Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince Rogers Nelson, The Paisley Patriarch Who Thrilled A Generation

1984.  THE year for a lot of artists, but foremost of all, the year of Prince.  We went to theaters several times to soak up the Purple Rain phenomenon; the closest many of us would ever get to a concert hall to hear the man.  Overwrought and often downright bad acting by most involved, but we were young people, teenagers - and teenagers can never get enough angst.   The sheer electricity, the thrill factor could never be adequately conveyed to those who weren't of age at the time.

Later, with VHS and then DVD,  I'd fast forward to the "live" performances, fast forward to every appearance of Morris and Jerome, making a brief stop at Apollonia's skinny dip.  To this day, to this minute, Purple Rain never ceases to amaze me. Simultaneously a document of the era, and a musical presentation that transcends eras. 

The news of Prince's passing has rocked Generation X especially hard, of course.  Upon hearing the news, I immediately called a dear, dear friend from high school to share the grief.  I've never heard an old Prince song without thinking of her.  Listening to tears flow, listening to her unnecessary but yet obligatory explanation of how much she could relate, in 1984, to Prince, and Purple Rain.  Mixed race.  Awful trauma at home.  The Revolution got her through some tough times.  The music still speaks to her.  Still speaks to a lot of people.  This was and is mood-provoking,  terribly intimate stuff, the stuff of genius.  Prince could make a heart race for four minutes, then break it for five… and then massage it back to working order.

It should
also be noted, in a crowded 80s field, that Prince was an extraordinary crossover artist.  Not just from r&b to pop, but to alternative music as well.  The goth set, the new wave kids, the New Romantics… everybody loved these edgy, brazenly sexy sounds emanating from a paisley showman seemingly copping and bending and transmuting Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone and Little Richard.

Prince was super-eccentric, moody, downright weird.  But cool, in his eccentricity, in his weirdness.  More than an icon, a way of life.  A style. 

In remembering
Prince Rogers Nelson, in honoring the man, it's befitting to play not only music from  his catalogue, but from the extraordinarily large Paisley Park "family" that he led, produced, showcased, wrote for, bankrolled and profited from as wunderkind patriarch.  Wendy & Lisa, Sheila E., Morris Day and the motherfuckin' Time… the roster goes on and on and on.  Controversies surrounding credits, contributions and money can be discussed forever, but the bottom line is a hell of a lot of artists owe a hell of a lot to Prince.  Some of them, everything.

Hell, a whole city is indebted to Prince.

First Bowie, now another giant(and one of the greatest guitarists) of my generation's creativity think-tank.   Stupefying.  Saddening.  Aging.  Fuck it; time to purify oneself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.

- Steve Stav

Thursday, May 21, 2015

David Letterman Did It His Way

   When I was a young man, my viewing relationship with Johnny Carson and David Letterman was akin to a jazz fan dutifully acknowledging Bird, but having Coltrane in the car stereo.  I watched Carson, occasionally; he was an icon of my parents' generation, really.  Letterman — a product of the 1960s, a guy roughly my father's age — nevertheless spoke to my generation, Generation X.  If Carson was the king of late night, Letterman was the reluctant, eternally self-deprecating prince.  A rightful heir who, like Johnny, was magnetic as hell... but remained a bit of a distance-keeping enigma until the last curtain closed.

I'm sorry that I have not kept up with Letterman as much since the mid 90s... I don't know what happened, but that gap in time makes Dave's departure yet another painful memory-jolt to youthful salad days that are getting smaller in the rear-view mirror. 

During my senior year of high school, I took a first-period class, Business Law, that was essentially a slot-filling, rubber-stamp no-brainer.  The teacher, a most memorable character, acknowledged his role in the affair; his class was full of sleepy and/or hung-over kids waiting to graduate.  Some mornings, he allowed us to watch a bit of Late Night, taped by a fellow student.  One of my most vivid memories of the class, and of the show.  Up until that year - when my family got its first VCR - Letterman had been a maybe once-a-week experience; it was on at 12:30, after all.

Ironically, some now claim that technology — social media, the Internet — played a role in diminishing Letterman's once-overwhelming late-night power.  I'm not sure to what degree that's true, but everyone who was around at that era before 500 cable channels and iPhones will remember how influential that man was.  So hip.  So uniquely cool.  Such impeccable taste in music.  For pete's sakes, R.E.M. made their TV debut on Letterman's show.  Foo Fighters just played one of Dave's favorite songs - "Everlong" - to close out his last night on the air.  Holey moley, how cool was that?

Despite my spotty history with the show, I saw Crispin Glover's impromptu kung-fu freakout — and Drew Barrymore's "Happy Birthday" desktop flashing — the night (or day, rather) that they happened.  Several of Dave's dalliances with Madonna; various near-disasters with Rupert G and the Hello Deli.  Larry "Bud" Melman's surreal pop-ups; Chris Elliott's bizarre appearances. This was the stuff, together with SNL sketches, that you laughed about the next day with friends at school, at work.  In person.  Now, at 46, I trade a few words about boss-man Norm MacDonald's jaw-dropping, tearful goodbye to Dave with friends on Facebook.  Not quite the same.

Dave's departure means that half of my reason for ever wanting to visit NYC — being in his audience for an afternoon — is now gone.  Attending an SNL taping — the other half — well, that motivation has lessened in recent years.  

A couple of weeks ago, as it became more alarmingly close to Dave's sendoff, my wife turned to me and said, "What about Jack Hanna?  There will be no more animals, with Dave gone."  Perhaps Jack will return, with Stephen Colbert... one of two acceptable successors to that throne.  But it won't be the same.  Letterman-indebted Colbert is a singular talent, just as Dave — who owed everything to inimitable Johnny — was and is as unique as they come. 

Goodbye, Dave, and thank you.  Take a cue from your hero and pop in once in a while.  I'm sure Stephen would appreciate it. 

- Steve Stav

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Big Star's #1 Record, Radio City Albums To Be Reissued

Big news for just about every musician I know... from Conqueroo PR today:

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Stax Records will reissue two seminal albums by one of the most influential bands of the 20th century: #1 Record and Radio City by Big Star. Both releases, which have been out of print as individual CDs in the U.S. for many years, will be remastered from the original analog tape sources, and are due out September 2, 2014.

#1 Record and Radio City will be available digitally in standard, Mastered-for-iTunes and 24-bit high-resolution audio. LPs of the two albums are presently in print, available via Stax Records. Liner notes by R.E.M.’s Mike Mills (a vocal fan of Big Star, as well as a core musician on the “Big Star’s Third” concert series) will accompany the releases.
... Mills recalls Big Star as 'a band who had gotten it right, who made records that sounded like rock and roll bands should sound. A band who wrote all the songs, from flat-out rockers to achingly beautiful ballads that were still somehow rock songs.'
... The legacies of #1 Record and Radio City have far exceeded the original commercial letdowns of both albums, which are now considered to be milestones in the history of rock by critics and musicians alike. The two LPs made it onto Rolling Stone’s 500 “Greatest Albums of All Time” lists, while tracks from each album (“Thirteen” and “September Gurls”) are also among the magazine’s 500 “Greatest Songs of All Time.” Numerous artists (Elliot Smith, Beck and Jeff Buckley to name a few) have recorded covers of the band’s songs. Big Star has been honored with a tribute record (Big Star Small World, 2006) a documentary (2012’s Nothing Can Hurt Me) and a touring live show, “Big Star’s Third,” which features the sole-surviving original member of the band, Jody Stephens, on drums, guest vocalists, a chamber orchestra and a core band including Mike Mills, Chris Stamey of The dB’s, The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow and others. The ever-changing ensemble performs Big Star’s album Third/Sister Loversas well as favorites from the first two records.
Of the reissues, Stephens says, 'Very glad to see these two coming out with the sonic approval of John Fry. Grateful for Chris, Andy and Alex and for Jon and Ken. The music’s journey continues.'
Fry adds, 'All I can say is that these were the best projects I have ever worked with and the best artists and friends I have ever had the pleasure to know. I love the music and the cast of characters: Chris, Alex Andy and Jody. I think fans will be pleased by the sound and the packaging. They may have to turn the volume up a bit, since we did not want to remove the analog dynamic range. Sit back and enjoy the definitive digital versions of #1 Record and Radio City, two of my three favorite albums.'
The band’s enduring legacy can be attributed to many factors, but perhaps Mike Mills summarizes it best: 'Songwriting has always been, for me, the most vital gauge of a band’s quality, and these guys were clearly masters ... [Big Star] gave you something satisfying to listen to, no matter how many times you heard them.'"

Album Track Listings:
#1 Record
1. Feel 3:34
2. The Ballad of El Goodo 4:21
3. In the Street 2:55
4. Thirteen 2:34
5. Don’t Lie to Me 3:07
6. The India Song 2:20
7. When My Baby’s Beside Me 3:23
8. My Life Is Right 3:08
9. Give Me Another Chance 3:27
10. Try Again 3:31
11. Watch the Sunrise 3:45
12. ST100/6 0:57

Radio City
1. O My Soul 5:40
2. Life Is White 3:19
3. Way Out West 2:50
4. What’s Going Ahn 2:40
5. You Get What You Deserve 3:08
6. Mod Lang 2:45
7. Back of a Car 2:46
8. Daisy Glaze 3:49
9. She’s a Mover 3:12
10. September Gurls 2:49
11. Morpha Too 1:28
12. I’m in Love With a Girl 1:48
Big Star’s Third Forthcoming Tour Dates:
August 22 CARRBORO, NC Cat’s Cradle
August 23: WASHINGTON, DC 9:30 Club
August 31: SEATTLE, WA Bumbershoot Festiva
September 27: LOS ANGELES, CA Wilshire Ebell Thetre (benefit for the Wild Honey Foundation)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bryan Ferry In Concert - McCaw Hall, Seattle, April 7, 2014

Some middle-aged folks went to a Bryan Ferry gig, and a 70s Roxy Music concert broke out.

The farmer's son-turned-musical aristocrat, playing a handful of Coachella-sandwiching U.S. dates, crammed a 42-year retrospective into a 100-minute performance Monday night.  For most artists, skimming over so many eras, leaning heavily towards the distant past in a decidedly "artist's choice" set - while disappointing very few - would be a minor miracle.  For Ferry, it was merely a matter of putting on a typically fantastic show.

In hindsight, it is to the icon's credit that he put his considerable charisma on the shelf for about a third of the evening, crooning behind a keyboard perched in a back corner.  In doing so, Ferry allowed his young (the youngest people in the room), aggressively tight band to take the spotlight... and in return, the eight-piece (including two great backing vocalists) paid enthusiastic homage to Ferry, Manzanera & MacKay.

Essentially the latest in a long string of Roxy Music cover bands who have backed Ferry's solo tours over the years, this outfit exceeded my high expectations.

Powerhouse uber-drummer Cherisse Oseie ran the show from behind her kit, delighting the crowd with her expressive, contagious enthusiasm. Danish guitarist Jacob Quistgaard tore up numbers such as "In Every Dream Home A Heartache" and "Ladytron," and added a touch of flamenco to the instrumental "Tara."

Seemingly stepping out of Roxy cover art and from Andy MacKay's shadow, Roxy touring veteran Jorja Chalmers was the breakout star of the evening.  Gorgeously draped in a retro black jumpsuit that could've been borrowed from a former Ferry flame's closet, the lithe Australian kept dazzling the audience via saxophone and oboe ("Remake/Remodel" and the aforementioned "Tara" were among many tests passed with flying colors), taking full advantage of both the excellent sound mix and the renovated opera house's great acoustics.  

A dual threat, Chalmers - who was born in the year of Avalon's recording - also recreated Eno's knob-turning noises on synthesizer (yes, "Virginia Plain" was on the menu, and it was delicious).

The band wasn't restricted to rote re-creations, not at all.  Favoring muscularity and brevity over languid erotica, Ferry breezed through "Avalon," and led them through an uptempo "Slave To Love," a compelling update of his cover of J.J. Cale's "Same Old Blues," and a notably sparse "More Than This."  

While the show was curiously light on the 80s and 90s (and on "solo" material), the surprise and spot-on inclusion of "Take A Chance With Me" from Avalon was a delight.  The audience creaked to their feet for "Love Is The Drug," and kept swaying for an extended encore that included the gloriously swaggering "Editions of You" and featured Ferry on harmonica for a frenetically hot "Both Ends Burning."

Altogether, it was the sort of set that evoked the enormity of the songwriter's brilliant back catalogue by what was not played, as much as by what was performed.

As for the icon himself, Bryan Ferry has the same panache, the same flair and grace that he has displayed for over four decades now.  Older, greyer, with a voice naturally aged but still quite serviceable, he's still a man of classic album covers and rumored dalliances.  Still the man without whom, a great number of New Romantics would've spent the 80s being a lot less romantic.

The thrilling night's only regret is that younger folks were pretty much in complete absentia.  People currently listening to musicians who were directly and/or indirectly influenced by Mr. Ferry and Co. missed an opportunity to be overwhelmed and educated. I suppose that's what Coachella is for, but a festival's marathon-for-the-masses is no substitute for an intimate, glamorous night with a true legend seemingly within arm's reach.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Jazz Impressions Of A Boy Named Charlie Brown To Be Reissued on Vinyl, CD

Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown... I've had this album for years, and can't wait for a 50th Anniversary upgrade hitting shelves on May 13.  What a historically significant record, in both the realms of television/pop culture and music.  The press release covers all the bases:
From Concord Records, via Conqueroo PR - 
"LOS ANGELES, Calif.— Most of us recall A Charlie Brown Christmas — the classic animated special that originally aired on network television during the holiday season of 1965 — as the moment when pianist Vince Guaraldi first breathed life into the entire Peanuts gang with a series of compositions that have since become as iconic as the characters themselves.
But a year earlier, Guaraldi had scored a Peanuts TV special of an entirely different kind. After the success of A Man Named Mays, a documentary of San Francisco Giants center fielder Willie Mays, TV producer/director Lee Mendelson set out to tell the story of another ball player who had soared to similar fame during that same era: the hapless but resilient sandlot underdog, Charlie Brown. The result was A Boy Named Charlie Brown, a 60-minute documentary about Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz.
A limited edition, collectible vinyl reissue of the original 1964 Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brownsoundtrack is set for release by Fantasy Records via the Concord Music Group on May 13, 2014. As adoring fans of both Guaraldi’s and Schulz’s work, Concord has proudly put significant effort into faithfully restoring all components of the LP with a special bonus: orange vinyl. The reissue comes complete with Schulz’s classic, quirky design, historic liner notes in a gatefold jacket, and reproductions of 8 x 10 lithographs of Peanuts characters.
A reissue of A Boy Named Charlie Brown will also be made available on CD. Enhanced with 24-bit remastering by engineer Joe Tarantino and brand new liner notes by Peanuts historian Derrick Bang, the release marks the 50th anniversary of the original Fantasy soundtrack to the television documentary with one of the most interesting backstories in entertainment history.
Due to the whims of network programmers at the time, A Boy Named Charlie Brown never aired. Even an alternate version edited down to 30 minutes wouldn’t sell. Nevertheless, Fantasy forged ahead with the 1964 release of the documentary soundtrack — originally titled Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brownbut later shortened in subsequent pressings — without the cross-promotional support of its television counterpart. Regardless of the project’s hamstrung origins, Guaraldi’s compositions, augmented by bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey, paint an evocative backdrop to Schulz’s cast of engaging and enduring characters.
'Consider the historical irony,' says Bang. 'This must be one of the few times (the only time?) that a record label has released a soundtrack album for a film never granted public exposure.'
Among the nine tracks from the original Fantasy recording is the now-iconic “Linus and Lucy,” which eventually made its way to prime-time television a year later in the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, which aired on the CBS network in December 1965.
'It just blew me away,' says Mendelson of the first time he heard the song. 'It was so right — so perfect — for Charlie Brown and the other characters … I have no idea why, but I knew that song would affect my entire life. There was no doubt in my mind that if we hadn’t had that Guaraldi score, we wouldn’t have had the franchise we later enjoyed.'
But 'Linus and Lucy' is just a part of the larger palette that is A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Bang notes that “music historians familiar with early 20th century honky-tonk rags no doubt smiled the first time they heard ‘Oh, Good Grief,’ a familiar melody that had been used in other pop contexts prior to being ‘borrowed’ by Guaraldi …'
Elsewhere, the waltz-time 'Baseball Theme' originally served as a backdrop to a sequence in the documentary devoted to Charlie Brown’s ill-fated efforts on the pitcher’s mound. “Jazz fans will appreciate this remastered edition’s special treat: an alternate take of ‘Baseball Theme,’ whose gentler tempo more closely approximates the version heard in the documentary,” says Bang. 'Guaraldi’s keyboard chops are prominent in both versions, of course, but note how remastering engineer Joe Tarantino has brought up Budwig’s equally deft bass work.'
Unfortunately, we can only speculate how the album’s remaining tracks were employed in the film’s longer edit, which included numerous celebrity appearances. Bang suggests that “‘Pebble Beach,’ a joyful bossa nova piece with a piano bridge, no doubt augmented golf legend Arnold Palmer’s unused segment. The delightfully bouncy ‘Freda (with the Naturally Curly Hair)’ obviously would have accompanied one of that narcissistic little girl’s animated appearances.'
Is there a point on the creative landscape where disparate art forms like comic strips, animated cartoons and jazz can intersect? Ralph Gleason suggested in his liner notes to the original 1964 recording that Guaraldi had found such a place: 'He took his inspiration from the creations of Charles Schulz and made music that reflects that inspiration, is empathetic with the image and is still solidly and unmistakably Vince Guaraldi.'
Gleason added: 'Jazz is a music of individualism. As such, it is truly a music of people, not styles. Each person develops his own sound, his own voice, his own musical personality, which in some is expressed only in their own playing. With Vince, the personal sound, the personal voice and the individual musical personality is expressed not only in his playing but in his composing as well.'
'All the characters in Peanuts are artists confronted with the illogical, blind and mechanistic world. It was natural that Vince Guaraldi’s music should fit so well.'"
Vince Guaraldi Fans on Facebook

Friday, November 8, 2013

Paul Kelly's "From Little Things Big Things Grow," And The Winds of Change in America

Today's quiet, but momentous announcement of a law that effectively insures Americans' access to mental health treatment prompted me to think of a personal mantra adopted over the past decade or so.

"From little things, big things grow."  I often use it when referring to a struggle's fruition.

It's the title of a Paul Kelly song, penned with Indigenous Australian musician Kev Carmody over 20 years ago and initially released on Kelly's outrageously brilliant 1991 album with the Messengers, Comedy.  Carmody has also recorded it; the two iconic artists have been known to sing it together from time to time.

"From Little Things Big Things Grow" remains a prime example of folklore, of storytelling, in song, and is considered by many Australians to be a national treasure.  It's been covered countless times over the years; a true classic.  The song relates the legendary, ultimately successful Gurindji Strike  — a late-1960s/early 1970s labor and land dispute — and its leader, Vincent Lingiari.

"Vincent said, 'If we fall, others are rising.'"

For all of the frightening, hateful rhetoric on display in America, there has also been a wind of incredibly positive change blowing here in recent years. Gays and lesbians serving in the military is now a non-issue; marriage equality is sweeping the land.  A new minimum wage is coming; immigration law reform is on the horizon.  And as of today, an insurer can't charge more for mental health care coverage, or limit it.  People unfortunately had to fight for these things, and not just politicians.

Indomitable people, grassroots leaders — Vincent Lingiaris — here and there, across the country.  There are many struggles for justice ahead, but it's important to pause and remember the battles won, and celebrate those who lead the way.

- Steve Stav

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Trailer Debuts!

The trailer for the upcoming Captain America film has arrived!

The official boilerplate, then my thoughts, if you're interested...

"After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier finds Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy—the Winter Soldier.

Based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series, first published in 1941, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier is produced by Kevin Feige, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, from a screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, and stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp and Hayley Atwell, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury."

Obvious reasons to cheer:
1. Another Captain America film! The powers-that-be, while not redeeming themselves for the exciting-meets-disappointing duality of 2011's The First Avenger, created a decent portrayal of the character in the Avengers... and as a huge Cap fan from my 1970s childhood, I've been interested in where Marvel (and Chris Evans, not bad in the role so far) will take the country's #1 defender.

2. The Falcon appears!  'nuff said.

3. The return of gorgeous Hayley Atwell, and the Avengers crossover appearances of Cobie Smulders and Scarlett Johansson — three ladies who are welcome around my campfire any time — will certainly add some grrrl power to offset the explosions of testosterone.


1. The story has to be good, thrilling and not give way to average-fare CGI action and rote dialogue in the second half.... a terrible mistake made in The First Avenger, and an error that seems to befall too many superhero flicks... the last Superman attempt comes to mind.  And I want to be on the edge of my seat rooting for my childhood hero, not a costumed Jason Bourne or Frank Martin. I know its difficult re-establishing a character's kick-ass originality with so many latter-day variants in the wake, but umpteen millions of dollars should buy a script.

2. My number two cause for wariness is more of the "S.H.I.E.L.D." motif.  I think the all-knowing, paramilitary, super-righteous squad of spies is what made me wary of the government back when I was a grade-schooler!  As the 1970s progressed into the 80s, one never quite knew where Fury & Co. would land in the ethics department... which was deliberate, as Stan Lee's writers began to address the debate between national (or world) security interests and civil rights, zealotry and abuse of political power decades before Wikileaks and NSA hijinks prompted a collective opening of eyes.  This theme intensified over the years, with ultra-patriot Steve Rogers sometimes torn between unfortunate American realities and commendable American ideals.

We'll see how this plays out... in this mistrust-breeding age of wiretapping and secret programs made not-so-secret, I've found Marvel Film's embrace - and so far, a pretty, one-sided portrayal - of a Homeland Security wet dream to be a bit odd.  I've got a feeling that Cap's S.H.I.E.L.D. involvement in Winter Soldier will be a bit more dimensional.

But, please... not three-dimensional!

- Steve Stav