Election 2020

Election 2020
Gaseous Little Baby Man Dirigible Implodes!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Intense, Focused, Exciting, Rewarding...

Do other bands like to rehearse as much as our band likes to rehearse? I don't know. I do know that sometimes our rehearsals are intense, focused, exciting, rewarding. We have a really cool little rehearsal room; it's a live room, bright and comfortable. And our P.A. is totally "dialed in." So the vocals sound good, the band can kick it up, and we can all hear each other. 

July will be a busy month for us, some cool shows coming up, so we ran through nearly 20 songs yesterday. We played together in a little circle. Very little chit-chat between songs. We were all focused on doing the work. You might think that without an audience it all might be a little more loose and relaxed, but that's not how our band approaches it. We play like it counts. We are all watching and listening to each other, so in some ways it's even more intense, every note, every tap of the drum is being scrutinized.

There is a tremendous satisfaction running through so many songs, with each song fighting for attention. It's a great way to work and communicate. It's only a rehearsal, a preparation for live performance, but the preparation itself can be exhilarating. We are creating this energy, this group vibe, a unique thing for sure.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Our Murderous Nature

100 years ago, in Bosnia, some Weasel popped another Weasel, and then there was a cataclysmic chain reaction that led to the World going to War.  We call that one World War I. And then after that War, things continued to get weird, and then another cataclysmic chain of events led to World War II.

And there was lots of mayhem, and slaughter, and mass killings, and mindless murder, and human beings of all stripes unleashed massive tons of bombs and terror and fire and blood just about everywhere, and it was all a very, very ugly murderous century.

Yes, Terror ruled. And still lives with us today.  It's easy to forget. Or maybe we just try our best to forget how brutal and ugly human beings can be to each other.  We leave that shit to historians to tell us what happened, and why, but even though there was one grand story, everyone seems to remember the story their own way.

And this helps keep the game going. We have never dropped our murderous ways, we just work it out by other means, in other lands, for other supposed reasons. And we pretend we are intelligent and civilized and good and noble, but it doesn't take much for us to drop the mask, bare our teeth, and reveal our black murderous side of our nature.

And then we turn our heads away, leave others to clean up, and write words in books about courage and honor and create new chapters about the long narrative of human carnage.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Buddha? Really!?

Looking good can cover up lots of other flaws.  It's been proven over and over again that you can make a career out of looking good. Anyway, remember Don Johnson? He used to be on that show about those two well-coiffed cops in Miami?

Don is now sort of a cranky, old "wise" man, quoting the Buddha. For some reason, I kind of doubt Buddha really said this: 

“I have some friends who are considered, well, modern-day prophets, and one of them said, ‘It must be wonderful for your children to have such a conscious father—when did that happen?’ And I said, ‘I’m mindful of a quote attributed to Buddha, which is that you don’t find the pearl of enlightenment lying around on the beach. You gotta go through a lot of oysters, and you gotta scrape your knuckles and break your fingernails opening all the motherfuckers up. And then one day’ ”—he beamed and grasped the air—“ ‘there it is! The fucking pearl of enlightenment!’ ” 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Yes or No!

We are rewarded by saying "Yes." Opens doors, opens us to new experiences. Keeps the scene going. But we are also sometimes rewarded by saying "No." Closes doors. Keeps us focused. Stops the scene, and gives you a chance to breathe.

Sometimes you don't have to take the bait. Buy the latest thing. Believe the BS. You don't have to listen to every talking head. You don't have to engage in every stupid, infuriating argument. Some things are just not worth your time.

Saying "Yes," might be polite. Saying "No" might save you from a lousy night.

How to choose? "Yes," or "No?" That's up to you. It defines you.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Day in the Life - Beatles!

Broken Hearted Toy tells us that yesterday was Global Beatles Day. Who knew?! But, really, in my head, everyday is a Beatles day. No, I don't play their music every day, I don't always think of them either, but everything I do listen to, or think about, in my little Pop Universe, has been influenced by them. 

As Chuck Klosterman famously said, they are the greatest band, they wrote all the best songs, they were supremely commercial and supremely artistic, and even though you could buy a Beatles' wig, and a Beatles lunchbox, for some reason, they didn't seem like "sellouts," just an amazingly popular and creative band. How was that possible?

They were the lovable Mop Tops and then morphed into an artsy Pop band. Everything they did was interesting, and exciting, and the world was listening. For a certain generation, the Beatles story is the Pop Culture Origin Story.  "Once upon a time, four wee lads from Liverpool conquered the world..."

Every band after them, whether they knew it or not, felt the influence of this band. Even if you hated the Beatles, you were touched by them. And it's amazing, and maybe not so amazing, that this band and it's music still seems alive and even relevant today.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Anti-Inspirers!

There are the inspirers, and then there are the anti-inspirers. There are those who validate the whole idea of creativity, and sharing it with others, and there are those who invalidate the whole idea of creativity and sharing.

It's best seek out the inspirers, and try to avoid the anti-inspirers. But once in awhile, you get pulled into the vortex of the anti-inspirer. And then it's all invalidation and bad feeling. Kind of makes you want to just go out to the forest, sit under a tree and clear your mind. To be silent, and just breathe.  

So, yes, I guess in that respect the anti-inspirer can do you a great service too...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

People are Stranger!

Yes, well, we went to a street fest over the weekend. We were just spectators. The weather was pretty nice, so the streets were full. Nature keeps churning out these human specimens. It is amazing; the variety of the human species, the combinations, the sizes, and it's also instructive to see how human beings are willing to present themselves.

Is it just me? Or is everyone just getting a little bit freakier? I mean, I know I'm quite freaky myself, but watching the human pageant, kind of opened my head to this idea that nature continues to experiment with the human form, and we continue to get stranger and more exotic. Also fat, and weird, and probably certifiably crazy too.

I think our mass media sort of gives us a skewed idea of what a human being is; lots of attractive people with excellent bone structure on our TV's and video screens. But out in the real world, on the street, it's a completely different story.

And maybe nature just gets more creative, and extreme and keeps coming up with ideas for the human experiment. And well, most of the experiments are quite weird, and not up to spec.

Anyway, at this fest, the nuts were out in force. And they were having a grand old time. If you think people are strange, they are stranger than you think, if you think they are fat, they are fatter than you think, if you think they act odd and a little bit crazy, they are odder and crazier than you think.

Still, it was a good time, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. And that's OK, in fact, it's kind of a beautiful thing. But it's all a bit strange, and stranger you can imagine.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Past!

There's that great line, from that great film "Magnolia." 

"We might be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us."

It's ain't through with us, because we are the past. The past is alive in us. Everything we are today, is an accumulation of the past. Everything counts. All those days and nights, all those thoughts, and decisions, choices. Everything adds up. What we are today is just the latest snapshot, the latest result of our past. So "The Now" is actually just the "up to date" past. And "The Future" is the past projected forward.

Thinking of it like that, there is no escape from the past. Because the past in all it's glory is all we have, and all we are. That's not to say that the future can't be different from the past, of course it can and will be different. But really the future is just the past that hasn't happened yet.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Carry On!

And how to get oneself out of an "existential tailspin?" Exist. Carry on. Take one step, then another. Gaze at the sky, or the lake. Watch the clouds, or the waves. Focus on something. Something small. Play your guitar, work on a song, or a new riff. Cook a meal. Eat. Divert yourself. Think about someone, or something, besides yourself. Exist. And forget that you exist.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Existential Tailspin - Again!

I heard this story about Neanderthals a couple of days ago, and promptly went into an existential tailspin.  Not so unusual. I mean, existential tailspins are a frequent occurrence in my life. It seems a day doesn't go by when I don't find myself asking: "Why am I here?" "What am I doing?" "Am I missing something?"

For some reason, I could vividly see in my mind's eye this pile of Neanderthal bones down in the "pit of bones." These "happy" little Neanderthals lived long ago on this planet, and met their end, and somehow ended up together in a great pit. 

And they have been down there for 430,000 years! Seems like a long time. Time just seemed to expand in my mind. My tailspin just grew exponentially.  My life, my meager existence, was revealed to me as just a tiny blip in an infinitely grander scope of time and existence.

Some times time passes slowly. Some times time flies by. But really our lives are just brief, infinitely brief glimpses of life and light. How to make the glimpse count? And what does that mean?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Money Love

Everyone talks "love and understanding," but watch them in action, and you see lots of people instead choosing "war & power." And Money. Money is power. And if you live in a world where everything is up for grabs, the Power/Money Vortex is the last resort. You can trust money. Money will do what money does. So yes, a world of no trust, where everyone is putting it over everyone else, means Money is the last and only abiding love.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Buddhist Delight is My Delight!

We often have a meal at the local noodle shop.  The menu is chock full of Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and Indonesia delicacies. All the servers know us. We come in and it's almost like we are celebrities. We usually get a nice table in the window. We have our favorites. Always vegetarian, and it turns out they can make any dish vegetarian.

There is one waitress, the only non-Asian, she's from India... she's a Buddhist. She wears a Buddha medallion. I wear a Buddha medallion. We showed each other our medallions. She asked if I was a Buddhist. I said, "I practice." She asked "How?" I said I meditated, and that was about it. She told me that was perfect. As a Buddhist you can practice Buddhism as you see fit. You are in charge.

It was one of those moments. Something important happened between us. We smiled, we really "saw" each other. We made some kind of deep connection, a real, unknowable, mysterious connection. Anyway, I am on a Buddhist kick, and lately my favorite song is Alex Chilton's Dali Lama... "30,000 monks at his direction, practicing things like Astral Projection!"

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Drowned Out by the Loud and Stupid!

I feel like I need to weigh in on Iraq. I mean, well, I have no great expertise on the subject. I am fairly well-informed, but the country, and the conflict there is quite complicated, and has a long, long history, and our country has often been involved, at least on the margins, over the years, and we have never really recovered from our misguided, and illegal, and morally questionable invasion and occupation during the Bush years.

If you want to review history, and try to better understand what's happening there, I recommend you read Juan Cole, a Middle Eastern historian.   He will explain what a Sunni and a Shiite is, and how they have been in conflict for centuries. It seems there are lots of grievances, and it has led to lots of bloodshed, and it's all related to religion, power and the madness of being human.

I am with President Obama on all this, I voted for him because he said he would get our troops out of Iraq, he admitted that the invasion was a mistake, and he has done all he can to extricate our country out of that ongoing catastrophe.  With all the talk, and back and forth, and finger-pointing, and hot-air, from all those people who lied to us, and lied us into a war we didn't need, over "weapons of mass  destruction" that didn't exist, I think it's important to remind everyone that Barack Obama was right to be against the war, and to get us out of the conflict.

And he is right, to be hesitant to get us back in the middle of this bloody, human mess. As Matthew Yglesias puts it: The Mess in Iraq Proves Obama was Right to Leave. It seems obvious. But if you listen to the political chatter, you realize the obvious is often easily drowned out by the loud and stupid. 

Update: And it turns out the loudest, stupidest, and most war criminalist turns out to be the architect of the tragically grand fiasco... Dick Cheney, and his daughter...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Quasi-Corrupt Entity!

Yeah, so I was at this really cool party, with all these very cool and accomplished people. One of them is a banker, a high-flier in the big-money, high-finance sector.  She used to be a rock star, now she's a big-time banker, in a prestigious firm, traveling all over the world doing "banking things."

It's funny, she talked about her firm, and those who worked there, as if it were a quasi-corrupt entity. Sort of a mafia-like business, or maybe like a sophisticated narco-organization. And she talked about how it was a "soul-sucking" "spirit-killing" experience. And how she had to get out to save herself.

Of course, in the meantime, she makes big dollars, she lives in high style. She is accomplished, admired, one of the success stories. But she was horrified by the banking culture. How the corruption has been mainstreamed, how day to day business practices threaded their way around the laws. How good business practice has been discarded, how ethics is no longer even in the realm of thought.

This is an insider: a total indictment of the banking world. When even the bankers themselves recoil at their own actions, you think maybe we've reached some kind of point of no return. But maybe really this kind of mind-set has been so mainstreamed most of us don't even notice anymore. Business as usual!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Experimental Take on an Experiment

Awhile back I wrote a new script for the 26th Abbie Fest, which is to be unleashed on the world this coming August. We cracked open the script yesterday, and started learning lines.  It's a strange little piece, sort of inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. Sort of. In a very, very tangential way.

Lots of words. It's always a challenge. It's also sort of a "clearing." You learn lines that aren't really yours, you learn a cadence, a stream of language, it's sort of like trying on another consciousness. It's not easy learning lines, even if you are the one who wrote the lines.

You have to commit to the piece, even if you aren't totally committed to the piece. I mean, I am committed to the piece, I want to do the best show we possibly can, but the words are not necessarily my words, my thoughts, my feelings. But you "pretend" they are, or "act" as if they are.  That's the thing.

It's a sort of strange process. But I do love it. It's not like any other process. It's a long game of pretend. And the pretending is a process of getting to some essential truth or meaning. It's always an experiment, especially, our work - an experimental take on an experiment.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Discerning Denizens of Pop Culture

Discerning denizens of Pop Culture. That's the club that would have me as a member. I'm in it, and I can fall hard for my own obsessions. I was at a pretty cool party last night. Met lots of other attractive, creative and cool people. People who like music, movies, and our own witty thoughts about things interesting and trivial. And we are good at keeping it all trivial. And maybe that's best. That's what a party is, a ritual of triviality. Keep it light, keep it easy, keep it funny and fast-moving.

I did get that creeping sensation that we are all in some kind of post traumatic stress syndrome thing. Like there are big and distressing events looming around us, so big, so distressing, we can't even get our heads around them. So we leave that shit outside the door, maybe in the hallway. Or we bury it very, very deep in the dirt in front of the building. Dark stuff. We decide not to go there. Not to think about anything that isn't trivial, and funny, and stupid. "Let's be stupid and have fun."

So we did. And we had a good time. Really. And so yes, but there's still an emptiness, or a feeling that something is missing, or that we were all just deflecting. But that's ok, that's a strategy. It's a way of living. And if we all agree to do it, maybe we can carry on like that and just pretend that other stuff doesn't exist. Never existed. And isn't important. And the important stuff is the trivial stuff. Maybe.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

"Alex Chilton was the Hamlet of Rock & Roll."

So yeah, I read the Alex Chilton biography, and I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in r&r, art, a life. I have a friend, who is a contemporary of Alex and I have been relating lots of things I've learned about Alex and his times to this friend.  

This friend was into "Power Pop" before Power Pop was even a thing that could be in fashion or out of fashion. This friend owns the original vinyl copies of Big Star's first two records. He was one of the few who hunted down and bought the records when they originally came out. This friend talks about Alex like he is/was an old friend, even though he never actually met the man.

I have written lots of words about Alex Chilton, but this friend, basically summed up the man, with one phrase, which I realize is a dangerous thing to do, sum up a man in a sentence, but I quote it here, I do think it catches the flavor of the man, and the importance of the life, and it says a lot, but not everything, but I think it's true, and it puts Alex Chilton in the realm of myth and legend, and that seems just about right...

"Alex Chilton was the Hamlet of Rock & Roll!"

Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round. They sing, I'm in love. What's that song? I'm in love with that song. - Paul Westerberg

Friday, June 13, 2014

"Run the Red Light!"

Most biographies, you know how it's gonna turn out. If it's a story of a life, usually you get to that point where it all ends. I knew that Alex Chilton died in 2010, but in the book, it still comes as a great shock. He was relatively(only 59 years old) young, and active, and seemingly full of energy and life. And you know he had more music in him, and well, you are reminded that you are really gonna miss him.  I grew to really admire Alex Chilton. He had a remarkable and confounding life and career, and he left us with years and years of interesting, beautiful, raucous and challenging music.

And his story is one that lots and lots musicians can relate to.  He played to lots of empty bars, and lots of low-paying shows, and he played with many different musicians, and he explored all kinds of music. And he was a man always a little bit "out of time." He was in a Top Forty band when it wasn't really cool to be in a Top Forty band. He was in a Power Pop band, before there was Power Pop, and when it wasn't really cool, he was a Punk Rocker, and a Roots Rocker, a Jazzman, and an Indie Rocker for years and years - which meant lots of obscure records, failed record companies, bad deals, little or no money.

Alex was sort of a legend to many other musicians and fans, but for years he had to do odd jobs just to get along - dishwasher, taxicab driver, tree trimmer. But he kept going. Chilton for years was a "critics darling" but rarely did that translate into a monied "career."  There's so many interesting facets to his story. I am on the hunt for records from his solo career, turns out so much of his music is rare and out of print, and if you want to snag a copy, you have to pony up lots of cool cash.

Anyway, one morning in 2010, Alex  "took ill," had "the chills," and his wife drove him to the hospital. He sort of slumped in the car, his last words were: "Run the red light!"  And then he went unconscious, and died en route.  That's how it happens. One day. The day. It happens. A life ends. The music stops. Sad.

In the meantime, I do think we should take his advice... "Run the red light!" 

Here's Alex in 1985, wandering around a cemetery in New Orleans... I like to think he's got his guitar with him even now, and he's still doing his thing. Rock on Alex Chilton...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Can't Write or Describe

We're back in the recording studio, in the early stages of a new project. It's an interesting, challenging process. You are trying to capture extraordinary moments,  trying to be true to the essence of the now, and at the same time, you are hoping to capture something that will last, that will transcend the moment.

Maybe this guy says it better...

"Recording is to hear something happen that may never happen again, to catch a performance - minds working together in a way that you can't write out or describe." - Alex Chilton

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Concentrated Bouncing!

Riffing on Alex Chilton, myself, Willie Loman, and lots of other people I know or knew...

I suppose you could look at a life as a concentrated bouncing from one failure to another failure. Just one long series of failures. Busted dreams, busted relationships, busted hopes. Jobs lost. Ideas squelched. Mishaps, accidents, misunderstandings. But of course, that would be kind of sad and depressing.

So how about just thinking that all those little detours, and blowups, and breakdowns, and disappearing hopes were simply "excellent learning opportunities?"

Right. Opportunities to retool, rethink, retry, reinvent, recharge. I know it sounds like "happy talk" BS.  But maybe it's essential?

Maybe better to think of life as this on-going experiment. An experiment where you don't really know  what the results will be, and you don't really care about results. You experiment for experimenting's sake. And when there's a blowup, or a breakdown, or some kind of manufactured mess, you make a note of it and move on.

You plant the idea in your head that there is no final judgement. That's for others. And the judgement of others is not your game, not your life, not your concern...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Simple Competence isn't Good Enough!

"It isn't supposed to be good, it's Art."  

Sometimes good isn't good enough. Sometimes just being in tune, and knowing the song, or knowing how to draw, or doing what everyone else expects you to do, or is already doing, is just not good enough. Sometimes simple competence isn't good enough. 

Sometimes being really bad can be really good. Or not.  It all depends.  How to get to the transcendent, the amazing, the transformative, the unexpected, the better than good?

There are a million ways to go, a million ways to fail, and it's hard to tell when you fail, and when you succeed. The doing of Art is a method without method. Really, I think it's true, there are no rules.

So if they tell you it's bad, that you can't play, that you don't know how to draw, you don't know what you are doing, that you certainly aren't doing Art - you might be, you could be... or maybe not... it's just not obvious... Art kind of sneaks up on you... or zaps you in the eyeballs, knocks you down... picks you up and changes you in some way...

Monday, June 09, 2014

It's Supposed to Drive You Crazy!

Another thing that's really fascinating about the Alex Chilton story, even though he started his career with big success in the Box Tops, most of the rest of his career, he pin-balled from one "failure" to another. I mean some artistic successes, but very little commercial success.

And there really didn't seem to be a plan.  And this added to a messy, unplanned, chaotic, compelling life, and one that lots of people can relate to.  And Alex actually seemed to be compelled to do the most uncommercial things he could think of to do.

He was attracted to the wild, and uncontained, and if he created something of beauty, he wanted to blow it up, rip it up, make it less beautiful.  And he pretty much did.  He was on the hunt for the wild, the crazy, the out of control.

"Good rock & roll started from the rockabilly singers of the fifties. It has always been wild and out of control, and you had a real chaotic sense,  and the punk thing has brought that back pretty strongly. To me, it's just good rock & roll. Rock & roll is supposed to be out of control, and it's crazy and it's supposed to drive you crazy." - Alex Chilton

Here's Alex from "Live in London," doing "Bangkok." Ragged. Gloriously ragged. But really to my ears, even if he's trying his best to break it down, he can't help sounding good, he always sounds so musical, such a great voice, yes, good r&r...

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Method and Madness

How many more posts about Alex Chilton? Who knows, I'm only half-way through the book, and it just keeps grabbing me...

So, this morning, I'd like to propose an alternate title to the Chilton biography... let's say it should be called: "A Man Called Deconstruction." Yes, the man's life was messy, supremely messy.  But the work, oh man, I do detect "method in the madness."

You realize Alex was birthed in a musical environment of professionalism - professional songwriters, professional studio musicians, creating perfectly composed and recorded little top forty gems. But he left the Box Tops behind, and started all over with Big Star. And those first two Big Star records kind of set the template for Power Pop.

And as each record crashed and burned in the marketplace, Chilton started sliding from the idea of seamless perfection to something else. And maybe the masterpiece, my favorite record, of the Big Star era is "Third/Sister Lovers."  The one that wasn't even officially released until many years later.

Alex started to push against the limits of a shiny perfection. He was onto something else, maybe something bigger. Think John Cage, or Marcel Duchamp. Yes, Chilton decided to become the Duchamp of rock. Accidents were now considered good. First-takes were considered good. Mixing beauty and noise and the unexpected were considered good.

Chilton explored a more avant garde approach. He, jokingly or not, considered his genre of music "classical." He could play a ragged show, he could play onstage wrecked on drink or drugs, it was all OK, if the music achieved something unique, lively, dangerous.

And he did achieve lots of amazing moments both lively and dangerous... he was there at CBGBs with all those NY musical renegades, Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine, Talking Heads, Ramones... Chilton and punk was a good match...

Here's a description of the method of the madness by Chris Stamey, which I think perfectly sums up the bigger game Chilton was playing and explains much of his work after Big Star. The method was madness, and there sometimes would lie the seeds of genius...

"Alex was looking to have both structured and random events, like opening up the record to magic, or letting God walk in the room when you're making a record. It was a very interesting approach."

Saturday, June 07, 2014

On the Leash/Off the Leash

I was describing a dog I know, to a person I know...

"On the leash, he's quite obedient. He's friendly. Attentive. Seems to like everyone. Dogs and people. He doesn't pull on the leash, he knows how far he can go, he's always looks you in the eye. He seems to want to be good, and want to please...

Off the leash, he gets a little bit feral. He goes native. He gets wild and primitive. He likes to jump around. He sort snarls, drools, runs around like his tail is on fire.  He acts like he doesn't really know you at all. He pretends to listen to you and then runs off and shows you that he listens to nothing and no one..."

It dawned on me that maybe I was projecting, and anthropomorphizing... and maybe I was actually describing someone really close to me, someone super-close, someone very much like... myself...

Friday, June 06, 2014

Mind & Behavior!

I'm reading this book about Alex Chilton, and I guess the title is a clue, "A Man Called Destruction." Tells you that it's gonna be a story of creation and well, I guess, the other side of creation.  I studied Psychology in College, and I think this man and his group, Big Star, would have been a hell of a great case study.

Psychology - "the science of mind and behavior." I always thought that the science part of psychology was a little suspect. Freud made up interesting and insightful narratives, and B.F. Skinner tortured little pigeons for some crazy reason, and C.J. Jung, well, he was an amazing, insightful mystic with some loopy, and cool theories... and then there were all those "therapies" -  "tell me about your childhood..." - lobotomies, shock treatments, massive doses of drugs, brain-scanning - "look at all the pretty pictures"... the whole field seemed crazy, and maybe a little bit sick...

So anyway, yes, the human mind and behavior, what a topic.  Endless and deep. Contradictory. Unexplainable. Strange. Kinky. Destructive. Funny. Disturbing. How many things can go right? How many things can go wrong? And what do people do under stress, or in the midst of success, or the lack of success? People never cease to amaze... and disappoint... and well, just when you think you get it, that you have finally figured these people out, something else comes out of left field...

Thursday, June 05, 2014

A Good Record!

"The important thing is to make a good record, because if you make a good record, it doesn't matter what happens. It's going to sell from then on to some degree, even though it doesn't sell anything when it comes out and is a big disappointment to everybody. If it's really good, people are going to want it from then on, and that's the important thing. It might take five or ten years for it to pay off - or it might take twenty years, and you might be dead when it pays off. If it's good, it's going to pay off for somebody, sometime." - Alex Chilton

And this may be true no matter the circumstances of the record's creation. The band might implode after one record, the members might all have bad tempers, and there might be lots of blood, broken glass and stitches. Members of the band might fight often and destroy each other's instruments. They might be sort of snobby, spoiled rich kids who don't really like to tour. They all may be going to psychiatrists and taking drugs, both legal and illegal. They may go into major depressions, and try to commit suicide, and try to erase the master tapes of their first record, but then again, they may go on to make another record as a trio, and if the tapes survive, and the years go by, maybe others will start to recognize that the records are good, the band was actually one of the greats, and other bands will try to emulate their sound. Bands like REM and the Replacments will consider them seminal. Maybe that's sort of the story if you want to be something like a Big Star!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Close & Spooky Connections

Riffing on Caesium - 137 (see previous post)...

So yes, we test a bomb or drop a bomb in one part of the world, and the whole world experiences the effects - for a very, very long time. It kind of shows us that yes, indeed, we all are connected. There are the close connections, and the long, spooky connections. And this applies to everything. A crime against a human, is a crime against humanity. Someone pollutes the land, the sea, the sky, we are all polluted.

Our lives are part of an all-encompassing web, and that web encompasses the universe. We believe we are at the top of the food chain, but we are just a link. And every link has a job. And one link breaks and the chain is weakened, and ultimately it falls apart.

We sometimes feel alone, or in opposition to the elements, or to the universe, but this is not reality. We are embedded in a vast interconnected, ever-evolving, ever-expanding universe. Everything we can see, and touch, and think, and feel, emerges from this web of connections. We in a sense are the universe, not separate from it, we are in it, and of it.

So yes, everything counts. Everything we do implicates each and every one of us.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Children of the Atomic Bomb!

We truly live in the Atomic Age.  Not because we live in a time where we invented and built nuclear bombs and reactors. But because we've actually tested atomic bombs, dropped them on human populations, and had have a number of nuclear "accidents."  Ever since July 16, 1945 when we did the "Trinity Test," the planet has been fundamentally altered. Caesium-137 can be found in trace amounts everywhere on the planet.

They can actually date a bottle of wine to determine whether it's older or younger than that fateful date in 1945. If Caesium-137 is in the wine it's "atomic age wine." And yes, of course, any of us, if we are born after 1945, we are literally and physically, children of the atomic bomb.

Freaky. I remember as a child, in school, hiding under my desk, running through the drill to protect ourselves in case of a nuclear attack.  It all seemed sort of silly.  We were already atomic kids.  If we didn't actually learn how to "love the bomb" we did learn how to live with it.  It became us, we incorporated it, embodied it, and it descended upon everything we eat and breathe. Atomic!

Monday, June 02, 2014


Alex Chilton in the Box Tops kind of chafed at being under the thumb of Producer Dan Penn and hired-gun songwriters Wayne Carson Thompson, Chips Moman and Spooner Oldman.  Even though they were among the ones who provided the songs that helped propel the Box Tops to fame.  It seemed to be immensely frustrating for Alex to become famous for things he didn't necessarily want to be famous for.

And the guys in the Box Tops didn't even get to play their instruments on their records. That was left to the top-notch studio musicians that worked at American Studios in Memphis.  But it's hard to argue with the results from working with such great "hired-hands."

When it comes to creativity, it's not so much the means, it really is the ends that count... here's another great hit record from Dusty Springfield backed by Memphis' finest...

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Anatomy of a Hit!

"Here I am at the top, doing something I don't understand and don't really have any feeling for and getting really famous for it. Gee! But it's good to find that out when you're young: Fame can make you money, but it's a big pain in the ass. There are real advantages to being unknown. - Alex Chilton

There's an interesting story of a hit song within the larger story of Alex Chilton's life. The song is "The Letter." It was a mammoth hit in 1967 for the Box Tops, it hit number 1, and stayed there for four weeks. It was the "song of the year," it was one of the theme songs for soldiers in Vietnam, it was part of the soundtrack of the late sixties. It then became a classic top forty hit, that has probably been played a gazillion times since.

Alex Chilton was 16 years old when the song hit the charts. The song certainly "changed his life." As lead singer of a very popular Pop band, Alex was propelled into a hyper-driven life of "sex, drugs & r&r." What's really interesting and kind of funny - Alex wasn't really that committed to the Box Tops, he wasn't that happy with the music of the band, they weren't really his band, they weren't really his songs, the fame that came crashing down upon him, was for something that kind of came to him "accidentally." He rode the wave, but it wasn't really his wave.

And the fame and popularity came upon him so swiftly and effortlessly. It must have been so unreal, and set up such unrealistic expectations, and here he was just a kid.  Kind of the classic child star thing. It's kind of a cliche and a template for lots of kids around the world. One song did that. One song.

You listen to that song on the radio: it's short, to the point, it moves. It's really a great song. And Alex sounds amazing. He sounds a little grizzled, soulful, world-weary.  But it was kind of an act of mimicry. It was an act. It was effective. Alex gave it is all. It's a great performance. But it wasn't really him. He was just doing it. Which might be good enough. But really it sort of messed with his head. And one suspects he never really got over that moment, that song.

Now, of course, singers can sing songs written by others, and make those songs their own. Alex in a sense did do that, but at the same time, he didn't. And that had major ramifications for his life. 

Here's Alex & the Box Tops live at the Bitter End:

Joe Cocker covered it too. And for some reason you think Joe had no ambivalence about doing this song at all. It was a soul classic, and that was him, it was who he was.  He made the song his own.


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