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.
In writing for magazines, there's a basic rule: Don't become the subject. And in writing about the arts, it's best to remember that you aren't in the music business or the film business: you're in the publishing business. Despite this, there are arts writers who fancy they're a part of the world they write about. All famous musicians are their "friends." The music business values their opinions. They're caught up in the delusion that the Rolling Stones sang about so deliciously in "Star Star," the closing number on Goats Head Soup.
Musicians whose careers were derailed by personal demons is a very old tale. Write about music and after a couple decades they all begin to have a similar ring: someone got addicted to something and began blowing off gigs, trashing friendships, and generally lying to themselves and everyone close to them. It usually doesn’t end well. And after they’re gone, “far too soon” (to use the usual bromide), everyone thinks about their own issues while tsk tsk’ing about what could have been done and how awash in self-loathing and focused on ending it all the deceased had eventually become.
Every once in awhile an old friend on this path turns it around and I’m very happy to say that my old friend from Tucson singer/songwriter Billy Sedlmayr has done just that. . .
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.
Let's face it: If you're one of those sedentary audiophilic types or you have a genetic disposition to growing pear-shaped later in life (genetic . . . right, that's it: nothing to do with couches or hooch), it's wise to adjust your fashion sense accordingly. And nothing says "portly gentleman in disguise" like a guayaberaa shirt that, I have just discovered, blues guitarist Bob Margolin and I both love. He even wears one on the cover of his new record, My Road.