Still on the road in Memphis. At the center of any music trip to Memphis is the odd but very telling juxtaposition of Graceland and the relatively new Stax museum. Elvis was always very up front about where his influences came fromblack blues and R&B, along with gospel music, both white and black, and Tin Pan Alley’ most of which is honored in the Stax museum. And for the record let me say that I will never understand how Memphis, THE big city for all the delta blues pioneers, not to mention the town’s subsequent musical history, B.B. King, Elvis, Alex Chilton, Ardent Studios, etc. took their eye off the ball and lost the Rock Hall (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) to the mistake by the lake. Such a pity. It would have given this town a triple threat of music tourism. Whoever was Mayor then, not to mention the city council, the local state legislators and oh yes, the fine guntotin’, God Afearin’ folks of the Tennessee delegation to Congress ought to be beaten.
Here's a weird one. I was recently going through CDs that sit on my shelves, in my collection so to speak, and for kicks I decided to check how much a random handful were worth on Amazon. Perhaps it's my naivet, but to my very great surprise, many were out of print. So let me get this straight, a business that needs catalog pieces right now as much as ever is allowing a significant portion of their holdings go out of print? Wow! I was at a party recently where I overheard this: "So do the big labels want to go out of business or is there another plan?"
"Cavalcade of merciless repetition," is how Jimmy Page described touring in the Sunday Times last week. I still say they're gonna tour but give them credit: they're being coy about being dragged into accepting all that cash.
One of the weirdest musical phenomena that I know of is the symbiotic relationship between really bad music, mostly classic rock schlock, played at maximum volume, and professional sporting events. I mean have you ever been to an NFL game where you didn’t hear Ozzy Osbourne’s "Crazy Train"? And let's not even discuss the NBA where the prospect of being exposed to more Kelly Clarkson or the All American Rejects keeps me from even thinking of attending.
Now that we're perched upon the precipice of the Simpson Movie opening—at least a decade too late—I, by chance, I caught the Hullabalooza episode with the Smashing Pumpkins this week, the one where Homer becomes part of the "pageant of the transmundane," by being shot in the stomach with a cannonball.
Just the other evening, a friend, coworker and fellow old record enthusiast, Brian Laboe, and I were saddled up at our neighborhood watering hole, sipping overpriced craft beer and talking about funk bands from the 70’s which happens to be a passion we share.
Reissues. Hey, I don't care who you are, everyone has a guilty pleasure that's now been reissued on CD, possibly with bonus goodies. What's gonna happen to reissues in the big, new, alldigital, alldownload, allthetime world is an easy one: listeners will do the same thing they do with new records, download the tracks they want and leave the lesser tracks as scraps. Funny how it's now possible to think of cuts of meat and record albums in the same breath: bites of choice flesh you eat surrounded by bone, fat and gristle you leave. It must make musicians feel real good to see their collection eviscerated in this way. You can say it serves them right for filling out albums with lesser tracks but then there's that creeping alchemy that happens upon further listening when some of the tracks deep into the record become essential. How many album tracks have you grown fond of after repeated listens versus those that jumped out at you the first time you dropped the needle or pressed play?
Seeing John Prine the other night on Governor’s Island with Stereophile's Stephen Mejias was a fairly profound experience, owing to Prine’s strange, elegiac tone. It may be that he wasn’t down with the venue (a windy island at night) or that he was simply tired (he looked it), but almost everything he sung, even the fun ones like, “Please Don’t Bury Me,” had an odd sadness clinging to it. I tried not to think about how Prine beat cancer back in 1998. The first time I saw him backstage after the cancer had been cut and radiated out of his throat, he cracked a smile and chirped, “Well Robert, this is what happens when you start smoking when you’re 14. What did I expect?” Thankfully his voice and his irascible disposition returned undiminished by the illness. He’s lost some tissue in his neck and his voice did indeed get a little growlier, but overall he was extremely lucky. I prefer to ascribe his lonely tone last Friday to the fact that he’s been singing some of those songs for 40 years and just decided to give them a different emotional bent in New York. Truly though I have never seen a Prine show that wasn’t laced with jokes, spot on wisecracks and sly references to the current world history. And never have I heard one of his signature songs “Donald and Lydia,” done so beautifully, its chorus lines turned into a near prayer:
“But dreaming just comes natural
Like the first breath from a baby,
Like sunshine feeding daisies,
Like the love hidden deep in your heart.”
Last week, I had the honor and the pleasure of interviewing Bill Frisell in front of an audiencein what’s called a “Jazz Conversation,”at this year’s edition of the Portland Jazz Festival. Held at the Art Bar in the Portland Center for the Performing Arts (PCPA), our chat was podcast by the Oregonmusicnews.com and can be heard here.
When Sound + Vision splashed Tom Petty’s still remarkably vital mug across a recent cover it caught my attention. Inside, across 12 pages, they basically anointed his new record Mojo, as disc of the year. So Petty’s blues record, one that was a long time comin’, is the best album of 2010? No offense to Mike Mettler and Ken Richardson, both of whom I consider friends, but the whole thing seemed like a stretch to me.
Many years ago, when all of the South by Southwest seminars and panels were located inside the Hyatt Hotel across Town Lake from downtown Austin, I tottered in from a long night of music and revelry, and stood waiting for one of the glass elevators that ran up and down one side of the hotel’s giant atrium. When the car arrived the doors swung open to reveal Mississippi blues piano player Pinetop Perkins who according to my math had to be in his early Eighties then, and who, with a mixture of teeth and gold in his mouth, was flanked by two beautiful and much younger white women luxuriously dressed in fur coats. Far be it from me to cast aspirations but these looked to me like working girls. The dapper Pinetop shot me the most mischievous grin you can imagine while slipping his arms around each woman’s waist.
One of the weirder NYC boozing trends as of late is the faux speakeasy. Yes, that would be a room, usually subterranean, that for some unknown reasonperhaps every other cheeseball concept has been exhaustedtries to recapture some of those long lost flavors of the salad days of that joyous time in American history called Prohibition. You remember that grand social experiment perpetrated by the far right of American society that like all right wing idiocies, ignored reality and plowed ahead regardless of the damage it might have caused. Instead of stopping alcoholism, it spread the making and distribution of booze into the hands of criminals who got fabulously rich and turned horribly violent. Give those regressive social engineering types credit though; they sure know a good idea when they see one.
To those who say the Bush Administration hasn't added anything meaningful to American society I say pshaw. He and Cheney have turned lying into an artform. Not lying exactly but a finer, more refined version of not telling the truth. It's still completely self-serving and wrong but now, if you have little or no education and/or sense of any kind, and you’re easily scared, these pronouncements sound vaguely plausible. It's all about the spin. The truth, in that view, is now relative. Everything is shaded and prismatic. Move several steps to the left and everything seems to look different. Looks like the truth. Sounds like the truth. There's a victory to be had in Iraq! Is it any wonder that we've become a more polarized society under the great decider.
It’s that kind of place. Despite it’s economic distress, the empty streets, the halfassed Bourbon Street mess that Beale Street has become (goddamned is it bad!), and what seems to be a full on crime wave in certain parts of town, in Memphis you cannot keep the music out of your head. It may be the wash over that comes from being so close to the Delta, but I couldn’t keep, “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohen or the words to one of John Hiatt’s greatest songs, (and that my friends is truly saying something because John Hiatt has written a shitload, okay, like 25 genuinely great songs) “Memphis in the Meantime” out of my head.
“If we could just get off a that beat little girl
Maybe we could find the groove
At least we can get a decent meal
Down at the rendezvous”
Needless to say, I wasn’t in town half an hour and I was at the Rendezvous (www.hogsfly.com), down in the basement as it were, wolfing down chopped chicken, pickles, big hunks of cheddar cheese, cole slaw with vinegar and cumin, sweet tea, fries, red beans and rice (laced with sliced mushrooms?) and the best ribs I have ever tasted. The best. All covered in that secret shake mixture of spices that makes this place world famous. My God it was good. It’s so damned nice to find a “legendary” restaurant that actually lives up, or in this case exceeds its billing.