Thursday, August 20, 2015


     If the life I’m living could be characterized as a book, there can be no argument that I’m in the final third or maybe the last quarter until the finish. That’s how I think of it anyway, and I see the day-to-day of it as paragraphs that become pages that turn into chapters leading inexorably to the conclusion. Every day is a struggle to get from dawn to dusk in one piece, health – both mental and physical – intact, playing out the season that is my working life with no hope of anything resembling victory in the cards, but trying to keep the drama to a minimum, and some level of consistency in my routine.
     That’s been next-to-impossible over the past year or so as what was once a normal retail position has evolved into the most unconventional and demanding job I’ve ever had. My life has been turned upside down by constantly changing daily shifts, an ever-increasing workload, and an impossibly demanding boss who insists on complete loyalty and dedication as he berates staff and blames his shortcomings and failures on everyone else, myself included. The inability to find success can only be laid at the feet of an incompetent management team that cannot accept responsibility or find an effective way of coping with the increasing workload. That’s definitely not what I signed up for, and in the almost total absence of anything resembling perks or real benefits, the incentive to play the game simply cannot be summoned by even the greatest of wizards wielding the strongest magic.
     So there was nothing more to be done except to suffer in silence or move on. I don’t wear the mantle of martyr well, so I elected to move on to a similar job with the same company in a different store with a different management team and co-workers, and something closely resembling normal working hours. For the first time in about a decade, I can join the majority of the working world living a normal life. And since my wife is now retired, and she suffered the same fate in a different career, this will be the first time in our 35-year marriage when we lived a conventional life similar to what others enjoy. I simply decided that it was time to turn the page, and try to regain some control over my own life. I have no idea if the decision will turn out to be a good one. But I won’t harbor any regrets. Under the circumstances it was the only decision I could’ve made. I’ve been at the crossroads any number of times in my life, and each time I evaluated the situation, and tried to choose the wisest path. Not every choice I’ve made has led to success, but if I look back on those decisions today, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change a single one of them. I made the best choice in each case under the circumstances, and my instincts – particularly where the workplace is concerned – have been nearly flawless. It’s the reason I’ve managed to stay employed for so long even though nearly every place I ever worked has not survived me.
     I never imagined as a young man that my greatest accomplishment as an older man nearing retirement age would’ve been simply to stay employed. That’s incredibly difficult to do in this day and age. Jobs vanish all the time and companies collapse under the weight of mismanagement or a failing economy. The ordinary worker struggles simply to survive it all. It’s an almost herculean task just to stay in the game. In the workplace of the 21st century, survival is the greatest measure of success.
     Assuming I’m able to maintain my health, I have about eight working years until I can retire. All I want to do is hold on to my job, and make a simple living with a minimum of drama, and stress. I want to do that work at a high level and make a valuable contribution to the company’s success. That’s really the only path to job security (but hardly a guarantee). But if I’ve learned anything over the past couple of decades, it’s that I can adapt and adjust to almost anything.

     I wrote that on the eve of beginning a new job this past Monday. The first week has been drama-free, with a nearly straight learning “curve”, and an opportunity to renew old friendships, and meet new people. That’s a nice mix to find in the workplace when you’re just around the bend from the home stretch to retirement. The energy I bring to my job is used in actually doing the job as well as I can. I no longer have the extra you need when you’re building a career, or trying to be promoted. Those things are no longer on my agenda. My job is there to provide an income – not a future. Whatever future I have now looks very different from how it looked when I was 28 or 38.
     Once you reach a certain age, what’s most important begins to take shape and to crystallize in a very definite fashion. I have in mind a retirement that revolves around learning – keeping my mind sharp, and entertaining myself. I expect to continue reading – both for pleasure and to gain knowledge. There are several books on my shelf related to the sciences. There are lots of biographies and history books. I have several shelves, still, of unread music books. And I have a variety of genre fiction like sci-fi, westerns, and mysteries. I also have numerous poetry collections, and a stack of quality short story collections. And I want to read all of it before I die.
     There’s music to experience for the first time and even more music I want to re-experience. That’s also true of films, and television.
     I want to spend quality time with my wife because for the first 33 years we were married, quality time was at a premium because of the ridiculous demands of our jobs – hers especially. If I’m lucky, my dog will live as long as our last one did, and I want to enjoy time with her, too. I also hope to do a considerable amount of writing. I have so many ideas now for short fiction that I’ve begun making a list of story ideas, and thinking about outlining the best of those.
     I expect to remain healthy. I’ve generally been blessed with good health most of my life, and I’m going to continue doing what I’ve always done – in moderation, and using good common sense. There are no guarantees when it comes to health. You can only do your best, and hope for some good luck.
     Perhaps the smartest thing I’ve done in transitioning to “old age” is to make peace with all of it – however it turns out. To make peace with the knowledge that the years you’re living are numbered, it’s necessary to accept death as a reality, and not to fear it, but to embrace its possibilities. It’s the great unknown, of course, so no matter what you believe, you’re free to sketch an afterlife of your own choosing. I’ve written before in these pages that I hope to retain some sort of spirit that is free to move about the universe, or remain on earth simply observing people after I’m gone. I like the idea of being present wherever I choose to be and having complete freedom to go anywhere and see anything. If nothing else, it’s fun to think about. And if you can say that about an afterlife, why fear death?

     I’m just a week into the new job, and I don’t know how it might turn out, but I feel certain I did the right thing given the circumstances in which I found myself. I already feel a sense of renewal, and a shroud has been lifted. When I think where I was and how I was feeling just one week ago, I’m grateful I had the good sense to put my life before my job. If you can do it, I recommend it.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


     If you’re a musician who works as a solo artist, or part of a band, I think one of the most difficult things to do is maintain a high level of consistency and quality in your work over a period of several years. No matter how talented you are, turning out quality work year-in and year-out is extremely challenging.
     With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the catalogs of a wide array of rock and pop artists over the past fifty years with a focus on the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s (because, let's face it, that's when the best records were made).
     In doing so, I wondered how many artists I could find who’d been able to string together five consecutive high quality studio albums over a period of, say, no more than ten years, and with no side projects or detours taken into consideration.
     I compiled a list of 22 artists – solo acts, and bands – that I believe meet the criteria. I’ve excluded live albums, and albums of all cover versions of hits by others. What I was looking for was five consecutive studio records of original material that I would rate in the perfect to near-perfect range (in reviewer’s lingo, 4 ½ to 5 star records). I’ll present the nominees first, and then pick the best three of the twenty-two on the list. (On a personal note, I'll add that all of these artists and every single one of these records are very close friends of mine. They are to me what that collection of records under the bed was to William, the young boy in the movie Almost Famous (pictured above) whose sister left home and bequeathed her collection to her little brother. Those records changed his life. These records changed mine. If not for them, I could've been something!)

     The Beatles (A Hard Day’s Night; Beatles For Sale; Help; Rubber Soul; Revolver) The list of five Beatles records as recorded in the original UK editions begins with their third LP, A Hard Day’s Night. I could’ve started elsewhere, and made the case in another way given that the entire catalog is very nearly perfect. However, the latter period is flawed by the uneven “White Album” (The Beatles), and the fact that Yellow Submarine is not a complete album of Beatles songs though it was released under their name. Had I begun with their first five albums, I’d have excluded two of their acknowledged masterpieces, Rubber Soul and Revolver. To include Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (which is not, contrary to what Keith Richards thinks, “rubbish”) I’d have had to exclude the best album of their early period, A Hard Day’s Night. So we’ll go with the five listed above, and that ought to give you a good example of my thought process as far as where to begin the list of five.
     Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath; Paranoid; Master of Reality; Vol. 4; Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath) The first five releases in the band’s catalog remain the benchmark by which all of their work is judged. In fact, they would never be quite this good again for this long – even during Ronnie Dio’s tenure with the band.
     David Bowie (Diamond Dogs; Young Americans; Station To Station; Low; Heroes) When Bowie came up for consideration, this was not the list I originally had in mind. But his album of covers, Pin Ups (a good studio record, but uneven, and beyond the criteria I was using) ended a streak he’d begun with The Man Who Sold The World. However, these five are gems in their own right, even though they cover a period of transition in Bowie’s music. To my mind, however, that just makes the accomplishment that much greater.
     Creedence Clearwater Revival (Bayou Country; Green River; Willy & The Poor Boys; Cosmo’s Factory; Pendulum) These are albums 2 through 6 in the band’s seven-album catalog, and I like Pendulum over their debut record, so these were the five I chose.
     Dire Straits (Dire Straits; Communique; Making Movies; Love Over Gold; Brothers In Arms) The band only made one more studio album, and a couple of live records during their time together. These five comprise their first five studio releases, and are nearly flawless.
     The Doors (The Doors; Strange Days; Waiting For The Sun; Soft Parade; Morrison Hotel) Ironically, this list of five excludes the band’s best album, L.A. Woman. But to include it, I’d have had to exclude their debut album – also a masterpiece. In my opinion, The Doors original studio catalog with Jim Morrison is maybe the best – album for album – in rock history. But since we’re talking in fives, we’ll take these.
     The Eagles (Eagles; Desperado; On The Border; One of These Nights; Hotel California) Again, the first five albums the band made, and the only Eagles albums you need.
     Genesis (Trespass; Nursery Cryme; Foxtrot; Selling England By The Pound; The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) Albums 2 through 6 in the band’s history, and all featuring Peter Gabriel.
     Jefferson Airplane (Takes Off; Surrealistic Pillow; After Bathing At Baxter’s; Crown of Creation; Volunteers) Once more, this list comprises the first five studio album releases by the band, and is the cornerstone on which their reputation rests.
     Jethro Tull (This Was; Stand Up; Benefit; Aqualung; Thick As A Brick) The first five, once again, and nearly flawless.
     Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin; Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III, (untitled); Houses of The Holy) Another tough choice given that this list excludes the sixth album in their catalog, and arguably the best, Physical Graffiti. But I couldn’t bring myself to exclude their debut because of its historical impact and importance. That’s what I hate about lists – making tough choices.
     Little Feat (Little Feat; Sailin’ Shoes; Dixie Chicken; Feats Don’t Fail Me Now; The Last Record Album) At the risk of sounding like a broken studio record, these are the first five releases as well. What’s up with that? Mozart did his best work when he was young, too.
     Joni Mitchell (Blue; For The Roses; Court & Spark; The Hissing of Summer Lawns; Hejira) I could’ve started earlier with her first or second albums, but these are the best five, I think.
     Moody Blues (On The Threshold of A Dream; To Our Children’s Children’s Children; A Question of Balance; Every Good Boy Deserves Favour; Seventh Sojourn) Excluding Days of Future Passed, and In Search of the Lost Chord make this list even more impressive. You might’ve chosen differently, and I might not have argued.
     Van Morrison (Astral Weeks; Moondance; His Band and Street Choir; Tupelo Honey; Saint Dominic’s Preview) I could probably have compiled two or three more lists of five in a row by Van Morrison. But these five are the strongest.
     Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers; You’re Gonna Get It; Damn The Torpedoes; Hard Promises; Long After Dark) Another first five list made all the more impressive by the exclusion of records six and seven in the band’s amazing catalog (Southern Accents; Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough respectively).
     R.E.M. (Murmur; Reckoning; Fables of the Reconstruction; Lifes Rich Pageant; Document) First five again, and definitely the right pick.
     Rolling Stones (Beggar’s Banquet; Let It Bleed; Sticky Fingers; Exile On Main St.; Goat’s Head Soup) With The Stones, the conventional thing to do is include the live album, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. But live albums are excluded here, so I asked myself the question, “Is Goat’s Head Soup good enough to complete the band’s list of five?” The simple answer is, “Absolutely.” Goat’s Head Soup has only suffered through the years by comparing it with Exile On Main St. But the years have been very kind to 'GHS', and I now consider it one of the best albums in the band’s entire catalog – even though it’s the weakest of the five on this list – which only proves what a run they were on. (And It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll was next!)
     Bruce Springsteen (The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle; Born To Run; Darkness On The Edge of Town; The River; Nebraska) These five records give us all the Bruce Springsteens we’ve come to know – the urban street poet, the arena rocker, and the folk singer. He’s put together a long and impressive catalog, but he’s never again had a run like this one.
     Steely Dan (Pretzel Logic; Katy Lied; The Royal Scam; Aja; Gaucho) I hardly knew where to start. It killed me to exclude the band’s first two records, Can’t Buy A Thrill, and Countdown To Ecstasy. But in the end, I couldn’t exclude Aja or Gaucho. So I made the tough call, and wept into my hanky for about an hour after.
     The Who (The Who Sell Out; Tommy; Who’s Next; Quadrophenia; The Who By Numbers) Well this list of five is fairly ridiculous, isn’t it? Includes two double albums, and three concept records!
     Neil Young (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere; After The Gold Rush; Harvest; On The Beach; Tonight’s The Night) And I had to exclude Time Fades Away – another album of all new material because it was recorded live! Neil was on a roll, I’m sure you’ll agree.

     It pained me to leave a few others out. Jackson Browne would’ve made the list, and might’ve notched the top spot if his fifth album, Running On Empty, an album of all new material, had not been recorded live. The Byrds first five albums just missed as well. I’ve never forgiven Crosby for putting "Mind Gardens" on their fourth album. X also just missed the list because I’m not a huge fan of their second album Wild GiftAnd I almost included Rush in a run from 2112 to Moving Pictures. But Hemispheres, which I like, but don’t love, stopped me. That was still a great run, however. In any case, I’m sure I’ll hear from some angry readers who’ll tell me who I left out, and insist I turn over my blogging license. But I don’t claim to be perfect – just right. So read on, and I’ll tell you which I think are the three best “five in a row” runs on the list. Let’s do it in reverse.

     My third choice might surprise you. I’m going with Bruce Springsteen. I really believe these five albums represent the essential Springsteen catalog. He’s been making fine records now for four decades, but this group of five – made over a ten year period (1973-1982) made a huge impact on me, and really stayed with me like close companions all these years.
     My second choice is – and I’m sure you didn’t see this one coming – The Who! Yeah, I’ve been ragging on them in these pages since these pages were born, but look at that run they had! I just couldn’t deny them. And most would consider The Who By Numbers the weakest of those five, and I think that one is even better than the four that precede it.
     At the top, I give the nod to Van Morrison. How can I deny a list of five that includes two of the best albums ever made (Astral Weeks and Moondance), and three more that are mind blowing? I can’t. I’d have to surrender my Van Morrison fan club membership card. Seriously, if you don’t own all five of these Morrison records, why are you even reading this blog?

     I stand by my choices. My beloved Rolling Stones would’ve taken the next spot, by the way. In any case, let the arguments begin!

Monday, July 27, 2015


     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

     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


     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


     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.

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.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


     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 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.