Ron Weisner on Madonna

November 10th, 2014

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(Warning: smutty subject matter ahead.)

P. 176-77: “The first show [of the 1985 'Virgin Tour'] was at the Paramount Theater in Seattle… An hour before the show, I went outside to get a breath of fresh air. As I stood near the theater’s front entrance, I watched car after car pull up and drop off several young girls, all dressed in their Madonna-like sleeveless tops, studded black gloves, and dangling necklaces. The majority of the other attendees were a mother or a father with their kid in tow. I’d guesstimate that 75 percent of the audience was under the age of fifteen - some accompanied by their parents, some not - and the other 25 percent was gay men.

“When the show started, the kids went nuts, screaming and screeching as kids are prone to do. I don’t know if this was in reaction to the kids’ reaction, but Madonna got raunchier than I’d ever seen her… while saying the filthiest stuff you can imagine. As she extolled the joys of masturbation, I scanned the crowd, taking in the adults’ shocked, appalled expressions…

“After the show, I tracked down Freddy [DeMann, Weisner's business partner] and asked him ‘What’re we doing here? Is this how we want to be represented? Do we want to be associated with some girl who thinks it’s okay to finger herself in front of a roomful of junior high schoolers?

“Freddy scoffed, ‘They loved it! Madonna’s going to be huge!…”

P. 178 [discussing dissolving his partnership with DeMann and splitting up their clientele]:  “We went down the roster, and when we got to Madonna’s name, I said, ‘You can have her. You belong together.’  The second those words left my mouth, I felt like a huge, vulgar, surly, masturbating-on-stage weight had been lifted from my shoulders.”

Donald Fagen, Eminent Hipsters (2013)

August 8th, 2014

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No insights here about Steely Dan LP/cassette song sequences I’ve puzzled over in these pages. Just disarming short essays about the Boswell Sisters, Henry Mancini, Ike Turner, Alfred Korzybski and General Semantics, Ray Charles, Jean Shepherd, NYC jazz radio in the 50s and 60s, Bard College, and Ennio Morricone. This is all topped off with grouchy journal entries from the “Dukes of September” tour with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald. This whole thing was so much fun I’ll likely reread it just for kicks, which qualifies it as an instant Personal Cult Book.

JULY 6. I’m finally back in a civilized hotel, the Four Seasons on Elliott Bay in Seattle…They have a serious spa here and there’s just time enough to get a massage…I drew a girl - let’s call her Naomi - who was young and pretty, which is always nice. But she looked a little scrawny for the job.

Working on the backs of my calves with some minty oil, she asked me if I wanted her to go deeper, so I said sure, a little bit. Suddenly Naomi from Seattle turned into Rosa Klebb, the SMERSH interrogator from the James Bond series. I couldn’t believe the force with which she was driving her knobby little knuckles into my petrified muscles and tendons. It was excruciating, but I have this stupid thing - like, no son of Staff Sergeant Joseph Fagen, veteran of the Big One, is going to whine about a little pain in front of some strange girl. Finally, all greased up and smelling like a Twizzler, I limped into the elevator in my bathrobe, crab-walked back to my room and started to pack for the gig. (Page 106)

I’m still laughing about Fagen’s report from San Antonio on pages 121 and 122.

JULY 18… [T]he ambling ghost of Fess Parker intersects our path. In 1955, the elders of San Antonio, Texas, after noticing the influx of tourists following the final episode of the Davy Crockett series…got some Disney architects to look at the river, resulting, many years later, in a sort of San Antonio Land, which is the present-day River Walk. Our hotel is on the River Walk, and that’s why I was awakened earlier than I wanted to be by a loud mariachi band just outside the window.

…I’m back from the show. The house was a legion of TV Babies, maybe tourists from Arizona. I don’t know. Probably right-wingers, too, the victims of an epidemic mental illness that a British study has proven to be the result of having an inordinately large amygdala, a part of the primitive brain that causes them to be fearful way past the point of delusion, which explains why their philosophy, their syntax and their manner of thought don’t seem to be reality based. That’s why, when you hear a Republican speak, it’s like listening to somebody recount a particularly boring dream.

…The crowd sat through our versions of some of the great sixties soul tunes, hating them, waiting only for the amygdala-comforting Doobie Brothers hits that Michael sings, Boz’s dance numbers and the Steely Dan singles that remind them of high school or college parties…Toward the end of the show, during McDonald’s piano introduction to “Takin’ It to the Streets,” I think I really made [backup singers] Carolyn and Catherine uncomfortable by walking back to their riser and telling them, as a way of venting my rage, that I’d been imagining a flash theater fire that would send the entire audience screaming up the aisles, trampling each other to get to the exits, ending up in a horrible scene outside on the sidewalk with people on stretchers, charred and wrinkled. When things aren’t going well, the girls, standing just behind me, have to listen to my insane rants. If they’re singing, I’ll rant to Jim Beard, playing keyboards on the next riser, or, if he’s busy, I’ll walk across the stage and harass the horn players.

Tom Doyle, Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s

August 3rd, 2014

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The following account (p. 38) also appears in Howard Sounes’s Fab (2010). Can’t help but be curious about this Mormon girl who got under Beatle Paul’s skin.

As the spring of 1971 turned to summer, the strangeness that came with Paul’s extraordinary fame began to creep back into the McCartneys’ lives…Determined devotees would make the long pilgrimmage to Argyll, since it was no secret now that the McCartneys spent much of their time near Campbeltown….

More worryingly, a young girl, a Mormon from Utah, had taken to camping on the edge of some woods just beyond the boundary of High Park, so that she could get close to Paul without trespassing on his land. The McCartneys often saw her, partially hidden by the trees, watching them through binoculars. One day in the summer of 1971, Paul apparently snapped and, according to the girl, came out of the house, drove toward her in his Land Rover, and angrily emerged, shouting and swearing.

The girl claimed that she couldn’t remember much of what happened next, except that in the aftermath, her nose was bleeding. The implication, obviously, was that McCartney had assaulted her, which Paul denied. “I have been asking her politely - pleading with her - to leave me and my family alone,” he stated. “She refuses to recognize that I am married with a family.”

Jingle singles: “Cinnamint Shuffle” (1966)

August 2nd, 2014

There’s a whole category of hit singles that charted because of their involvement in TV ads, like the Johnny Mann Singers’ “Cinnamint Shuffle,” from 1966. “Cinnamint” was a flavor of Clark’s chewing gum (along with “Teaberry”) and commercials for both of these featured consumers popping a stick of it into their mouths and dancing a two-second shuffle before carrying on with their business.

The ad campaign’s song was a familiar one: “Mexican Shuffle,” written by Sol Lake, which was a keynote track on Herb Alpert and the Tijanana Brass’s South of the Border LP, a Billboard Top Ten hit in 1964 (the “Mexican Shuffle” single hit #88). The Johnny Mann Singers’ 1966 version of the song, sporting the new title of “Cinnamint Shuffle (Mexican Shuffle),” managed to squeak into Billboard’s “bubbling under” chart, peaking at #126. (Johnny Mann was the musical director for the Joey Bishop Show, incidentally.)

Armchair carbon dating: I’m not thinking the ad in the YouTube clip above is from 1961, as listed at the beginning. That would be a full three years before Herb Alpert’s version. Also, the car at :13 is looking like a ‘66 Buick Riviera and the art at :32 looks a tad countercultural.

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Johnny Mann Singers - “Cinnamint Shuffle (Mexican Shuffle)” (1966)

Bonus: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass - “Mexican Shuffle” (live)

Bonanza view masters, 1964

July 13th, 2014

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Bird count: 4.

The Osmonds sang “Stairway to Heaven”

July 10th, 2014

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“Also in the 1970s, while in England at Earl’s Court (a large arena in London), we were honored when Led Zeppelin invited us to sing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ with them. It was a surreal moment for me as I played congas next to John Bonham.” (p. 38)

Katfish, “Dear Prudence” (1975)

June 23rd, 2014

I subbed today for Rush Evans on his Off the Beatle Path show on KOOP. What a glorious opportunity it was to air “Dear Prudence” by Katfish, a #52 hit in ‘75.

“America’s Gone 7-Up” can collection from 1979

March 17th, 2014

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I collected these cans in the summer of ‘79 and was able to make the stacked up panorama shown in this picture. My decision to toss them out at the end of that summer was perhaps a formative anti-hoarding lesson for someone with an unmistakable collector’s impulse. Each can offers up a single image suggesting a quintessential recreational activity for each state (photos - except for Minnesota - courtesy of usasoda.com):

Alabama (biking in historic Mobile)
Alaska (scaling the Alaska range)
Arizona (backpacking in the Grand Canyon)
Arkansas (picknicking in Hot Springs)
California (surfing the California coast)
Colorado (skiing in the Rockies)
Connecticut (hiking the Appalachian Trail)
Delaware (touring)
Florida (boating in the Everglades)
Georgia (fishing Lake Lanier)
Hawaii (snorkeling)
Idaho (rafting the Salmon River)
Illinois (cycling in New Salem State Park)
Indiana (playing basketball)
Iowa (ballooning)
Kansas (camping along the Santa Fe Trail)
Kentucky (horse racing)
Louisiana (boating in Lake Pontchartrain)
Maine (canoeing in the Allagash River)
Maryland (sailing in Chesapeake Bay)
Massachusetts (running the Boston Marathon)
Michigan (fishing in Lake Michigan)
Minnesota (dogsledding in the Superior National Forest)
Mississippi (sailing along the Gulf Coast)
Missouri (canoeing in the Ozark streams)
Montana (backbacking in Glacier National Park)
Nebraska (saddlebronc riding)
Nevada (wind sailing in Death Valley)
New Hampshire (climbing White Mountain)
New Jersey (canoeing in the Pine Barrens)
New Mexico (rounding up cattle)
New York (sight-seeing in Central Park)
North Carolina (golfing the Tar Heel Fairways)
North Dakota (cross country skiing)
Ohio (backpacking along the Buckeye Trail)
Oklahoma (horse riding near the Glass Mountains)
Oregon (climbing Mount Hood)
Pennsylvania (touring Independence Square)
Rhode Island (sailing in Newport)
South Carolina (playing tennis at Hilton Head)
South Dakota (hiking Mount Rushmore)
Tennessee (hiking the Great Smokies)
Texas (fishing the Toledo Bend Reservoir)
Utah (camping in national parks)
Vermont (iceboating in Lake Champlain)
Virginia (camping in the Shenandoah Valley)
Washington (kayaking in the Skagit River)
West Virginia (climbing the Seneca Rocks)
Wisconsin (fishing in Lake Winnebago)
Wyoming (hiking the Grand Tetons)

Anyone interested in constructing an alternate list?

Trouser Press pans Horses

March 14th, 2014

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An entry in Nicholas Rombes’ A Cultural Dictionary of Punk (2009), p. 289, in which the phrase “There is nothing inherently wonderful about starkness” serves as a stand-alone entry in the T section:

“There is nothing inherently wonderful about starkness”: A sentence from a scathing 1976 article about Patti Smith by Ira Robbins, the editor of Trouser Press. Describing Horses - which had been released in December 1975 - as a “fairly good album, capturing a small part of the feeling one got seeing her at Max’s a year ago,” Robbins wonders why she has become a darling of the “straight press.” His critique rests on two objections. First, her music has been transformed from a sort of self-deprecating “imitation” of rock and roll into an actual, serious effort to be rock and roll… Second, her newfound success with Horses is a betrayal of her roots and of the New York underground scene…

In some ways, Robbins’s article predicts the countless attacks on punk and indie bands that would, in the coming decades, be accused of selling out, either because they signed to major labels or because they began adjusting their sound to accommodate the broader tastes of wider audiences.

But more than this, Robbins’s assault has the tone of a spurned lover or, worse yet, a forgotten one. Patti, why have you forgotten me? I love you. Please come back. It’s a feeling we’ve all had at one point or another about a favorite band, and about the betrayal we feel when that private experience goes public and everybody gets a chance to listen. In this respect, Robbins’s essay is not a hatchet job but a confession of love.

This blog post can be understood as a confession of love for this entry.

Words from Joe Jackson that I think about

March 8th, 2014

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Years ago I read Joe Jackson’s Cure for Gravity and blogged about it. Certain words of his that I didn’t write about in that post seem to have stuck in my head over the years, though. Here they are for your consideration:

…It still amazes me how much scorn some people can muster for musicians - or the wrong kind of musicians. The biggest fights are not necessarily between, say, jazzers and folkies, or rockers and baroquers. The greater the distance between two genres or subcultures, the more likely they are to be irrelevant, even invisible, to each other. It’s ironic, but this is the way that grudges and rivalries seem to work. Poor people don’t envy the rich nearly as much as they envy the poor person who gets a break… The history of rock ‘n’ roll teems with such wars of attrition…

Of course music per se is not always the issue, and it’s impossible to completely separate any kind of art - or any kind of product - from the preoccupations of its time. I like to say that I have no agenda. I say it because I don’t run with any particular gang, and because agendas are often no more than defensive postures we take up against other people’s agendas. But I do have an agenda of sorts, or a guiding conviction, and I may as well be honest about it. Music is either an art form or it isn’t, and I say that it is: the greatest of the arts, and one of the closest approaches we mortals have to the divine. And try as I might, I can’t seem to reduce it to the level of the matching handbag that goes with this year’s jacket. Nor can I inflate it to the level of tribal warfare.