presented in a book format (carousel of CD title pages).

Besides, I like compilation albums. I’m generally pleased when a box has David Bowie, Changesone (1976); it contains one of my favorite Bowie songs of all-time, “John, I’m Only Dancing”; and it precludes Let’s Dance by seven long-ass years of pastel suits, shoulder pads and saxophone solos.

So Changesone is a positive sum record. I lose out on “Heroes”, but don’t have to sit through “Modern Love” or “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”, the latter of which was co-written by Giorgio Moroder, the Godfather of Disco.

But of course, some kid is probably going to play “Space Oddity” and that’s a risk I’m willing to accept.

Tell you what, “Space Oddity”? I’m gonna be looking forward to the interlude that follows the crescendo of the bridge:

Planet Earth is blue / And there’s nothing I can do

That’s a hot little riff, man, the way he creates the illusion of a new time signature (6/8) by strumming three beats against the four. Kudos. P.S. The above video was home-edited to capture just that riff for context, and the clip is only 22 seconds long.

juke8-ChangesonebowieFrankly, I’m always grateful when the next song isn’t by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’ll take five hours of “Space Oddity” on a recursive loop before a single spin of “Give it Away”.

Over the years I’ve developed an acute emotional sensitivity to music and in the same way my liver has developed an aversion to alcohol, the problem is the result of abuse, and neither my temper nor my liver has much control over the situation.

One of main reasons I prefer to drink in dive bars like Baltimore’s Inn: there is absolutely zero chance of hearing Limp Bizkit or Beyonce – music which would upset my equilibrium.

You think I’m joking but the other night I heard some new music by a group of terrorists named Maroon 5, and I’m telling you straight-up, no hyperbole, no bullshit, I couldn’t see straight.

juke8-Rod-Stewart-The-Mercury-Antho-8753So down at the Balt, are we gonna hear Dire Straits and Motley Crue? Probably. Hopefully. It’s much easier to tune out something I’m familiar with.

Bear in mind, despite a deep level of involvement and commitment to the lifestyle, my life didn’t exactly revolve around the jukebox, or the pinball machine. Lots of nights I came in to drink my beer and shut the fuck up for a few hours so I could think.

Anyway, a guy like me has all-time favorites for just about everything, including compilation albums, with several sub-categories, i.e. All-time Favorite Compilation Album for Long Distance Driving.

Rod Stewart, The Mercury Anthology

Without question, my All-time Favorite Compilation Found in a Jukebox:

Squeeze, Singles – 45’s and Under (1986)

juke8-squeeze_-_singles_45s_and_underEven if you’re merely a casual fan of rock music, you must get to know this album. You don’t have to like it. And to repeat myself from Episode 7, while it’s impossible to say exactly what records should be in every jukebox everywhere, when I roll up on an unfamiliar dive bar and plug a few bucks into the box, this is the record that makes me say, “All right! This joint has things dialed in. These people understand Jukebox.”

Yeah, the Ray Price compilation is a nice touch, I agree. But it’s not enough to seal the deal.

Although I’ve owned several other Squeeze albums (Argybargy, Cool for Cats), it was instinctive and invariable to reach for Singles whenever I needed to refresh my memory on how to write and record a decent song.

The compilation contains 12 tracks, and every one of them is a keeper. Somehow, this record sheds a bit of light on how mainstream rock music could go from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols and back to the Beatles in little more than a decade.

juke8-squeezecreem3As a band, they were flawless. Glen Tilbrook (lead vocals and guitar), Chris Difford (guitar and vocals), Jools Holland (keyboards), John Bentley (bass) and Gilson Lavis (drums) constitute the “classic line-up”, although they continued to make great music with Paul Carrack (vocals and keyboards) in place of Holland.

John Bentley and Gilson Lavis. These are two names that don’t get mentioned nearly enough.

Also, Difford is a brilliant lyricist while Glen Tilbrook is one of the most under-rated guitarists in the business. Seriously, man, I forget about that dude.

Check out this live take of “Another Nail for My Heart”, and be sure to stick around for the guitar solo.

Squeeze – Another Nail for My Heart

***

Due to its location at the edge of Fantasyland proper, as well as its seedy reputation, there was hardly ever anybody in Baltimore’s Inn that you could call “normal.” Yours truly included, obviously.

At the same time, Baltimore’s was a good place to breeze in for a quick drink, score some dope, and catch the seventh inning of a baseball game on TV before rolling off to the next destination. The regulars and vultures hardly bothered with unfamiliar faces until they became familiar faces, which could take anywhere from a week to never.

The regulars were people from all walks of society who had jobs and generally something on the ball. Thus, the joint was a place to come and relax, a clubhouse. As a matter of fact, it was regulars who kept the bar in business, not the tourists or the vultures.

juke8-coke-Ryan-preparing-Regulars showed up anywhere from 5:30 p.m. until 1:45 a.m. at last call. They played pool, bought shots for their friends, tipped a buck on every drink served, and did lines of cocaine in the bathroom. They brought co-workers and family to visit. They loved the joint as much as anybody could. The bar was a substantial part of their identity.

There were certain “sets” of neighborhood regulars who partied after-hours at each other’s homes. Some regulars were more popular than others. There were special regulars who provided a product or service.

However, a regular never ignored another regular; it was based on a bizarre form of common courtesy. There were a bunch of regulars who I wouldn’t have missed if they stopped showing up, and one or two that I hoped all the bad things in the world would happen to them and them alone.

For instance, many nights I’d walk in and see this one dude named Swede sitting in roughly the same spot at the bar. He was an ugly, craven and narcissistic fellow; a true sloth in his habitat; a would-be vulture except that he owned a dry cleaning operation and didn’t drink during the day; and even though I despised him for a multitude of reasons, I greeted him, or acknowledged his presence without fail.

juke8-vulturesOn a random Tuesday night, I rolled in right at 11:00 p.m., which was early for me. I breezed past him and said, “S’up, Sweets?”

“It’s Swede,” he replied, dramatically perplexed and instantly exasperated. “How many…?” Gasping at Fred the bartender, “Fred, this guy is on my nerves every single fucking night.”

“Swede is a stupid nickname,” Fred asserted. “You’ve got about as much French in you as a Thai hooker.”

“That makes no sense, Fred,” I countered. “You need to seriously look at a map of the world.”

Swede was simply thrilled that someone was paying him any mind.

“It’s been my nickname since I was in grade school, elementary school! Did I tell you the story? What do you want me to do, change it? Now? After all this time? Look, it’s on my goddamn driver’s license,” reaching for his wallet, “see here, in the state of California…”

Fred handed me a beer, took the fiver from the bartop, and waved me down to the back end of the bar. “Dickhead. Why do you always have to get that guy yammering?”

juke 3 - pit magic 2“I’ll be over at [Theater of] Magic if anybody calls,” cheerfully.

“I hope you tilt. On every ball.”

“Hey! No Blue Oyster Cult, Fred,” at first laughing and then turning deadpan. “For real, Freddie. ‘Member, last night?”

The previous evening I had proposed a bet over pinball, despite Earl’s dead-serious, paranoid ban on gambling of any kind in the bar. One ball each, highest score takes the prize. I win, Fred doesn’t get to play B.O.C. for one night. Fred wins, I don’t get to use the jukebox for one night. In a remarkable stroke of good luck and serious table mojo, I crushed him by double-digit millions; an impressive blow-out considering Freddie’s pinball wizard status. It was the ball of a lifetime, and I don’t ever remember beating him again.

The point is, Swede was a regular and as much as I wanted to pay him no mind, I didn’t. Courtesy can be found almost anywhere you’re willing to look for it, even in a desperate, dead-end shithole like Baltimore’s Inn.

juke8-fatsally-south-parkThe vultures were a transient group of a dozen regulars who did nothing but show up anywhere from 8:00 a.m. up until noon, sit at the bar, hunched over their rotgut vodka and sodas, broadcasting thick waves of bad vibration. They even had a woman in the crew, Fat Sally, easily the most vile and detestable creature within a 50-mile radius. Somebody would mention her name and I would stop the speaker in mid-sentence, “Not another word. I don’t want to know.”

At 30-minute intervals the vultures staggered out and decamped to the sidewalk for a smoke. Though harmless to the general public, vultures were known for vicious infighting, and occasionally an argument would erupt during the smoke break, prompting the intervention of local law enforcement. I’m told that before my time, there was an inter-vulture stabbing which took place right there in front of the bar. The dispute was over five dollars, which the stabbing vulture accused the stabbee of swiping from the bartop.

juke8-vodkaAll vultures were extremely under-employed, or unemployed and living on some sort of social welfare, be it food stamps or a monthly compensation check for a phantom disability. At least one of them was drinking an inheritance. Besides, being an ill-tempered, full-blown, vodka-for-breakfast alcoholic was like a job – a fucking career – for a vulture.

At some point in the afternoon, the group would splinter, with some buzzards going home to eat something, while the others either ordered a pizza for delivery or took the bus up to 6th Street and Wallace for Chinese food and a couple of drinks at the Golden Girl on 21st Avenue. [Nobody had a car or a driver’s license anymore; all of them had at least a couple of DUIs on their records. At least. This one vulture named Gary had done time for vehicular manslaughter, so you know the type of dirtbag we’re dealing with here.]

They’d all reconvene at the Balt before sundown, throw back a few more drinks, and the early birds would fly home for the evening.

By 8:30 p.m., there would be one or two vultures left at the bar, topping off the tank, so to speak.

You might be wondering, “How does this guy know the intimate details of the so-called vultures’ habits and routines, unless he spent time hanging out with them?” And that’s a fair point to ponder.

First and foremost, I lived around the corner from the bar. One hundred and sixty seven steps. Second, I worked nights, so I was home during the day. My usual coffee shop was another 220 steps west of Baltimore’s, so I would pass by the joint at least twice; once in the morning and once in the afternoon. This apparently concurred with their smoking schedule on countless occasions.[4]

On quiet mornings I couldn’t help myself from poking my head in the door to see what was cooking. Plus, there was at least a dozen times I went down there during the day to argue with Earl. This doesn’t even account for all the times I simply left my fucking house and couldn’t help but see these vultures.

juke8-vulture2Finally, whoever relieved Big Ted from the day shift usually had to clean up after the vultures, because I’m told Big Ted was not a big “cleaning” type of guy. As a result, whether it was Al, Stacy or Freddie, there would always be grousing about that day’s events. So whatever gaps in my knowledge of the vultures was filled in by the bartenders, and by mingling with the few stragglers who miraculously made it past midnight. That Gary son-of-a-bitch had extraordinary endurance.

Because vultures were technically regulars, the regular-regulars were uniformly polite and courteous, no matter how surly or out of line they got. And getting out of line seemed to be their entertainment. There were countless incidents where someone would say to a vulture, “Listen, Eddie, I’m not going to fucking hit you, OK? Just chill out. Damn.”

Most of all, the vultures leered. They would just sit and stare at you like they had x-ray vision. You’d be talking to somebody and all of a sudden, catch Eddie staring at you from across the bar. You’d think, “Really, Eddie? Come on, man.” God only knows what kind of horrific illusions were spinning through his mind.

As far as bartenders were concerned, the award for Closest to a Normal Human Being would be a toss-up between Stacy and Al.

Big Ted was the one bartender I couldn’t deal with. He just creeped me out – and he was king of the vultures. They flocked to him like disciples to Christ.

juke8-carharttHe was in his late 50s, a legitimate Vietnam Vet who definitely saw combat; a big old dude – as the name suggests – with long gray hair and beard, and two motionless marbles in the sockets where his eyeballs should have been. Always wearing the same pair of vomit-olive Carhartt overalls, hands all mangled from masonry work. Big Ted was there, but he was really never there.

I’m 1,000% sure Big Ted was a real nice cat before all the terrible shit that happened in Vietnam, but I wouldn’t go anywhere near him if I didn’t have to.

Conversely! Stacy had a gregarious personality and a pair of sparkling Irish green eyes. Actually, she reminded me a lot of my sister. She was also easily distracted and absent-minded; it was exceedingly common for her to get sucked into a 15-minute conversation with one of the vultures while ignoring the rest of the bar.

Some nights I wouldn’t be in the mood for pinball, so I would sit and jawbone with one of the fixtures of the joint, a quasi-vulture named Grabby – the one with the inheritance, who was highly educated and hence, one of the only vultures capable of intelligent conversation.

Grabby and I could talk about absolutely anything from astronomy to zoology, but we were consistently marveled by Stacy’s lack of awareness and overall bartending competence. At least once a week, one of us would mutter in disgust, “She has got to be the worst bartender in the history of alcohol,” staring bitterly at the empty bottles in front of us.

Every so often, Grabby would get up, walk to the other end of the bar, pretend to put money in the jukebox, only to turn around and interrupt loudly, “Hey Stace! Remember us? We’re a coupla thirsty dudes down there, babe.

That was my cue: “It’s like we’re ghosts!”

Of course, Stacy would come scooting over and she was so nice that you couldn’t hold it against her. Grabby said, “She’s a lovely person inside and out…unfortunately.”

And in her defense, if it was busy, Stacy did her best to stay on the ball.

If Freddie or Al were on the job, the next drink appeared almost instantaneously. Snap your fingers – it appeared. Wait. Back it up. Never snap your fingers in a joint like the Balt.

juke8-raypriceAnyway, Al was telepathic. He knew the level on your beverage at all times, sometimes without even looking. Al knew when you needed a beer before you did. He was the embodiment of old school Fantasyland bartending. He was the Ray Price of bartenders.

A native Fantasylander – or as they called themselves, Fantasian – Al was a former city beat detective and college football star; short but stocky – est. 5’6”, approx. 200 lbs. with Popeye forearms, bushy moustache. He had deep booming voice and big old bear paws for hands, his pinky as thick as my thumb. He had a death grip for a handshake, and you shook his hand twice – on arrival and departure, every single night – it was mandatory.

Now in his mellow early 50s, it was still pretty clear that you didn’t mess with Al. The Jimmy Buffett shirt and nerdy eyeglasses were a ruse. From day one, I made a conscious decision to never discuss music with Al.

There was one time early in my tenure when a fight broke out among some cats playing pool, Al came out from behind the bar to break it up and he was tossing kids around like cardboard cut-outs. It was also the first time I had seen someone literally thrown out of a bar, courtesy of Al.

He would always warn guys if they were getting out of line; we saw that a lot. If everybody is a bomb, Al had a fairly long fuse, and he’d let you know if you were getting close to detonation. That was the cop in him. Just the way he would talk to a guy usually diffused the situation. He would say, “WE don’t have a problem right NOW, pal, but YOU are about to have a REAL big problem. So, cool your fucking jets.”

And one of the vultures named Wayne slurs, “Dude, trust me… You don’t…want to mess…with Al.”

Jets were invariably cooled.

juke8-talking-gi-joeOne Friday night this military hothead G.I. Joe had been holding court at the bar since 9:00 p.m. when I arrived on the scene a little after midnight.

G.I. Joe had been in the bar at least a couple of times in the past month. He boasted of being a former Marine, serving “Special Ops” in Iraq, and now working for Blackwater. Whether or not that was bullshit didn’t matter. He wasn’t overly scary or threatening; he was just a loud mouth. He talked shit so people would respect him. I wouldn’t even make eye contact with the cat.

Stacy was behind the bar, but Al and his lady Marianne were down at the nook end – the small elbow of the bar furthest from the entrance – having just arrived from a wedding at the Masonic Temple down on Mercer Avenue, all decked out in their finest duds. Marianne, one of the coolest women I’ve ever met, also happened to be a cop in a neighboring county.

It seemed like everybody was in good spirits. G.I. Joe had a circle of people that took up the back half of the bar and spilled out over to the pinball machine. Thwarted – albeit temporarily – from playing my beloved Theater of Magic, I made my way toward Al and Marianne, avoiding G.I. Joe like a gaping sinkhole in the middle of Midland Boulevard.

Before my butt even hit the stool, Al nudged me and said, “I don’t like this guy” referring to G.I. Joe, who was extraordinarily loud and increasingly obnoxious. I’d only been in the bar for maybe 30 seconds, so I was somewhat indifferent.

“Yeah, whatever.”

juke8-hookersIMG_4610There were a couple of chicks in the G.I. Joe posse that may not have been “sluts” or “prostitutes”, but to quote Dave Chappelle, they were wearing the uniform. My eyes glazed over.

G.I. Joe snapped at Stacy a couple of times, “Hey! Bartender! Where are those shots I ordered?” which caused Al to bristle and grimace. He was agitated. His fuse had been lit and it was burning fast.

But Stacy was cool. She gave G.I. Joe the stink-eye. He winked at her and Stacy said later that he was a very generous tipper, and she didn’t mind his gruff demeanor, which she described as a “primal form of flirting common with military goons.”

Maybe 10 minutes passed, and G.I. Joe was now clearly talking shit. I heard – we all heard him say, “The bitch didn’t say that when my dick was in her mouth.”

Cringing in embarrassment, I said, “Marianne, cover your ears!”

Marianne’s ears were pitched forward. She either saw or smelled something wrong.

All of a sudden, a super loud “Whoa-ohhhh!” came from the G.I. Joe crew followed by a hush. One of the chicks had just tossed a drink in G.I. Joe’s face. It was probably a drink he had paid for, too.

The chick was saying, “You fucking asshole…” Etc. There was a mixture of laughter, disdain, and “Hey, hey – relax!

From my angle, I couldn’t see exactly what G.I. Joe did next, but somehow he made contact with the woman and she would up on the ground, screaming bloody murder. Everybody was screaming at this point, actually.

A canon chorus of disapproving “Hey!!!!” erupted from around the bar.

Al was up and on G.I. Joe so fast that I didn’t even notice he’d left his seat. Pow, Bam, Scrunch. Al got the dude in a Full-Nelson and dragged him out on the sidewalk within a matter of seconds. Marianne got some handcuffs out of the trunk of her car, and the local cops were there like Shazam!

Despite his alpha male status, Al had a couple of curious, not-so-normal features, the most notable being his love of Tom Jones. Al revered Tom Jones like I worshipped Eddie Van Halen – for the first 30 years of my life. Then I gave it up as a bad job.

juke8-cd-tmjonesgreatestAt any rate, of course we had Tom Jones, Greatest Hits – The Platinum Edition in the box, and if Al was behind the bar, you were guaranteed to hear “Sex Bomb” every hour, on the hour. At some point, I just got in the habit of using one of my selections on “She’s a Lady” to save him the trouble – a move that invariably scored me one on the house.

***

In the broadest of terms, I have to admit that owner Earl had more on the ball than I give him credit. He was in fact responsible for Singles – 45s and Under being in the jukebox. He also bought an updated wireless remote for the jukebox that he kept in the right pocket of his football-style jacket. The original remote only featured a VOLUME knob and CANCEL button. The new version had more buttons than the TV remote. You could do all sorts of crazy things with it.

juke8- remote-oldOf course, everybody (who cared about the jukebox) was anxious to get their paws on that remote, but Earl kept a tight watch on the device. And I completely understood his rationale, which was that it should only be used in extreme emergencies. He believed, as I do, that if somebody puts their hard-earned cash in a jukebox, they deserve to hear what they selected, in the order it was selected. End of story. In other words, no bumping.

“Bumping” was the term used to describe the jukebox version of cutting in line. There was another dive bar on the other side of town that I frequented where bumping was extremely common. They did it to me, once. According to Earl, with this new remote, you didn’t have to completely delete (or bump) a selection; you could, but there was another method via remote using FUTURE MODE, which allowed you move a jam or a set of jams to the back of the cue. I never did bother to find out of if he was bullshitting us. FUTURE MODE seemed like an awful lot to ask of a seven-year-old jukebox in 2003. You know? I smelled fish.

Regardless, as a bar owner, Earl was as absent as he could get away with and not have the joint get burned to the ground. He opened the doors at 8:00 a.m., stuck around until Big Ted showed up, then cut out to bet on the ponies at the track or lose his shirt at the Indian casino, and head back down to the Balt around 6:00 p.m.

Whenever he and I were at odds, I would say, “But Earl, I don’t get it. You love Squeeze just as much as I do; yet you also love Power Station. How is that possible?”

juke8-roweavi-100The Rowe AMI Compact Disc Jukebox contained up to 100 discs, which is a lot of ground to cover. Earl kept a keen eye on what was being played, and most definitely didn’t always concede to Freddie.

The box contained an equal number of standard albums and compilations, but it was always the best-of selection that surprised me. For instance, we had (at some point) best-of collections from The Cure, R.E.M., David Bowie, Radiohead, Talking Heads and the Clash. On the flipside, we also had Dave Matthews Band and Pearl Jam.

In a joint like the Balt, which had all the aesthetic appeal of a biker bar in rural Oregon, you might be thinking more along the lines of George Thorogood and the Doobie Brothers. Oh, we had those, too.

juke8-Endless-SummerOne Sunday afternoon, I rolled down to Baltimore’s with the express intention of arguing with Earl about his apparently arbitrary decision to replace The Beach Boys, Endless Summer with Foreigner, Complete Greatest Hits.

Earl was a fairly mild-mannered cat, and he always weathered my interrogations with healthy doses of humor and patience. If he saw me come through the door before sundown, he knew I wasn’t there to watch the Raiders’ game.

“But we haven’t had any Foreigner [in the jukebox] for at least a year,” Earl responded.

“We don’t need any Foreigner.”

Earl shrugged and said, “It’s one of those records we really should have.”

“No. Their first record is arguably a must-have, but their greatest hits? You know how many times I heard ‘I Want to Know What Love Is?’ last night?

“More than once.”

“Correct.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you,” Earl backed off from the bar and resumed polishing beer glasses. “Seems like you’re the only one who cares about the Beach Boys. I never liked them in the first place.”

“Oh…my…God!

“No, I’m serious. Never liked ‘em. They didn’t even know how to surf. How fucked up is that?”

juke8-Foreigner-Greatest-Hits-531074“That’s not true, Earl. Dennis Wilson was a fairly accomplished surfer.”

“Do you think,” his voice rising, “that Brian Wilson ever paddled out past a break?”

“Fair enough, Earl,” I backed off. “Obviously – your bar, your rules. But I can’t see Foreigner being the appropriate replacement in any situation. I mean, we only have one Sabbath record [Paranoid].”

And then Earl said something that forever destroyed any credibility he might have had with me, Squeeze notwithstanding, “Yeah, but the problem with Black Sabbath is that if I put [the albums] in the box, people are going to play ‘em. It’s going to be Black Sabbath all night, every night.”

From that point forward, whenever the subject of music came up with Earl, I proposed that he simply buy a second-hand iPod from a panhandler at Fisherman’s Wharf, and get rid of the jukebox altogether.

***

A lot of compilations contain enough filler that maybe half of the songs are justifiable “hits.” Take for instance a band like Boston, who didn’t drop a best-of collection until 1997 – 25 years after the band was formed; an eternity in the music industry.

Ijuke8-bostongreatest’ve got a lot of respect for that kind of commercial restraint, especially in an era where bands (labels) put out a best-of collection after the third album barely dented the charts. Ahem.

However, Boston’s Greatest Hits contains 16 tracks, maybe four of which are standard classics:

  • “Foreplay/Long Time”
  • “More than a Feeling”
  • “Peace of Mind”
  • “Don’t Look Back”

Throw in “Rock n’ Roll Band” and “Smokin’” and make it a grand total of six palatable jams, five of which are on their eponymous debut album (1976).

Go back and revisit those numbers. Sixteen and six. Seriously, I kind of have a sweet spot for “Hitch a Ride” – also on the first album – but don’t tell anybody. Sixteen and seven. Still, not a good ratio for a compilation album.

Right, so… “Don’t Look Back” is the only hot track from the second album of the same name (1979), and everything they’ve done since then doesn’t rate. In fact, a lot of it does nothing but offend. The extra nine or so tracks on the best-of disc are just asking for trouble.

In the case of an artist like Boston with a handful of hits, but those jams are super-massive hits, it makes much more sense to skip the compilation and go with the debut album which contains the bulk of what people want to hear, while at the same time, denying them the opportunity to jam us with extraneous bullshit.

You only have to sacrifice “Don’t Look Back” in order to keep people from playing “Amanda”. This is heretofore known as the Boston Dilemma.

juke8-bostonfirstBoston was one of the cases in which I was able to prevail over Earl and get him to swap out Boston’s Greatest Hits for the 1976 debut album. Nobody noticed. We still heard “More than a Feeling” on a nightly basis. And nobody threw a fit because they couldn’t play “Amanda”. Even Freddie hated that song.

Furthermore, a lot of bands have downright dangerous compilations. Take for example, Heart, a band with eight different best-of collections. At least one of those compilations, Greatest Hits/Live (1980), features only their hard rock stuff, and honestly if the band had stopped there, I probably wouldn’t be throwing so much shade at them. But they didn’t.

Tragically, down at Batlimore’s Inn, we wound up with Heart, These Dreams: Greatest Hits (1995) and no amount of bellyaching to Earl was going to change that. Like I said, after Earl’s Black Sabbath comment, my attitude about the jukebox made that gesture of dismissal and disgust which equates to the opposite of bowing down.

Heart is a band with maybe three or four good rock songs. One could argue for a few sleeper tracks (“Heartless” is a gritty little number) but generally speaking, the rest of their catalog, though apparently popular with soccer moms and karaoke singers, is terrible. I don’t like it. And please be reminded I’m speaking purely from a Rock with a capital R – music perspective.

The problem with Heart’s These Dreams: Greatest Hits goes beyond that fact that it contains “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You”; the disc’s sequencing is purposefully insidious. You might wonder what sequencing has to do with content.

The way in which Heart’s Greatest Hits is laid out, the record opens with “Crazy on You”, which is a solid jam. No qualm or beef with that one. Disc 78 – Track 01.

In my mind, there are only two songs that could possibly follow: “Magic Man” or “Barracuda”; one or the other should be Tracks 02 and 03.

juke8-Heart_Greatest_HitsUnfortunately, on These Dreams those songs have been sequenced to appear as Tracks 08 and 17, respectively.

What’s in between? Gut-wrenching, over-wrought power ballads like “Alone”, “Never”, “Who Will You Run To?” and “These Dreams” – among other non-desirable tracks.

We’re in an establishment where alcohol is over-served, and I saw this scenario unfold time and time again. We as a species under the influence are borderline incompetent when faced with simple yet electronic tasks, such as programming a song on a jukebox, which requires at least the fundamental ability to read, count, and press a series of buttons.

Dude is on his sixth beer and rumbles over to the jukebox. He sees Heart’s Greatest Hits and thinks, “Hell, yeah! Let’s play some jams! Barra-cuda!!

And that’s how you wind up getting pounded with (A) shit nobody wants to hear and (B) a track that wasn’t what the dude intended to play; which is usually followed by more money being fed into the box – an attempt to program the right track.

Bear. A. Coo. Dah.

The really nasty bit comes derives from the Rowe AMI Compact Disc Jukebox itself. When programming a song, it requires the two sets of two-digit numbers as described above; four numbers in total and in sequence. Disc number, followed by track number. So if a patron wanted to hear “Crazy on You”, they would enter the following four numbers in sequence: 7801. That’s it.

Ajuke8-keypad2_indexs soon as that fourth digit – in this case, the “1” was tapped on the keypad, the jukebox automatically assumed that’s the jam you wanted to hear, and in fact, it was officially programmed. There’s no ENTER button on the keypad, or anywhere on the machine for that matter.

OK, but isn’t there a RESET button? Yes, but it’s only effective up through three digits. So if you got antsy and pressed 781 – thinking, “Hey, it’s Track 1” and not realizing it’s actually Track 01 because you’re silly drunk – you still had a chance to make things right.

The correct response is to catch the mistake and immediately hit RESET and start over. Instead, most people either press 0, thinking it will adjust the second set of digits, or 1, because they’re fucking stupid.

Thanks to Dude and his failure to discern between Disc 78 – Track 01 (“Crazy on You”) and Disc 78 – Track 11 (“Dreamboat Annie”), we’re going to hear half of Heart’s Greatest Hits – the shit half. So order another beer and settle in.

Meanwhile, the dude was also trying to program “Magic Man” – Track 08 – a digit off from Track 09: “What About Love”. How he confused Track 07 (“Straight On”) for Track 17 (“Barracuda”) is frankly beyond comprehension, but stranger things have happened.

And it’s not only blurred vision that complicates the mix. Sometimes it’s simple math. The number 08 looks a lot like 09. The vicious circle continues. More dollars, more tapping at buttons, more mistakes. And we still haven’t heard “Barracuda”.

juke8-Little_Richard's_Greatest_Hits_1965On rare occasion, a disc might be mislabeled and the running order would be wrong. For instance, Little Richard’s Greatest Hits (1965) was completely wrong from Track 03 on down, thanks to a secretarial omission of “Tutti Frutti” from the running order listed on the CD tray card.

Fortunately, I was the only one at the Balt who ever played Little Richard and I didn’t care which of his jams came next. In fact, that’s how I really got acquainted with some of his lesser hits like “Oh! My Soul” and “Send Me Some Lovin’” – by punching wrong numbers on the keypad. And for that, I’m eternally grateful, because I wasn’t exactly sitting around at home listening to Little Richard for snicks.

However, it’s my understanding that the majority of untended selections were the result of human error. If you played “Stairway to Heaven” when you meant to play “When the Levee Breaks”, you had no business messing with the jukebox and it was probably time to call it a night.

On the other hand, many bands have multiple compilations, and in a few instances, you can pretty much program any song on the disc and it will be OK. Queen’s first Greatest Hits (1980) is one such record. Any one of the Beatles’ Anthology series is a full-time winner. You could throw at dart at the Stones’ Hot Rocks and probably hit a solid cut. However and unfortunately, compilation albums cannot be created equally.

juke8-who-meatyThe Who have dumped a total of 26 different compilation albums into the market, many of which are chock full of tasty cuts. This is because starting from 1983’s Who’s Greatest Hits, these records are virtually identical. They haven’t had a hit since 1983, so nobody is lacking. The only Who record you’ll find in my jukebox is Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy (1970).

juke8-goldnplatskynyrdOver the last 20 years, the first three Lynyrd Skynyrd albums have grown on me unlike any other band or artist. When I think of how far I’ve come in my appreciation for Skynyrd’s music, from “Yeah, they’re cool” to “Oh my God!” there is no other artist that even comes close.

Guided by Voices has really grown on me, but I’d survive on a deserted isle without Alien Lanes (1994). I wouldn’t make it a month without at least one Skynyrd record.

Anyway, aside from the first three albums, the rest of Skynyrd’s catalog – from 1975’s Gimme Back My Bullets forward – has some hits and some misses. However, Skynyrd was and is special; they’re like the Beatles, Stones and Hendrix; it would be an insult to their music and their legacy to simply put a compilation album in the jukebox, for instance, Gold & Platinum (1979) and call it day, which is exactly what happened at the Balt.

Here we face a variation of the Boston Dilemma. The problem isn’t that people play the same jams, night after night; it’s that you’re only allowed to play the hits. Most of my favorite Skynyrd jams are the deep cuts found on those first three records.

juke8-Jimi_Hendrix_-The_Cry_Of_LoveLikewise, The Essential Jimi Hendrix compilation is a fine record, but you also must have a regular album in there as well – to allow for deep cuts. The Cry of Love (1971) would be an excellent choice, by the way. Moreover, you can have the Beatles 1967-70, but you also have to include Revolver.

Pause for a moment. Sigh.

The debut, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd (1973) is a staggering work of heartbreaking genius. The only problem is “Freebird”. If it’s my joint, we can’t have that song on the box. Period. Down at the Balt, it’s bad enough the jam is already on Gold & Platinum.

The aptly-titled Second Helping (1974) is almost as good, but it contains “Sweet Home Alabama”, which is such a tasty cut that it too deserves to be retired forever. Likewise, you’re not going to hear it in my joint.

juke8-Lynyrd-Skynyrd-Nuthin-Fancy-137866Changing the angle for a moment, we could consider a live album, One More From the Road (1976), but again, it’s mostly big hits and… “Freebird”. Furthermore, it doesn’t have anything from Street Survivors (1977), particularly one of their best-ever cuts, “That Smell.” So, no and no.

The third album, Nuthin’ Fancy (1975), is probably my favorite of the trio, and another record that can define a jukebox. Its big hit was “Saturday Night Special” which is certainly my favorite of their charting singles, and you’d hear “Made in the Shade” on late night album-rock radio stations. The genius of Nuthin’ Fancy is found in deep cuts like “On the Hunt” and “Am I Losin’?”

In the end, sometimes a compilation album is simply not enough. It doesn’t say anything about an artist except that they had a few hits. In the case of a band like Squeeze, whose best jams all happened to be hits, the mediocre stuff is for aficionados and doesn’t belong on a dive bar jukebox. Squeeze was awesome, but they were nobody’s Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Footnotes

[1] If You Care #1:The word album originates in the early 17th century: from Latin, neuter of albus ‘white’ used as a noun meaning ‘a blank tablet’. Taken into English from the German use of the Latin phrase album amicorum ‘album of friends’ (a blank book in which autographs, drawings, poems, etc. were collected), it was originally used consciously as a Latin word – whatever ‘consciously’ is supposed to mean in the context. I dunno.

[2] If You Care #2: It could probably be traced back even further than that to Universal Pictures, etc.

[3] If You Care #3: BH&tC’s first three albums were compilations; they didn’t begin making “themed” albums until 1956, beginning with Rock n’ Roll Stage Show.

[4] I know I’ve told this story before somewhere, but it’s a perfect example of my relationship with the vultures. I’d been living out there for two years when one morning around 9:00, I set off for the coffee shop and came upon a group loitering in front of the bar. Most prominent was this Irish guy named John, an itinerant house painter, who I didn’t know very well.

juke8-irishmanNormally, I would nod at the group in general and keep walking. No real reason for pleasantries, unless someone engaged me. None of the vultures noticed me coming up the sidewalk except for John; we made eye contact at 20 yards. As I approached, without warning or provocation, John snarled, “The fuck you lookin’ at, lad?”

Dumbstruck, I said, “I’m not lookin’ at anything” and kept walking by.

“Fuckin’ shandybagger.”

I turned around, “What?”

“Fuckin’ pillowbiter, that’s what you are.” At this point, the other vultures had taken notice.

“Whatever, John. Isn’t there a house somewhere that needs to be painted the wrong color?” Wayne and Larry cackled. But it was true. John once worked on a crew that painted a house green when it was supposed to be painted blue. It was not a fact that John willingly shared. The boss of the crew used to be a vulture as well.

John was steaming, “Watch your tongue, lad. Someone might have an idea to cut it out for ya.”

“Goodbye,” I said, spinning back around, “have a nice day.”

“Little fuckin’ cunt,” John rasped.

Two nights later, I got cut early at work and posted up at the Balt around 10:00 p.m. The place was jumping, as I had forgotten it was the birthday of a well-regarded regular, this dude named Thomas. Everybody was in attendance. Earl, Al, Stacy, Big Ted were there. Freddie was behind the bar, which was lined with vultures.

So I joined the festivities and bought a round of shots for Thomas, a certified nurse working toward his EMT, and one of those rare, genuinely nice guys that didn’t have a bad bone in his body. Not a pushover by any means, Thomas just seemed to always find a compassionate response to any situation. So we jawboned for a while. Then Thomas’s lady, Gwen came over, and in turn introduced me to her friend, a young woman named Colette.

An hour later, Colette and I had hit it off and were chatting while leaning against the rail that separated the bar area from the pool tables. All of a sudden, I felt an arm across my shoulder and the hot breath of an extremely inebriated Irishman on my neck. It was John.

“I fuckin’ love this wee lad,” he gushed in Colette’s direction, and tried to kiss me on the cheek as I struggled.

“Dude, get off of me,” I squirmed.

“No, I’m serious,” he wouldn’t let go of my shoulder, “I absolutely love this guy. He’s a prince.”

“That’s nice,” Colette smiled awkwardly.

“John, go away.”

“If I were a faggot, and I’m not, I swear, I’d want to fuck this guy,” John continued to slobber, pointing at Colette. “You could do a lot worse than bag this wee lad, sister. He’s a keeper.”

“Earl!” I shouted. “EARL! Get this fucking vulture off of me!”

Thomas was nearby and stepped in, separating John from the scene without further incident.

“What was up with that guy?” Colette was puzzled.

“I dunno,” I mused, “must be the spirit of the occasion. Just the other day he was threatening to cut my tongue out.”

Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 7

17 Oct
Fantasyland. It was just like being home except home wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about having me around. Despite a litany of things to do, people to see, and places to be, it was inevitable that I would spend some time at Baltimore’s Inn.

One night Freddie was behind the bar. It had been over a year since I’d been back, but very little had changed. A few vultures had come and gone. Different vultures had taken their places. Theater of Magic was still there; so was the jukebox.

Later in the evening, Fred slid down the bar with a goofy smile and eyebrows arching. “Hey!”

“Hey, what?”

juke 7-chink demoindexHis eyebrows continued to dance. “So…? Chinese Democracy.”

He was referencing the new Guns N’ Roses record, not my country of residence.

“What about it?

“Have you heard it?”

“One song on [local radio station]. But I don’t need to hear the whole album* to know that it’s complete garbage.”

“Yeah, but don’t you remember sayin’ it would never come out?”

“I don’t remember making that exact prediction, but it sounds like something I would say. Yes. Your point?”

“Pay up! Twenty bucks! We shook on it. Klaus was there. He was the witness.” Looking across the bar Freddie hollered, “Klaus! Get over here.”

Sigh. Klaus. That fucking guy.

We’ll get to Klaus before the Jukebox Antagonist series reaches its finale.

Anyway, it’s impossible to name one record found in every jukebox in the Western world. “Happy Birthday” notwithstanding. There are a bunch of records that every good jukebox should have; however, the Association of Jukebox has never reached a consensus, so to speak.

juke 7 - eaglesThere are at least a dozen records that have reached such blockbuster status they are nearly ubiquitous in jukeboxes everywhere. From my experience, the following records have an appearance rate of 80% or better:

  • Nirvana, Nevermind
  • AC/DC, Back in Black
  • Metallica, The Black Album
  • Bob Marley, Legend
  • Santana, Supernatural

The following records have an appearance rate of 85% or better:

  • The Eagles, Greatest Hits 1971-1975
  • Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
  • Fleetwood Mac, Rumours
  • Led Zeppelin IV
  • A record apiece from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones

juke 7Michael_Jackson_-_ThrillerOnly two records appear with greater frequency, the first being Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

It seems no matter where I’ve been, Thriller is in the box, and somebody is going play a track, guaranteed. And that’s cool with me, since I have never owned the record, and thus, it almost always sounds fresh to my ears. Even “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” are enjoyable, since I haven’t allowed them to be jammed down my throat.

It’s no coincidence that these and several other records are much more likely to be in the average jukebox, because the above-mentioned are among the best-selling records of all-time.

juke 7 -Appetite_for_DestructionThe second record which I have spotted in virtually every jukebox that’s ever accepted my dollar bill is also one of the best-selling and most overrated records in the pantheon of rock music: Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction.

GN’R’s debut album might have sounded cool and edgy in 1987 – a fairly dull and pretentious year in rock music (c.g. Michael Jackson, Bad; U2, The Joshua Tree) – but like Nirvana’s Nevermind, it wasn’t that great of a record to begin with, and on its own merits has not aged well.

Likewise, music with mass appeal generally speaks to the lowest common denominator. Despite featuring one of the greatest opening tracks in rock music – “Welcome to the Jungle” – Appetite for Destruction contains three good songs and a bunch of Aerosmith B-sides. And Aerosmith was interesting for a very brief period in their long and illustrious career. They were done after Rocks (1976).

juke 7-oasisMoreover, I consider Guns N’ Roses to be one of the most overrated bands of all-time in any sub-genre of rock. No band has gone farther with less than GN’R. They are even-steven with Oasis on the scale of rock n’ roll mediocrity. To be fair, I have never owned any GN’R records, played one of their tracks in a jukebox, or seen them live. But hang out in dive bars for 20 years and you’ll be as familiar with their work as any diehard fan.

Not only was Appetite in the box at Baltimore’s Inn, it was also one of the most played records, if not THE most played record. Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet got an ungodly number of spins, too.

Anyway, GN’R was also the subject of the longest-running thread of contention between me and Freddie the bartender – that is, a subject other than Sammy Hagar. In fact, once we established our boundaries, we tended to stay away from Sammy, mainly because it always wound up with someone’s feelings getting hurt.

So every now and then we’d go to our corners and come out when the bell sounded. On the subject of GN’R, we could come out swinging like Mike Tyson because neither one of us really cared; and by this time, the band wasn’t even a parody of itself. And in a way, Fred was as disappointed in the band as I was dismissive of their music.

juke 7-GnR--UseYourIllusion1Unfortunately, the box also contained Use Your Illusion I and II, which are not considered overrated because to the best of my knowledge, no one with any credibility has ever said they were good records.

And at the same time, you couldn’t defeat my stance against “November Rain”; easily the most bloated, plodding ode to Elton John not written by Elton John. Holy smokes, I’d be embarrassed for them if it weren’t for the fact of royalties. Dudes got rich on that crap.

Let’s get this out of the way. Axl Rose can’t sing – it actually seems oddly redundant to have to articulate this – but being able to sing is not a requirement for the front man of a rock n’ roll band. There’s no question Axl was a charismatic entertainer, and thus, cannot be criticized for something he never set out to do – sing.

Listen, I’m not letting that slide this time. Twenty-eight million copies is a lot of anything. Somebody has to be held accountable. Ozzy Osbourne was never a great or even good singer, but at least he could carry a tune, a melody. Axl? Not so much.

Those three good songs on Appetite for Destruction: “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City”, and “Sweet Child o’ Mine” are undeniably classic tracks that continue to bristle with energy.

The rest of the album (total time of 54+ minutes) is nonsense running the gamut from lame to offensive, and Steven Adler plays drums. Thanks to him, I still refer to this record as Appetite for Cowbell. In fact, I was surprised to learn that the infamous Saturday Night Live skit “More Cowbell” featuring Christopher Walken, was not based on this album.

juke7-steven-adlerMan, I’ve got no beef with Steven Adler as a human being. I’m familiar with his story. However, as far as Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famers go, he’s got to be one of the worst drummers in the history of music to have that honor. He’s the Peter Criss of late 80s faux metal.

Over the years, I sat stoic as bar patrons violated the jukebox with tracks from Appetite for Destruction. Only on occasion would a certain jam spark another futile diatribe (on my end) or testament of greatness (from Fred). I think it would be a pussy move to simply say such-n-such album stinks without backing it up with substantial reasoning and example. Thus, it is very much in my nature to want a track-by-track rundown of the entire album.

The majority of ideas that follow were at one time expressed by yours truly while arguing with Freddie at the Balt.

Welcome to the Jungle

As mentioned before, that’s what I call an entrance! Fantastic intro followed by a solid and aggressive verse. If every song on the record were this good, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Almost everything about this jam is phenomenal including Axl’s infamous bit:

Do you know where you are?
You’re in the jungle, baby
You’re gonna die!

Here’s an imaginary scene that I like to believe took place during the making of this track.

TAKE 21

A tiny screenplay* by Christian Adams

FADE IN:

INT. LIVE ROOM OF RECORDING STUDIO – TIME OF DAY UNKNOWN

The FINAL CHORD of “Welcome to the Jungle” reverberates through the studio. The BAND – AXL ROSE, SLASH, IZZY STRADLIN, DUFF McKAGAN and STEVEN ADLER – has just run through their 21st take of the song; they appear weary and dissipated, awaiting a response and evaluation from producer MIKE CLINK.

INT. CONTROL ROOM OF RECORDING STUDIO

Seated at a massive mixing console, CLINK and NAMELESS ENGINEER exchange UNINTELLIGIBLE CONVERSATION and simultaneously shake their heads. The BAND is partially visible in the window which separates the two rooms. After a brief pause, CLINK takes a DEEP BREATH and addresses the band over the talkback microphone.

CLINK

(enthusiastically)

Guys, that was great! We’re almost there. Take it from the top.

BAND

(almost simultaneously, groaning)

Aww, man…the fuck…come on…pfffft…that’s bullshit!

CLINK

(vaguely concerned)

But, um… Hey Steve, listen. You’re tempo is insanely uneven from bar to bar. Can you maybe…?

INT. LIVE ROOM OF RECORDING STUDIO

Quick zoom on STEVEN ADLER sitting behind the drum kit, twirling his sticks.

ADLER

(annoyed)

I can’t play to a click track, man.

INTER-CUT TO ADLER’S POV

SLASH LIGHTS A CIGARETTE while IZZY and DUFF take turns DOING LINES OF COCAINE off the top of an unused amplifier. AXL remains off-screen, COUGHING.

CLINK

(off-screen, heard through loudspeaker; cheerfully)

Right. No, of course, a click track is out of the question. I wasn’t suggesting that, Steven.  Just tighten it up a lil bit, huh? And… Um, I think you hit the cowbell a couple of times in there, too. Don’t do that.

SLASH

(barely audible, apparently speaking to AXL, who remains off-screen)

Yeah, man, that’s what I was sayin’

ADLER

(defiantly)

What are you talking about, man? I don’t even own a cowbell, man. Who do you think we are, Blue Oyster Cult?

CUT TO INT. CONTROL ROOM

NAMELESS ENGINEER

(snickering)

Blue Oyster Cult!

CLINK

(confidently)

No. I’m pretty sure you’re hitting the cowbell during the first half of the chorus, Steve. But that’s OK. Just don’t do it again. ‘Right? From the top! Take 22.

FADE OUT

* Screenplay based on the following video, which preceded Appetite for Destruction by little more than a year, and one of those songs where I tell myself, “You can’t possibly like this” but in fact, it’s actually quite good. Hell, I’ve said it before but this is one of the best AC/DC songs of 1986.

Cinderella – Somebody Save Me

***

Back to the program following that curious but necessary theatrical interpolation of sorts.

OK, so “Welcome to the Jungle” is a smash hit. Track 2… Show us what you’ve got!

It’s So Easy

I gave you the live version here because it shows the band at its ostensible prime. The song itself? Primitive chord progression, zero vocal melody, and WHAT’S WITH THE FUCKING COWBELL, STEVE? Meanwhile, the bridge is a direct lift from every Ozzy Osbourne song in existence.

Otherwise, the guitars sound good, but the riffs are dull and based on 4X – which means, repeat four times. Then move to different, unrelated riff. You can literally count how many times they go through the riffs and it’s almost always divisible by four. And that’s lazy fuckin’ shit. Meanwhile, Axl is singing about how “easy” it is to get over on groupie chicks. Whatever, man.

 

Night Train [sic]

Starts off with COWBELL, COWBELL, and MORE COWBELL. Promising? The intro guitar riff is cool but quickly dissolves into a static choogle and Axl’s sophomoric automotive sexual metaphors. Again, the cat isn’t really singing and he isn’t saying anything in particular. His vocal parts are the aural equivalent of a prison tattoo.

juke 7SNL_Fever_Cowbell_Black_ShirtSlash is particularly squealing, but Izzy Stradlin is holding down the rhythm. Izzy was my favorite Gunner, by far. Oh, and Steve, if you hit THAT FUCKING COWBELL ONE MORE TIME, YOU”RE FIRED! OR I QUIT. YOUR FUCKING CHOICE.

Meanwhile, Slash’s guitar solo is probably a compilation of multiple takes, since I actually have seen the cat live (Slash’s Snakepit circa 199-?) and there’s no way he could pull that off in one shot. Just keeping the hat balanced on his head seemed like a full-time gig for the dude. So I guess I’m saying the solo is actually pretty good.

Moreover, I like Slash as a cartoon character. He seems like a cool cat. In a hat. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. He isn’t fat. His father is a diplomat.

The last two minutes of the song is “I’m on the night train” and two of the longest minutes in recent memory.

Out to Get Me

I refuse to list the title as it appears on the record because. Just because. Musically, this is an uninspired, four-on-the-floor, mid-tempo stomper. There’s one neat little guitar riff in there somewhere, otherwise, this might as well be Cinderella.

Listen to Steven Adler attempting some tricky little double bass triplets during the choruses. And then he’s holding on for dear life during the double-time at the end.

It’s funny how the drums are buried in the mix. I’m going to go on record right here and say that I’m a better drummer than Steven Adler, and that’s not saying much.

The harmonized guitar bridge is quite interesting in the sense that it sounds like they’re trying to do a Brian May/Queen thing, but they got distracted along the way, and it sounds like the ELO cassette is warped.

Best Lyric:

I’m innocent, so you can suck me
Take that one to heart

Mr. Brownstone

The worst song on the record, even if people think it’s got that one great riff. Has the Paul Shaffer Orchestra ever covered “Mr. Brownstone”?

Whenever I hear a guitar player move to the Wah pedal, the first thing that goes through my mind is, “Oh great! Pentatonic blues scales!”

This is one of those songs where you can literally hear the band running out of ideas in real time.

Best Lyric:

Yowzah!

Paradise City

First time I heard this cut I thought, “Christ, John Cougar has really let himself go.”

The whistle signaling the end of the intro? Priceless. Like we needed a cue, Ax.

My biggest rock n’ roll pet peeve is a song with a chorus that tells me to do something, usually RIGHT NOW!

Many bands have utilized the dictatorial chorus trope, and I’m not pointing fingers at this stage of the game. However, the reason I hate those types of songs is that when my roulette wheel of a brain stops to think about, for instance, what the lead singer of Kansas is telling me to do in “Carry On Wayward Son”, I’m annoyed that it’s even become a discussion. Don’t come at me with your Sunday School nonsense. Peace? There will never be peace, even when I’m done.

“Paradise City” has another such dictatorial chorus and a pretty selfish one at that. This dude wants me to drop what I’m doing and take him home – Paradise City – where he can ostensibly roll around in the green grass with a bunch of naked chicks. Listen, pal. I’m not taking you anywhere. Walk your lazy ass down to the Greyhound station and get on a bus. I’m busy.

juke 7-Spinal-TapThis needs to be pointed out because other than the chorus, the lyrics are pretty damn good, even by Aerosmith’s standards. None of it really makes sense, but at least he’s trying to transcend the stereotypical “Pink Torpedo” type-shit endemic to the genre.

Captain America’s been torn apart
Now he’s a court jester with a broken heart
He said turn me around and take me back to the start
I must be losin’ my mind
“Are you blind?”
I’ve seen it all a million times

For rock n’ roll, that’s definitely passable. Slam that up against any other hot faux metal jam of the era and it stands up quite nicely. But then he’s gotta get the listener involved – it is after all, another rock n’ roll trope. Axl and I both know what he’s doing. But he could have just as easily said:

I’m going down to the Paradise City
Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty
I’m going home

Anyway, P-city is also one of the few songs on the record on which STEVE DOESN’T HIT THE COWBELL. But you can hear him fall off the beat on several occasions – most notably in the intro. It’s too bad that time-keeping isn’t something you can cook up in a spoon and shoot into a vein. If heroin was rhythm, Adler would be the second coming of Buddy Rich.

The back end of the jam proves to be a variation on the “Freebird/Hey Jude” motif: Two minutes of a great jam, and six minutes of filler that just…goes…on…forever.

Slash is absolutely flying on the outro solo(s). There are more than a few Joe Perry riffs tucked in, but by that point, enough is enough. They lost me somewhere around the third minute of the cut. Still, I’d put this on a list of Top 100 rock guitar solos.

Meanwhile, if you really pay attention to the drum fills before the outro jam, it’s popcorn popping. Steve is trying to be fancy with a bunch of rapid-fire John Bonham triplet-rolls and he just…can’t…pull it off.

I’m really surprised they let that slide, but they probably figured, “Hey, fuck it. We’re not Steely Dan and it’s already four minutes into the jam. Nobody will notice.” If anybody involved in the making of this record actually thought that was good drumming, they are far more incompetent than I imagined possible.

My Michelle

Hey, the Scorpions called, they want their intro back.

Of course, it dives right into a shitty, repetitive riff, and HERE COMES STEVE AND THE COWBELL.

juke 7-Chuckie-familyAxl sounds like Chuckie. I can’t sit through this crap. His falsetto is an attention-grabber, but a disappointment nonetheless. He has absolutely NOTHING to say, but as a front man, he had to do something to get over the noise of the band. And while a phalanx of singers were doing it and doing it much better, Axl, at the very least, had a good sense of where to use it – usually on the last 4X of the 128X chorus.

Think About You

COWBELL, COWBELL, COWBELL.

Seriously, this is complete shit. The guy can’t sing. The riffs are exhausted. The whole band sounds dehydrated and disoriented, like they’ve been wandering lost the desert for a week, looking for a hook.

All of a sudden they’re gonna be Cheap Trick in the sub-chorus and outro? This is embarrassing. Cut and paste amateurisms. Twenty-eight million copies of this record and counting? No wonder the rainforests are disappearing.

Sweet Child o’ Mine

I got nothing bad to say about this track, except Axl allegedly beat the shit out of Erin Everly, as in, daughter of Phil Everly. That’s not cool.

You’re Crazy

A case could be made for 1987, and this was actually pretty cool for the era. But there’s nothing beyond the surface of the scratching and screeching. It’s a bunch of sad riffs pieced together and a kid screaming over the top. He’s saying nothing of relevance, in the most offensive way possible.

***

Down at the Balt, there were plenty of nights where Freddie and I had nothing to say to each other, particularly when sporting events were on television. There was a period of time when he wouldn’t engage me in conversation unless drugs were involved. As the tide came and went, so followed the running dialogue.

juke 7A_bigger_band_album_cover_(Wikipedia)One of our most memorable discussions was borne by the release of a “new” Rolling Stones record, A Bigger Bang (2005).

Earl had wasted little time getting the disc into the jukebox. The band had recently announced a North American tour with a scheduled stop in Fantasyland, and rumors were rampant that Metallica would be the opening act. Regardless of that particular incongruity, the fact that the Stones were still putting out records really got under my skin.

One night I walked in and Freddie nodded, “Hey, man. New Stones in the box.”

“Not interested.”

“What?! I thought you liked the Stones.”

“Pffssshh. I said I liked Beggar’s Banquet.”

He opened a bottle of Budweiser and sat it in front of me. “Have you even heard any of the new stuff?”

“Not that I need to hear any of it, but in fact, I have heard two songs on the radio, both of which were awful. Tuneless. Shameful. The sound of old men getting older. And I don’t need that kind of aggravation.”

“Ah, come on. This is their best record since Steel Wheels.”

“Which blows, too. Not setting the bar very high, are you, Freddie? That’s like saying the new Bon Jovi is the best thing they’ve done since New Jersey. The new Stones record represents everything that’s bad about rock music.”

“OK, so what’s so bad about it?”

“What? Rock music or the Stones? The Stones are making piles of shit. It’s horrible music. It stinks.”

“Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it stinks.”

“Actually, it does. That’s exactly what it means.”

“I think it rocks.”

“And you have terrible taste in music. What does that tell you?”

“So who made you the final alberter of music?”

“Arbiter.”

“What?”

“The final arb-i-ter of music. You said alberter.”

“Whatever. Who made you the final arbiter of music.”

“First, I’m impressed that you’ve tried to introduce that particular phrase into the conversation, because I’m sure I’ve used it with you before, and even you are capable of learning new tricks. As for the question itself. I did.”

“You did what?”

“I made myself the final arbiter of music AND good taste.”

Fred scoffed and turned away. “You know, I don’t know why I even bother with you.” He wagged a finger at me. “You’re just one of them guys. Not a hipster, not a snob, something else. You’re just one of them. You’re a hater.”

“Fred, listen. Are you familiar with a writer named Flannery O’Connor?”

“I dunno. Did I have to read him in high school?”

juke 7-oconnorc478“Her. You probably did not have to read her in high school. College English major? Yes. You’d be up to your ass in Flannery O’Connor.”

“Where you goin’ with this?”

“I’m going to draw an analogy to” – I pointed back and forth – “this, our conversation, using a line from one of her short stories.”

“Oh boy. Here we go.”

He genuinely laughed, put his foot up on a milk crate, and rested an elbow on his horizontal thigh.

I continued. “It’s at the end of the story and this bad guy is about to shoot this woman. It doesn’t matter why he’s going to shoot her, but he is. He says, ‘She would have been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.’ What this means is if the woman could have lived her life at gunpoint, more or less, she could have gained the self-awareness that she was woefully lacking. OK, now. Think of your taste in music as the woman in the story, and think of me as the guy who’s going to shoot her. I’m just here to make sure you live at gunpoint, so to speak.”

“You know, man. Fuck off. The Stones rock and you suck. They’ve sold millions of records, and you’re sitting here, doing what? Nothing. Playing pinball and talking about how I have no taste. Listen, pal, I don’t give a fuck what you think of my taste.”

“Fred, it isn’t personal. I’m just trying to get you to see things from a different perspective, that’s all.”

“Your perspective. Ha!”

“No, from a realistic perspective.”

“How does this relate to the new Stones record?”

“Just think about all the time, effort, and resources put into the Stones. Sure, they sell concert tickets as a nostalgia act. But for the money they spend putting out a new album – which isn’t really new or an album, it’s an excuse to mount a world tour – with the same amount of record label juice, they could put out 50 records by younger and more relevant bands. And they could still make money. What have the Stones ever done to help up and coming bands, other than opening slots on world tours? All they’ve done is line their pockets and perpetuate their brand. And everybody is expected to bow down to royalty. So fuck them.”

“I saw GN’R open for the Stones at the L.A. Coliseum in ’89. Drove down there with Earl. It was awesome.”

***

Anything Goes

Hahaha. Please. This is Aerosmith without the Aero or the Smith. Trash.

Oh great, a talkbox solo. Is that Joe Walsh? Assholes.

Rocket Queen

We’ve made it this far without hardly mentioning Duff. Fixed that for ya.

Slash tries his hand at slide guitar.

The porno sounds are gauche. And then, we’re treated to a detour into power pop. Bizzare. But you know we’re going back to the “Rocket Queen” chorus, it’s only a matter of How?

No detectible cowbell on this jam. Thanks, Steve. But lots of Slash.

At the end of the day, I’m not surprised this record has sold 28 million copies and counting. It reminds me of Shania Twain, Whitney Houston and Nickelback. People really enjoy listening to shit music. And frankly, I had a pretty good time with this track-by-track review. It brought back some amusing memories, like the year or so I used to wear a bandana. Or that I used to own a tie-dye t-shirt but never liked the Grateful Dead.

No matter what I think of GN’R and their insipid music, I guarantee every one of those clowns has a pad in L.A. with a real groovy swimming pool. I’ll bet Steven Adler’s pool is shaped like a cowbell.

* Editor’s Note: The author would like to point out that he’s listened to Chinese Democracy several times since these events took place, and would like to append the following comment: It’s not a bad album, but it’s Pro-Tooled to fuck. You can hear it being chopped up into compatible pieces. I’d be willing to bet the best song on the disc (“Shackler’s Revenge”) was recorded in different studios with different guys behind the board, and pieced together over a period of several years. It’s uneven as my first haircut. However, with Axl’s voice, everything seems to work I give it 6/10.

20 More Questions with Beldone

7 Oct
beldone2-jawboneIt had been a while since we sat down for a solid jawbone with Rajah Cheech Beldone, King of the Gypsies, one of our all-time favorite pseudonymous characters hailing from Alberta, Canada.

The interview questions were answered online over the course of two days. Shortly after receiving the original twenty Qs, Beldone wrote back, saying roughly: ‘Hey man, can we change Questions 2-8? I really don’t feel like talking about that. It’s boring.’

My initial response was, “I understand what you’re saying, but… Remember that the vast majority of readers are NOT in Taiwan. They might be interested in your story.”

A summit was declared for later that evening. We met after sundown at the usual destination. Beldone was already seated at the table and halfway through a Tsingtao tallboy when I rolled up.

“Sorry, man,” Beldone said.

There was more to the story than what you read on the screen. We’ve discussed the subject(s) on many occasions. It’s not really a point of contention, but we don’t always see eye to eye.

“Fine,” I replied, “I’ll give you some different questions. But look, you have to answer the questions. Even if it’s ‘No comment.’ That’s how interviews work. What I think would be cool is if you answered [the questions] with the same level of disdain you’re showing me right now. If you think the questions are bullshit, then that’s your answer. Explain yourself. But you still gotta go through all of ‘em.”

He did and he didn’t.

beldone-2-the-monkees-1966Who was your favorite Monkee – if you have a favorite?

Hey! Remember that I’m old enough that I saw the show when it originally aired. I was their target audience. The show premiered as I was starting first grade, and next to Batman, which had premiered earlier that year, it was one of my favorite shows.

To answer the question, Mike Nesmith, no question. He was the shit, man. You know I’m kind of a hat guy, even as a little kid, so his wooly hat – or toque, as they’re known where I come from – really appealed to me.

Also, Nesmith was much wittier and subtle, as opposed to the other Monkees. He was the Groucho Marx to their collective Jerry Lewis.

When did you come to Taiwan?

November 17, 1992.

beldone-2-nesmithWhy did you come to Taiwan?

I had an emergency root canal last night, as you know. It was a slightly more pleasant experience than having to plow through this tired-assed, horseshit of a subject.

OK, I was engaged to this girl at home and I was supposed to come here and work and save money to go back to school and get some kind of qualification that would allow me to get a proper job so I could marry her and support her.

Can I go now? Apparently not.

What’s your favorite thing about Taiwan? [Aside from your wife and child, of course.]

Uhhhh, believe it or not, it’s the people. I worry, on a day-to-day level, about my family and their well-being, a tiny fraction of how much I would if we were in North America. And, people really really leave me the fuck alone here, you can’t put a fucking price tag on that.

Did you ever consider leaving Taiwan for good?

Fucking hell. “And then in Feburary when I was four, I got a cold from going outside without my mitts. And then in March…”

Yeah, things didn’t work out with the engaged thing, and I stayed. In September of the next year I was actually preparing to apply to Marine College in Manila.

If it’s not too personal, what kept you here?

What if it is too fucking personal?? In a startling turn of events that I’m sure nobody saw coming, and I may well be the ONLY guy in the world this has ever fucking happened to, I met my future wife. Blahblablablah.

I can plunk me ass down in front of any convenience store and get liquored up while smoking my fucking brains out and soaking up the jam of my choice, 365 days a year, for like TEN BUCKS U.S., and nobody bats an eye or gets in my fucking grille, fuck, beat that.

beldone-2-Krispy-Kreme-donuts-jpgWhere’s the best place to score a doughnut in Taipei?

This is one of them deals like the Cheez Whiz thing, where people who never really had it where they come from, they go like “That’s not CHEESE“. Yeah, nobody’s saying it’s cheese. It’s Cheez Whiz.

Europeans see a proper donut and they’re like, this is the worst pastry I’ve ever eaten! Fucking morons. Add to that the rampant online gastro-hypocrisy practiced by so many foreigners here, and the whole thing gets shit all over, but, come on, man, Krispy Kremes, it has to be. It ain’t a Napoleon, it ain’t an Oat Bran Muffin, it ain’t Raspberry Truffle. It’s a fucking donut, and it’s the absolute perfect one, pushing the absolute envelope of sweet, greasy, and chewy. I get a dozen originals twice a year, on me birthday and Christmas.

beldone-2-amoresignPizza?

Jersey James at Amore, as you well know.

Night market snacks?

I’ve been twice in the last four years, but Tonghua Street seems to have some cool stuff. The night market snack is one of those things where you really don’t want to think too much about it, or you’d never put it near your face. And, as you’ll commiserate, the departure of Hot Dog Auntie was a blow to the place from which I doubt it will ever recover.

Aside from the food, what do you miss about Canada?

I got no straight answer here. I was back, as you know, about a year and a half ago, on family business, and pretty much everything that I dug, lifestyle-wise, is ancient history.

The summer, I guess. You know, when it’s minus-45°C for months on end, and the sun comes up at nine and goes down at five. When springtime comes, everyone kind of goes mental. When it’s 35°C (but like 15% humidity, the dry air coming down over the Rockies) and the sun sets at like 10 p.m. and you got the fucking aurorae going on all the time, people just never really go inside, you know, every restaurant has outdoor seating, every house has a porch or veranda, every apartment has a balcony, it’s very invigorating.

I guess I also miss being out in the country, at least in my part of Canada, you know.

The landscapes combined with the ridiculously low population density. Near where I grew up, it lists the population density as 742 souls/sq mi. In my current neighborhood, it’s 53,000 souls/sq mi. I ain’t making that up.

Oh, and fuckin Kubes, of course.

Oh wait, you said no food.

UNDATED Pete Rose The Enquirer/Ed Reinke Scanned February 9, 2007.I’m pretty sure we’re on the same page about this, but what did you make of the Pete Rose betting scandal.

What do you want me to say? The rules say you can’t gamble on your own team.

For or against, it’s against the rules. Chuck Hustle broke the rules. Even fucking so. You know the only guys in baseball that are worse then the owners are the Commissioner and league officials and shit. I hate them pricks, and that asshole A. Bartlett Giamatti was the worst of them. Seriously, how big of a prick do you think you have to be to become the President of the fucking NL?

[Giamatti] already had a fucking hard-on for Pete after that whole shoving match deal with that one fucking ump…[Goes and checks] Oh yeah, Dave Pallone there.

“Amid reports that he had bet on baseball, Rose was questioned in February 1989 by outgoing commissioner Peter Ueberroth and his replacement, Bart Giamatti. Rose denied the allegations and Ueberroth dropped the investigation. However, three days after Giamatti became Commissioner, lawyer John M. Dowd was retained to investigate these charges against Rose.”

“The Dowd Report documented his alleged bets on 52 Reds games in 1987, where Rose wagered a minimum of $10,000 a day. Others alleged to have been involved in the activities claim that number was actually $2,000 a day.”

And:

“The Dowd Report says, “no evidence was discovered that Rose bet against the Reds,” but investigator Dowd stated in a December 2002 interview that he believed Rose probably bet against the Reds while managing them.”

Well fuck you, man. All the really lurid details of his case, the stuff that really vilified Rose, none of it was ever proven. These guys are such assholes [Barry]Bonds and The Rocket [Roger Clemens], they’re eligible for The Hall of Fame, and THEIR proven misconduct directly affected their performance on the field, for the love of fuck.

Two fucking takeaways here, pal.

beldone-2-Pete Rose_Bart GiamattiNumber one:

Giamatti died of a heart attack on September 1, 1989, eight days after announcing Rose’s suspension. Well fuck you, bub.

And, much more importantly:

On September 11, 1985, Rose broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record with his 4,192nd hit.

Read that last one again.

OK, you’re free to go.

What bands or artist(s) that make your skin crawl?

I’m not sure if you mean that (a) I’m grossed out by the actual individual or (b) I just hate them? I’ve always thought Marilyn Manson was a real douche, you know? Me and my best friend Rob got high at lunchtime at his house while listening to Killer and Raw Power, and we stole some of his Ma’s eyeliner and mascara and wore it to school. That was in eighth grade.

Dave Matthews, Phish, Jack Johnson, and John Mayer.

Amy Winehouse, may she rest in peace, she just looked so fucking skeevy, it just repelled me so bad I never even heard her sing, even though I hear she’s pretty good.

Not that they make my skin crawl exactly, but a couple of guys who I get a lot of abuse for not liking even a little are Paul Westerberg and Alex Chilton. Like I just don’t even hear anything, for me those guys are like I’m a gopher looking at a sewing machine; I don’t have any reference at all.

Oh, and of course, as discussed, Sammy Hagar. Sammy. It can’t be repeated enough. About a bazillion others.

I’ll tell you a very Special Mention.

As we’ve covered in the past, I spent many many years worshipping at the Altar of The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. There was a while where I would have told you in dead seriousness that if I couldn’t be Springsteen, I didn’t want to be anything.

beldone-2-born-in-the-usaAnd then? Along came Born in the USA. And, specifically, “Dancing in the Dark.”

In Canada, the song was premiered on MTV with the video, on a Friday night.

Watching that abomination unfold before my eyes, it was like walking into the skankiest, grottiest, most depraved snakepit of a club in an alley off Patpong, and seeing your little sister up on the stage juggling ping pong balls with her hoo-haa.

The worst part was that the Boss’ People mobilized such a pervasive campaign to convince the world that the new record was The Best Work He’s Ever. A guy like me felt like it was my fault; that the revulsion and horror I felt was the result of something lacking in my perception or appreciation.

What cookbook(s) do you have and/or use at home?

Wowee, I haven’t used a cookbook in forever, man because, you know, Internet. I just think about something and then go fucking find a recipe I like. But I don’t think I ever really used them, not that I recall. I’d always just get the recipe I needed, if I don’t already have it, from me sainted Ma (may she rest in peace) or my Grandma or an auntie or something.

Favorite spice?

Spice or herb? Spice, ahhh, maybe smoked paprika. Herb, dill weed, probably.

Oh no! that fuckin fresh basil they got here, I fuckin LOVE that shit, yeah.

How often do you laugh during a given day?

Nowhere near enough. I had the bi-monthly summit lunch yesterday out here with Stubacca and Twin Peaks, in which circumstance I normally do more straight up belly-larfing in 90 minutes than I will do all month, yesterday being no exception. Plus, you and me hung out last night, which had more than its fair share of hilarity.

I can’t complain, my kid and wife are both really funny, they both crack me the fuck up on a regular basis. Which is good, because I don’t tend to find most popular media more than mildly amusing, at best. Farrel, Sandler, Schneider, that shit all pretty much bores me to tears.

beldone-2-tumblr_n71d6fw5wQ1s3zerco1_500Did Canada have their own version of Poppin’ Fresh Pies aka Baker’s Square? Are you a fan of banana cream pie? I love that shit.

Is that a restaurant? No, we didn’t have nothing like that, like a chain. Look, man, when I was a kid we never had them cream pies, I don’t know why, I guess it was just a family thing. We only ever had fruit pies. BUT, and you probably don’t know this, but out West we have the Saskatoon, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelanchier_alnifolia

(it was a berry first, then it was a city) which is a little bit like a blueberry crossed with…I don’t know what. Anyways they grow like stink, everywhere, when we’re kids we’re always going out picking them and then they’re made into pie, best shit anywhere, seriously good eating.

Then, when I grew up and married the first ex-Mrs Beldone, I did all the cooking, every meal, every night, for eight and a half years. She had a pretty sweet tooth and I made like a pie, or a pie and cake every week. And she was really into the cream pies, so I had to learn how to make them. Her favorite was lemon meringue, but chocolate cream and banana cream were also heavy in the rotation. From scratch, by the way, no mixes or anything.

What’s your favorite Frank Zappa album?

I think I’m a bit of an anomaly because I always preferred Frank’s work when interpreting more conventional forms, so I’ve always been a big fan of his actual “songs”.

So I’d have to say, off the tip of my tongue, Overnite Sensation, most of which I could probably recite word for word from memory. Oh, and definitely Joe’s Garage. But only Vol 1. Everything else, of course respect into the middle of next century, and I think he was one of the most important figures in the history of fucking music, but those are the ones I’ve always enjoyed listening to the most.

beldone-2-Frank-Zappa_Overnite-SensationWhat’s your favorite Ramones album?

Man, I don’t KNOW any Ramones albums, just songs, but not in album context.

Oh, wait I know that one that Phil Spector produced? Where they cover all those girl group songs? End of the Century, is it? Anyways it didn’t blow no wind up me skirt.

Who or what was your high school’s mascot? Did you ever dress up in the mascot costume?

Fuck man, I don’t know what the fuck it was. I played a little football and wrestled a little, but mostly I played in the marching band. So yeah, I had a lot more to contribute than sticking a rubber fucking animal head on.

Asshole.

If you could own any painting in the world, which would you choose? Use reasons and examples to explain your answer.

Hmmm, not really my area, to tell you the truth. Probably Sugar Shack, by Ernie Barnes, or pretty much anything by Ernie Barnes, I love that shit. Even if it weren’t the cover of my favourite Marvin Gaye album (which was also my 150% Sure Thing Foolproof Guaranteed To Get You Laid Album of All Time).

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