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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Page Flip: Walt Frazier, Rockin’ Steady: A Guide to Basketball and Cool (1973)

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

waltfrazierOn guarding Pete Maravich (p. 49): “You try to get him angry at himself, so you pressure him. If he makes a bad pass or you steal it from him you might be able to break downcourt for an easy layup because he’s at the other end talking to himself. And with his hair flying, you sort of wait for him to stop dribbling. Then for a second all the hair that’s been flying in the wind comes down over his face and he can’t see. That’s when you steal the ball. He can make the most incredible shots. When he’s hot, you just have to wait until the hurricane lets up.”

Page Flip: Ivor Davis, The Beatles and Me on Tour (2014)

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

ivordavisP. 62: “In Dallas on September 18, [1964], where they were due to play the Memorial Coliseum, the boys – particularly John – expressed a keen interest in driving by the notorious Texas School Book Depository, site of the Kennedy assassination just ten months earlier.

“‘Let’s take a quick look at the scene of the crime,’ John said as he finished off breakfast in his room late in the morning. John had been the most traumatized by President Kennedy’s murder.

“‘He brought it up time and again in interviews with me,’ remembered Art Schreiber, who covered the trip for the Westinghouse network of radio stations.’ He was genuinely outraged by America’s passion for guns and the daily reports of violence that played out nightly on television.’ And he didn’t hold back. He said he loved what little he had seen of America, but was sickened by what he called, ‘America’s fookin’ shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later cowboy mentality,’ Schreiber said.”

Pp. 88-89: “In the privacy of his suite, he also sounded off about gun-happy Americans and the U.S. political system, which he said allowed any trigger-happy geezer to own a weapon. He complained to Art Schreiber that America was still the Wild West, because hardly a day went by ‘without me reading about some bloody idiot with a gun shooting somebody else after a fight over a pint of beer.’

“‘There’s too many loonies with guns,’ he told Schreiber with eerie prescience.”

Page Flip: Robert Christgau, Going Into the City (2015)

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

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A word of warning before you read Going Into the City: the Dean of American Rock Critics also refers to himself as “Mr. Too Much Information” and means it. (But why doesn’t Mr. TMI include an index?)

P. 289: “…I edited a lot at home. Since Carola and I didn’t even own a fan for a while, I often received writers shirtless in the summertime, but not, as I recall, in my underwear and certainly not naked – the source of that tale, the great Lester Bangs, never let facts ruin a colorful story.”

P. 335: “A brutal June heat wave upped our stress levels. I spent entire days in shorts alone, slipping into flip-flops and an unbottoned shirt to go buy coffee. Sometimes I even worked naked; in fact, the only time I remember receiving a guest unclothed was when Stephen O’Laughlin came over to talk records once.”

For further study, an accounting of Bangs’s “colorful story” appears in Jim DeRogatis’s Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic (2000), p. 137: “Christgau relished the role of the ex-hippie college professor too preoccupied with great thoughts to trifle with everyday pleasantries. Lester talked about the time he went to Christgau’s apartment and was greeted by the dean sans clothing. Christgau proceeded to edit Lester in the nude.”

Song ID: The Jook – “Bish Bash Bosh” (1974)

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

jookSuave, knowing glam rock single that ended up as the Jook’s final one. The UK quartet included two former members of John’s Children (guitarist Trevor White on the far left and drummer Chris Townson on the far right). The band shared their manager John Hewlett (another former member of John’s Children) with Sparks, who marched to the orders of the American brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Shortly after the single came out in 1974, White and bassist Ian Hampton (middle right) snuffed out the Jook by defecting to Sparks, whose “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” single had reached #2 in Britain the same year.

Here’s a portion of an interview (by Phil King) of Jook drummer Chris Townson in Jeremy Thomson and Mary Blount’s Wired Up: Glam, Proto Punk and Bubblegum: European Pictures Sleeves 1970-76 (2013) (pp. 206-207):

Phil King: Did you go and see Sparks play?

Townson: No, because there was a bit of argy bargy going on. I took a swipe at Russell over a table. He said something that I thought was quite disparaging. I used to be quite aggressive when I was a young man. I just caught his nose. They were really quite arrogant. I really didn’t like them at all. I went out for a meal with them once – Ron and Russ – and it was really one of the most unpleasant meals I ever had. There was no conversation…

King: Did they come and see Jook play?

Townson: They came to see Jook play and said “Yes, they sound like a rock band.” No further discussion.

King: What about the story about the Bay City Rollers stealing your image?

Townson: We were playing in Scotland and this rather scruffy long-haired bunch, who looked like we did a year previously, came in after the gig and said what a fantastic show it was and how impressed they were with the image. Not two months later, even less, we saw these same guys and they’d patched it up with lots of tartan and everything. It was essentially the Jook image….

King: That must have been another nail in the coffin.

Townson: It was, and it was also bloody irritating when you go somewhere and they say, “You look like the Bay City Rollers.” I think I came close to punching many people.

The Jook – “Bish Bash Bosh” (1974)

Miriam Linna and Randell Fuller, I Fought the Law (2014)

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

lifeanddeathMiriam Linna’s 1988 Kicks magazine cover story about Bobby Fuller brought him to life in a way few other writers could do. This is because her enthusiasm for – and knowledge of – Fuller’s records and the music that inspired him revved up her feature like a V8 engine. The gloom surrounding his mystery death couldn’t possibly enshroud the euphoric sound she celebrated. (It was also packed with historical details available nowhere else. I remember a Saturday I spent in the early ’90 zigzagging across El Paso with a copy of the magazine on the dashboard, locating all the sites she pinpointed.)

Her new book, titled I Fought the Law: The Life and Strange Death of Bobby Fuller, is a different, darker sort of prospect, which it perhaps has to be. It includes much of that first Kicks piece but adds material from Bobby’s brother Randy and lots of extended quotes from other first hand sources. While the death doesn’t get solved, you get a clear sense of the motivating factors and which parties likely qualify for the hayride to hell.

A sense of desolation takes the forefront in I Fought the Law to the extent that you wonder if that, too, wasn’t as crucial to the Fuller sound as its trademark euphoria. Tiger Moody’s foreword gives the doom Bobby sings of in his most famous song an alternate, but no less stifling, context. (This instantly made my personal racing lit Hall of Fame.) Randy’s introduction recounts the devastating ride home to El Paso from Los Angeles in the never-to-be-impounded death car, reeking of the gasoline that once drenched Bobby’s dead body. Also included is the stark and detailed revelation that the Fuller family had already suffered through the murder of Bobby and Randy’s older stepbrother.

Then there’s passages like this, spoken by Randy who ruminates on his decision to join his brother’s band full time and to go wherever it would take him (p. 57): “In El Paso, there was nothing for me, period…You’d get days when the wind would blow, and sand would be blowing across the street, and the clouds were a certain way, and it just seemed like there was never anything good ever gonna happen. It was a hopeless place. It was hopeless from the day we got there…[A]ll I would do is get in my car, and I’d drive all the way to northeast El Paso, watching the sand blow across the desert by the airport, and watch rabbits and wild things run across the road, and then I’d drive all the way over there where the teen club was and turn around and drive home. That was my thrill.”

If a second edition of I Fought the Law is ever in the works, I hope that a “where are they now” appendix makes the cut, especially since Randy’s introduction stokes reader interest for such after-the-funeral info. (Maybe, too, some of the long transcribed quotes can get a trim.) The best reason for a second edition, though, would be that positive developments in the Bobby Fuller story would call for one, and I wouldn’t want anyone but Miriam Linna or Randy Fuller to deliver the news.

Josh Rosenthal, The Record Store of the Mind (2015)

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

cropped-Rosenthal_RSOTM-90-percent-smallerMy personal mythology features a specific box of records. A friend gave it to me in the spring of 1985 when I was 16, and it had once belonged to an uncle of his who had died young in a motorcycle crash. The records in this box distracted me for months, if not years, and they’ve had a long-term impact on my life that I’m not sure has been entirely positive. One of these had an image of a crab carved out of wood on the front cover. The label said both “Crab Tunes” and “Noggins” and I never knew which was the album title and which was the group. The album chronicled what sounded like the evolution of two distinct songs on guitar, bass, drums, and piano including every false start, flub, and absent-minded improv along the way punctuated by two separate full-song interludes.

Another friend of mine developed a fascination with this record and always wanted to hear it. He had saved up money doing yard work to buy a Tascam 4-track, and the two of us more or less frittered away the summer of ‘85 making “crab tunes” of our own: barely listenable musical hiccups carefully captured and assigned to luxurious tracks on cassette tapes destined for shoeboxes. I recently found one of these and even heard us playing a motif that scurries in and out like a lost and confused crustacean throughout that entire album. Should we have used our time and musical initiative differently during those precious, formative days? A school of thought would certainly argue yes. But the album had affected us rather deeply, and that’s what I’m getting at: Most record collectors likely end up doing what they do because certain records have broadsided them at unexpected times in unexpected ways.

My other point: When I first cracked open The Record Store of the Mind by Tompkins Square label owner Josh Rosenthal (who understands what I say about record collectors), I beheld the track listing for the Crab Tunes/Noggins album and gasped a bit. Rosenthal’s product had zeroed in like a smart bomb on a member of its target audience who would succumb to it as expected. I trusted correctly that the book would fill me in on records with similarly impressive credentials in obscurity like Crab Tunes (even though the question of where I should file it – under C or N? – remains unanswered). Coinciding with his label’s ten year anniversary, the book aims, as he puts it, to share with readers some of the “records, people, and live music experiences that have forever changed” the way he listens. It’s all over the place, then, and that’s a strength.

Tompkins Square first got my attention when I had started doing my International Folk Bazaar show on Austin’s KOOP radio. I noticed that much of the new instrumental guitar music I was interested in giving airtime to was coming out on the label. I found out in time, though, that it was no mere genre exercise and that Rosenthal was a record man whose sense of aesthetics and personal curiosity were calling the shots. Scan the Tompkins Square catalog and you’ll see that alongside the Imaginational Anthem guitar compilations and expansive meditations by UK guitarist James Blackshaw are releases by jazz pianist Ran Blake, British pop innovator Paddy McAloon’s Prefab Sprout, country legend Charlie Louvin (with label-exclusive recordings), forgotten Texas gospel singer/pianist Arizona Dranes, cajun pioneer Armede Ardoin, and up-and-comers like Ryley Walker and Daniel Bachman.

The music and experiences Rosenthal shares with us in his book are similarly varied. He writes about his teenage days in Syosset in Long Island, where Hicksville’s Billy Joel loomed large, where his buddy Judd Apatow (who would later find inspiration in Rosenthal for his film This Is 40) plotted a career in stand up comedy, where Eric Clapton’s Just Another Night “embedded” itself on Rosenthal’s soul, and from where he would steer his ship directly toward the music industry. The chapter about his tenure with Sony reminisces up close on working with Chris Whitley, T Bone Burnett, and Jeff Buckley, to name a few. (I was glad to read that the album cover for Grace, something that always seemed wrong to me, was not lost on some staffers.) The role of jazz in his musical upbringing gets a chapter, as do the acoustic guitarists who gave early shape to the label Rosenthal would launch, almost as a challenge to the skills he developed at Sony. (He’s printed up a great set of trading cards called Obscure Giants of Acoustic Guitar, by the way.)

The lion’s share of pages in The Record Store of the Mind, though, devote themselves to profiles of specific musicians, most of whom don’t fit in a convenient category and who rightly deserve more of the meager spotlight fate has thus far granted them. Among these are Ron Davies, Tia Blake, Harvey Mandel (who’s fighting cancer and could really use your help), Bill Wilson, Ernie Graham, Robert Lester Folsom, Smoke Dawson, and Mickey Jupp. You’ll want to keep pen and paper handy as you read so you can make a hunting list – it’s a record junkie’s funbook.

Which brings up some questions. Why is Rosenthal telling us all of this? Wouldn’t the more natural instinct for the record collecting personality be to keep more of the best record haunts mum and to preserve the shadows cast on treasured obscurities? Doesn’t music run the risk of losing its savor the more it circulates? Do we want to hear Tia Blake’s lonely voice on car commercials someday? Such questions would likely sound trivial in the ears of someone who heard the late Charlie Louvin utter the following words: “Now I pick up my guitar. My fingers won’t work. The notes don’t sound clear… and Lord, how that hurts. The sweet sound of life is so quickly fading. Still I strain to hear through the silence of aging.” Thanks to people like Josh Rosenthal, more of life’s sweet, age-proof sounds are indeed being heard.

(The Record Store of the Mind will be available October 27.)

Steve Karmen’s Who Killed the Jingle?

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

karmenjinglebookCuriosity about the Budweiser and Pontiac jingles I’d written about earlier led me toward composer Steve Karmen’s book Who Killed the Jingle?: How a Unique American Art Form Disappeared (2005). I approached this expecting Karmen – who wrote hundreds of ad jingles, many of which you’d instantly recognize – to attempt to explain how the end of his own career equaled the end of good advertising.

In fact, Karmen demonstrates quite convincingly how this was actually the case: his own legal efforts to strengthen the financial future for ad composers in the present, where unique content routinely gets passed over in favor of recycled pop songs, really did have implications for his trade. Karmen was one of the very few jingle writers who has managed to retain his own publishing rights and, therefore, the proud sense of legal ownership for his work normally afforded to pop songwriters, and he advocated for this on behalf of all jingle writers.

In Who Killed the Jingle?, then, Karmen details his failed attempts as Chairman of the now-defunct Society of Advertising Producers, Arrangers and Composers (SAMPAC) to challenge the payment scale adhered to by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). This is the original performance rights organization, formed in 1914, which favored – then as now – the same pop songwriters who invented it, giving themselves sacred protections forbidden to the vermin who wrote for the not yet fully understood media of TV, movies, or radio. For these folks, the quick payout and relinquishment of ownership rights was, and continues to be, a standard expectation.

One of Karmen’s key hardships, apparently, was an inability to rally the troops in a way that inspired them to envision a future in which a classic jingle, like Karmen’s own “When You Say Bud” or “I Love New York,” could bring its writer ongoing financial rewards. What has this situation led to? An advertising world in which the traditional songwriting industry has swallowed up everything. Pre-existing pop songs now sell products, and ad agencies hunt for them with sizzling hot branding irons.

Gone are the days, in Karmen’s words, of “custom-made music and lyrics for advertising.” Because my own father was a regional jingle writer, whose work put food on the table, my own loathing for the current state of advertising perhaps runs a bit high. Maybe the sick feeling I get when I hear a pop song on a commercial is just a psychological response to the devaluation of the jingle writer.

But I do believe, like Karmen, that advertising was a more creative industry before the song-usage practice, which “exhibits nothing more,” as he puts it, “than a profound lack of imagination.” Would I have an easier time with all media if the advertising they feed on were more straight up? Karmen’s book has me thinking that I would, which is a surprising admission, but I think it beats the current, sneak-attack approach, which succeeds only in appearing sneaky. Like Karmen, I feel advertising should “go back” to “what it once was. Honest. And entertaining.”

Straw Hat Busting Day

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

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Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Andy Coakley, quoted in The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs (p. 21): “It was September 1 [1905], and that was Straw Hat Busting Day in the major leagues. The custom died with the retirement of Babe Ruth. Rube Waddell was going around destroying straw hats. I had a pretty expensive skimmer which was in fine condition, and Waddell was waiting for me. As he ran for my hat, I backed up the aisle. He lunged. I struck him with my bag. He slipped and landed on his shoulder.” This kept Waddell from pitching in the World Series where his A’s lost to the Giants.

Stars and Strikes and nicknames

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

611fg2agtrl_sy344_bo1204203200_Dan Epstein’s Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76 tells the story of my baseball card collection, most of which I amassed as an 8-year-old in ’76 and ’77. In those days I loved the Bird, the Big Red Machine, and Hostess products, which came in boxes with baseball cards you could cut out. Still have my Dave Concepcion, Goose Gossage, Richie Zisk and more from that series along with most of the Topps cards. I had already scarfed down Epstein’s Big Hair and Plastic Grass, so I was especially pleased to see he’d zeroed in on the year of my personal baseball awakening. I hope he has more projects lined up.

For your enjoyment – a list of selected players and managers whose nicknames are addressed in Epstein’s book, along with links to their corresponding ’77 Topps card.

Sparky “Captain Hook” Anderson:  So nicknamed “for his tendency to pull pitchers at the first sign of trouble” (135).

John”The Candy Man” Candelaria: “Looked more like the sort of college kid you’d see smoking a jay upstairs in the cheap seats at Three Rivers Stadium than a top-notch pitcher capable of dominating major league offenses” (241).

Ron “The Penguin” Cey: Nickname “derived from his squat build, stubby limbs, and waddling gait…” (94).

Darrell “Nort” Chaney: Nickname chosen by the Atlanta Braves for the team’s nickname-on-jersey experiment “because of his resemblence to Art Carney’s Ed Norton character on TV’s The Honeymooners” (138).

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych: So nicknamed because of his “resemblance to Big Bird from the PBS children’s show Sesame Street” (128).

Tim “Crazy Horse” Foli: Nicknamed for his “tendency to go off on his own abrasive tangents” (158).

“Disco” Dan Ford: Nicknamed “for his love of the Minneapolis nightlife” (107).

Whitey “The White Rat” Herzog: “A reference to his shock of light blond hair” (258).

Burt “Happy” Hooton: He was “perpetually gloomy looking” (203).

Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky: “Perhaps the most confrontational pitcher in the game” (112).

Ralph “Road Runner” Garr: “Speedy” (15).

Randy “The Junkman” Jones: For his junk ball – a “sinking fastball that topped out on a good day at somewhere around 73 miles per hour” but which batters were “losing their minds trying to hit…out of the infield” (131).

Dave “Kong” Kingman: He preferred to be called “Sky King” (110).

Garry “The Secretary of Defense” Maddox: Because of his “startling speed and sparkling glove work in the outfield” (28).

Mike “Iron Mike” Marshall: For “herculean” performances in 1973 and 1974 that “earned him the first Cy Yound Award ever won by a relief pitcher” (62).

Andy “Bluto” Messersmith: As part of the Braves’ nickname-on-jersey experiment, Messersmith had to use “Channel” because his number was 17 and that was Ted Turner’s station. He was later permitted to use his college nickname “Bluto” (139).

Phil “Knucksie” Niekro: Knuckleballer (139).

Marty “Taco” Perez: Not a racial slur, but chosen as his Atlanta Braves jersey nickname because he “really, really liked tacos” (139).

George “Boomer” Scott: “The most feared hitter in the Milwaukee lineup” (131).

Earl “Heavy” Williams: Self-chosen for the Atlanta Braves nickname-on-jersey experiment “because the moody catcher and first baseman considered himself to be one bad dude” (138).

Players with Topps cards whose nicknames are mentioned but not addressed:

“Downtown” Ollie Brown
Rick “The Rooster” Burleson
Jim “Catfish” Hunter
Bill “Mad Dog” Madlock
Lynn “Big Mac” McGlothen
John “The Hammer” Milner
John “The Count” Montefusco
Dave “The Cobra” Parker
Biff “Poco” Pocoroba
Rick “The Whale” Reuschel
Fred “Chicken” Stanley
Dick “Dirt” Tidrow
Jim “The Toy Cannon” Wynn

Adam Ant and Michael Jackson

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

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And there’s this from Ron Weisner’s book (pp. 141-142):

“Later that week in London, Michael and I were relaxing in his room, watching Top of the Pops…Halfway through the show, the host – I think it was Simon Bates – said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Adam Ant!’

“Michael and I knew of Adam, but we had yet to see him perform. He sounded great, but more important for Michael, his look was arresting: He was clad in full military gear. Michael stared at the screen, silently, intensely. I could see the wheels spinning, but I wasn’t sure in which direction.

“…For the rest of his life, Michael was rarely seen in public wearing anything other than a military uniform. And for that, you can thank Adam Ant. (P.S. Michael never credited Adam. Whenever he was asked about his military obsession, he’d say, ‘I was inspired.’ That’s all. Just, ‘I was inspired.’) “