In the chronicles of the now absurdly revered Memphis alt rock originators, Big Star, the third record called appropriately enough, Third (or sometimes Sister Lovers) is perhaps the band’s best record. That’s only true of course if slow, often gossamer thin melodies pitched too high so that Alex Chilton’s voice couldn’t help sounding anguished and lyrics that fit under the term of “Fragile” or “Twisted,” and a pervasive feeling of doom (with several outbursts of partly cloudy pop rock) are your thing.
Last week I went to an advance screening at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) of Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life, a new film about the short, creative, and ultimately kinda sad life of songwriter/arranger Billy Strayhorn. "Strays" or "Sweet Pea" as his friends knew him was part, some would say most, of the brains behind Duke Ellington's success in the forties and fifties. The film will be shown on PBS around the country in February.
Show me a music writer who has no guilty pleasures and I’ll show you someone you don’t need to waste time reading. Anyone with passion for music, which is what drives you to try to put what you hear into words, has a brain studded with funny little weaknesses. Many is the music writer who has a Bobby Sherman record stashed somewhere. I have a friend, a blues nut extraordinaire, who one dark night admitted to me under the influence of single malt that he “had a few Beatles albums” hidden away under his bed like girly magazines. And then of course there’s always the issue of hipness overload. No one can be cutting edge all the time. There are times when you just want to hear Hall & Oates or Karen Carpenter’s dusky tones and you don’t care who knows. I like Grizzly Bear fine for example, but sometimes you just gotta give in, shed that uber skin and dive headlong into some accessibleashell Whiz.
Today Kurt Cobain would have been 40. Seems like yesterday when we were seeing that searing image of his suicide: the photo taken in the room where he died, of his Converse All Stars, still on his feet, sticking out from behind a piece of furniture.
From Stereophile writer Fred Mills:
Tom Waits tickets for the August 2nd show at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in Asheville, NC sold out in 15 minutes. Waits publicist Tresa Redburn tells me the Atlanta date sold out in less than half hour.
"Yours truly was on-line hacking away at the Ticketmaster site," Mills said today, taking a break from pressure washing moss from the roof of his home in Asheville.
He also mentioned that a pair of tickets for the Chicago show went on eBay and someone who couldn’t wait for the auction, used the "Buy Now" function and bought them for $1500.00. I scanned eBay and found a pair of 4th row seats for the Asheville gig going for $549.00. A pair for the last date, in Akron, Ohio, are being offered for $450.00. In Akron, Ohio!!! This despite measures to limit scalping and reselling. And the fact that he rarely if ever these days dips back into the Asylumera material that everyone loves.
The best part about this eight date mini-tour of the South and Midwest is that he’s playing great old theatres, most of which have great acoustics. Here's the list: read it and weep, `cause these tickets be long gone. Or silly expensive.
Tues, Aug 1 Atlanta, GA Tabernacle
Wed, Aug 2 Asheville, NC Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
Fri, Aug 4 Memphis, TN Orpheum Theatre
Sat, Aug 5 Nashville, TN Ryman Auditorium
Mon, Aug 7 Louisville, KY Palace Theatre
Wed, Aug 9 Chicago, IL Auditorium Theatre
Fri, Aug 11 Detroit, MI Opera House
Sun, Aug 13 Akron, OH Akron Civic
To those who don't get the whole Waits cult, all I have to say is, something's happening somewhere with this guy. Few artists, in any genre, at any time, are able to sell out tickets, quite this fast.
Late on Saturday, the last night of SXSW, I somehow ended up having a pint with a mixed party of American and British band members, only one of whom I knew previously, when suddenly the subject of the British government’s support of the arts came up. Seems these four young lads, and their frontwomanone stunning fulfillment of my perky blonde English chick singer fantasy (oh my)hadn’t used their money to come all the way to Texas. No, the government had picked up the tab. The fact that they were vaguely ashamedbecause being on the dole is unhip and kind of the opposite of DIYtold me it was true.
Call it “Hollywood Alcoholism,” meaning it’s not Requiem for a Dream, that chilling and incredibly visceral film depiction of addiction, but the more common cut and dried varietyhe came, he drank, he fucked up, he had an epiphany and of course, he cleaned up after one neat and tidy trip to the Zen rehab clinic. Having seen Townes Van Zandt and more than a few other musical substance abusers when they were riding high (which is really riding low, if you know what I mean), things just ain’t this a way. Hollywood’s way is to show addiction without any of the struggle. Oh sure, he threw up, sort of, once or twice but hell, I remember seeing Townes fall off a stage that was four inches high, and then he couldn’t get up. When I pitched in to help, the man clearly had not showered in quite some time. He’d been bingeing and playing one nighters, which is where Crazy Heart starts out.
How great was it to hear all the music at the inaugural. Maybe music and the arts will once again be valued in the country. Maybe someone else than right wing country singers can get a tune in edgewise.
“Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round
They sing "I'm in love. What's that song?
I'm in love with that song."
(from “Alex Chilton” by The Replacements)
My five month old cell phone fried itself dead. Traffic in downtown Austin crawled inch by inch. A friend, who called himself a “capitalist,” called long distance to tell me Obama’s health plan was going to bankrupt the country. But all of that paled in comparison to the strange news that on the first night of South By Southwest 2010, the great Alex Chilton had died just before leaving New Orleans to come to Austin to play a Big Star reunion. Or as the more cynical among us had it, another Big Star reunion.
Even better than the STAX museum in Memphis however, is the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. I had friends in Nashville give me the whole rap about… “You don’t have to even know the music to love the museum”…to which I rolled my eyes, but it’s actually true. The CMH integrates music so beautifully in the museum. It could be an utter disaster in there musically, with listening stations bleeding into each other until it’s just a cacophony of noise. But through the intelligent uses of curled Nautilus shell shaped listening booths that control the sound yet still allow the listener to hear what they’ve chosen, the CMH is a model of keeping the music nearby yet allowing folks to look at cases of artifacts and talk among themselves without being blown out by music playing.