Sunday, March 29, 2009

Smith College Professor of Music Steve Waksman reads from his new book "This Ain't The Summer of Love" this Friday, April 3rd, 6:30, Dynamite Records.

Steve Waksman, who my friend and colleague Brendan calls The Professor of Rock and Roll, does in fact have a PhD and is a Professor of Music at Smith College. I always see Steve walking to or from work with his rock hair and briefcase wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt. While some of us are content to wax nostalgic about the days of $6.50 GA concert tickets and cleaning weed in gate-fold album covers with spine gullies for easy seed roll-off, he's written his second book about the era and is doing a reading and signing at Dynamite Records this Friday, April 3rd at 6:30. The book is This Ain't The Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk. A blurb reads: "Instead of considering metal and punk as aesthetically opposed to each other, Steve Waksman breaks new ground by showing that a profound connection exists between them. Metal and punk enjoyed a charged, intimate relationship that informed both genres in terms of sound, image, and discourse."

The title of the book is drawn from the lead off cut on Blue Oyster Cult's breakthrough 1976 album Agents of Fortune, which included their biggest hit Don't Fear The Reaper, later lampooned in a now classic Saturday Night Live skit featuring a cowbell and Christopher Walken. Agents of Fortune was in fact a gatefold album and along with Houses of The Holy is the jacket I recall being used most often for separating the weed from the seed. Though everyone had their favorite. It seemed that involving the album in the actual marijuana smoking ritual was synergistic. The album gave twice, first with the cleaning, then with the awesome tunes. Pete Stoneham, back at Amherst High School in 1980, once theorized that it was no coincidence that the best albums to listen to when high were also the ones with the gatefolds. He went so far as to say it was the bands' secret gift, a sort of stoner wink to their fans.
Below, the open gatefold of "Agents" with seed ravine clearly visible at center.Blue Oyster Cult's ass-kicking double live album "On Your Feet Or On Your Knees" actually required the gatefold to accomodate the second album, unlike the gratuitous use of a gatefold on single albums. (Part of Stoneham's evidence for his claim.) Below, front of album and interior.
Again note pronounced seed run-off ravine.
Below (poorly cropped) is the inner gatefold of House of the Holy. I think I can still see a few flecks of pot in the crack. Of the album, not the guy's ass.
For the uninitiated, the process works likes this. You hold the album between your legs, letting the spine dip down ever so slightly so that the jacket has a very shallow incline. A mellow, very wide V. You put the stuff on one side and then sort of scrape it upwards with a playing card, over and over, letting the seeds roll down into the gutter.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

John and Yoko Torn Apart

When I lived in Hollywood, I was two blocks from the corner of LaBrea and Santa Monica which is approximately where this humungous records storage facility stands. Apple hung a giant canopy billboard for their "Think Different" campaign (which I always argued was grammatically incorrect) featuring John and Yoko. You could see it from all the way up in the hills for miles in either direction. One day the wind tore Yoko away and presented this rare photo opportunity. I had hundreds of photos of my Los Angeles years that disappeared with a stolen computer but these survived as prints.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Morning Stroll, Gas, Babies, Eels, Rugs etc.

Dave and I met for breakfast at Jake's where I was startled to see him order pancakes. Dave is a man of habits and rituals, a one egg over easy and white toast guy. Occasionally an english muffin. His complex character, genius, and wit are not reflected by his taste in food. But he was in a rare mood this morning and I was glad to see him taking some risks. He smelled faintly of gasoline. It seems that at a gas station in South Amherst this morning, the tanker trunk was filling the underground tanks. Dave and the other customers were standing by their cars, nozzles in and pumping, when it occurred to him that he'd been standing there an awfully long time for a quarter tank top off. Everyone gradually became aware of the time aberration and started looking to each other for answers, making shruggy what's up? gestures and feeling that empowering consumer camaraderie that can occur when people realize they will not be alone in their complaint or be thought crazy by a testy clerk. Dave saw that the total cost for the gas was well above normal when suddenly it started flowing out all over his pants and shoes. The kaCHUNK feature that cuts off the gas when it reaches the top had failed. Dave tried to warn the others but it was too late. Seventeen or eighteen expletives later, everyone marched in to see the cashier who mumbled something about air pockets in the lines when the tanker is pumping. So that explained Dave's gas smell. He was unclear about the resolution, even when I pressed him. I've learned when to let something go, but I will eventually get an explanation.

After breakfast, we set out on a mission to poke around back alleys with our cameras but ended up at Faces instead. Can I go on the record as saying that Urban Outfitters has nothing on Faces? Faces has genuinely creative displays with actual humor while UO has a hipper than thou pseudo-mystique. A sort of clinical detached coolness. Some of the staffers at Faces have been there for years and their dedication to the store shows. They're currently adding a shoe department downstairs. Steve and Dan do the best window dressing in town, but the staff's creativity is on display inside. Here's a display (most likely by Matt Kristek) that's amusing, clever, and surreal (see man on far right) and makes an otherwise mundane glassware section more fun.
Here is a shot of Faces vet Kristen with her son Jack. Jack hiccups sometimes because he's learning how to swallow. This is Kristen's secret identity however, as she is othewise know as Piss'N Mona, part of the Pioneer Valley Roller Derby squad.

On the way back to Market Street, Dave was expressing his frustration with the tempest in a teapot and handy distraction from bigger issues that is the AIG bonus scandal and the shameless and ever more institutionalized abuses of power on the part of our leaders, paraphrasing a letter he had written to John Olver (pictured). He's written our Congressman several times over the years. He's gotten standard form letter responses. I got a quick and personal response from our State Senator Stan Rosenberg earlier this year when I had a complaint with Bank of America. It felt good to get the response. I suggested he write to Obama, who is apparently reading and personally answering a handful of letters every day. He grunted and I changed the subject to a video clip I'd received recently that prominently featured eels...the kind of video that shreds one's thin veil of propriety and decency and burns images into your memory that can never fully be erased. He hesitantly agreed to watch it and afterward agreed that it was definitely in a category of its own. I explained that in fact the category was quite wide and a decent number of people, primarily Europeans, seemed to rather fancy it. I assure my readers at this point that you needn't question my character (any more than usual anyway) or suspect that the boundaries of good taste that I skillfully maintain are slipping and threaten the family friendly nature of the blog. But when confronted with something heretofore unthinkable, if even imagined, never mind succesfully executed by humans, never mind filmed by other humans, you just have to ask, is that really necessary? Have you grown that bored of league certified play and its time tested activities which, personally, never get old for me. Is this the grand finale of a series of increasingly surreal and gratuitous acts, rolled out over many years, strategized and researched with the use of National Geographic, the Kama Sutra, and The Joy of....Cooking? Or is this just the beginning? Most importantly, has P.E.T.A. been alerted?

Sadly, the usual stumbling and boisterous citizens I heard coming home from the bars around 2am last night, also aparrently threw a rock at Retro Genie's window. I often wonder what a vandal makes of his work while sober in the light of the next day.These next images were taken in the Antique Center of Northampton. The first is somehow David Lynchian. The other two just make me feel calm and happy for some reason. It's hard to tell if they are drawings or tinted photos.

I also bought two sweet oriental rugs for my apartment at half price at the Antique Center. They were a steal and they really tie the rooms together.
The Dude: Walter, what is the point? Look, we all know who is at fault here, what the fuck are you talking about?
Walter Sobchak: Huh? No, what the fuck are you... I'm not... We're talking about unchecked aggression here, dude.
Donny: What the fuck is he talking about?
The Dude: My rug.
Walter Sobchak: Forget it, Donny, you're out of your element!
The Dude: Walter, the chinaman who peed on my rug, I can't go give him a bill, so what the fuck are you talking about?
Walter Sobchak: What the fuck are you talking about? The chinaman is not the issue here, Dude. I'm talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you DO NOT... Also, Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.
The Dude: Walter, this isn't a guy who built the railroads here. This is a guy...
Walter Sobchak: What the fuck are you...?
The Dude: Walter, he peed on my rug!
Donny: He peed on the Dude's rug.
Walter Sobchak: Donny you're out of your element! Dude, the Chinaman is not the issue here!
Brandt: Mr. Lebowski is prepared to make a generous offer to you to act as courier, once we get instructions for the money.
The Dude: Why me, man?
Brandt: He believes the culprits might be the very people who, uh, soiled your rug, and you are in a unique position to confirm or disconfirm that suspicion.
The Dude: He thinks the carpet pissers did this?
Brandt: Well Dude, we just don't know.

Keeping the sidewalks safe! Stomping out crime! Northampton's finest on the beat.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Last Day of Winter

Today's the last day of winter. So says the chalkboard easel outside the Toasted Owl. You find things out walking around Northampton. I still haven't felt the click though. That scent of Spring, like an opiate, that makes me want to take chances college days, to put the speakers facing out the window of Butterfield and bathe the Umass Central Dorms with Houses of the Holy. Now it's warm nights with friends you don't even know watching the Sox at the Owl. Screaming and hugging. The World Series Trophy made a stop at the Owl in 2005. I'm not even a huge fan. I am not a citzen of the "Red Sox Nation." But I can get into a game. So many more women are Sox fans these days. Not passive fans either. They're talking stats and injuries. Two of my three sisters, Emily and Sarah, could probably work for the team in some capacity. Emily's son is named Theo. Yes. Amy and I, well, we get it but we couldn't possibly make that kind of commitment. My dad calls it his soap opera.

I used to take my Rawlings Fastback baseball glove, the Stan Bahnsen signature edition with a finger hole, to Memorial Stadium with my dad maybe twice a year to see the Orioles. He declared opening day an official holiday from his job as an English professor at Washington College. He would tell his students there would be no class that day, as would two other professors, Bob Day and Norman James. He'd let me play hooky too. They did it on the sly but one year they ended up in a photo on the cover of the Baltimore Sun in an "interview with the fans" story. The school's president saw them, reprimanded them, and as I recall, docked their pay. The incident is now part of the college's folklore.

I took my glove to the games so I could snag a foul ball. An impossible dream, but I wanted to be ready. I was a fan back then, big time. I can still name the 1972 Orioles and their numbers. This was before Camden Yard. The Colts were still in Baltimore back then too. Both teams used Memorial Stadium and this time of year you could still see the fading lime grid of the football season beneath the diamond and outfield. I never caught a ball, but back then I could go down to the Orioles dug out and someone would always come out and sign autographs over the wall. I got signatures from Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson (my hero, #5, with "B.Robinson" on his jersey due to Frank's presence on the team those days), and Eddie Watt, a reliever, who my dad and I sent a congrats telegram to one night when he saved a game. The crab cakes at Memorial were delicious!

My family moved from Maryland to Mass. in 1976. (That December, a single-engine plane crashed into the stands behind home plate!) I had gone through the emotions of leaving the Orioles and was ready to be a Red Sox fan. It was the Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Yaz years and I loved watching them on the old Channel 38. But then I discovered pot and concerts and girls and after that I was done. Years later, for old times sake, my dad and I went to Fenway. Clemens was pitching against the Twins. At one point he threw a fastball in there and CRACK - a line drive along the first base line came right at us. I stood up and, without the assistance of Mr. Bahnsen's mitt, took it in the chest. It dropped in front of me. I reached down into the flailing hands of other fans that would take it from it's chosen one and plucked it out, thrusting it up in the air, victorious. I have it on my desk at work right now of you ever want to come by and visit the ball.

Sometimes you get what you want long after you stop wanting it. Or forgetting that you want it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable by Clay Shirky

Back in 1993, the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain began investigating piracy of Dave Barry’s popular column, which was published by the Miami Herald and syndicated widely. In the course of tracking down the sources of unlicensed distribution, they found many things, including the copying of his column to on usenet; a 2000-person strong mailing list also reading pirated versions; and a teenager in the Midwest who was doing some of the copying himself, because he loved Barry’s work so much he wanted everybody to be able to read it.
"It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem."

One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.” I think about that conversation a lot these days. Continue article, long but well worth the read.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

An evening of music, comedy, and the unexpected with Wes & Eugene 's Cabinet of Wonders Wednesday, March 25th - 7:00 PM at the Iron Horse

John Wesley Harding (musician)

Is a folk/pop singer-songwriter (né Wesley Stace) and who has called his style of music "folk noir" and "gangsta folk". Under his real name, he has recently written two bestselling novels. He will be at the Iron Horse to help celebrate the release of his latest neo-folk masterpiece, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead.

Is a comedian, writer, and film maker, who is based in New York City. Mirman attended Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts. Mirman has appeared on several TV shows, including Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Comedy Central's Premium Blend, Comedy Central Presents and Jump Cuts, VH1, Third Watch, Cartoon Network's Home Movies, Cheap Seats, HBO's Flight of the Conchords, Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil and more. He also played a spokes-potato on Food Network and other oddities on various programs.

Rick Moody (writer/musician) Click Here to read/listen to Rick Moody on NPR.

an American novelist and short story writer best known for the 1994 novel The Ice Storm. Moody has received the Addison Metcalf Award, the Paris Review Aga Khan Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His articles has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, the Paris Review, Harper's, Details, the New York Times, and Grand Street. He also performs with his band, The Wingdale Community Singers.

P.T. Walkley (musician)

“Even if you haven't heard of PT Walkley, you might have heard him whistling in a MasterCard commercial or singing "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" in a GE spot.

For a handful of years, the songwriter has earned such placements working at Frisbie, a creative advertising and branding music studio in New York. A day job as a composer has left Walkley ample opportunity to use the studio's facilities for his own music, which blends feel-good, upbeat pop with Brit rock.” (Billboard)

Larry Murphy (comedian)

He began performing standup comedy in 1997 at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Soon after he teamed up with Brendon Small (co-creator, writer, star, and music writer for Cartoon Network's Home Movies & Metalocalypse). Together they performed sketches & Rock Operas until 2001.

Murphy has lent his voice to several Soup2Nuts cartoon shows including Word Girl,O'Grady and Home Movies. He has also appeared in a number of sketches on Late Night with Conan O'Brien . Murphy is currently voicing all the main characters on Assy McGee, (2006-2008) and has appeared in a number of videos produced by Jon Benjamin for the political humor website 23/6. He also plays a doorman in the Adult Swim live action show Delocated.

Read Paste's review Here, watch a video about the 'Cabinet of Wonders' here
To Buy Tickets in advance, call the Northampton Box Office 413.586.8686 Monday-Saturday 9am-6pm Sundays 12pm-5pm or click here.

NEON GORE: New work by Dan Tower now on display at The Dirty Truth

The arterial blood red wall of downtown Northampton pub The Dirty Truth is one of the more dramatic spaces around for large works of art and an appropriate color for the current exhibit, Neon Gore by Dan Tower. The bar changes artists over every few months and I generally find that their choices are dramatic and confrontational, even blunt, which pretty much sets the tone for the bar. I asked the doorman who the artist was and he didn't know what I meant. I said "who did the work on the walls?" "Oh, I didn't even notice them," he said. "I don't know who did them." What is it with people and their tunnelvision? I noticed the artist info over his shoulder on the wall and asked him to lean out the way for a moment so I could shoot it for this post. He was annoyed. Nice work, Dan. Very gutsy.

On "Rachel Getting Married" by Robert Neill

I get to movies late – sometimes I don’t get to them at all. There is only so much time, even for retired folks. My time is mainly filled with books and music, by choice. So I almost missed a great movie. I think not good, great, though there’s a lot of it I’ve yet to digest. "Rachel Getting Married" is great in both its conception and execution: tragedy stalking comedy in the person of Ann Hathaway’s Kim Buckman.

Classical comedy (not ha-ha comedy, comedy as story ruled by reason, good will, and optimism, which often brings about ha ha’s) as presented by Shakespeare and Jane Austen, to cite two masters of it, often ends with weddings, which bring everything and everybody together in a sensible, problem-solving, difference resolving, celebration of promise driven by the hopeful power of love. Tragedy, on the other hand, brings a disruptive passion for truthfulness to bear on the compromises enforced by comedy, exposing all of the unfortunate human truths that comedy has tucked away in the closet or swept under the rug in the interest of ‘going forward with a smile.’ Tragedy is like…your drug addict sister coming to your wedding.

Kim Buckman comes from a Rehab world, where everything is out of the closet, out of the attic, and out from under the rug all day every day on principle, and stalks about the wedding scene like the tragic seer Cassandra. She is the member of the family who carries its hidden darkness and failures on her shoulders, literally. Director Demme dresses her cruelly (the severe coiffure is a work of tragic art, even more so when it is fashionably streaked for the wedding ceremony) and focuses on her relentlessly. She haunts every celebratory scene, making them feel forced and not quite real. Initially we are embarrassed for her; eventually, as we learn more, we are embarrassed for everybody else. And then finally her mother explodes, her father falls apart in tears, and her sister finds herself tending injuries which could easily have killed Kim – all finally forced to stare through the wedding festivities to the tragic truth Kim bears. She makes the wedding be about the truth, for a while, and then returns to hell.

The story does not end in tragedy – we don’t write those much any longer. Kim does not die when she does a variation on her original tragic scene. It ends with a tragic shadow having been cast across the willful effort of comic vision: it ends in irony. It insists on irony as a point of view. We used to believe that comedy was the cure for what ails us socially and morally; that was the justification for writing them back when we thought we needed one. In our times, it is irony. "Rachel Getting Married" makes me feel better about the race and we could use a great deal more films like it. -Robert Neill (Jim's father)

Eccentric singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock makes an appearance in the film and contributes two songs to the soundtrack.