Monday, July 27, 2015

THE ROLLING SUMMER REVIEW

     With the calendar about to turn to August, I think it’s time to pull together some music to talk about. I’ve neglected that topic of late because of the problems acquiring it in a timely fashion (see The Free Thinker No. 20 for the whole miserable story). But I have nothing in the pipeline at the moment, and nothing on the horizon. The top is down, the pedal’s on the floor, and it’s a good time to crank up the music and get the hell outta town for a while.
     When the Free Thinker piece appeared, I mentioned that I was awaiting the release and subsequent arrival of both Dream Syndicate’s The Days of Wine and Roses reissue, and Legacy’s Miles Davis At Newport 1955-75 box set, the fourth in their series of bootleg sets from the Miles Davis archive. Both arrived on time, I’m happy to say.
     Omnivore Records has taken an interest in reissuing some key titles from the 1980’s that have been AWOL for quite some time, and one of the bands to get their attention is Dream Syndicate - deservedly so. Dream Syndicate emerged from the Paisley Underground movement in Los Angeles that gave us bands like Green On Red, Rain Parade, The Bangles, Opal, The Long Ryders, The Three O’Clock, True West, Wednesday Week and several more. The catalogs of many of those bands have been out of print for too long now, and Omnivore is trying to rectify that problem. The Days of Wine and Roses is maybe the landmark record of that entire movement. The Bangles went on to experience far more commercial success, but it was this record by Dream Syndicate that got the attention of music critics, and helped to shine the spotlight on the movement and the rest of the bands orbiting this most accomplished bunch of musicians. Steve Wynn, Karl Precoda, Kendra Smith and Dennis Duck brought together the glorious jangle of bands like the Byrds, and fused it with psychedelia. There was both an edge, and an ethereal quality to what they did, and it best defines that Paisley Underground movement. It was as if they had one foot firmly planted in the late 1960’s, and the other somewhere beyond the 1980’s. I bought the original LP on Ruby Records not long after it was released because of the critical buzz, but I’d never picked it up on CD. There was an anniversary edition issued a few years ago, but I missed it. This new edition on Omnivore sounds great and offers some previously unreleased rehearsal material that provides some insight into the band’s working method, and offers a lot of guitar explorations as well – something the band was noted for in a live setting. While the bonus material isn’t what I would call essential, it does color the Dream Syndicate with a broader brush stroke, and will certainly be of most value to long time fans. For the uninitiated, however, the original record is reason enough for the package to exist in the first place. As I said, it’s a landmark record of its time, and belongs in any serious collection of post-modern rock.
     Changing gears for a moment, Legacy’s fourth in a series of bootleg releases from its vast Miles Davis archive gets my vote as the best entry yet in what has been a very impressive reissue project. At Newport 1955-75 spans three decades, a number of different bands, and three separate styles of music – all of which is clearly definable as the work of the genius Miles Davis. You can chart the evolution of the trumpeter’s approach to his music, his evolution as a band leader, and his ability to navigate vastly different approaches to what is all, at the end of the day, jazz in its highest form.
     The set begins with a performance with a group of All-Stars (including the showcase ‘Round Midnight) that won Miles a contract in 1955 with Columbia at a time when he needed a change of scene, and some good luck. From there we hear Miles’ band in 1958 (the Kind of Blue lineup before that record was made), followed by the classic 60’s quintet (Hancock, Shorter, Carter, Williams) in two stunning performances from 1966 and ’67. From there we get an appearance of the core members of the Bitches Brew era in July of ’69 (Shorter, DeJohnette, Holland). That’s followed by a raving electronic set from ’73 with one of the trumpeter’s most notable electric lineups (two electric guitars courtesy Reggie Lucas, and Pete Cosey, and Dave Liebman’s soprano driven by Michael Henderson’s bass, and percussion from Al Foster, and Mtume). Disc three closes with a single performance from the ’75 aggregation with Sam Morrison’s tenor in place of Liebman’s soprano. The sound quality on this one is the roughest in the set, but worth having in spite of that.
     And all of that still doesn’t prepare you for the mind melting performance that is disc 4, an October ’71 electric set in Switzerland with Gary Bartz on saxes, Keith Jarrett on keyboards, Michael Henderson on bass, Leon Chancler on drums, and Don Alias, and Mtume on percussion. The fourth disc is worth the price of the entire set as far as I’m concerned, but there really isn’t a weak moment in the entire box. It works as several hours of great listening, but also as a map of two decades worth of the trumpeter’s innovative genius in moving jazz forward. Great booklet, a free poster included, and a nice package all around. But to be honest, for music this incredible, they could’ve packaged it in a brown paper bag, and I’d have bought it. If you’re a true Miles aficionado, you already own this. If Kind of Blue is all you have, and you’ve been wondering where to go next, begin here. It will give you some idea of what you’re letting yourself in for if you plan to start collecting Miles Davis recordings.

     The “Rolling” in the title of this piece refers, of course, to The Rolling Stones (with a nod and a wink to Bob Dylan for the rest of the pun). This has been a great year for the band. They are two years into their second half-century, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. They finished a tour of Australia, and came to America for what was dubbed The Zip Code Tour earning their best reviews in years. They’ve ramped up their From The Vault series of archive releases, they’re presenting a retrospective exhibit of memorabilia in London at the moment, Keith Richards has announced his first solo record in more than twenty years, and followed that announcement by promising a new Stones studio album for 2016. Oh, and Mick just turned 72 (though he looks 52, and sounds 32.) I’m always on a Stones kick, but this year I’m having a hard time keeping up with it all (a good problem to have, for a change).
     Earlier this year I decided to pick up the Sweet Summer Sun/Hyde Park Live CD/DVD from 2013. I had downloaded the music when it was first released because I’d read there would be no CD. So when I saw I’d been misinformed, and I found the entire set for 10 bucks in a discount catalog, I jumped. I said at the time, and I’ll repeat it again – this is one of the best Stones live sets you can buy. I think it’s the best of many live albums recorded and released since 1980. The DVD is great fun to watch, and I think it’s one of the many reasons why you’re not hearing as many jokes these days about the band’s collective age. You cannot hear them today, and believe for a second that they’re finished and can’t bring it anymore. It defies logic, tempts fate, and spits in the face of time, but it is what it is and there’s no denying it.
     I also picked up the expanded edition of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out that was re-issued a couple of years ago. I passed on the original set because it was pricey, but when I discovered they’d re-issued it in a smaller package for less than 25 bucks, I knew I had to get it. There are some extras from the band’s set as well as the sets of both opening acts on that ’69 tour, B.B. King, and Ike & Tina Turner. You also get those bonus tracks as part of a short film on the DVD.
     Before we leave 1969, this past week saw the release, finally, of the band’s original performance in Hyde Park on July 5, 1969. It’s a documentary film that chronicles one of the landmark moments of their career. The set was both a tribute to the late Brian Jones who’d passed away two days prior, and the first appearance ever of new guitarist Mick Taylor. The film oozes with hippie vibes, and the band is ragged and rough (to be kind), but it’s history, and with no extras, budget priced (10 bucks).
     I’d love to be able to provide a detailed review of the Sticky Fingers Deluxe Edition that was issued in spring, but I can’t because the version of it I ordered was never released. I couldn’t afford the deluxe set with all the trimmings, and I had no interest in buying the 2 CD version with a single bonus disc of extras. So I chose to order the four-disc edition that included a DVD, and additional bonus material. When the set didn’t arrived I contacted the website a couple of times, and as of this writing, that version is in limbo. I was told possibly August, but who knows? In the meantime, some unknown person (thank you, whoever you are) uploaded the audio portions of the set to YouTube, so I’ve been able to hear all of the additional archive material – outtakes, and alternates from the studio sessions along with a performance at London’s Roundhouse in ‘71, and the Complete Live At Leeds set from 1971. It’s all fantastic, and worth owning if they ever decide to make it available to those of us on a budget.
     In the meantime, I consoled myself with the extraordinary CD/DVD set Live At The Marquee Club – also from 1971. Every Stones fan should have this one. It was in 1971 when they transitioned to becoming The World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band, but ’71 was just about the last time you could see and hear them in such an intimate setting. They would go on to invent the modern rock concert tour in ’72, and forever leave behind their club days (save for the El Mocambo set that appeared on the ’77 Love You Live LP). I would guess that this series of releases just about exhausts the period from 1969-1971. I have no idea what else is on the drawing board besides that next studio record. If I had a wish list it would include deluxe editions of both Goat’s Head Soup and It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll, and it would be nice to have the complete set from the El Mocambo club. It’s available on bootleg, so I know it exists. I would also love to have a set of recordings from the Black & Blue sessions featuring some of those rehearsals and tracks featuring the other guitarists who auditioned for Mick Taylor’s spot before the band settled on Ronnie Wood. If such a set is possible, I’d also like them to include the flatbed truck recording of Brown Sugar they played live on a New York City street one afternoon to promote the ’75 Tour of The Americas.
     As for the early stuff, I don’t believe the band controls its 60’s recordings so we’ll have to hope Abkco has more surprises in store for us along the lines of the ’65 Irish Tour documentary Charlie Is My Darling. All of the Ed Sullivan Show appearances have already been collected and released, so I’m not certain how much else is available. But whatever comes, I’ll take. After listening to them for 50 years, I can’t always get what I want, but I often do get what I need.

     I have a couple more things to mention that I picked up this summer that might interest some of you. Omnivore Records also issued a previously unreleased live recording of The Knack from a Los Angeles club in 1978 (Having A Rave-Up! Live In Los Angeles 1978) that came prior to the release of their debut album Get The Knack, and features not only songs from that record, but some that would turn up on their second LP as well. The sound quality is decent, and the performance quite good. It’s a cool snapshot of a great period in West Coast rock history.
     There was also yet another live release from the Deep Purple series of bootleg archive recordings. This one comes from Long Beach, California (Long Beach 1971) when the band was opening on tour for Rod Stewart and The Faces. What’s unique about this set is that because they were an opening act, they had only an hour for their set and they chose to do just four numbers. They’re all extended workouts, and if you know Deep Purple, you know they were at their best when they could stretch out and jam live. The sound quality is definitely bootleg and not really a selling point, but it’s passable, and given a recording of this importance, not really a consideration. Purple fans most definitely will want this one.

     As I mentioned earlier, I have nothing in the pipeline, and my work schedule for the next several weeks will likely prohibit much activity in this space. But I’m using my Facebook page primarily for music, and there is fresh content on it everyday. The posts are public, and I often mention things that might not otherwise find a place in the blog. You can find it at https://www.facebook.com/tim.frueh

     In the meantime, keep your ear to the ground (but if you hear an engine roar, for god’s sake get your ass to the side of the road - I’d hate to run over you on the road to nowhere).




Sunday, July 26, 2015

REVISITING THE 2015 BASEBALL FORECAST

     The induction ceremonies for the four men elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame for 2015 take place today, and it reminded me that when I did my baseball forecast back in March I wrote that I might revisit the piece to see how I’m doing with my predictions. In some instances, I can hold my head high. In others it’s best if I pull my visor down over my eyes, and try my best to slip past you unnoticed. I’ll save all of you the trouble of checking my numbers, and just admit my mistakes.
     We might as well get the most painful portion of this over with right away. To do that, we’ll visit my “home division” - the AL Central where my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians reside. I looked at the Indians roster, and especially at their starting pitching this year, and deemed it the most talented Indians team I’d seen since the ’97 team went to the World Series and broke my heart by losing in seven games to the expansion Florida Marlins. I felt the rest of the division wasn’t up to that standard, and I boldly predicted the Tribe to win the division. As I write, they are in last place (as of last night when they dropped their third straight game – third straight route – to the team that previously occupied the cellar, the Chicago White Sox). I had the Sox finishing second, and after last night, they are now fourth. I had the front running Royals third, and now that they have acquired Reds ace Johnny Cueto, they’re a lock to win the division this year. I had the rebuilding Twins last, and they’re second – although in my defense, nobody saw them coming – not even sportswriters in the Twin Cities. And I had the Tigers falling to fourth. They’re currently third, and if the White Sox get to continue playing the Indians the rest of the year, the Tigers will wind up fourth. My grade in this division: F.
     In the AL East, I was similarly confused. I picked the Red Sox to win the division, and they are also in the cellar. They never found the pitching they needed, and the hitters just don’t seem to feel like hitting. The Blue Jays are in second place, and that’s where I had them, so score one small victory for me. I had Tampa last, and they are in third – although they’re falling fast thanks to a severe slump that preceded the All-Star Game. The Orioles are in third place. I had them in fourth. And the Yankees took umbrage at my fourth place prediction for them, and are embarrassing me by residing in first place at the moment. Grade: D
      In the AL West, the Angels are finally at the top where we all thought they’d be after trailing the Astros all season. I had the Astros fourth, although I said they could finish as high as third. I had Seattle in second and they have fallen to fourth, taking a page in underachieving from the Indians. Oakland is in last place at the moment while I had them probably finishing third. But I did warn they might fall further. The Texas Rangers are in third place, and I had them last. After they lost ace pitcher Yu Darvish in March, I figured that prediction was a lock. But they’ve managed to cobble together a respectable season thus far, and with Darvish, might’ve made a run at a wild card. Overall, this was my strongest division in the AL. Grade: C
     In the National League, I’ve fared considerably better. In the East, the Nationals (1), Mets (2), and Phillies (5) are exactly where I said they’d be. The Marlins at 4 and the Braves at 3 are in reverse order. So that’s almost perfect. And the Marlins have far more talent than the Braves. So I blame the Marlins for wrecking my shot at perfection. Overall, though, I’d give myself an A- here.
     The Central Division is where I should’ve placed a few bets in Vegas. The running order as of today is Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, Reds, and Brewers. I’m a perfect 5 for 5 in this division. Where’s my prognostication trophy? Grade: A+
     In the West, I was just as savvy. I am, as of today, perfect again with the running order as follows: Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks, and Rockies. If not for the Florida Marlins, my National League forecast would be perfect. In the West: A+
     Maybe next year, I’ll just skip the American League altogether. I know one thing for certain. I will never again pick the Cleveland Indians to win anything (and that goes double for the Cleveland Browns). Actually, I thought I did a pretty decent job overall. I don’t do this for a living, and my accuracy is higher than many who do get paid to do it. As I wrote in March, it’s a long season. There are always surprises, and to get them all right, you’d need a lot more insider knowledge, and double the luck. I confess, though, that the Indians collapse has taken a great deal of the fun out of the season for me. There are still several teams in contention that I have a rooting interest in, but this was the rare season when I really believed the Indians would not be a disappointment. To see them waste the pitching talent they have, and potentially finish fifth in a division where the only true contender is the Kansas City Royals is frustrating. But I’ll stay to the finish as I do every year. Last year’s World Series was one for the ages. And today, four of the greatest players in the history of the game – three of whom I saw often – are being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Watching them from the stage will be players I grew up admiring, some I even idolized. When the ceremonies come to a close, I’ll be sitting there thinking again that the greatest of all sports is baseball. And I’ll be thinking that all through the coming NFL, NBA, and NHL seasons right up until spring training next February.


     I have just enough time to get downstairs, get something to drink, and a snack, and watch four guys get something I have no hope of ever getting in my lifetime: recognition for a job well done. Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, and Craig Biggio, thanks for the memories. My cap is off to you all.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

21st CENTURY BLUES

     One of my favorite authors and personalities is writer Harlan Ellison. Ellison has been called “one of the greatest living American short story writers” by the Washington Post. And while that’s certainly accurate, he is much more than that and has been for most of his career. I first encountered Ellison on the old Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder that aired late nights on NBC after Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show from 1973-1981. He was one of the most outspoken, fascinating, and genuinely funny personalities I’d ever encountered. I’d bumped into his work by accident watching episodes of Twilight Zone or Star Trek or teleplays for other TV shows for which he’d written not knowing who he was. But when it came time to begin reading his books, I had trouble finding them, and when I could find them, I had trouble affording them, so rare were they that they commanded collector’s prices. I put my interest in him on the back burner, and moved to other pursuits.
     But Ellison would resurface from time to time on my radar screen, and the search for his work would begin again – to no avail. Most recently his name resurfaced in an article I read somewhere and Ellison was taking bloggers (like me, I suppose) to task for writing for free. His contention was that writing for free devalued writing in general, and made it much harder for professionals like him to make a living because in an age of Internet bloggers, nobody wanted to pay writers to write any longer. I mentioned this in a Facebook post at the time saying that I would be happy if someone would pay me to write, but since nobody would, and since I enjoy writing, blogging was a nice outlet for me. Besides, I was certainly no competition to the likes of a master such as Harlan Ellison, and I would never pretend otherwise. If those who need writers to write for them are stupid enough or cheap enough to not want to pay someone for the work, it was up to those authors who were approached about writing for free to just say ‘no’ and leave the rest of us alone.
     Several months ago, I went searching again for Ellison’s books, and discovered, much to my delight, that a publishing house called Edgeworks Abbey in association with a company called Open Road was bringing back into print the Harlan Ellison backlist with Ellison’s full co-operation. I don’t know the details of this liaison, nor do I care. I’m just happy his books are being made available again so I can read them before I die. I finished the first of what I expect to be many just this morning in fact. It’s a collection of short stories and essays titled Over The Edge, and it was a pure joy to read. Nobody has an imagination like Ellison, and nobody writes quite as he does. If you want something to read that you don’t want to put down, something that triggers your imagination, something that helps you escape this lousy world we live in if only for a few hours, I recommend you buy and read the books of Harlan Ellison (all now easily affordable to anyone with a steady income). I researched the titles I was most interested in, but my hunch is that you can jump in anywhere, and be dazzled by his talents. I hope the fact that I’m paying him to read his work by buying his books will cause him to forgive my blogging. I did not mean him, or any other professional writer, any disrespect by taking advantage of an outlet that afforded me the pleasure of writing. Of course, his point was well-taken, and the irony is that I’ve been trying to fight the same battle with people where music is concerned. Streaming services are robbing musicians of a decent living, and I’ve been railing against it – sometimes louder, I think – than the musicians whose careers are threatened by it. But at the end of the day, I’m powerless to change it, and if the musicians of the world don’t care enough about being paid a proper wage for their work, I can’t be bothered to fight the battle for them.
     I think I’m finally beginning to learn a lesson about the modern world, and about technology. I’ve come to realize that nothing is going to stop the forward march of technology – no matter how pointless much of it already is. Nothing is going to make the public suddenly realize that the music and literature and film and art they are not interested in paying for will eventually vanish, never to be made available again. The world turns on the almighty dollar. And the instant something is devalued (in other words, deemed not to be profitable enough for anyone to invest in) that something will disappear.
     Let me see if I can fine-tune this point a bit. Certainly one of the most lucrative businesses and leisure time pursuits in this country is professional sports. The most successful of these is the National Football League. Let’s imagine for a moment the following scenario: the government decides one day that the NFL is no longer a business, but simply a game, and thus does not merit the investment of capital any longer that makes it a profitable business. The sport can continue, but ticket prices will be reduced to, say, five dollars apiece. The players will be paid minimum wage. They will be required to buy their own equipment, and their own health care. They will also need to purchase gym memberships to stay in shape since teams will no longer have in-house training facilities. There will be a maximum vendors can charge for food and drink at the stadiums. Stadiums will no longer be funded by the public, but paid for with whatever money comes to the owner by running a tighter financial ship. And, one more thing: the owners will now have to pay taxes.
     Now that’s a far-fetched scenario. But just imagine what would happen to the NFL. Do you think any kid coming out of high school would even want to pursue a career playing professional football? Would the TV networks want to pay to televise a sport where the players were not the best athletes, but merely a rag-tag bunch of guys who are willing to play for minimum wage because they’re not trained or educated to do anything else? Would the public buy the merchandising? Not likely.
     That’s the position musicians and authors, and filmmakers, and artists are facing. They have the talent and the training to do the work, but nobody wants to pay for it. If you’re looking to make a career in the arts, and nobody is willing to pay, you’re not going to choose to do that. You’re going to become a plumber, or a vet, or a teacher, or a stockbroker, or a clerk, or an accountant. We all have to eat, right? So what makes you think it’s okay to read a book without paying the author? Why are you entitled to listen to a favorite album when the band that made the album got nothing in return?
     That’s what the 21st century has been all about so far – new technologies, and the widespread devaluation of all art. Oh, and war, and the glorification of all things military (but that’s another blog piece entirely). It’s that kind of thinking (“I don’t have to pay for this - it should be free”) along with the march of technology that wrecked what was once my career, and left me a few years from retirement to try to keep myself and my family above the poverty line by working a dead-end job where my work, and the dedication I bring to it has been devalued by a bunch of bean counters sitting in an ivory tower who’ve decided that they can pay someone a third my age to do the same work for far less money. Yes you can do that. But they won’t do the job as well because they don’t care about doing it as well, and they don’t have the 40 years experience I bring to it. And when they tire of it, they’ll simply quit and stop working for awhile (because they are living with mommy and daddy who’ll support them) until they decide they feel like working again because they’re bored sitting on the couch all day playing video games. And none of us, not me nor the half-wits you hired to replace me, will shop your store or buy its products because you’re not paying any of us enough to afford to shop your store. But don’t worry. The money will come from somewhere. Right?

     That’s the 21st century. That’s the world we’ve made, and that’s the world we’re living in. And I can’t make anybody see that. When I start bitching that music and books are going to disappear, they just look at me puzzled, thinking, “this guy is crazy.” But the light bulb above my head finally switched on (it was probably one of those modern light bulbs that cost a fortune, and don’t always illuminate right away, and never seem to last as long as they said they would when they forced them on us), and before it went out, I had a revelation. So what? You won’t be around to live in that world, and thank whatever god you worship for that. I bought so much music and so many books through the years that I’m still listening to and reading what I bought. I have more than enough in storage to last far beyond my own expiration date. So if you’re my age, or even a generation or two younger, you may not live long enough to see the day come when there’s no more music or literature. That’s fine. Your kids and grand kids will be the ones who never get to hear The Beatles, or Frank Sinatra, never get to read To Kill A Mockingbird, or the Harry Potter series. They’ll have other pursuits that will be just as rewarding for them as The Beatles and Sinatra, and To Kill A Mockingbird and the Harry Potter books were to us. They’ll have video games. And they can enjoy widescreen, big budget action movies on a 1 ½” cell phone. They might be able to see art in a museum even if they can never hang a reproduction on their walls at home. They’ll have sports on TV, too - lots of sports on TV. And, most importantly, they’ll have the spare time to enjoy all of it because they won’t have jobs. The government can pay them welfare. Or they can always join the military if they really need to get out of the house. There won’t be anything left worth fighting for except the freedom not to have to pay for anything. But at least they won’t be bored. After all, dodging bullets and roadside bombs is way more exciting than finding out what happens to Harry and his wizard buddies. And if you survive – even if you lose a leg or an arm, there’s a cell phone and a computer to keep you warm, and you can take selfies all day and post them to Instagram along with pictures of the food the VA served today. As long as you have a battery charger, life is good.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

CHRIS SQUIRE (1948 - 2015)

              I'm running out of words when it comes to eulogizing musicians whose work I revere. Chris Squire was one such musician. He passed away suddenly today at the age of 67. He left behind an extraordinary body of work with Yes, and as a solo artist, bassist, and composer. The only thing to do is play the records again and again and again - as I have been for the past 45 years. He forever wears the mantle of "legend" and he belongs to the universe now. Safe travels. I salute you.

Here is the obituary of record from The Telegraph newspaper in the U.K. 

www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11706204/Chris-Squire-bass-guitarist-obituary.html

Here, also, is a page of tributes to Chris Squire posted on the Yesworld website. It's lengthy, as you might expect, but measures the man and the musician and his impact on the community his music touched.

www.yesworld.com/2015/06/chris-squire/
   









Sunday, June 14, 2015

THE FREE THINKER NO. 20

     It’s been nearly seven weeks since I last posted anything in this space. Most of the ideas I had for upcoming pieces fell apart for one reason or another, and the summer heat, and the onset of another miserable period at work sapped me of the will to write anything. I considered taking the rest of 2015 off, and maybe folding up the tent for good. But in the absence of any final decision along those lines, I thought I’d try and pull a few loose ends together before readers drift away forever to greener pastures.
     Let me dispense with old news first. Last week saw the passing of both Ornette Coleman, and actor Christopher Lee. I was a big fan of both, and though both men lived full lives, and enjoyed successful careers with much recognition from audiences, it still wasn’t news I embraced. Talent like theirs is not replaced, and I think it’s safe to say we will never see their like again. Actor Ron Moody (best known for his masterful portrayal of Fagin in the musical Oliver) also passed away the same day, and his death was largely overlooked because apart from his signature role, he spent his life doing superb work in a variety of small character roles – mostly in England. American audiences never really had the chance to enjoy his talents the way they could with Christopher Lee. And that’s unfortunate. But I admired him as an actor, and I hope that he found some comfort in spending his life acting even if he never enjoyed mainstream success on a sustained level.
     We also lost B.B. King a month ago today. He was really the last of the legends of blues, and, more than any other player, responsible for bringing blues into the mainstream. He was, for many people, the face and the sound of the blues, and was beloved by everyone that ever knew or heard him. He was the first bluesman I ever saw perform thanks to his television appearances in the late 1960’s, and he’s been a staple in my musical diet for nearly 50 years now.
     I had promised a review of Miriam Linna’s biography of Bobby Fuller, I Fought The Law, but the book did not live up to my expectations, and rather than spend more time on it, I elected to table the review. The book was riddled with typos on virtually every page, and was also in need of some serious editing. From what I understand, the typo issue has been addressed in Kindle editions at least, but I still can’t recommend it. If you’d like an alternate opinion, Mike Stax has reviewed it in the new issue of Ugly Things, and does recommend it in spite of the problems (which he was brave to acknowledge since Norton Records buys advertising in his magazine). I’m always reluctant to criticize people whose work I generally have high regard for, but I also feel a sense of responsibility to those who read this blog. I loved Miriam’s first record, and generally enjoy what Norton Records does as a label (even if their mail order service has slowed considerably from what it once was). I know there are often other factors that can impact smaller businesses, and I try to take such things into account. But I’m growing tired of it.
     Actually mail order in general has been a big problem for me this year. I’ve had numerous problems with virtually everyone I buy from. Some of it is the fault of the U.S. Postal Service which appears to be in free fall now when it comes to quality of service. Nearly every time I place an order from anywhere for anything, there are ridiculous delays and problems. It makes planning blog pieces around my work schedule nearly impossible, and that’s why pieces I’ve planned to write don’t get written. I have a window of opportunity in which to write, and when packages are constantly arriving a week or two late (or not at all), the window closes and the pieces don’t get written. I should say that my Ugly Things magazine did arrive on time, and I’ve had no trouble whatsoever from Bomp Records, or from CD Universe. But why are they the exceptions if the postal service is the main culprit? It makes you wonder if the problem is the postal service or online retailers. The irony is that I stopped using Amazon for almost everything because Amazon’s mail order service had completely gone to hell. I took the time to search out and line up alternative online retailers, but with the exceptions I noted, most have failed the test. There are times when I’ve been so frustrated that I don’t even want to buy music any longer. And if that happens, this blog will most definitely cease to exist. I broke down and ordered the latest Yes CD from Amazon because they, and Barnes & Noble were the only outlets I could find that had the version I wanted to buy. B&N dropped the ball and I had to cancel that order. I was forced to use Amazon for the first time in six months, and my order was delayed because they used the wrong address. And my Sticky Fingers box was ordered directly from The Rolling Stones website, and I can’t even get confirmation that it has been shipped. It was released a week ago. Who knows when it will arrive? (Norton is also terrible about updating the site regarding your order. The last order I placed with them did not even ship for 8 days, and I got the confirmation that it had shipped three days after the order finally arrived. What’s the point of offering to track the package at all?)
     I could do reviews weeks or months after the fact, but by that time, I just don’t care anymore. I figure I can get my opinions on the record in the year-end edition of The Recordchanger and save myself the time.

     Since the last post, I read Clinton Heylin’s book From The Velvets To The Voidoids, a definitive history of the American punk and new wave scene of the 1970’s. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and found it to be one of the best-researched music histories I’ve ever read.
     The new albums from Graham Parker & The Rumour and Whitesnake also arrived. Mystery Glue, the Parker record, was just fair. It’s not nearly as engaging as the band’s previous Three Chords Good. Whitesnake’s The Purple Album did not disappoint. It’s a fine tribute to those great Deep Purple records David Coverdale was a part of, and works, too, as a headbanging update for the new millennium. As for the Yes reissue, Progeny, I elected to get the two CD version of the set (it’s a 14 disc box set of concerts from the ’72 tour supporting their Close To The Edge album). The sound is not state of the art, but it’s much better than the bootleg quality you get from a lot of live projects these days. The performances are excellent (as they should be since this is a highlights set), and the price was reasonable. It makes a nice alternative choice to the original Yessongs triple LP set from 1973.
     In the pipeline is a new reissue of Dream Syndicate’s The Days of Wine and Roses (due this week), and the latest in Columbia/Legacy’s Miles Davis Bootleg Series: At Newport 1955-1975 (due next month). When either arrives in relation to its release date is anyone’s guess. I won’t hold my breath, and don’t count on a timely review of either one. Hopefully I’ll have both before the year-end edition in December.

     The baseball season is into the dog days of summer. My National League predictions from March are almost spot on, and my American League predictions are almost laughable. I made the cardinal mistake of picking my own team to win its division, and they’ve toiled in fourth or fifth place for most of the season just to make me look bad. I’ve written them off for this year, and I’ve learned my lesson. Next season I’ll pick them to finish last. At least if they screw that up, I’ll have something to be happy about. But I can’t imagine anyone out there has been more accurate on the National League. So that’s some consolation, I guess.


     I can’t tell you when you’ll see another post here. It depends on too many things to be able to even make an educated guess. In the meantime, you can follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tim.frueh. My posts are public, and my profile and cover photos always pleasing to the eye. If I’m doing any timely reviews of new arrivals, that’s where they’re likely to be. The rest of the time I’ll be working my ass off in a sweatshop to keep making a few dollars to buy music that I might or might not ever get to hear. Next time you visit the post office, ask them why, if they’re in such distress, they aren’t flying the flag upside down? Maybe someone will see it, and call for help? Stay cool in the summer heat, and try to keep your head above the flood waters.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

TURN OFF THE LIGHTS AND DON'T FORGET TO LOCK UP ON YOUR WAY OUT

     David Letterman has left the building. His farewell to late night television, and perhaps, to the entertainment business, aired last night – one last glorious hour plus of laughs and good music. The network billboarded his final three shows for weeks, his 33 year run encompassing 6028 shows coming to a halt in the middle of a work-week. (Be sure to catch reruns of the comedy classic, The Mentalist in the same time slot until Stephen Colbert takes over.)
     I had a long run with David Letterman. I saw his first appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I remember him from Mary Tyler Moore’s short-lived variety show. I was a regular viewer of his morning show on NBC, followed him to late night there, and then on to CBS when he bolted NBC because he’d been unfairly passed over to succeed Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show in favor of Jay Leno. But I broke the late night TV habit when my wife brought a godless computer into the house, and it took possession of me for several years. I still watched Dave sometimes, and always checked the listings to see who was on the show, but I watched the show much less than I once had, and by the time I changed jobs in 2004 and began going to work in the middle of the night instead of in the middle of the day, I had gone off late night TV completely. I had to sleep sometime. I came back for David Letterman’s final shows because of what he had meant to me as an entertainer, and even an influence over the years.
     I’d grown weary of late night talk shows in general. The genre had fallen victim to fatigue. Too much mediocrity had infiltrated those hours. There were sketches that fell flat, monologues that weren’t worth staying up for, and far too many B list actors promoting “projects” you would never pay to see in a million years. The musicians were often worth a look, but who could last to the end of the show to see them? Through it all, Letterman was still Letterman, but by 2004 I knew I’d seen the best the genre had to offer. I’d watched Carson for about 25 of his 30 years. I’d seen every incarnation of The Dick Cavett Show – in the morning, late night, and even after dinner on major networks and PBS alike.  I even read all of his books. And Tom Snyder had gone to radio where I loyally followed him before retiring, and then dying. Those three men, Carson, Cavett and Snyder were giants to me, and I never imagined I’d ever see an heir worthy of my valuable time. But David Letterman was an anomaly. I became as attached to watching him work as I had to seeing Carson and Cavett and Snyder. His timing was just right, too.
     Letterman had the capacity to surprise you at any minute. He was irreverent, and cynical, and found humor in the strangest places. He also possessed a familiarity I recognized. Like Carson, Cavett and Snyder, he was a Midwesterner (Snyder hailed from Wisconsin – close enough). I’m from the Midwest. I come from the same part of the country, and maybe that’s why I related to them. There are four people I credit for my sense of humor – my own father, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett and David Letterman. Growing up watching them, I most admired their uncanny ability to make people laugh and to do so in the most unexpected ways. They were masters at improvisation, and the off-the-cuff spontaneous remark that was often far funnier than the stuff their writers had given them in the office for that night’s show. That appealed to me far more than the sketches they did, or the guests they featured. I wondered if you could learn to be funny by watching those for whom funny seemed to come naturally. Being funny opened a lot of doors. People liked you if you were funny. So being funny seemed a good goal to have if you were shy and unsure of yourself.
     It’s for those who know me to decide if I’m really as funny as I think I am, but I guarantee you that I’m much funnier now than I was when I was a kid. When you watch masters at their craft long enough, you’re going to pick up a few things along the way, and a slightly skewed way of looking at the world so that it seems funnier is what I gained. I probably got more of that from Letterman over the years because he was around for longer when I was an adult and knew more of the world and understood human nature a little better. All of those things are essential to being funny. And now that I’m at a time in my life where funny is really hard to come by, I’m grateful that after watching Letterman, and Carson and Cavett over the years that I’ve developed my sense of humor to the point where I can find a laugh in almost anything. That’s a valuable thing to have when you’re prone to bouts of depression and you see the world as one big giant cesspool of murderers, thieves, steroid users, ball deflators, greed mongers, and social media acolytes. When things are bleakest, David Letterman taught me that you could always throw a television out of a thirty-story building, or poke fun at politicians and the rich and famous. Even today, sometimes at home with the wife or with co-workers, I’ll throw out a line that gets such a big laugh that I can’t help but think to myself, “That one was worthy of Letterman.”
     Thanks, Dave, for finishing what my dad and Johnny and Dick started. You finished my comedy education. At the age of 58, I can honestly say that I am almost always the funniest guy in the room (often I’m the only guy in the room, but that doesn’t make it any less true).

     As for late night television, I’m not going back. They say you can never go home, and I think that’s true, too. I’m sure Stephen Colbert, a very funny man, will be wildly successful in Letterman’s old time slot. But even if my work schedule would allow it, I would not go back to late night television. It just isn’t the same now. I’ve been spoiled by the very best, and the last in a line of geniuses has just left the building. Turn off the lights, and don't forget to lock up on your way out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

ODDS & ENDS

     “Odds and ends, odds and ends / lost time is not found again.” So goes the line from the song of the same name on Bob Dylan & The Band’s The Basement Tapes. It was running through my head earlier as I was sitting on the back patio with the dog, enjoying some, for a change, warmer April weather. I’d actually been listening to my iPod. I’d downloaded another episode of Desert Island Discs from BBC Radio 4 courtesy of iTunes. This one featured record producer Robin Millar (Sade, Style Council, Everything But The Girl among many others). He’s had quite an amazing life as a very successful record producer who, due to an inherited genetic condition lost his eyesight in his mid-30’s, and evolved into an advocate of sorts for the blind, doing volunteer work helping them create, record and produce music for the marketplace. He overcame this mid-life handicap, and continued to live a happy and successful life in spite of it. His music choices for the program were inspired (Robbie Robertson, Freddie King, Alison Krauss, and The Rolling Stones among them) and his reasons for choosing them fascinating. If you have some time, you can listen to it free from iTunes or, I’m sure, from the BBC Radio4 website.

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     Earlier this month, my bosses at work pulled the plug on listening to music at work (for no reason other than spite), so all my hours spent listening to music at work went right out the window for the future making my already unpleasant job nearly unbearable. After a few days of – well, not silence exactly because it’s a very noisy place anyway – I was ready to take the box cutter I use occasionally and slice my wrists - especially when I realized I’d be forced to listen instead to a far too loud, quite wretched radio station piped in over the store overhead sound system. When I requested that I be allowed to wear earplugs, I was told no (again out of spite), and set about trying to find some way of just getting through my shift.
     I realized just a couple of days later that what was worse than not having music at work to listen to was that I actually missed listening to the carefully crafted files I’d created in my iTunes program that are enormously satisfying and often inspiring. I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours over the past few years creating these amazing files to listen to that changed the way I hear hundreds of thousands of songs in my music library, and taught me the value of reinvesting more time in the music I already owned. (I wrote a blog piece about that in these pages titled Right Between The Ears if you’re interested in finding out more.) I discovered a great way to make old music sound new, to connect the dots of varying musical styles and eras, and to draw energy and inspiration from them to help me do my job better. It was that which I came to miss very quickly, so I decided that even though I have a nice stereo system, and thousands of records and CD’s – all of which provide better fidelity than the mp3 files on my iPod - that it would be necessary to find some way to incorporate my iPod into my daily routine. So when the weather co-operates, I try to take it out on the porch with me, or wear it when I’m walking my dog. Sometimes if I’m at my desk, I plug in the iPod to my stereo system, and just hit the shuffle button. It’s more effective than loading the multi-disc CD changer, and hitting shuffle on it and having to wait 20-30 seconds between tracks as it changes discs. I’m adjusting to it the best I can. And one advantage over wearing it at work is that I’m not constantly interrupted by somebody wanting to complain to me about how bad our jobs are. I already know that, and listening to music while I worked helped me to not care as much. Now I get an earful of that all day, and the near perfect accuracy rate I had when I was able to listen to the iPod has suffered greatly because my bosses, in their short-sightedness, opened the door to all the things that cause me to not be able to focus solely on my work. But I have to live with it. So I’ll just listen to the music elsewhere.

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     Some of you who read this blog might be familiar with a music magazine called Shindig. It focuses on the music of the 1960’s – particularly the latter half of that decade. Shindig magazine was the subject of a recent – for lack of a better word – hijacking by the corporation that published it, and the ensuing war between the two parties (the two founding editors who own the name, and the corporation) has been playing out through social media. From what I’ve been able to gather, the magazine had been underperforming in the marketplace, and in an attempt to save it from extinction, the corporation that distributed it decided it was in their best interest to “appropriate” the contents of the now current issue, and change the name to Kaleidoscope. According to the founders, this was done without their knowledge. Their website was hijacked, and their subscriber list blocked, and subscribers received the newly christened Kaleidoscope in the mail this month instead of the magazine they originally subscribed to called Shindig.
     The corporation has been fairly quiet about the details of the situation while the magazine’s founders have been anything but, raking the corporation through the mud via social media, and vowing to re-invent the magazine and re-launch it in the near future.
     I’m not about to take sides in this “family” dispute. What I know of the situation suggests that both sides are at fault and bear some responsibility for what happened. While I wouldn’t condone the methods by which the corporation reclaimed the magazine, I would say that there are two sides to every story, and before you decide which side you want to take, it might be wise to get all the facts. When all is said and done, presumably there will be a music magazine in stores called Kaleidoscope, and another one called Shindig that might resemble the one you’ve seen, and maybe purchased. You, the consumer can choose which is better. Best-case scenario would be that both find an audience and both thrive. But in these modern times, launching a new print magazine seems folly, and doomed to failure. I wouldn’t bet a dime that either will survive in the long run, but then again, you can probably say the same thing about every print publishing venture in the world at this point. I’m reminded that a few years ago Krause publications elected to merge two record collecting magazines, Goldmine and Discoveries into one retaining the look and editorial styling of Discoveries under the Goldmine name. Goldmine still exists – although I haven’t seen an issue on magazine stands in at least the past two years anywhere around here. But it’s a shadow of what it once was. I was subscribing when the change occurred, and couldn’t wait for my subscription to expire when I’d seen what they'd done to it. Magazines have as much future as landline rotary desk phones. The sooner people wake up to the future, the easier it will be to live in the present.

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     Speaking of family disputes played out in the pages of social media, that’s exactly what’s happening in the Black Sabbath camp right now. The ongoing battle between Bill Ward (drummer and a founding member), Ozzy Osbourne (vocalist), Tony Iommi (guitarist) and Geezer Butler (bassist) – each also a founding member - has escalated to ridiculous heights now with a lot of finger pointing, and blame directed on either side. Just today the Black Sabbath Facebook page posted an old photo of the band with drummer Bill Ward cropped from the photo, supposedly at his request (or so I was told when I objected to the picture). Without going into too much detail, the dispute stems from drummer Ward being excluded from the last, and presumably final reunion of the original band due to his supposed medical issues. Ward denies his medical issues would’ve precluded his participation, and claims the dispute has to do with the band not paying him an equal share of the money. (Where medical issues are concerned, I think it’s fair to ask the band this question: Your lead guitarist has cancer. If he is unable to finish the reunion tour, would you hire a replacement guitarist for him? I’d bet not.) That this is happening now is almost tragic. Guitarist Tony Iommi has been diagnosed with cancer and is being treated for it. So the original Black Sabbath is not long for this world in any case. Nothing lasts forever, but one would’ve hoped that the four founding members could come together one more time as a unit, as old friends to remind the world of what the four of them contributed to the history of rock, and pop culture. Black Sabbath is an institution. But its foundation is about to crumble under the weight of its collective ego, and it won’t be the devil that does them in. I don’t expect the situation to be resolved either. It’s just a shame that after all they’ve accomplished together that they couldn’t come together one last time in the true spirit of music and friendship. I suspect this stain will make listening to the records in the future far less enjoyable. As always, when the parents quarrel, it’s the “kids” that suffer.

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     For the past couple of months I’ve been making my way through a rather lengthy book by author Lloyd Bradley titled This Is Reggae Music. In other territories it was published under the name Bass Culture. Under either name it is, by far, the definitive reference book on the history of Jamaica’s most popular export. I’ve been listening to reggae music for more than 40 years now, but I always felt I was missing something. I was enjoying this music without really having a clear understanding of where it came from, how it evolved, and, much of the time, what it was about. I decided to rectify that when I discovered Bradley’s book. In more than 500 pages, Bradley has answered every question I had about the music, as well as a few I didn’t know enough to ask, and connected the dots for me as far as how the music evolved, and its relationship, both politically, and culturally to the society that created it. I’m nearly finished with it, and I can’t recommend it more highly. It’s as fine a work of scholarship and research as I’ve ever seen, and possibly the best-written, most valuable music book I’ve ever read.

     As soon as I finish it, I plan to read I Fought The Law, a biography of Bobby Fuller written by Norton Records co-founder Miriam Linna, and Bobby’s brother and band mate, Randy Fuller. I’ve been a Fuller fan for 50 years now, and I’m anxious to read more of his tragic story, and see how the authors sort out the circumstances in which he died. In the meantime, I picked up Norton’s 45 issue of Fuller’s I Fought The Law demo. I should’ve bought two copies, though, because I’m going to wear the first one out. More on the book when I’ve finished it.

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And to close this edition, here's a short Playlist of what I've been listening to most over the past couple of weeks (in case it's not obvious I really love the new Brian Wilson album):

I Fought The Law (Demo) - Bobby Fuller Four (Norton 45)
Whatever Happened - Brian Wilson (No Pier Pressure CD)
I Guess You Had To Be There - Brian Wilson (w/ Kacey Musgraves) (No Pier Pressure CD)
Saturday Night - Brian Wilson w/ Nate Reuss (No Pier Pressure CD)
Somewhere Quiet - Brian Wilson (No Pier Pressure CD - deluxe edition only)
The Right Time - Brian Wilson (No Pier Pressure CD)
On The Island - Brian Wilson w/ She & Him (No Pier Pressure CD)
Another Planet - Datura 4 (Demon Blues CD)
Journey Home - Datura 4 (Demon Blues CD)
Gimme Shelter (Live) - Rolling Stones (Sweet Summer Sun-Hyde Park Live CD)