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.
Best 10 minutes of You Tube I’ve seen in a while.
Long before she was dubbed “the Godmother of Punk” – or subbing for Kurt Cobain in a sad but necessarily reunited Nirvana – Joan Jett was just another rock n’ roll star trying to make the best of her career.
A 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.
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.
The 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
Clearly, 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 IF – I’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.
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.
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.
The 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”.
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.
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.
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)
Even 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.
As 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.
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.
“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?”
“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.
The 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.
All 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.
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.
Finally, 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.
He 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.
Anyway, 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.
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.
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.
At 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.
Of 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?”
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.
One 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.”
“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.”
“No, I’m serious. Never liked ‘em. They didn’t even know how to surf. How fucked up is that?”
“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.
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.
Boston 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.
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.
As 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”.
On 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.
The 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).
Over 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.
Likewise, 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.
Changing 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.
 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.
 If You Care #2: It could probably be traced back even further than that to Universal Pictures, etc.
 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.
 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.
Normally, 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.
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.”
Back in 2007, I briefly managed a bistro-type joint in an unfamiliar neighborhood of San Francisco. The gig lasted about two months before I went back to waiting tables at my old job, which was infinitely more amenable to my lifestyle. Deeply humbled by failure, I was relieved and yet more determined than ever to escape the restaurant industry, once and for all.
Anyway, one of my few enjoyable responsibilities at the bistro was maintaining the music for front of the house – they had a five-CD changer in the back office. To be honest, the system was kind of a mess; the previous manager – a DJ-type persona – had cleared out all of his gear, so the remains were jerry-rigged by one of the bartenders acting as manager. One of my first tasks as manager was to straighten out the sound system.
Before I even took the gig, I was repulsed by the bistro’s music agenda. During my first reconnaissance visit as an anonymous customer, I heard Enya, Kylie Minogue, Ricky Martin, Stereolab, and horrific acid house electro jazz techno-nonsense by artists I don’t even want clogging up the arteries of my memory. It was pure garbage – crap I would expect to hear blasting from a hair salon in the Castro, where it belongs. That’s when you ask yourself, “Am I willing to work in a place where I can’t stand the music?” Survey says: Maybe…
Weeks later, I would meet the previous manager and it would all make sense. The music part.
So two days after I took the gig, I went to the owner and said, “Hey, would it be cool if I mix up the soundtrack?”
He said, “Sure. In fact, take $150 out of petty cash and go buy some CDs. Do whatever you want. Make it your joint. No problem.”
On my first day off, I went down to Amoeba Records on Haight Street and went wild, but in the meantime, I brought in some of my own CDs to the joint. Almost overnight, staff and customers were commenting on the change of music. Several people said, “You know, the music was the one thing I never really loved about this place.”
As you might imagine, from the perspective of the Jukebox Antagonist, I was thrilled. But it was fleeting. In truth, the difference in music was nothing but a ripple in the sea of doing business. The regulars were coming back no matter what kind of music you piped in.
Amoeba Records has an amazing selection of used records in all formats. With a buck and a half plus a few sheckles from my personal kitty, I wound up with almost 20 discs, a few of which I already owned on vinyl and played at home on a regular basis. I think I paid $3.99 for Led Zeppelin’s Coda, mainly as an afterthought, the last CD in the basket. It’s a record you have in your collection, but never gets played. Name a song off Coda. See, you can’t.
Every day I would only change two of five CDs in the player from the previous day. So each record would be in random rotation for at least two days, that way it would give staff and extremely regular customers a chance to get more acquainted with the second Velvet Underground album. That was something I thought about on a daily basis. Meanwhile, I was completely dropping the ball on just about every other aspect of the gig. But the music was tight.
Though I probably should have been thinking about what kind of music really sets the tone for the restaurant as a dining experience, I was much more motivated by turning people on to cool music. Of course, this was just one small aspect of the managerial experience, but I was glowing with pride when I caught one of the bartenders unconsciously grooving to “Baby’s On Fire”. She was feeling it, man. You could see it. She wasn’t shaking her ass to impress anybody – the place was empty – she just got the jam. And eventually she asked, “Who is that one band with the baby on fire song?”
“Why, that’s Brian Eno, sweetie.”
And I wound up turning her on to Roxy Music, too.
So I was tickled the night a song from Coda was playing over the P.A. when one of the regulars said to me, “Is this Led Zeppelin?”
“As a matter of fact, it is.”
“What album is this from? I’ve got every album, but I’ve never heard this.”
Led Zeppelin – Ozone Baby
You can hardly find a decent Zeppelin song that hasn’t been played to death – until we happen to chance upon this jam. Recorded during sessions for the band’s final studio album In Through the Out Door in November 1978, “Ozone Baby” was one of three songs recorded yet omitted from the ensuing album due to time constraints; the other two being “Darlene” and “Wearing and Tearing”. Featuring harmonized vocal effects from Robert Plant – a rarity in the band’s catalog – this track is one of their most straightforward and up-tempo numbers, with slight hints of new wave and post-punk urgency. Alternate selections: “Friends” or “Out on the Tiles” from Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Deerhoof – Come See the Duck
From the Green Cosmos EP (2005), purchased during the Amoeba spending spree.
Deerhoof is an incredibly interesting and sometimes challenging band that I have never seen live, but have much respect.
Deerhoof and Mates of State were two major influences as I transitioned from being in a band to working (mostly) on my own in Aztec Hearts. At any rate, I had records from both bands in heavy rotation at the bistro, particularly Mates of States’ debut album, My Solo Project (2000).
This “Come See the Duck” jam makes me chuckle every single time. When Green Cosmos became part of the bistro’s rotation, I suspect nobody really noticed because it always seemed to come on during the busiest rush of the evening. I knew it was playing, but I don’t think anybody else gave it a second thought.
The owner usually came in just before closing, and sometimes he’d stick around for a chat. One night, I was clean-up bartending and he was having a snack – nobody else in the joint but the kitchen staff, and they were on their way out, too. All of a sudden, “Come See the Duck” comes on and the owner stops in mid-chew of his food. He looks at me; I’m buffing a wine glass and just kind of smirking, also a little buzzed.
“It’s a local band. They’re called Deerhoof.”
“Have you been playing this all night?”
“What do you mean by ‘play’?”
The next morning I replaced Green Cosmos EP with (probably maybe it’s impossible to say my favorite Deerhoof record), Apple O’ (2003). Nobody said a word about it, for the duration of my employment.
King Diamond interview with Joe Franklin
Perhaps even more incongruous than Joe Franklin interviewing a Danish metal singer is the fact that Joe Franklin isn’t one of the most popular radio and television host personalities of all-time. For whatever reason, he was strictly an East Coast phenomenon.
On the other hand, King Diamond was a late 1980s phenomenon, and there was a period of about six months when I was into metal. I don’t regret it at all, but I’m glad it didn’t stick. Then there was a period in the late 90s when I first moved to S.F. that I listened to KUSF college radio, and I got turned on to a bunch of second wave Norwegian black metal, particularly the bands Emperor, Mayhem and Thorns. Those were a gruesome couple of months – plus, I was doing carpentry for $13 bucks an hour. Those Norwegian cats will bring you down, man. It’s the aural equivalent of an appendectomy without anesthesia.
The bistro’s all-Hispanic kitchen staff came in early morning, and I’d roll up around 10:30-11:00 a.m. Doors opened at 5:00 p.m. for dinner service. Of course, the crew would be rocking the Ranchero music, which I love, and so I wouldn’t even bother to turn on the main sound system during the day. One of the prep cooks was a younger cat who always wore metal band t-shirts: Megadeth, Slayer, Deicide, etc. One day we were talking about music – I said something about his Avenged Sevenfold shirt – and I said, “Have you ever listened to King Diamond?” The kid shook his head. No, I never heard of them.
The next day, I brought in a copy of Abigail (1987), which is just about the right amount of King Diamond anybody needs in their collection. Just sayin’. Anyway, the kid loved it, and so I gave him the disc. But from then on, me and that dude would exchange song lyrics with each other, like, I’d sing (in King’s falsetto), “I am alive!” and the kid would respond with, “Inside your wife!” Shit was funny to us. When I was super-high, I’d walk around the joint howling, “Miriam’s dea-eh-ead!” True King Diamond fans will be all over that shit.
King Diamond – Abigail
King Diamond – A Mansion in Darkness
Tom Waits – Clap Hands
What did I pay for this? $6.99? Customers and staff loved this record; it received the second most commentary and praise, behind the all-time favorite…
Stevie Wonder – Love Having You Around
The first record in the basket was Music of My Mind (1972), of course. It’s a Personal Top Ten. Had to have it.
Off Broadway – Stay in Time
This is for all my Chicago people, especially my fellow comrades who got to see Off Broadway perform in the Hinsdale South H.S. gymnasium circa 1980-81. I’m pretty sure I was in eighth grade. The band hailed from Oak Park, Illinois, just a hop, skip and a jump from my hometown.
This track is of course from their debut album On (Atlantic Records, 1979), which reached #101 on the Billboard 200. “Stay in Time” hit #51 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts, and #11 on the WLS Musicradio 89 survey of top songs for 1980.
And I found in the cut-out bin for $.99 at Amoeba. A couple of people in the bistro asked, “Is that Cheap Trick?”
Off Broadway – Full Moon Turn My Head Around
Exactly two weeks before I bailed on the bistro gig, I had come to the conclusion that things weren’t going to work out. That morning, I realized that I had crossed over from caring about the gig, to thinking about the best way to get out of the gig. It was a day I will probably remember for the rest of my life. Sun was shining. Unseasonably warm day. Around noon I took a short break and walked up toward the cleaners to get my evening shirts, when I crossed an alley where a homeless woman had laid out all of her possessions on a blanket, in typical impromptu S.F. street sale style. She had a decent stack of CDs that caught my eye, and almost without thinking I approached the woman and said I’d give her ten bucks for the CDs, sight unseen, cash in hand. She snatched the bill from my fingertips.
There were 13 CD cases in total, four of which did not contain a disc, so nine for the price of 10. Among the first records in the stack was Troubadours of British Folk, Volume 2 (Rhino Records, 1995), which featured the usual suspects Lindsfarne, Nick Drake, and Fairport Convention. Under that, was Burl Ives, and under that, a homemade compilation of sea shanties entitled Irish Pirate Songs. And then: Abba, Arrival (1979); Warrant, Cherry Pie (1990); Journey, Escape (1978); TWO Joan Armatrading records, and a Donna Summer best-of that made a loud thwack as it hit the back of the dumpster. All in all, I thought, “That’s about the most ‘San Francisco’ collection of CDs I’ve ever seen.”
Upon returning to the bistro, I loaded up the CD changer with my latest scores. Every record I scored from the homeless woman wound up in the rotation, including Warrant, which brought more than a couple of confused and furrowed brows. Anyway, I’m running out of time here, so I just wanted to say that Troubadours of British Folk Volume 2 turned out to be one of my favorite records of the year, and my favorite cut was the super obscure “Mr. Fox” by Mr. Fox.
Mr. Fox – Mr. Fox
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
– David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)
From Chicago to San Francisco to L.A. to Manila to Taipei to places beyond and between, my favorite places to drink are dive bars; unpretentious, bread n’ butter, good old-fashioned “watering holes.” The drinks are cheap and equitable, the bartender is vaguely congenial but no-nonsense, and the regulars seem like a rough bunch of characters, but once you get to know them, they’re a bunch of fluffy kittens. Most importantly, nobody is there to “make the scene.” A dive bar is the antithesis of a scene.
Over the course of a drinking career, every sports bar and nightclub has a time and a place – you’ll see me at Slammer’s and the Foo Foo Lounge, too. The object of the game is to make myself comfortable anywhere booze is available. I like to think that just about anywhere I go is a potential drinking establishment. Anyway, the term “dive bar” never carried a stigma or negative connotation, and at least some of my affection for the low-rent atmosphere came from reading Hemingway and Bukowski, and falling for the romance of functional alcoholism.
My favorite dive bars have two things besides booze: Pinball and a jukebox. If we can smoke inside, even better, but not necessarily a deal-breaker in temperate climates where smoking out on the sidewalk isn’t a form of nicotine-shaming.
The jukebox accepts bills, the pinball machine does not. A dive bar by definition shouldn’t have a bill changer. The till usually has a decent supply of quarters, but it’s always a good idea to have some on hand – at least a buck’s worth – just in case. There’s a 24-hour Laundromat just up the street if you’re in a pinch.
Other than music, pinball has been my longest running joint. I went through phases with video games – particularly, Asteroids – but I always came back to pinball. In the mid-70s, my family took a camping trip in southern Colorado and stayed at a series of KOA campgrounds. At every stop there was a small recreation center with a vending machine and couple of arcade games for the kids. We’d have a couple of hours to kill before lights out, so I’d head up to the rec center and spend my candy money on pinball. The first game I clearly remember playing and getting good at was Action Baseball (Williams Mfg. Co., 1971).
As the years went by, pinball became my game of choice at Showbiz Pizza and Chuck E. Cheese, where half of all peer-based birthday parties were held in Darien, Illinois, circa 1980. With the emergence of major amusement parks, we’d go to Six Flags’ Great America at least twice a year. Much to my parents’ aggravation, I’d spend most of my time in the video game arcade.
No matter if it was Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Disneyland, Kings Island, Busch Gardens, Old Chicago, Noah’s Ark at Wisconsin Dells, Santa’s Workshop, or Six Flags’ St. Louis. The lines for the rides were unacceptable. I didn’t have the patience to wait an hour for a two-minute rollercoaster, sweating like a slave, especially when it was nice and cool inside the air-conditioned arcade. During the average Six Flags visit, I’d maybe hit Logger’s Run for a splash of cool water, and take a couple of spins at Winner’s Circle Go Karts. The Roto-Rooter was also amusing and there was never a line for that joint. But then it was back to the arcade.
Most of all, I liked the physicality of pinball, that you could use your body to influence the playing field – it’s a matter of finesse; ride the machine too hard – meaning, move it around too much – and you’re going to tilt, and lose a ball. After a while, you learn how to “feel” the ball on the flipper and how to dislodge a ball from a stuck bumper without tilting. Pinball was one of those games where I could be content to play without any social interaction whatsoever, except maybe to order a slice of pizza and get more quarters from Mr. Munch at the cash register when the bill changer was out of order.
Pittsburgh’s Pub in the Outer Sunset District of San Francisco is probably my favorite dive bar of all-time, mainly because I spent more time there than any other joint in my life – the better part of five years. Like everything else, there were stretches of weeks and months where I avoided the bar, which was pretty hard to do considering its location: 173 sober steps from my apartment.
The other reason I loved Pittsburgh’s: They had pinball and a jukebox. Actually, they had several different pinball machines over the years, but Theater of Magic and Star Trek: Next Generation had the longest tenure. Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure and World Cup Soccer came and went on several occasions. And – and! Depending upon the bartender, if you were welcome to stay for after-hours, you were allowed to smoke inside. In fact, we had to smoke inside because they had to shut and lock the front door. Genius. After-hours were great. But that’s a different subject.
During my run in the neighborhood (2003-2008), Pittsburgh’s had something of an unsavory reputation, especially among people who remembered the bar from the early and mid-90s when it was operating under a different name. The joint wasn’t particularly known for physical violence or shit getting really out of hand, but everything else was on the table. There was a persistent yet almost comfortable element of vice on Friday and Saturday nights – it was there if you wanted it.
My closest friends who didn’t live in the Sunset frowned upon the joint, and never – not once – accepted one of the invitations to meet me at Pittsburgh’s for a drink, which stopped coming after a couple of years. Eventually, I befriended a crew of local regulars – the after-hours set – and that took on its own social orbit, separate from my pre-existing life, which had another division of friends between work and being in a band. Among my friends from the bar, we called it The Pit.
The Pit was also home to the just-about quintessential dive bar jukebox. It had everything you would expect a watering hole to have: Hank Williams Sr. to Little Richard to The Clash to Blue Oyster Cult. In fact, it was a little heavy on the B.O.C.; when simply a greatest hits compilation would have sufficed, we had two or three albums to choose from. And I loved B.O.C. – when I was 12. Sure, “Godzilla” is a great jam, and “Burnin’ for You” is a fun, senseless, one-groove boogie track. If you were a teenager in the 1980s. But then there’s this…
Blue Oyster Cult – Shooting Shark
Please do me a favor. I really want you to watch the B.O.C. video for at least the first minute. Number one, it’s a casino in Michigan. Number two, band introductions? Don’t get me started on that shit. So I’m not even going to post the video where they do a Macarena dance during the guitar solo intro to “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. Google it. The clip is from the same show. Anyway, THIS is why rock music blows. It’s because of THESE guys.
Just stop already. Get a hobby. Learn a skill.
And so like every jukebox, The Pit’s had its share of stinkers; some people really really like Bon Jovi, and they have to hear “Livin’ on a Prayer” one more time, even though Slippery When Wet is cued up in the cassette deck of their ’84 IROC parked right out front. They also like Asia, Starship, Kansas, Dire Straits, Foreigner, Guns n’ Roses, Dokken, Metallica, Pat Travers Band, Robin Trower, Uriah Heep, Y&T, George Thorogood, and Deep Purple. Who am I to begrudge them?
This documentary on Deep Purple’s 1975 tour of New Zealand is one of the most neckbeard, Spın̈al Tap things I’ve ever seen in my life. No, seriously. Check out drummer Ian Paice’s neckbeard. At the same time, David Coverdale is actually pretty damn cool. He oozes rock star. [For Purple fans only: Bear in mind that this is from the Mark III era, so there’s no Ritchie Blackmore.] And it’s got a bitchin’ intro.
“Auckland International Airport, 9:00 a.m., November 13. A yellow Boeing 707 freighter lumbers to a parking space on the tarmac. About the same time the plane lands, in a stadium not ten miles from the airport, men race the clock to build a giant outdoor stage. The yellow plane is being chartered for five weeks by English rock band Deep Purple. Cost: a quarter of a million dollars.”
At any rate, The Pit’s jukebox was a little quirky but satisfactory by even my malaise-faire personal standards.
The narcissistic appeal of the jukebox never dawned on me until I started drinking and hanging out places like The Pit. Why would people pay to hear music in a joint that’s already charging them to be there? Early on it seemed to me that he onus of entertainment fell on the operator of the establishment; the atmosphere of the joint should be included in the price of the drink. Either that or there’s a cover charge for live music. At any rate, perhaps a year into my drinking career, I had a minor revelation: Nothing is free and you get what you pay for.
Consider arcade games. A dive bar owner is basically trying to squeeze every last quarter out of the joint. It’s not that he’s necessarily greedy, but he’s running a business, not a fraternity. Likewise, many dive bar patrons need something to do. Billiards, darts, pinball, foosball and first-person shooter video games are the perfect distractions. Generally speaking, these activities are never free – ever – even if your buddy has a pool table in his parents’ basement, somebody paid for it.
For one thing, if the jukebox were free, some sour jackass is going to jam us with Diana Ross and the Supremes all night. And there is nothing worse than a dive bar with Frank Sinatra on the jukebox – meaning all of them. There’s always that one closet case macho man with a crush on Frank. That shit makes my skin crawl. Sinatra is great – in elevators and beer commercials – but I don’t want to hear “Luck Be a Lady” tonight or any other night. Take that nonsense somewhere else, like Bingo Night at the Elks Club.
It’s a fact: You can’t throw a party and let just any old drunk have access to the sound system.
Consequentially, I did not begin to appreciate the value and power of the jukebox until I was in my late teens, early 20s. Traditional jukeboxes with vinyl records had long been a thing of the past – except at Johnny Rocket’s, and what the hell are you doing in that patch of tourist quicksand? Did you get turned away at the Hard Rock Café? Geez. And half the time, those old machines malfunctioned, so you’d program “Let’s Go” by the Cars and it would play “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachmann-Turner Overdrive – and talk about getting ripped off. It only cost me a couple of quarters before I learned the lesson; if I want to hear something, I can do it at home.
Right, so when I started getting into jukeboxes, it was all CDs – and you got to see the cover art and a track list. The entire experience was a dramatic improvement over the old school way.
Nowadays, most joints have digital audio players and the bartender usually creates the sonic atmosphere. I’m sure it varies. When I was hanging out at Sam’s Club, they had cable music programming coming through the flat screen and house speakers, and they’d always let me pick the station. There’s a joint in Taipei called Roxy Rocker that has a DJ who takes requests, which by definition is what a true DJ should do. Ask Bob and Ron.
Speaking of Bob and Ron and their delightful Record Club, I’d like to congratulate them upon reaching a milestone – their 50th podcast on the Steve Dahl Network. Here’s my favorite Bob and Ron episode from the archives.
Back to the jukebox. Having the power to dictate the music in a semi-public setting is a type of self-expression that is equal parts share and show-off. And then there’s just wanting to hear “Runnin’ on Empty” while sipping your Budweiser and playing Gin Rummy with Wanda. At any rate, you have no more than three minutes and thirty seconds to make a point or set the tone.
When you’re on the public transportation and there’s some kid blasting music on his headphones or smartphone – God forbid, an old school boom box – he’s not doing it because he wants to turn you on to the hottest and latest joint from Wu-Tang; he doing it to show his contempt and utter lack of respect for everybody in the vicinity. When you’re driving down the road and stopped at a light when a dude rolls up in a monster truck with a 5,000-watt P.A. system in the bed, and the deafening thuds of Nickelback are rattling your doors – again – this cat isn’t saying, “Hey y’all, you should hear this cut. It’s smokin’!” No, he’s saying something more along the lines of, “I have self-esteem issues.”
When you’re putting ostensibly hard-earned money in a jukebox, you’re making a slightly magnanimous gesture to your fellow bar patrons. You might be thinking, “Let’s liven this place up a lil bit!” Or: “If there’s any Sex Pistols in this muh-fuh…” There’s never any Sex Pistols in the jukebox anyway, but that’s not the point. You’re willing to shell out a few quid on everybody’s behalf so we all don’t have overhear our exceedingly inane conversations.
On the other hand, the issue of controlling the tempo, setting the pace, and imposing your will on the people is obvious, but you’re not really thinking that when you’re flipping through the jams, making your selections. At least, I know that’s not what I’m thinking.
No matter how weak or shallow the range of selections may be, I try to go as deep as possible. For instance, if – and this is a huge sloppy if – the jukebox happens to have The Velvet Underground’s Loaded (1970), I’m going to skip “Rock n’ Roll” and “Sweet Jane” and get right to “Cool It Down”, which is partially motivated by desire to show off my knowledge and familiarity with VU. At the same time, it’s a super sweet jam – probably my favorite on the record. My compadres will feel its groovy vibration. “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” is another sleeper that doesn’t get much airplay.
The Velvet Underground – Cool it Down
My m.o. during those years was to post-up at The Pit just after midnight, having worked a shift at the restaurant gig, and puting a couple of tallboys in the tank during the 45-minute Muni crawl from Embarcadero to the Outer Sunset. The years when I was driving, I would go home first, drain a bottle of wine and then roll up on The Pit. Either way, I’d come in, shake off the cold, say hello to the regulars, Ray or Kelly would crack open a beer and set it on the bar, and I’d make a beeline for the pinball machine, provided someone wasn’t playing already. In that case, I’d wobble over to the jukebox and look for something that hadn’t been played a million times.
Over the years, I can recall making a few friends at the jukebox. Every so often, someone would wander over and ask, “Hey, whatcha gonna play?” or I would do the same – if I was feeling social, which happened from time to time. I had my moments. Up until mid-2004, I had never made a friend over pinball. It just wasn’t part of my routine. I drank, played the game, and kept to myself. There were a few occasions where another pinball enthusiast had invited me to go two-player, but 95% of the time it was just me and the machine. Pinball was such a personal experience – somewhat like masturbation, I guess – that you don’t want someone looking over your shoulder while you’re playing. It’s not a spectator sport. Besides, watching someone play pinball is just below knitting on the scale of visual experience.
One night I came in to find a vaguely familiar-looking guy playing Theater of Magic, which by the way, is probably the most beloved classic game in pinball history [Bally Mfg. Co., 1995]. So this guy, he’d recently started appearing in the neighborhood. He always wore a frumpy denim jacket – that was how I spotted him out on Judah Street, down by Java Beach Cafe. My first impression was: Sloppy but cultured – world-weary yet not inapproachable. I guessed him to be around 27-32 years old, and definitely not a native Californian. It was the first time I’d seen him in The Pit, so I took more notice than usual.
Anyway, he had the machine and a free game coming to him, so rather than intrude, I hung out at the bar and waited for my turn. Eventually this new guy balled out and went to get another beer. When he returned I drifted over and introduced myself and asked if he was interested in two-player. He was.
Max Edwards was the first reasonably sane person I ever met who could consistently out-play me in pinball and that became clear from the beginning. Most of the pinball wizards I’ve met are out of their minds. There was one regular named Johnny who was a bonafide wizard – he held the top five high scores on every pinball machine they ever had. And Johnny was certifiably insane.
Over the course of a few weeks, Max and I became drinking-slash-pinball buddies. He turned out to be a very erudite and articulate cat, hailing from Minnesota by way of Tampa, Florida – I’m not sure in which order he descended. What we had in common was living within crawling distance of The Pit and we both liked to stay up late. We’d play Theater of Magic until bar time, and occasionally stayed for after-hours. If he wasn’t there, I’d just drink and play by myself, since hardly anybody except for me, Max, and Johnny ever touched the machine.
It wasn’t until several months later that Max told me he was a musician and played in a band. That was as far as it went. Our conversations hardly went beyond the game or “Ready for another beer?” However, at some point we began commandeering the jukebox, which was right next to the pinball machine.
This added the world of music to the unfolding dynamic of our friendship. We clashed almost immediately. Max likes Bob Dylan, I do not. Etc., etc., etc.
And so one night, I told Max that I too was in a band right here in San Francisco. He said something about, “I just assumed you were a musician.” And again, the conversation trailed off to something else. It seemed like neither one of us wanted to talk about our musical pursuits. Everything that happened in The Pit was completely unrelated to our everyday lives. It was a dive bar. There was one clock on the wall and it was always ten minutes fast.
Sometime late spring of 2005, Max mentioned that his band, Lifestyle of Wigs, was based in Minneapolis, and he was going back to play a few shows. He explained that he’d followed his girlfriend out to S.F. when she took new job. He took a miserable, low-esteem gig with a P.R. firm, and it wasn’t working out. Something like that. Anyway, Lifestyle of Wigs was recording and playing shows up until the time Max left. That’s all I knew
As for the other members of the band, drummer Ryan Lovan (Roma di Luna, Minor Kingdom & Brad Senne, Haley Bonar, Mandrew) and bassist Taras Ostroushko, Max didn’t say much except that he missed playing with them, and implied that the band was no longer together.
Not long after that, we began hanging out more often, particularly after bar time – 2:00 a.m. – usually at my place, since I lived alone and we could make as much noise as we wanted. We listened to records and talked about stuff, but we’d both be hammered by that point and none of the conversations are memorable on my end, except that we had them. But I’ll never forget the very first night we were at my house and Max picked up my acoustic steel string.
“Hey Christian, do you mind if I re-tune this thing?”
‘Not at all. Have at it.”
He tuned the guitar to a version of Open F# – with no 5th on the 6th string. So it went: F# F# C# F# A# C#. And then he proceeded to play an original song, which sounded pretty good.
My band at the time, Henry Miller Sextet, had gone through some shit and we sort of spun out in late ‘04 – early ‘05, just as we’d finished making a new record. So I started concentrating on Aztec Hearts. I had a bunch of songs that didn’t really work for HMS, in my estimation. These were written in standard tuning on guitar, or piano. After reviewing the demos, I decided that only a few of those jams were keepers – I needed more songs.
One night, probably a week after Max’s first visit to my crib, I heard something in my head and reached for a guitar to snuff it out. Grabbing the Max-tuned acoustic, I instinctively formed an E-chord, fully expecting to hear a standard E major. Wait a minute. That ain’t right. It’s kind of cool, but it ain’t right. Oh…Max.
The guitar itself had sat unmolested for a week, but the tuning had pitched up a half-step, due to temperature and humidity changes.
And thus my love affair with Open G tuning was born. But that’s a different story. What’s essential to this story is that if not for Max, I probably would not have truly embraced this “alternate” tuning as tightly as I did. Believe me, I’d experimented with guitar tunings, a bunch of ‘em. But I heard some of the melodies Max was coaxing from the instrument and I thought, “I could use that.” Ultimately, I kept that guitar tuned to Open G exclusively.
Three months or so passed. Max went back to Minneapolis and upon his return mentioned the shows in passing, but he gave me the impression that LoW was done and buried. Taras, the bass player, had left the band. Anyway, it was good to have a real friend in the neighborhood. Then I invited Max to see my band play at Bottom of the Hill, and it was probably a decent show – in terms of how we played. The joint was probably empty, I dunno. Honestly, I can hardly recall bits and pieces of shows here and there. From 1989 to 2007 is basically one show, and nobody came.
Out of the blue, Max asked if I’d be interested in playing bass for LoW during a couple of shows this coming September.
Max gave me a copy of the LoW EP – along with a couple of studio tracks – and I was immediately impressed. Recorded live at the Turf Club in St. Paul, the EP is a document of an edgy and electric performance. It wasn’t perfect, in fact, it was a little messy at times, but Lifestyle of Wigs was a band that I would listen to even if Max were not my friend. They were utterly original but I heard traces of Television, Neil Young, Palace Brothers, Guided By Voices, Fugazi, Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Big Star and even hometown heroes, Hüsker Dü.
Lifestyle of Wigs EP (2005)
It had been a fairly decent stretch of time since a friend had given me one or more of his CDs and said, “Tell me what you think.” Max didn’t even really say that, either. He said, “I need someone who can play like Taras [the original bass player].”
OK, I’ll try. I guarantee I’ll try. So it was settled. We booked our flight for early September and I spent the next month learning the jams.
Upon arrival in Minneapolis, we had two practice sessions as a group before playing the Turf Club in St. Paul, opening for Rank Strangers – one of Max’s favorite local bands – and a groovy outfit called Little Man. Max was pretty nervous, and I think Ryan was, too, but I was cool over there on bass. Didn’t even have to worry about backup vocals.
The next day we played a live radio show called The Current on Minneapolis Public Radio. And then the last night we played the Hexagon Bar with two phenomenal bands, Duplomacy and Seawhores. The shows were good. Max and Ryan didn’t seem too pumped though. That was just my impression. I think they missed having their pal Taras on bass.
Overall, it was a fantastic experience for me. First, I got to play bass almost anonymously in a band that I dug and respected. Second, who doesn’t like traveling? It had been seven or eight years since I’d been to Minneapolis. Furthermore, we stayed at Ryan’s house, which is where I met his wife Sarah, who would wind up singing on the first Aztec Hearts record, literally a month later. Meanwhile, most of Max and Ryan’s friends were super cool – truly beautiful people – and it was just a party from start to finish.
On Sunday night, Max and I flew back to San Francisco and that was the end of that.
Max and I went back to the routine of playing pinball at The Pit and after-hours at my crib, until a month or two later, he moved down to L.A. with his lady. He came back and stayed with me for a couple of weeks before moving on again – I think he went to Tampa. He’s in St. Paul these days.
It turned out to be a one-off thing, but I had a blast playing with Max and drummer Ryan Lovan. No matter what, “Triptic” will be one of my all-time favorite jams. [Just to clarify, that’s not me on bass; it’s Taras Oustrushko.] The band may be long gone, but the music of Lifestyle of Wigs – what little of it survives – deserves to be heard and shared.
That was a real cliffhanger back there in Episode 1, wasn’t it? I was threatening to name my “best” Nirvana song, with a hint that it wasn’t by Nirvana. It was one of those tropes that sounds good when you toss it out there, but completely impractical or even imaginative. See, I went back and basically rifled through the Nirvana catalog, and came away with the following conclusion. I don’t believe they had a best song. They had a bunch of really good jams, but to say that “Drain You” is better than “All Apologies” is a stretch.
A lot of bands were buoyed by the wake of the Nevermind sinking cruise liner, but only a small percentage could be considered to be Nirvana rip-offs or copy-cats. Bush sounded exactly like Nirvana – with a decent guitar player. Anybody who wants to argue with me about Kurt Cobain – God bless the man, the myth, the legend – being an incredibly talented guitar player, get in line and you might want bring something to read, cuz it’s going to be a long wait. The so-called alternative-grunge phenomenon was bigger than any one band.
Certainly, there were bands that nicked bits and pieces from Nirvana’s routine, just as they scavenged from the Pixies. That’s been going on forever in music. In the meantime, alternative rock was a festering sore that had been building up for more than a decade, waiting to burst. And wallow in its own puss.
Failure – Saturday Savior
Failure is one of the few post-grunge, mid-90s American rock bands that make me think, “Why weren’t these guys huge?” As opposed to mid-90s British rock bands like Bush and Oasis that make me think, “How in God’s name are these guys huge?”
Failure first came to my attention in 1996, around the time “Stuck on You” reached #23 on Billboard ‘s Alternative Songs Chart. Dale Meiners turned me – us – on to Failure. Our band Whitey was recording with Dale at Ghetto Love, his Chicago studio circa 1996-97.
One day, Dale and said, “Hey guys, have you ever heard of [this band] Failure?” He put on Fantastic Planet and we were impressed. Very impressed.
It reminded me of a similar incident back in 1990, when our band Brain Kiss was recording an EP with Matt Suhar – who passed away last year in a bizarre and tragic accident. Matt Suhar was one of the good guys.
Brain Kiss had enough money to record five maybe six songs. Matt was producing, while some cat named Neil was engineering. One day they brought in the first Fugazi record (Repeater, 1990) as a reference record. Matt said, “Dudes, you should be listening to this, not Jane’s Addiction.” And in a way, he was right.
We were embarrassed by how good Fugazi was. Oh wow, we really are a bunch of suburban slackers. Fugazi was kicking ass while we were tripping balls. And that was pretty much the last time you would have caught me wearing a tie-dye t-shirt.
Being in the studio puts me in a different headspace in terms of listening. If you’re a music nerd and you read interviews with producers and engineers, they frequently talk about having “reference records” during the recording process. For instance, Trent Reznor said that while recording 2005’s With Teeth he would use Brainiac’s Electro-Shock for President as a “sound reference.”
“Brainiac was a band that, on this particular record, the sound would be something we’d reference, because it sounded very low-tech, electronic garagey sounding. It has an interesting low-tech sound to it that was inspiring. Even thinking about that visually would lead us into certain paths of production ideas.”
Failure – did a band ever live up to their name like these guys? Were the Outlaws really outlaws? Were the Eagles really eagles? Failure had it all – good songs, great production, mid-major label support, critical and peer approval – but 1997 was more or less the last anyone heard from Failure – until now.
If you’re interested in their story, click here. or watch the following clip, in which Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards discuss Failure’s demise and recent revitalization. I’m kind of curious to see these cats live. I think it might be good.
“Saturday Savior” gets the nod over “Stuck on You” for several reasons. It opens the album, hence the first song I heard when Dale popped the CD in the player, and thus, remains my strongest impression. “Hmm,” I thought, “it sounds familiar, but sounds amazing!” Of course, the average music nerd could probably name about 10 bands that Failure “sounds” like – I could – but this is just…better.
The second reason is that it was more appealling to me than “Stuck”. The song has one progression with a tonic and a sixth. I hear it and I love it.
The third reason is:
Lionel Ritchie – Stuck on You
Doesn’t that make you smile? How about this:
Wesley Willis Fiasco – Jesus is the Answer
Even though I missed posting on Wesley’s birthday this year (May 31), “Rock Over London, Rock On Wesley Willis” tells the story of how we met and became friends – which led to meeting Dale Meiners, who played guitar in Wesley Willis Fiasco, one of my all-time favorite bands. See how I did that? Slick, huh?
The first time seeing the Fiasco (1995) was the most compelling live rock performance I had seen since Jane’s Addiction at the Aragon Ballroom (1990). And as I wrote in that original article, the Fiasco blurred the lines between spectacle and art, resulting in a jarring musical experience. When you’re standing there thinking, “Are these guys for real?” You realize that this doesn’t happen every day, but it’s happening right now.
Again, the above link contains just about everything I need to say about Wes, but here is a rare clip of WWF live in Hollywood.
Wesley Willis Fiasco – Intro/The Frogs/Casper the Homosexual Friendly Ghost
Arthur Fielder and His Boston Pops – Bond Street
When I was a youngster, Arthur Fiedler And The Boston Pops, What The World Needs Now: The Burt Bacharach-Hal David Songbook (1972) got a lot of airplay. For the most part, whenever my mom put it on, I’d think, “Christ, this again?” It’s an instrumental record but even a four-year-old can’t help but earworm that insidious trumpet bit about the clown and his pathetic shoes too big for his bed. Cryin’s not for me, no… Next thing you know, Dionne Warwick is standing in your living room, and she smells like lavender and cocoa butter.
But there was one song – “Bond Street” – which really pricked my ears. I was like, “That drummer is doing something cool!” and I didn’t know it was an entire percussion section.
The Frogs and Eddie Vedder – Jeremy/The Longing Goes Away
Ah, speaking of the Frogs and since we’re on this whole post-grunge kick anyway, it wouldn’t be right to leave Eddie Vedder out of the mix. I’ve watched this video maybe half a dozen times and I keep thinking that they couldn’t have picked a worse camera angle to film this shit, unless of course it was just some dude with an iPhone – wait, this was 1994, nobody had iPhones or even cell phones.
For a spell in the mid-90s, The Frogs were the underground band du jour for successful alternative musicians like Vedder and Billy Corgan. [I’m so tempted to post super embarrassing clips of Corgan on stage with these cats. Google it yourself. Corgan – is there anything he can do?] Anyway, the original recording of “The Longing Goes Away” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in my life, too, Ed.
It was also during the same period of time – the mid-90s – that I was writing for a series of Chicago magazines, most notably Tail Spins, Subnation, and Velocity. As a result, I got a lot of demos and press kits shifted my way.
For a year or two, I wrote a recurring, pseudonymous column in Tail Spins called “Felix Navarro’s Bitter Corner”, which was basically a free-form editorial platform for the most unhinged or diluted fake music critic/impressario in existence. The pseudonym was created from inter-breeding the characters Felix Unger (actor Tony Randall) of The Odd Couple, and Dave Navarro, guitarist for Jane’s Addiction, et al.
The writing wasn’t always AP style, or good, but it was conversational and real, and more importantly, the vitriol was present and accounted for. And surprisingly, appreciated by the readership. Felix was one of the more popular features of the ‘zine while it lasted.
Somewhere along the way, I developed a concept for the Felix Navarro column called Demo Dare, in which I literally dared bands – 95% of which were inherently obscure local bands who didn’t have a label and couldn’t get any press in the Illinois Entertainer if they held Ma Nugent at gunpoint – to send me their demo tapes, in exchange for a guaranteed review. That was a big deal for nobody bands – getting press. It didn’t matter if it was good or bad press, you just needed someone to talk about your stupid, shitty band.
The complete story of Demo Dare is most definitely a tale for another time – I got death threats and shit – but one thing happened right after I’d published my first story about Wesley Willis (credited under my real name, Christian Adams):
I received a Demo Dare package from a woman in Franklin Park, Illinois, named Jan Terri. She sent a homemade VHS tape, a self-released cassette demo, and a press kit complete with glossy headshot that I wish I would have framed and saved for antiquity, but I didn’t. Now these people are telling me that Jan Terri is a “viral video legend.”
Jan Terri – Journey to Mars
At the time, I was initially reluctant to write about Wesley because of his schizophrenia. I didn’t want to write about him because he had issues, I wanted to write about how those issues influenced his art. Plus, he had a support system of righteous people who weren’t trying to exploit him.
With Jan Terri, I didn’t want to write about her because she obviously had issues and it didn’t seem like anyone was trying to keep her in check. Or at least whoever was in her corner was like, “Fuck, yeah! This broad is insane!” And that was unsavory to me. There was absolutely no Art – with a capital A – to what she did.
Then I learned the truth. Jan Terri was a limo driver who fancied herself a musician, entertainer, performer – and more or less continues to make it happen, depending upon how you define “making it happen.”
The VHS tape contained several music videos, most notably, “Journey to Mars”, and the press release said something about breakout hit single. Some shit like that. It was so cringingly bad that everybody I showed it to was like, “Nuh-uh, that shit is whack.” And so, Jan Terri may have had a mention in Demo Dare, but I don’t remember. I dropped the subject. Not interested.
This was absolutely pleasant news to me: Jan Terri appeared on The Daily Show in 2000, and was hired to play parties for Marilyn Manson. She’s considered an outsider musician.
Oddly enough, I’m pretty sure I still own that original VHS tape she sent me in 1995; I was haunted by the headshot for years.
Twenty years later, I’m online looking for the original “Journey to Mars” video, and I know it’s out there, when I stumble across the newest, latest, worst Jan Terri video I’ve seen to date. Actually, I’m a couple of years too late on this crap. “Losing You” is – according to Dangerous Minds a “regularly-voted worst video,” but “Skyrockets” is way, way worse.
Jan Terri – Skyrockets
Stay tuned for Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 3
Facebook has been an unlikely source of musical inspiration that I’ve confused and stonewalled for a long time.
There is a wanting to “be involved” on social media that transcends a thumbs-up or a re-tweet. By posting status updates are we not inviting others into a conversation?
The danger lies in trying to change the conversation by one-upping the guy who posted the original video.
“Oh yeah? What about this one?”
Or worse, “Boo! Dave Matthews blows!” And that’s bad for business anyway you look at it. Fortunately, almost everybody behaves like an adult and just keeps scrolling.
Something I’ve learned the hard way – which also applies to my own status updates – unless I have something very personal or relevant to contribute to the conversation, I try to keep my mouth shut. The end. Now hit me with your Candy Crush invitations!
This had been going on for a few years before I could articulate the paradox – if it is a true paradox. It feels like one to me. Since a lot of my friends have the Facebook-YouTube routine covered, and do a good job of keeping me entertained, rather than compete or dispute – as in, tit-for-tat, wouldn’t my time be better spent thinking about something else?
The answer was yes – and no. Yes, I have better things to do, and no, because thinking about stuff is what drives everybody insane in the first place. At least if I’m thinking about music, I’m not thinking about all the bad shit in the world, like planes getting blasted out of the sky. For sure, I’m a relatively frequently flyer and that stuff scares me. I don’t want to think about it.
The last couple of months produced a collection of YouTube links that I would have ordinarily shared on Facebook, but more importantly, took some time and put some effort into explaining why – this is an extended status update.
Why is this important?
Despite unlimited access to the world’s record collection, I listen to less music now than at any point in my life.
Though I’m mostly interested in rock music, variety is crucial to a colorful existence. Should I be ashamed to admit this or not, the other night I sat down and listened to all four sides of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, start-to-finish, for the first time in my life.
Bitches Brew isn’t just a seminal jazz record by one of the all-time greats, and the progenitor of what became jazz rock. At the time it was released (1970), it was a revolution; a pivotal moment in modern jazz; someone called Davis “the Picasso of Jazz”. I respect that and listen to his music more out of obligation than pleasure. You can’t really know anything about music without an intermediate background in Miles Davis.
Over several decades, I’d become familiar half of the record; “Spanish Key” and “John McLaughlin”; got groovy to the crazy-funky “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” at least a dozen times. Miles Davis is not easy listening, you do know. Generally speaking, this isn’t zippity-zop-zop jazz. It’s serious as a heart attack.
As a non-visual experience – the album runs 94 minutes, about the same as the average Hollywood film – it’s nice enough if you put it on and do a bunch of housework; you’re not going to miss anything during the first 20 minutes of Side A (“Pharoah’s Dance”) – but I’m just not interested. To be sure, it’s an astounding work of art. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” is hot lava – transcendent music. But my overwhelming impression of the double-album experience was, “Damn, that was almost a total waste of time.”
At times, I don’t want to hear any music – ambient and/or otherwise – at all. To be frank, the one thing I want to hear more than anything else is the one thing that’s the hardest to come by: complete silence.
The majority of my musical life is hunting down music that I missed (or didn’t get enough of) along the way. Forty-six years is a lot of ground to cover. More importantly, with a two and a half year-old son, I’ve got Thomas and Friends on a recursive loop in the background of my thoughts, spinning like a ceiling fan. You try humming “Anarchy in the U.K.” over that nonsense.
Believe it or not, for years I’ve made a concerted effort to seek out new music, albeit on the internet – it’s been a few years since I’ve seen a “real” rock show. But name a currently trending indie or otherwise rock band. Go ahead, don’t be shy.
____________________. I’ve heard at least three minutes of their music – and I was not impressed.
There have been a few exceptions. My brother Ronnie Kwasman plays in Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s – they’re good, I like them a whole bunch, and not just because Ronnie is in the band. There’s a crazy metal band I’ve written about before, Red Fang, who give me a few toe-tapping moments. Likewise, I’m sure there are millions of people are still making killer music, the current crop of chart-topping, “alternative” rock bands notwithstanding. For whatever reason, either I don’t need it or I don’t care one way or the other. I’m happy for everybody who is doing their own thing. No beef. End of.
This applies to the music I’ve made, too. My best years are at least eight to ten years behind me. I’m not listening to my own records at home, that’s for sure.
Regardless, a huge part of this weird “aversion” to music comes from the fact that I hardly have to make an effort to hear music in general. Something pops into my head, “Bam! Google, YouTube.” Just in case you’ve wondered how it’s possible (or legal) for people to upload copyrighted material to YouTube, watch this two-minute video – it’s very enlightening.
Furthermore, I’m spending exceedingly less on music with each passing day. And forget about downloading free MP3 shit. What’s the point anymore? I’ve bought no more than 20 records on iTunes in my life, and thus, the majority of my library is from a CD collection that nearly gave up on itself in 2010.
It’s something you wouldn’t wish on your enemy, but I recently gave away the remains of my vinyl collection – the sweet stuff – that survived an even earlier purge. The records went to a very good home but they are no longer mine. Twenty years of music, gone forever. Nearly every single one of those records told a story. Maybe it told a tale in relation to the music, like, “I was listening to this when I heard about John Lennon getting shot.” Maybe it was something about how I acquired the record. Each one had its own descriptive pedigree.
And this is why I believe the internet has killed music. In nearly every case, I had to go out and get those records. In some cases, I spent a long time looking for them, and paid a dear price, too. In fact, just going to the record store was a big part of the experience. Nowadays I have to look hard for a record store, but every band has a groovy website, and it’s a thousand times easier to buy the record on iTunes. Ninety-nine cents is the current value of a song. It simply makes me shrug.
The recent revival of vinyl is trendy but unsustainable, and this opinion has nothing to do with the wistful nostalgia of the days when we’d roll a joint using the gatefold of All the World’s a Stage as a de-stemming tray. The future is virtual or viral or in the clouds; and the future travels light – no matter what anybody says. Eventually, every vinyl collection will be sacrificed to the gods, but will live theoretically, forever. The music will carry on.
My goal is turn you on to some stuff you might not be aware of, or remind you of something that maybe you had forgotten about. This is the only way I know to use the internet as a positive force for rock music. Maybe you’ll dust off some of your old records and get them into the computer. Maybe you’ll go out and buy a few records. Maybe.
This got me thinking about what I actually listen to on a regular basis, aside from what’s playing on the sound system at my supermarket of choice. For instance, it’s a slow day in the office – a radio station day, so to speak – which doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to. There are a few ways this can play out, but generally speaking, let’s say I’m in the mood for Rod Stewart – the early stuff, relax.
There are three maybe four Rod Stewart records from 1969-72, not including his work with the Faces, that I can sit through – and by sit through I mean not be compelled to skip a track or three or all of the B-side. If I never hear his version of “Twistin’ the Night Away” for the rest of my life, I think I’ll be OK.
However, I’ve heard Every Picture Tells a Story far too many times. Likewise, I know every record in Stewart’s catalog, so I know where not to look for simpatico jams. And I don’t see this trend reversing itself in the foreseeable future. It occurred to me – again – thanks to the internet, I don’t have to get up and move the needle or change the disc. I don’t have to put the record back in its sleeve and slide it back into the rack. Click. What do I want to hear next?
The fact is I seldom listen to albums anymore. Does anyone? Simply put, I listen to isolated songs from the artist’s catalogue. This is the way of the world, cherry-picking from here on out. Stick with the Rod Stewart example. Out of all his early material, there were a couple of jams that never got their due – those are the cuts I want to hear, not “Maggie May” or “You Wear It Well”. For example, here’s “Los Paraguayos” from Never a Dull Moment (1972) – but I could have just as easily chosen “True Blue” or “Italian Girls”.
Rod Stewart – Los Paraguayos
Not even halfway through this jam, I’m already thinking about what I want to hear next. How about Queen? That’s a fairly logical transition.
Meanwhile, if you pay attention to the lyrics, you might be in for a little bit of a surprise. Here’s my favorite bit:
Honey don't even ask me if you can come along Down at the border you need to be older and you sure don't look like my daughter Your ridiculous age, start a state outrage and I'll end up in a Mexican jail
Queen – Long Away
Again, veering away from the mundane, here we have a beautiful little power pop number written and sung by Brian May, from A Day at the Races (1976), which in itself is a sneaky record. Critical reception remains mixed; the Allmusic Guide gives it 3-and-a-half stars, while Rolling Stone gives it two out of five. The big hits from the LP were “Somebody to Love” and “Tie Your Mother Down”, both fantastic numbers, but neither of which I need to hear again in this lifetime
With few exceptions, most of the following tracks may be familiar in the sense that you probably own the record it’s on, but most of these jams have not received a significant amount of radio airplay to be considered a “big hit.” In some instances, the artist is obscure enough to have escaped the Billboard Hot 100 on several occasions. These are some of my personal Deep Cuts – these are or would be on my iPod as opposed to some of the artists’ more popular works.
PJ Harvey – 50ft Queenie
From her second album Rid of Me (1992). Produced by Steve Albini. Not much else to say. Wow. Very attitude. Such rock. Though I wasn’t a big fan when Harvey was the Next Big Thing, she snuck up on me simply by coincidence. It’s tempting to compare every female rock singer with Chrissie Hynde – this is the Pretenders with jagged edges.
There was a year in the early Oughts that I used to hang out at a bar in West Portal called the Philosopher’s Club, which was next door to a super-cool, old school chophouse called Bullshead Restaurant. The bar attracted a very uneasy mix of college kids from SFSU and grizzled old winos who staggered out from their elderly mother’s basements around noon, and killed the afternoon at Portal’s Tavern before rolling down to the Club.
Anyway, Rid of Me was on the bar’s jukebox; somebody played this jam, and I thought, “That’s pretty good.” It became one of my go-to jams whenever I felt like stuffing a few bucks in the jukebox, which turned out to be something of a contentious endeavor.
There was this one cat named Richie who tried to dominate the soundtrack. He’d beef with people if they jammed up “his” playlist, so most folks didn’t bother with the jukebox. And for whatever reason, the bartenders put up with this guy – I guess he was a long-time regular.
Of course, I didn’t know all this in the beginning, so I’d post up, get a beer and make a beeline for the jukebox. One night, I happened to be seated next to Richie and his old lady; Richie had his back to me but his lady was eyeballing. She said something about the music – I had played Ray Charles or something – and Richie said something to the bartender about “bumping the box”, which as far as I knew, some jukeboxes had remote controls.
The selection on this particular jukebox was about as eclectic as I’d ever seen; it had everything from Bobby Darin to the Melvins. And it was the first jukebox that I ever saw where you could download additional songs from the internet. So if what you were looking for wasn’t on the box, it could grab the track from Napster or whatever.
For the next hour or so, not one of the songs I had selected were played. It was all Richie’s nonsense. I mean, some of it was tolerable, but seriously, he played the same stuff every time. One of his signature jams was “Back Stabbers” by the O’Jays – and he’d play it three times a night. Now I liked the jam – the first 50 times I heard it – but at some point, enough is enough.
So I said something to the bartender and he feigned ignorance about the jukebox. This led to me and Richie having a discussion, which turned into an argument, and he basically invited me out on the sidewalk for a beating, which I politely declined – mainly because Richie couldn’t walk; he had been in an accident and his legs were almost useless; he got around on crutches. So I started coming in a little earlier than usual to avoid the guy.
Alice Cooper – Halo of Flies
Sounds like it could be the Pixies – if the Pixies wrote eight-minute progressive rock suites about a quasi-fictional counter-intelligence agency. Unfortunately, whenever I think of the Pixies, I think of Nirvana. [Does this really need to be explained?] From there I was thinking, “What’s the best Nirvana song I’ve ever heard?” Here’s a clue: it’s NOT by Nirvana.
That’s all for today’s episode of Jukebox Antagonist.
NEXT EPISODE: Failure, Wesley Willis Fiasco, Arthur Fiedler, Deerhoof, Roy Thomas Baker and much more!
Rock royalty meets Jimi Hendrix for the first time, in their own words.
B.B. King and Buddy Guy
– Of course you gotta start with these two cats.
– Coolest dude of all-time.
– From the 1973 rockumentary Let the Good Times Roll; the clip is must-see, the film not so much.
– Met in Ottawa, where Joni was a folk singer; Hendrix taped her show and they went back to the hotel together for sexy time, at least I hope so
– An excerpt from a questionable BBC documentary, ‘The Seven Ages of Rock – Episode 1 The Birth of Rock’; Clapton isn’t in this clip but the two had obviously met at some point.
– Changed his bass strings every night; had never spoken to a black person before opening for Hendrix at the legendary Marquee Club in 1966.
– Shared a flat in Holland Park for several weeks; says Hendrix could play guitar left and right-handed.
– Shook Hendrix’s left hand, once…and goes on for four minutes on how and why [Fripp] began sitting during live performances – unheard of for rock guitar players at the time, for sure – and coincidentally, Hendrix was present at that show – 1969, it’s unclear if King Crimson and Hendrix shared a bill because I can’t be arsed to watch it again; they met the show; Hendrix said, “Shake my left hand, it’s closer to my heart.”
– This cat’s ego is as predictable his “jams”; he should have been a railroad engineer or something, because right on schedule, he claims that Hendrix swiped one of his riffs; even this clip is over-rated.
– Brief story about hanging out with Brian Jones and meeting Jimmy James! Something about this clip says, “Cocaine, lots of cocaine.”
– Awesome Yarn from The Man Who Invented Stereo; rambling in a cool grandpa sort of way; he had no idea who Hendrix was when they first met; wanted to manage him; watch both clips
– Haha this has nothing to do with Hendrix, but watch it anyway.
– The earliest reference and use of “bitchin’” to describe a guitar player that I’m aware of; Lou doesn’t actually say whether he met Hendrix, but it’s a fun clip anyway.
– Shugs still has something on the ball…kind of. He got an autograph.