Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland, May 25th 1977

untitled2From Underground Uprising

I was 14, Zeppelin announced 3 dates at the Capital Centre in Landover ( Largo) Maryland. They would later add May 30 to the string of shows making the total of 4 dates.

Mother refused to take me even though the gigs were draped across the weekend rather nicely. Thanks mom. A schoolmate had an extra ticket for the first night’s performance. I wasn’t about to accept defeat. Face value was something like $7.50. I bought it. I had a few weeks to find a ride to the show because the schoolmate wasn’t really a good friend and he lived about 8 miles away. I was a rather geeky kid that happened to love Zeppelin and my best friends weren’t into Zeppelin at all.

Their loss I figured. I ended up creating a flier, a rather big one, and propped it up against the speed limit sign out on the parkway near my house in Columbia, MD. I was sure someone was going to either, A: pick me up and take me to the Zeppelin Concert, or, B: pick me up and molest/torture/harass/exploit/terrorize me. B didn’t happen, and I was picked up by a sedan filled with some older boys going to the show. Turned out one of the brothers of the driver that pulled over and picked me up was in my home room at my middle school.

Okay, so I was too reluctant to ask my schoolmate for a ride, but adventurous enough to risk getting abducted just to get to see my favorite band. What a dumbshit, eh? I get there and instantly this dude was trying to sell me what he called acid. It was a pink little pill and looked like damn Benadryl or something (and probably was) So I bought one for $3.00. What a dumbass. (why am I sharing this? I hope someone is having a good laugh…:-) So I get in after waiting till about 8 PM. They must have had a very late sound check… Who knows.

I walk to the nearest entrance to view the stage area and damn, I thought, “who’s opening for Zeppelin?” – Because Bonzo’s drum kit didn’t have the 3 rings on the bass drum head. “Silver kit with white heads?” I thought this was a warm up band. To my surprise of course it WAS Bonzo’s kit. I took my seats and my schoolmates weren’t there yet. I think they stumbled in around 9:30. They wouldn’t even give me a ride back when I asked. Jerks. (is this hilarious or what?) Zeppelin stumbled onto the stage around 9:20. There was no warm up band. I gathered that around 8:45. Would have been great if Detective or somebody had opened. I’m sorry, but I love that Detective album “Takes one to know one.”

If you haven’t heard it and you dig Zeppelin, Check it out… Anyway, I had nose bleed seats but they were close to the stage. The speakers were hiked up pretty high (close to us). It was loud as F*$k. I was receiving 120 dB easily. Stereo Effects sucked, especially during Page’s solo and Bonzo’s solo. Best part was No Quarter with the lasers. There were some cables obstructing some of the stage but the guys moved back and forth enough I wasn’t too disappointed. Page nearly tripped once over his effects then he tried to play it off by repeating his goof pretending his steps were intentional. He was playing pretty bad. Plant was spot on. He only cracked a couple times. He was very controlling of his wild-out-of-control audience. He hushed everybody once or twice.

Page was really bad that night (too many horse tranquilizers and JD possibly?). Bonzo stole the show. He added a crash cymbal to his set that year. I wish I knew more about him. I wish his son would write a book. Page really sucked that night. Too many med’s on board I guess. The more reverberation for that night the better. I just want it to go with my ticket stub and maybe my kids will find it interesting that I attended the show. I ended up running into the same guy that picked me up on the side of the road. That was the luckiest day of my life up to that point. The next luckiest day was getting to see RUSH later that December. Not sure if this qualifies as a review suitable for posting, I just felt compelled to share.

A. Ekland Raleigh

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Capital Centre Landover Maryland May 25th 1977 | , | 1 Comment

John by Cynthia Lennon (2006)


I’ve been a fan of the Beatles since the first night that they were on Ed Sullivan in 1964. I could not be more in the Beatles camp without needing medication.

Actually some people think I do need medication over my Beatles fixation, but never mind. The reason I say this is so that you’ll know whose “side” I’m on.

The most recent histories of the World’s Greatest Band (this one and “The Beatles: The Biography” by Bob Spitz) are more reliable as general retellings than most of the previous dreck we’ve gotten, with the possible exception of Phillip Norman’s, excellent “Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation.” In fact, most of the previous general histories we’ve got on the Beatles have been garbage–being either authorized fan-club/teenie-bopper raves, or idiot kiss-and-tell scandal tomes (like “The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles” which paints the Beatles as victims and jerks simultaneously).

In fact, even “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles” by the very odd Geoff Emerick (who, despite having been in on the most important of the Beatles recording sessions seems to have entirely missed the point) is pretty good.

So we’ve got an excellent crop of fairly recent Beatles books out now. So what? Well, I think that for those of you who want to understand the Beatles story on a gut level, this is one of the must-have volumes.

Cynthia Lennon is honest in this volume on the level that her famous ex-husband always claimed to be, and generally wasn’t. The feeling I get as I read this volume is that, for an autobiography, the book is unusually truthful. I suspect we’re getting about 75% of the truth, and 99% of the truth as Cynthia saw it (understanding the distinction in those two points is critical in reading autobiography). Her portrait of John is unflinching and to the point when she speaks of the events she witnesses. It is also solid from the standpoint that a lot of the action that occurred in and around the Beatles circle happened just off of Cynthia’s radar, and she tells us plainly when she was off stage. It is interesting that she seems honestly bemused by so many of the events that occurred in her own life.

The portrait of the “Cynthia Era” Lennon that emerges is the one we always suspected was the truth: that John was a funny, warm, intelligent person–usually. We also see the Post-Yoko John, and the bizarre head changes that Ono put John through.

Cynthia suggests that the changes in Lennon’s temperament were symptoms of drug abuse, and I’m certain that was a contributing factor, but she either doesn’t see or leaves us to read between the lines about the influence that Ono had over Lennon. I suspect that she’s being kind; the combination of Ono’s machinations, and Lennon’s emotional and intellectual vulnerability were a frightening force, and changed John completely. In fact, the immediate post-Ono Lennon seems more like a cult adherent than a drug casualty, and that was, the way it seemed to fans like me at the time.

Lennon switched from the affable (if temperamental) head Beatle to a surly, smug, unsmiling but silly media manipulator who was more than delighted to exchange creative credentials for media attention. As Cynthia points out, “He never smiled and he took himself so seriously.”

Best of all, Cynthia asks the ultimate question about Lennon, ‘How could he be so interested in world peace, and so uninterested in making peace with his own son?”

Cynthia also seems aware that McCartney, who has received bad press in the last few years for having the bad taste to remain (Quelle Horreur!) popular and mainstream, is a talent in his own right, and half of the Beatles songwriting legacy. Cynthia is also aware that the Beatles were a band, an organism of four men, not John Lennon and three other guys. It was nice to hear someone say this; the other Beatles have gotten short shrift since Lennon’s death.

Of course, a central part of the “Lennon Problem” is carefully discussed here; Lennon wanted a divorce from his wife. In the early 21st century that situation is considered sad, but with the current 50% divorce rate it might also seem unremarkable. In the late 1960’s it was scandalous, and the way Lennon dealt with his ex-wife and child we even worse.

You won’t learn a lot about how the Beatles music was made here, Cynthia wasn’t allowed in that part of her husband’s life (no big deal there, how many of you reading this take your spouse to work?), but you will learn a lot about who John Lennon was, and how he mutated into the media-hungry self-righteous maniac he became in the 1970’s. Best of all, Cynthia still loves John, and despite the degree that he wronged her, she leaves us room to do so as well.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Book John by Cynthia Lennon | , , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin The Diploma (Leicester UK, November 1971)


University Of Leicester, Leicester, England – November 25th, 1971

Disc 1 (61:28): mc, Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, mc, Black Dog, mc, Since I’ve Been Loving You, mc, Celebration Day, mc, Going To California, mc, That’s The Way, Tangerine, mc, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp, mc

Disc 2 (40:03): mc, Dazed & Confused (includes theme from Shaft), mc, Stairway To Heaven

Disc 3 (50:24): What Is And What Should Never Be, Whole Lotta Love (I’m Going Down/Boogie Chillun’/Hello Mary Lou/Rave On/Mess O’ Blues/Me and the Devil Blues/The Lemon Song), Rock And Roll, Communication Breakdown

This tape surfaced in the summer of 2000 on Electric Magic’s famous debut Mystical Majesties Request. At the time it was stunning since nobody knew it even existed, much less being a complete, nice sounding tape of a very under-represented era in Led Zeppelin.

Some of the tapes from their 1971 UK tour are listenable and enjoyable, but not near the quality of this. The EC title was so good that it was rated the year’s best release on the now defunct Pressed Led website. Almost two years after this, Empress Valley re-released the tape as Best For Hard N’ Heavy. Collectors claimed this was superior to the Electric Magic release, although I’ve never heard it.

The Diploma is the newest incarnation of the Leicester tape. It was first released as a six-disc set with three discs devoted to the original master cassette and three discs devoted to the speed corrected and equalized version. A second edition, the one reviewed here, is the three-disc set only containing the speed corrected & equalized version.

I’ve been told there is a third edition coming out soon, again a three disc set that probably contains the speed corrected and equalized version with different packaging. A marketing tactic Tarantura has used with previous releases.

Comparing The Diploma with Mystical Majesties Request, I’d say that the Tarantura release is somewhat of an improvement. The volume is a bit louder and Plant’s between song comments are more clear and understandable.

And the tape has been slowed down to where it does sound closer to where it should be. But the tape still does have a lack of depth and dynamics and has a small venue feel to it. That being said this is still probably the best sounding document from this tour and is essential to own and is a worthwhile investment.

The concert itself is outstanding. It begins with Plant explaining his flu, although his voice doesn’t sound it. At this time the band changed the set list by pushing “Dazed & Confused” and “Stairway To Heaven” back after the acoustic set, effectively making those numbers the centerpiece of the evening’s performance.

“Dazed” contains a reference to the theme from the movie Shaft, throwing in a bit of funk that would be expanded upon in the future with “The Crunge”. The ”Whole Lotta Love” medley is a typical transition version with 1971 standards like “Mess O’ Blues” and future standards “I’m Going Down”. There is also a reference to Robert Johnson’s “Me And The Devil Blues” which is unique here.

It’s a shame that all three releases of this tape have been released on luxury labels at high prices placing them outside the realm of the average collector. The six-disc set, unless you’re archiving the editorial decisions of the different labels, isn’t really necessary. The three disc versions of The Diploma are the ones to seek out and enjoy.

The sound is very nice and this new Tarantura is a bit of an upgrade and as of December 2005 there are no less than five different editions of this title. The original six-disc version is produced in 110 copies. The subsequent versions are all only the three discs with the second edition in 100 copies, the third and fourth in 50 copies and the fifth in only 10.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Diploma | , | Leave a comment

Talk Talk Natural Order 1982 – 1991 (2013)


Talk Talk have enjoyed a fractious relationship with the compilation album. When the million-selling Best Of Natural History was assembled and released in 1990 without their consent, a disgruntled Mark Hollis commented “I don’t like compilation albums and I didn’t like that one”.

A year later EMI released History Revisited, a collection of unauthorised dance remixes which provoked the band into suing their former paymasters for releasing “material that had been falsely attributed to them”. Having won that case in 1992, all remaining copies of the album were destroyed and History Revisited has remained out of print ever since.

Happily, this hard-line stance seems to have softened of late. Natural Order is a belated companion to Natural History and this time Hollis is on board, offering creative input into the track listing. And it shows. Taking the high road over the less travelled terrain of Talk Talk’s weird and winding back catalogue, there are no hits among these 10 songs and only a single offering from each of their first two albums: “Have You Heard The News?” from 1982 debut The Party’s Over, and “Renee” from It’s My Life (1984).

All burbling fretless bass and sweeping synths, texturally these songs are as evocative of the early 80s as the Falklands and the feather-cut. Yet although the band are working with a rather clinical set of tools, the expansiveness and aching melancholy of “Renee” and “For What It’s Worth”, the B-side to “Living In Another World”, reveal the first stirrings of a much bolder creative aesthetic.

From thereon Natural Order is an essay in glorious abstraction. Space becomes a lead instrument; textures are more organic, the mood increasingly pastoral; classical music and jazz meet and merge with rock. The more accessible parts of The Colour Of Spring (1986) – “Life’s What You Make It”, “I Don’t Believe In You”, “Give It Up” – are entirely overlooked. Instead, Hollis favours the album’s most mossy, unanchored moments.

The rather ominous “Chameleon Day” is a drifting fragment, defined by squalls of disembodied variophone, dramatic stabs of piano and impassioned yelp revealing a mind “in disarray”. Conversely, “April 5th” is brimful with the promise of spring and ends with a transported Hollis performing vocal somersaults over a simple, purifying two-chord wash of organ and gently puffing soprano sax.

Both songs point towards the more diffuse, fragmented dynamics of the final two Talk Talk albums. Included from Spirit Of Eden (1988) are the hymnal “Wealth”, a spell-binding song of surrender so perfectly unhurried it almost feels like a six-minute fade out, and the more abrasive “Eden”, in which the Velvets’ “Heroin” collides with Tago Mago. From the same sessions comes “John Cope”, first released on the flip-side of “I Believe In You”. Loose and live-sounding, knitting together raw guitar licks, high, swirling organ and spacious rhythm, it may conceivably have been left off the album because it erred a little on the catchy, conventional side.

The band’s extraordinary swan song, Laughing Stock (1991), is represented by the unsettling, aqueous blues of “Taphead” and a drastic edit of “After The Flood” which, hilariously, attempts to fashion the original’s staunchly confrontational 10 minutes into something approaching a radio-friendly single. At a shade over four minutes it simply sounds like it has been cut off at the knees – and, ironically, much stranger and inaccessible than the magnificent album version.

Its presence here has little more than novelty value, and underscores the niggling problem with Natural Order. Fans may quibble with the exact nature of the inclusions and omissions, but as a career-spanning retrospective designed to summarise the band’s status as post-rock pioneers it does the job. The fact is, however, that most of these intensely beautiful songs truly breathe only within the landscape of their original albums. They belong to a larger tapestry. Here, reframed and recontextualised, they often seem oddly ill at ease.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Talk Talk Natural Order 1982 - 1991 | | Leave a comment

Art Of Noise Below The Waste (1989)


Judging by the few bits of information I’ve managed to gather on this album, it’s not exactly occupying any of the top slots on the “Best of AON” list by any of their admirers, and it’s not difficult to see why.

If Who’s Afraid? represented the band in the days of their hooliganish youth, In Visible Silence saw them as slightly more responsible twenty-plus-year olds, and In No Sense presented them as almost ridiculously mature, ultra-serious philosophers of avant-pop culture, then Below The Waste is senility at work. Restrained, free from excesses, heavily influenced by both world music and the ever-growing ambient scene, it is the quintessential antithesis to everything that was Who’s Afraid?.

But goddammit, I like it – to the point of declaring it my second favourite AON record. If you’re looking for innovation and revolution, start looking elsewhere; and, come to think of it, it would be hard to imagine AON achieving anything truly revolutionary after shaking our worlds with their debut. They did try, that’s for sure, but it was nowhere near as funny or as exciting. On Below The Waste, they don’t even try.

Yet calling this record a disillusioned or uninspired sequel to the overblown In No Sense wouldn’t be exactly right either; this is not an “obligatory” sequel, nor do I feel any particular lack of inspiration. What I do feel is a sense of ‘getting back to normal’. From challenging, but essentially meaningless (both intellectually and emotionally) collages, Dudley & Co. move back to a more basic style of musicmaking, where each composition, be it innovative or conservative, is supposed to serve some particular purpose. And they stay there.

And it’s not a magnificent record, but it’s a well done one. The single here was ‘Yebo!’, an anthemic techno-meets-African-beat stomper on which they actually collaborated with African musicians; personally I find it as solid as anything they’d done earlier. Danceable, catchy, and – to our uncivilized European ears – quite funny. As far as its spirituality is concerned, hey, I’ll leave that up to your personal taste; my impression is that AON’s proto-techno noises don’t detract from the African essence one bit, nor do the moderately used generic Eighties’ metallic guitars. Later on, world music makes a return in the three minute ‘Chang Gang’, which is actually more techno than ethnic, but still manages to make sense.

What makes it hard to write about this stuff is that most of it is just ‘mood music’, not necessarily ambient, but very practical-oriented, if you know what I mean. ‘Yebo!’ might just be the only track on here displaying any kind of ambition. Elsewhere, ‘Catwalk’ merges a bit of ethnic chanting with a – for the most part – discofied backing track (disco bass, funky guitar, orchestration a la Saturday Night Fever, all the necessary requirements), meaning it’s totally inessential; but it does have a good melody. ‘Dan Dare’ looks like it wants to sound anthemic and universalistic, but never really takes off the ground or presents the listener with a glorious climax – instead, it just works as something you can comfortably relax to on a quiet sunny morning while sipping your Martinis on the front porch of your cozy little villa outside Honolulu, with the waves quietly rolling upon the golden beach and all… uh, sorry, wrong contingent here. Never mind.

I still have no idea why they decided to cover the James Bond theme – maybe the relative success of ‘Dragnet’ convinced them the trick was worth repeating. Well… on a certain level of perception, there’s nothing wrong with it. I likes me the James Bond theme, and if it comes to actually owning it on a non-Bond related soundtrack, Art of Noise certainly qualify as a good choice for performing the shit.

Again, there’s always the question of artistic integrity: obviously, you don’t need to be The Art Of Noise in order to cover the James Bond theme, especially not when you’re doing it in such a perfunctory and almost by-the-book way, with not even a single “can I say something?” along the way. But remember, we have already agreed to accept that this band here has nothing to do with the ‘classic’ Art of Noise, haven’t we? That it’s just a bunch of solid entertainers making intricate and entertaining, but hardly challenging music? Right? What do you mean, we haven’t? Just how much attention are you willing to spare whilst reading these reviews?

The only other track that got them some attention was ‘Island’, a sprawling New Age-y instrumental with lotsa soothing orchestration and pianos that sounded like it belonged in some sappy, but stylish sentimental drama along the lines of Sleepless In Seattle or whatever the equivalent of that movie was in 1989. Heck, this whole album sounds like a goddamn soundtrack, and I guess had it been a real soundtrack, it would have been received with a little bit more warmth. But I’ve always treated soundtracks with justice, I think (that is, every time I actually allowed myself to review a soundtrack, I mean), and this pseudo-soundtrack should make no exception.

In particular, I quite like ‘Island’. And I can even directly name one of the main reasons why I like ‘Island’: its stripped-down atmosphere. Yes, it’s sappy muzak, but it boasts none of these hoo-haaing “angelic” synthesizers that are the main plague of adult contemporary, and the main soft-jazzy piano theme is so fresh and so pretty I don’t see why I shouldn’t be aesthetically pleased with it.

Finally, if we’re gonna build our case on diversity, let’s not forget the “brutal” menace of ‘Back To Back’, with its gruff metallic riffs and pompous orchestral punches. Ain’t really memorable either, but in between the ethno-techno ‘Chang Gang’ and the Caribbean-flavoured ‘Spit’, it really works. As does the lightweight waltz of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (!). Tee hee. In short, hey, I like this record. In fact, I can’t imagine how an album like this, with modest goals like these, could sound any better.

And it was an unremarkable, but honest way for the band to go out – after all, where are you supposed to be headed for after you’ve reached the senility stage?

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise Below The Waste | | Leave a comment

Art Of Noise Daft (1984)


Okay, I’m cheating meself (and you) a little bit out here, as this is really a compilation.

However, everybody knows that dealing with experimental bands’ catalogs is just such a tremendous pain in the rear end you just have to allow yourself some license. Daft basically combines the majority of Who’s Afraid with re-makes, little variations on the themes, and, most important, tracks taken off the band’s debut EP, Into Battle With The Art Of Noise. Since the EP is hardly available in any form, it’s kinda just that I review at least this compilation instead.

And I understand it makes this sequence slightly anachronistic, but pardon you me, it wasn’t yours truly who started fucking around with chronology in the first place. If I were to exercise my will over all the albums ever released, I would have prohibited this lightheaded approach to compiling material, along with stupidly concocted boxsets. Unfortunately, we live in a free world.

Now, anyway, this thing starts off with a shorter, seven-minute reworking of ‘Moments In Love’ (subtitled “beaten” on my edition – why?!), which I actually much prefer to the ten-minute version. It’s shorter, yet at the same time manages to be more dynamic than the long version – with a graceful, romantic, New Age-y piano intro, after which relaxed ethnic (yep, with congos and bongos and shmongos) percussion very, very slowly starts introducing the main theme – so there is some kind of development, instead of the never-ending monotonousness of the big version.

In this way, the prettiness of the theme can’t be “beaten” into the ground as easily as before. And unless my memory fails me, there’s actually more different sonic patterns that we meet on the way in this version. Then they also reprise the theme at the end of the album, where it is called ‘(Three Fingers) Of Love’, slowed down, and given additional tasty piano treatment – actually, the piano playing here is absolutely gorgeous, I only wish I knew who’s playing exactly – and additional goofy heavenly whispers, a little a la 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ (or a la generic adult contemporary – these happen to be the same thing, except that ‘I’m Not In Love’ only turned out generic in retrospect).

As for the few tracks off the debut EP, they are, of course, in the main vein of Who’s Afraid, but perhaps even more radical in a certain “youthful enthusiasm” way. ‘The Army Now’ simply pushes the sampling practice over the top – as they loop the ‘in the army now’ and ‘tra-la tra-la tra-la la’ vocal bits over and over in all kinds of different ways, you almost end up getting a picture of some overecstatic teen goofily pushing the keys while sitting over some hi-tech music-making program on his PC, making fun of all of his .wavs as he goes along. Except that, of course, in 1983 it must have taken hours and hours and hours of work to cut and paste all those bits. Anyway, the effect is hilarious even nowadays.

The short excerpt ‘Donna’ isn’t particularly interesting… even if it does manage to grasp the essence of trance, rave and house within its minute and a half as good as anything – all the while sampling what sounds like it could be a tiny bit of Dave Gilmour’s echoey guitar from ‘Run Like Hell’.

However, ‘Flesh In Armour’ is another terrific highlight, obviously influenced by industrial, as it’s arguably the loudest percussion-based instrumental that The Art Of Noise ever did. Of course, in direct opposition to standard industrial work as, say, pioneered by Einstürzende Neubauten, they don’t spend much time banging and clanging – it’s all sampled and looped and thrown together in different ways. But hey, that helps make it louder when necessary! It’s a fun little piece of work for sure, and very “militaristic sounding”, I might say – fully redeeming the Into Battle monicker.

In fact, it’s interesting how these tracks are so creepy and gloomy: one thing that doesn’t seem to stick too much to Art of Noise is “darkness”. Madness (of a positive character), hilariousness, beauty, moodiness, yes, but they never really tried to scare you in any way on Who’s Afraid. Here, there are brief moments of genuine creepiness. I wonder – could we call their early career a “gradual evolution from darkness to light”, then? Nah, that would probably be too assumptuous…

Elsewhere, all the tracks seem to be more or less the same as on Who’s Afraid (I don’t have the song lengths at hand, but supposedly ‘Snapshot’ is a whole minute longer on here, not that it really matters), so count this as, what, a review of one remix, one variation, and three additional tracks. The resulting picture, of course, is fuller than the 1984 album, so Daft – available in print – makes for a perfect introduction to the early Art Of Noise sound. And since that’s all that is needed for the review, let me just ramble on for a few seconds about the essence of this sound…

I guess it’s fairly easy to suppose that the original band did not include mass adoption of their ‘music’ into their possible plans. I mean, heck, even today this particular brand of sampling looks like it belongs alongside Centre Pompidou-style modern art or sumpthin’. Yet somehow, where Centre Pompidou-style modern art still has nothing more than obscure – and questionable – museum value, the music that these quirky guys pioneered was quicky adapted by the masses just as, say, Kraftwerk’s oeuvres were rendered accessible and popular with the upcoming of synth-pop.

If anything, it just goes to show how there’s really just a tiny step between the “mainstream” and the “alternative” (or “inaccessible”, “elitist”, whatever). Heck, you think prog-era Genesis are for the select few? Well, how’s about Styx and Journey popularizing ’em? Einsturzende Neubauten may be unlistenable to the common ear, but dress their clanging up into just a wee bit more melodic kind of clothing and you have Depeche Mode. The difference is just so goddamn flimsy in so many cases that any attempts to build a firewall between the two opposites seems kind of ridiculous to me.
Sorry for the rant.

The album’s called Daft anyway, so if you think I’m an idiot, that would fit in quite naturally, wouldn’t it?

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise Daft | | Leave a comment

John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman (2008)


Most beloved public figures have many facets — some of them nasty, some of them pleasant and admirable. Most biographies either focus on the good, or the bad.

But fortunately, Philip Norman is making a valiant effort to show, if not all of John Lennon’s facets, then as many of them as possible. Having explored the Beatles and their impact on a generation, Norman narrows his focus down to “John Lennon: The Life” — and he does a superb job unearthing the many details, relationships and differing faces of this much-lamented rock star. We’ll never get a John Lennon autobiography, but Norman does a pretty good job of getting inside his shaggy head.

John Lennon was born into an incredibly stormy marriage (which broke up soon after) and raised by his loving, strict Aunt Mimi, though he was something of a hellraising trickster as a child. The one blot: the tragic, shocking death of his mother Julia.

Of course, everyone knows what happened later — after a brief stint at art school, Lennon became part of a band with an ever-shifting name, and started working on pop songs alongside Paul McCartney. Though briefly devastated by the death of a bandmate, Lennon quickly rose to fame and fortune when the renamed Beatles became not just a hit band, but a new way of life for the youth of Britain, and then the entire world. Hit album after hit album poured from the Beatles, along with the usual rock-star intake of drugs, sex and occasional PR disasters.

But Lennon’s interests began to stray in more spiritual directions, and as his marriage to the sweet-natured Cynthia fell apart, he met and fell in love with eccentric Japanese artist Yoko Ono. Suddenly he was devoting himself not to pop hits, but to experimental numbers, “bed-ins” and sitting in bags, and using his world-wide celebrity for the furtherance of peace. While this lifestyle didn’t quite tame Lennon’s wild side, it led to new focuses in his life — until it was tragically cut short.

You have to hand it to Philip Norman. While most biographers tend to portray Lennon as a hippie saint or a hopeless jerk, he tries very hard to find a happy medium that encompasses all of Lennon’s personality: a flawed man who had a boatload of issues and could be both cruel and kind. While he gets a bit worshipy in the latter parts of Lennon’s life, Norman does a pretty good portraying both the musician and those around him in a realistic, compelling light.

Additionally, Norman gives as much careful attention to Lennon’s youth as he does to the Beatlemania and John/Yoko years — in particular, his relationships to his mother, Aunt Mimi, Paul McCartney and the delicate artist Stu, as well as the months and years as a struggling young musician. There’s lots of pop psychology, but it works.

In he meantime, Lennon’s life is carefully framed in the political and social climes of the time — the post-war fifties, colourful psychedelic chaos of the 1960s, and the later, grimmer times of the Vietnam War. Politicians, pop art, Liverpudlian slang and changing societies are all explored in detail, and Norman has the perspectives of a lot of people who actually lived in the time and knew Lennon — his wives, his sons, his bandmates, and even his Aunt Mimi (and she gets a LOT of words in).

He also injects a wry sense of humour into the story (Lennon’s aunts turning up at a Beatles performance) as well as a steady, sometimes evocative writing style (“The room reeked of stale beer and wine, and was lined in dusty velvet drapes…”). At the same time, there’s some pretty shocking allegations here, such as the claim that Lennon may have been inadvertently involved in the death of his bandmate, but Norman avoids tabloid journalism by explaining why he doubts Lennon actually did any of that.

Lennon himself is a colourful mosaic of seemingly contradictory qualities — he could be mean-spirited (mocking the disabled), wild, kindly, romantic, neglectful, vibrant, brilliantly unconventional and craving a spirituality that’s hard to get when you’re filthy rich. As seen by Norman, much of his personality seems to be based on the fear of loved ones dying and leaving him, but we get glimpses of dozens of different sides to his psyche.

“John Lennon: The Life” attempts to accurately portray one of the twentieth century’s most unconventional and beloved pop stars, and for the most part, Philip Norman does a brilliant job.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Book John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman | , , | Leave a comment

Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson by Peter Ames Carlin (2007)


Review Beach Boys fans read this excellent book at their peril.

There are a very few good vibrations in the story of Brian Wilson and his group, but there’s no shortage of extremely bad vibrations. By the end of the book you may feel you’re heartily sick of each and every drug-addled, money-obsessed, talentless washed-out Beach Boy with the exception of Brian himself. These days they’re a living, breathing embarrassment. They sue each other perpetually, and Al Jardine and Mike Love now tour America with rival bands claiming to be the Beach Boys.

Pity rich pop star Brian Wilson. First he was bullied and humiliated by his father, the repulsive Murray Wilson. Later he was bullied and harrassed by Mike Love. Years after that he was taken prisoner by a deranged psychiatrist who bullied him 24 hours a day. What all these people wanted was – more hit songs! More! Another million seller! Now!

The exhilaration of making hit record after hit record quickly became a relentless treadmill. Brian was the sole creative force in the group. By the age of 22 he was composer, lead singer, bass player, arranger and producer. After two years of that he had his first breakdown and quit touring. The wave crested in 1965 when everything was working out – they’d fired Murray as manager, Brian stayed home and wrote more hits and the group toured.

But then he began to change. Within three years there was “Pet Sounds”, the still astonishing single “Good Vibrations”, and then the disaster of “Smile”, Brian’s increasing psychological problems, and by 1968 the Beach Boys were pulling crowds of 200, hopelessly out of fashion. The 1960s was a very fast decade.

During the next 20 years (!) Brian was not a functioning human being. His colossal intake of drugs and food was in inverse proportion to his tiny output of songs. The whole sorry saga makes for gruesome reading. “As Carnie remembers, her father began most of his days with a dozen eggs and an entire loaf of bread” and for dinner “he’d eat his entire steak in two bites”. From the late 60s to the mid-80s the other Beach Boys were perpetually dancing around trying to get Brian to lay more golden eggs for them.

They tried anything they could think of, including tough love (pretending to fire him from the group). They ended up hiring a 24-hour-a-day showbiz psychiatrist to rescue him, Dr Eugene Landy. And before you could say “medical ethics” Brian had started writing songs again but they were credited to “Wilson/Landy”. So the Beach Boys sued the psychiatrist.

The grim story does have a kind of happy ending though – after trudging through this (always well-written and readable) catalogue of unhappiness we arrive at the year 2001 when Brian, now married to Melinda Ledbetter (who sounds like one of the few really nice people in the whole book), finally – 34 years later! – finishes “Smile” and even performs it live on stage to universal acclaim. As you finish the book you think “Enough – I don’t ever want to read another word about these horrible people or about poor tormented Brian – I just want to listen to their beautiful music”.

And in some ways I’m sorry I did read this book. It’s strange to admire the Beach Boys’ great mass of brilliant music so much but to dislike them all as human beings, except Brian of course. You don’t dislike him, but you do pity him. I don’t believe the author intended to perform hatchet jobs on all these people, he just let the awful facts speak for themselves. And now I’m hoping the remaining Beach Boys won’t sue me for this review.

Review What makes this particular biography unique is the fact that it was written with the consent and participation of Brian Wilson. Trying, as it would seem, to set the record straight, or at least correct some of the falsehoods perpetuated by his physician/guru Eugene Landy, who purportedly had a very strong influence on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story.”

Peter Ames Carlin explores the history of the Beach Boys through their leader (at least for the first decade) and he writes as an obvious fan of the group and their music.

In writing of Brian’s gradual coming apart, he give amples time and space to the other members of the group, who in Brian’s absence, continued to write and record some of the Beach Boys best and most creative albums. Yes, “Pet Sounds” is a masterpiece, but what about “Sunflower,” “Friends,” “20/20?” These albums stand on their own as fantastic contributions to the world of music.

Mental illness is a grey area, and thankfully, Carlin doesn’t put Brian on the couch and try to dissect why he is the way he is. Of course, Brian’s relationship with his father, his wife, and the other band members is looked at, but Carlin doesn’t attempt to explain away what is essentially a state of being, a creative mind that buckled under the weight of the world.

I haven’t read any other Beach Boy or Brian Wilson biographies, so I can’t compare or judge based on what isn’t here. On it’s own, this book provides an extremely insightful look at one musical genius and the history of the Beach Boys through that lens.

Obviously, for any fan of the group, for anyone who truly appreciates the Beach Boys legacy and not just their “fun in the sun” albums, this is a great book.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Book Catch a Wave: The Rise Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson by Peter Ames Carlin | , , | Leave a comment