Sorry, We're Closed

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Haunted by a Pink Moon

Maybe it's the time of the year...October and November move to a soundtrack of rustling leaves and howling winds, a panorama of early sunsets, the harvest, and its aftertaste of impending winter.

Nick Drake is perfect music for the autumn.

On his first two albums, 1969's Five Leaves Left and 1971's Bryter Layter, Drake and producer Joe Boyd crafted Drake's soft, murmuring vocals and blues and folk-influenced guitar picking with arrangements ranging from baroque and classical to country, folk-rock, and even R&B.

His third album, 1973's stark and emotionally raw Pink Moon, is vocal and acoustic guitar only, save for a short piano overdub on one song.

Drake died of an accidental overdose of antidepressants in 1974, and since then his stature has grown. Underappreciated in his lifetime, he has become more well known in the intervening three decades.

I find all three of his discs to be essential, and I believe that over time Nick Drake will be viewed on par with Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. And maybe on an even higher plane.

We listen to Nick Drake a lot around here, especially this time of year, but in the last 24 hours, things have gotten ridiculous.

Late yesterday afternoon I came across a story that a 331/3 book on Pink Moon is to be released.

Then at about 4:15 this morning, "Three Hours," a haunting, eastern-influenced number from Five Leaves Left, began to play from a portable CD machine in our living room. We had obviously left the player on, but didn't have that song cued up or on "pause." Both Cecilia and I woke up and simply stared at each other in a mix of puzzlement and wonder. How in hell...?

Then, today at lunch, "One of These Things First," from Bryter Layter, emanated from the sound system at the restaurant.

A Halloween ghost? The spirit of Nick invading the consciousness of two of his followers? The whipping leaves and branches of fruit trees serving to remind us of the cost of living one's life purely for art?

Or just a lot of silly coincidences?

Okay, then. Being a writer, and therefore oversensitive to such things, I saw these events as an instruction to share some Nick Drake. Who the heck am I to turn down such a command?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tom Dawes, 1944-2007

Got back into town today to sad news; Tom Dawes, bass player and singer from the Cyrkle, has died at age 63 due to complications from heart surgery.

Most music fans naturally know the Cyrkle from their huge 1966 hit "Red Rubber Ball," written by Paul Simon along with Bruce Woodley of the Seekers. In my opinion, it's one of their worst songs, with its strained metaphors and bad modulation in the last verse. I prefer their follow-up hit, "Turn-Down Day," featuring a sitar riff, breezy harmonies, and goofy pub piano.

The Cyrkle did at least 20 top-flight mid-60s pop songs over the course of two albums, a rare and interesting soft-core porno film soundtrack LP (The Minx), and several more singles. Dawes, guitarist Don Danneman, and drummer Marty Fried played together from their college days in the early 60s through 1967, when Dawes left to become a jingle writer. You may know some of his work: he wrote "Plop-plop fizz-fizz" for Alka Seltzer, "Coke Is It," and "We're American Airlines, doing what we do best."

Dannemann and Fried hung around to make a couple of final Cyrkle tracks before finally splitting the band in mid '68. Dannemann went into jingles as well (he wrote the first 7Up "Uncola" pitch), while Fried eventually ended up a lawyer.

The group's two Columbia albums, Red Rubber Ball and Neon, are recommended for fans of mid-60s pop. They were never a hard rock band, but had some aggressive songs along with their harmonic, melodic, rhythmically interesting work. John Simon was a fine producer and helped arrange their songs to be their best. Keyboardist Michael Losekamp joined the group for Neon and contributed a classy vocal to the excellent "The Visit (She Was Here)."

But in tribute to Tom Dawes, I'm going to post a song he sang and wrote, the leadoff track of Neon. A cool fusion of girl-group rhythm, Beatles songcraft, innovative 1967 production, and Four Seasons/Beach Boys harmony, "Don't Cry, No Fears, No Tears Coming Your Way" is about as good as mid-60s pop gets.

I offer my condolences to the friends and family of Tom Dawes. I always hoped for a Cyrkle reunion, but at least the records are still out there. Rest in peace, sir.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You Cannot Be (World) Serious

The Boston Red Sox pounded the stuffing out of the Colorado Rockies 13-1 on Wednesday night at Fenway Park to take a one-game to none lead in the 2007 World Series.

The game wasn't close from the get-go, as the Bosox scored three in the bottom of the first off Colorado's Jeff Francis, and Red Sox righty Josh Beckett handcuffed his opponents over seven solid innings.

Given that the Rockies gave up the ghost about 12 minutes in, the suspense in the game came from wondering what moronic thing FOX announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver would say next.

In the first inning, when the Red Sox were scoring their first three runs, Joe and Tim stated that everything Francis was throwing was "up"--even as a freeze-frame showed J.D. Drew hitting a pitch at his knees. In fact, the Red Sox' big hits in the first came on pitches low in the strike zone. They just happen to hit those pitches well. I'm not sure what game these guys were watching.

During the last of the third, Boston's Julio Lugo bunted for a hit. McCarver used this opportunity to teach all of us some of the 3,000-year-old wisdom about baseball he apparently inherited with his first jockstrap, noting that it’s a good play to bunt with two out if you have speed, but if you’re slow, bunting for a hit with two out is a bad play.


Did he mean that slow guys shouldn't bunt for hits? If I were in a charitable mood, I might give Tim the benefit of the doubt on this one, since it's something any four-year-old might agree with. But since he was talking expressly about bunting with two out, I have a sinking feeling he meant that even if you get a hit, it's a bad play.

See, I've always thought the point of baseball was to get men on base. In addition to improving your chances to, er, score runs, it makes the opposing pitcher throw more pitches. Why worry about how fast your baserunners are? A slow baserunner is better than no baserunner, isn’t it? I swear, McCarver’s unquestioned, uncritical blather is so ossified it might as well have been written by Hammurabi.

During the top of the fourth, FOX treated us to a brilliant interview with Red Sox manager Terry Francona. We viewers missed most of Todd Helton's double to left because FOX felt a pathological need to remind us that Terry Francona was talking to us from the dugout, answering some dumb question about how he and Dustin Pedroia play cribbage. How many times have we already heard that stupid story this post-season? Who plays cribbage?

Shortly afterward Buck chose to lionize Todd Helton. It wasn't one of Joe's good nights; he claimed that 1) Helton was “just as good” on the road as in Coors Field in his prime (which is false and easily disprovable) and that 2) Helton is “just as good” now as he was back then. THis is also both false and disprovable. Helton doesn’t need you to obfuscate for him, Joe. He’s a terrific hitter.

In the top of the sixth, McCarver, obviously saving up to try and match Joe's level of analysis, commented that you can tell the Rockies pitchers have been affected by the eight-game layoff after the NLCS because of their long counts and falling behind hitters, but that you can’t state that Rockies hitters are affected by the layoff because Beckett is throwing such a good game.

This is the traditional baseball mentality—that hitting is incidental, that pitching defines everything. Isn’t it just as likely that the Red Sox hitters are just better than the Rockies’ pitchers, and that the Rockies’ hitters aren’t taking a good approach against Beckett? The FOX boys have been constantly reminding us how Boston outscored Cleveland 30-5 in the last three ALCS games; doesn't this mean that their offense is just good, regardless of Colorado's pitching staff?

I could go on, but thinking about how mediocre and paper-thin the level of analysis we're getting is making me seriously consider turning the sound down for Game Two and listening to Jon Miller and Joe Morgan on ESPN Radio. And it takes a lot to lead me down that path.

I've written about this before, but we deserve better broadcasts--and broadcasters--for the World Series, dammit.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Colbert Retort

Stephen Colbert's announcement that he's running for President--but only in South Carolina and as both a Dem and a Rep--gives me the inspiration to write about him, which I've never done before.

In short, I don't get it.

Jon Stewart I understand. He's mocking people in power and occasionally tries to give viewers the real goods--he'll interview writers, politicians, etc. and trying to get to some point that most mainstream media morons don't have the time, guts, or intelligence to ask. Good on ya.

But Colbert...he's just playing a mean-spirited caricature that I don't find fun or edifying. What's left once you've sorted your way through the meta-concept? What separates watching him from watching sewage like Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly? That it's all supposed to be some kind of a joke? I'm not laughing, anyway.

Maybe it's that I personally find it useless to watch a show so expertly parodying, or is that parroting, mean-spirited right-wing bigots. Don't we have enough of them in power right now? And it's supposed to be must-watch TV because it's all a joke?

This is hard to say, because I know someone who works on the show, but the inside-jokiness of Colbert, the tail chasing its own tail, just drives me batty. People love the guy,'d better count me out. I guess on a basic level, I don't feel a need to watch a parody of something I'd never watch in real life--especially if that thing is so harsh and hectoring.


Friday, October 12, 2007

More from Trizo 50

My more avid readers may already be aware of my fondness for obscure early 70s Missouri power-pop combo Trizo 50. Allow me to share with you another song from their unspeakably rare 1974 album (of which fewer than 100 were printed, and far fewer than that still exist).

No need to share the entire (though riveting) Trizo 50 story with you's book-worthy, and I intend to write that book.

But a few important points...this music was made by five young men in a very small town on inexpensive equipment light years from the big city, in a time before MTV, home computers, or even widespread FM rock radio..they had digested the music of the 1960s and were enjoying the music of the early 70s, but had none of the big-city wherewithal to push their work toward the greater universe.

Basically, these guys were playing their form of rock and roll in an almost complete vacuum. Using baby powder for smoke-bomb effects, and wearing platform shoes, wild hairdos, and pink satin suits, their stages were either high school gyms or flatbed trucks in a cornfield.

I don't want to give you the wrong idea with that somewhat comic image. These guys were an incredibly diverse and varied combo--they had four singer/songwriters in the group, and the wide range of material is literally stunning. They recorded enough songs in the winter of 1973-74 for several good albums. Their original album has never been re-released, but German label World in Sound put out a compilation of some of the LP plus some unreleased things. (The website won't let me link directly to the Trizo 50 page, but look under 'LPs.')

If there's any justice, someday the original Trizo 50 LP will be reissued. I do have a copy of all of the songs, but refuse to throw them out on the Internet for nothing as many of my contemporaries do with similar obscure material.

Maybe I'm just too old for the present "share everything, because information just wants to be free" gestalt, which strikes me as a load of crap. Sure, the music industry is criminal, and it doesn't serve the artist, and it needs to be completely changed. But stealing music hurts the artist, too, especially the obscure and fringe ones. And not all record labels are run by evil people. In fact, the small ones are run by folks who truly love music and do this because they want their artists to be heard.

Additionally, as a writer who makes my living from my work, I don't believe that "information" wants to be free. Stealing songs, or putting books up on Google Book Search, for example, is simply a justification for 1) satisfying your music addiction without paying for it or 2) yourself making money off other peoples' work without compensating them.

Why should art or music be free when you have to pay for everything else? Secretaries, gas company inspectors, insurance agents, cops, etc. aren't expected to work for free, so why should artists? People who create thing shave a right--in their lifetimes, anyway--to make a living from their work. So I don't believe in just giving music out to the whole world for nothing. (Would you give out your work product for free? I didn't think so.)

But one of the things I love to do on this blog is to share music in hopes that you like it (or that you don't--a strong reaction of some kind is always better than a yawn.) I'm happy to share this terrific song with you. It's sweet and romantic and its innocent sophistication puts it either years ahead or years behind its time. Thanks for reading, and peace.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Florence Yoo...

I've known Florence since high school. Not even sure how we met, but I recall several things about her....

First, she was quite diminutive. Probably close to a foot shorter than I was at the time. But that didn't seem to freak her out, and we got on famously.

Second, she rode a motorcycle.

Third, she played electric bass.

Suffice it to say that qualities two and three alone made her one of the coolest people at our high school, and her personality and warm acceptance of people made her one of the folks I held closest--even at a time when I seemed constitutionally unable to hang on to the people I cared about. Plus, we could jam on "Mongoloid" by Devo or the Ramones' "Blitzkreig Bop."

Anyhow, after a year or two after high school ended, I began to lose touch with Florence. (She wasn't the only one.) She went down to Champaign for college, I stayed in Chicago. But a few years ago, we re-entered each others' orbits, probably through the Web. I was happy, but not too shocked, to find that she was a recording artist living in New York City. (Here she is on the right, with bassist Julia Cho on the left.)

She has self-financed and self-released two CDs of her music, one in 1998 (In My Mind I Am 5'9") and the most recent, Indelible, in 2003. While a confirmed lover of New York, she returned to Chicago to record much of the material on both CDs working with Dave Budrys at Early Recording.

So what does Florence's music sound like? It's sort of indie-rock, guitar-based but spiced with instruments played by various friends--flute, accordion, rippling electric guitar leads. Her songs are alternately funny and touching, spoken and sung, personal and universal. And always framed by love. On Indelible, she includes short bits about her family, a lousy band in her building that wouldn't stop playing (the atypical "Shut Up! You Suck!"), and even an outgoing answering machine message.

I hope you enjoy "I Always Hoped That You Loved Me," uploaded for your listening pleasure at the bottom of this entry. You can find out more about Florence and her work by clicking on the link to her website on the right of this page...or better yet, go to CDBaby and buy one of her CDs and give a deserving, hard-working artist some support.

Thanks for reading. Peace.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

October 6, 1995

Hace doce años de hoy, mi suegra muerta.
La falto.