Sorry, We're Closed

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In Memory of Paul D'Alton

Word has reached this outpost that Paul D'Alton, drummer with the Patron Saints in 1969, has passed away.

Mr. D'Alton was behind the drum kit for the Patron Saints' incomparable album
Fohhoh Bohob, a record made by three excited and motivated teenagers at the D'Alton's house in July 1969, right around the time of the first moon landing.

Fohhoh Bohob travels in its own independent, self-created universe, with a sort of folk-psychedelic style which Eric Bergman, PS bass player and composer, notes was somewhat influenced by British R&B, Love's Forever Changes, and The Who Sell Out.

Multicolored bees carrying traces of folk, vaudeville, straight pop, and acid rock swoop down at various points to pollinate the album's nine songs, which have an astounding lyrical maturity in their explorations of love, loss, the beauty of nature, and the joy of being high...high in many different ways.

Composers Bergman and the late Jonathan Tuttle, and D'Alton, captured a timeless feeling with this album, and
Fohhoh Bohob always gives me a sense of what it must have felt like to be 17 in the summer of 1969, when men were about to walk on the moon, the formerly pathetic New York Mets (!) were winning, men wore flowered shirts, and the Beatles still seemed, to most of the world, to be completely together.

That doesn't mean everything was candy and balloons. Some of the album's songs confronted emotional instability head-on, and the teenage love affairs the band lived were often painful. The war and racial issues were never far from anyone's mind at the time, and the recent death of Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones had hit the Patron Saints hard.

The album itself, balancing gloom and joy, folk and rock, electric guitars and autoharps, is completely singular. That
Fohhoh Bohob, pressed by the band itself in just 100 copies, gained no notoriety at the time is sad. But the whole world can hear it now. Remaining in thrall to the ever-thrilling power of music, I point you humbly to Eric Bergman's site if you wish to learn more.

This song, Eric Bergman's "White Light," ends side one of
Bohob. It is posted in memory of both Paul D'Alton and Jonathan Tuttle.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Larry Epke, Whom I Miss So Much

My friend Larry Epke died a couple of weeks ago at age 57 of a sudden, massive heart attack while visiting family in St. Louis. I’ve been carrying him around in my mind ever since.

Larry and I met about 20 years ago through a baseball project for which we both volunteered. We soon found out that while we both loved baseball, we had more in common, including politics, alternative culture, music, and food.

Back then, Larry was a grain inspector for General Mills. He’d gone to Bowling Green University, where they had a great popular culture department and library, and had graduated from high school in 1969. He’d traveled around the country, working in New Orleans and in the Pacific Northwest, and I was amazed by how much he knew about so many things. He was a pack rat, though a very organized one.

I came to see Larry as a mentor. He remembered things; he processed history and understood it and he was savvy. He introduced me to so much: Terry Riley, Stephen Scott, Brian Eno, the MC5, Sun Ra, Pogo, Jack Kerouac…he was a huge fan of the Velvet Underground, Howlin’ Wolf, beatnik jazz and early-1900s hillbilly music, alternative comics, baseball history, 78 RPM records, and 60s garage-punk. He went to the first WOMAD festival and told me all about a great singer he’d seen named Sheila Chandra.

We shared Indian buffet, Chinese dinners (he found the good restaurants in Chinatown), took the occasional road trip, saw concerts, and went to ballgames, baseball research conferences, and record and book sales. In short, we hung around, although never as often as I would have liked; he lived in the far south suburbs and I way up north by Evanston.

Larry also taught me that you could have a wide set of interests and still be amazingly normal. He was fairly quiet, a wine drinker rather than a beer drinker, almost radical politically but with smarts, empathy, and a great sense of humor. He still loved the Cleveland Indians after all these years.

Many times he came to see bands I played with. We met downtown for lunch. He often commented in this blog, and he read the books I wrote and shared feedback on them. His friendship was precious in so many ways.

Given the depth and breadth of his somewhat unusual interests—alternative culture, music, politics, food, baseball ephemera—it’s surprising to note just how normal he was. Larry was the most well adjusted guy I have ever met; he worked for the CHA, where his colleagues adored him. Kids liked him; even my wife, sometimes a tough sell (especially when music geeks are concerned), thought that he was pretty damn cool. There were no skeletons in his closet…there were, however, plenty of CDs and magazines stuffed in there.

He and his wife Diane lived in a lovely split-level house in Richton Park. Diane had been married before the two of them met, and had three children. Larry was very proud of his stepchildren and talked about them often. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting his stepson Micah and his wife Laura. They’re great people, and Diane is a sweetheart. It hurts that they’ve lost someone who was so important to them. Larry was way too young to go.

Two nights ago, I dreamed that Larry was alive. He had written a successful book and was starring in a reality TV series (and for Larry, that would have been the most ridiculous notion in the world). My reaction in the dream is that I was angry that he hadn’t told me about all these wild things he was doing. Plus, I said, annoyed, “I thought you were gone. How can you still be here when you’re dead?”

“I’m not gone. I’m still here,” he said, with the beatific, kind smile that he always shared whenever he saw the humor in something.

The way I’m getting through him being gone is by believing that he’s still here. And I guess that keeping someone who you cared about in your thoughts, memories, and dreams is the best that a person can do.

We all have regrets. One of mine is not seeing Uncle Lar for the last couple of months of his life. I sent a CD to him that didn’t reach him until a few days after he had passed, and even that little thing hurts terribly.

I never told you how much I loved and admired you, Larry, but I did. I do. Hang loose up there; maybe you’re hanging out with some of the people you admired: Abbie Hoffman, Sterling Morrison, Lester Bangs, Jack Kerouac, Bessie Smith, Walt Kelly, Lennon, Janis, Larry Doby…

They’re all lucky. We miss you terribly down here. I miss you terribly down here.

Peace, brother. Thank you for so much...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Some Sort of Placeholder

Haven't written much lately. But to possibly start some conversation, here's a list I did awhile ago of my 40 favorite albums.

There are a few missing plates from this dinette set--The Cryan' Shames' A Scratch in the Sky, Pet Sounds, Repercussion by the dB's, Dylan's Bringing it All Back Home, Skylarking by XTC--but I'm pretty comfortable with this list.

In alphabetical order:

*The Beach Boys, Friends, 1968. Anyone who doubts the healing power of music can start here.

*With the Beatles, 1963. Awe-inspring in its energy, songcraft, and performance.

*The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, 1964. Sees them at some sort of peak; 13 fabulous original songs, not a clunker among 'em.

*The Beatles, Revolver, 1966. Just the greatest record by the greatest band.

*The Beatles (White Album), 1968. Sprawling and flawed as hell, but amazing nonetheless.

*Bee Gees 1st, 1967. Baroque pop perfection. The confidence and vision are still astounding.

*Big Star, #1 Record, 1972. A nearly perfect pop-rock album.

*The Byrds, Younger Than Yesterday, 1967. In early 1967 the Byrds were the only act that could look the Beatles in the eye without having to blink.

*The Byrds, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, 1968. While crumbling, the band left one last magical artifact.

*Can, Soundtracks, 1970. It has "Mother Sky," and the rest of it is almost as great.

*Sheila Chandra, ABoneCroneDrone, 1996. Nobody has ever figured out how to make a more psychedelic sound than Sheila Chandra and Steve Coe.

*Charlatans UK, Some Friendly, 1990. Takes familiar ingredients and makes something new and vital.

*Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Get Happy!! 1980. Nothing has ever sounded like this.

*Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Imperial Bedroom, 1982. Some of his best songs are here, and certainly his best production and arrangement.

*Miles Davis, In a Silent Way, 1969. The sound of great musicians exploring the very concepts they hold so dear.

*Nick Drake, Bryter Layter, 1970. Any one of his three albums could have gone on this list; tomorrow my pick might change.

*Green (1st album), 1985. The best album to come from my favorite city in the world. All hail Jeff Lescher.

*Herbie Hancock, Blow-Up (soundtrack), 1967. Sure, it's swinging and cool, but it also features lovely shards of melody and great playing by musicians stretching themselves into all directions.

*Juanes, Mi Sangre, 2004. He's the last rock star the world will ever need. Witty, talented, and a hell of a musician.

*John Lennon, Imagine, 1971. The groom stripped bare by his bachelors, even. As harrowing in its own way as Plastic Ono Band.

*The Kinks, Face to Face, 1966. I wish they'd have had better production, but that's my only regret.

*Love, Forever Changes, 1967. As a last will and testament, it's pretty damn convincing. Some of the most beautiful arrangements ever.

*Orange Juice, You Can't Hide Your Love Forever, 1982. If punk had only led to this one album, it would have been worth it.

*The Patron Saints, Fohhoh Bohob, 1969. Homemade folk-psych that exists in its own glorious universe.

*Pink Floyd, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967. Syd Barrett laid it all out for us, going so far out he couldn’t come back.

*Pink Floyd, Meddle, 1971. Could be the best album of the 1970s. “Echoes” is beyond words.

*Public Image Limited, The Flowers of Romance, 1981. Nobody else I know likes this album, but I don't give a damn.

*R.E.M., Murmur, 1983. This is the American post-punk album; it has a mood all its own and continues to beguile.

*Terry Riley, A Rainbow in Curved Air, 1969. Swirling, adventurous, mind bending, full-on psychedelic. Somewhere between rock and roll, Indian music, and modern classical.

*Sade, Love Deluxe, 1992. Nothing has ever sounded like this, part II.

*Santana, Abraxas, 1970. The template by which all future genre-bending experiments should be matched.

*Seefeel, Quique, 1993. As weird as My Bloody Valentine and, for my money, more interesting.

*Spacemen 3, Recurring, 1991. An aural trip. Believe me, I know.

*Squeeze, East Side Story, 1980. At this time, they were the best songwriters with the best songs, best singing, and best playing.

*Steely Dan, Countdown to Ecstasy, 1973. For various reasons, their most human record; the songs and performance are stunners.

*Thievery Corporation, The Outernational Sound, 2004. They're great DJs because they care about songs more than they care about beat-matching or other such b.s. They could have had at least one more CD on this list.

*Trizo 50, 1974. Incomparable American power-pop/glam/60s-inspired homemade rock.

*Various Artists, Excursions in Ambience, Volume 1, 1993. This nearly flawless album opened my mind to new ways of hearing music.

*The Velvet Underground (3rd album), 1969. Either mix of this superb album works its magic.

*Zeitgeist, Translate Slowly, 1995. Lo-fi production, hi-quality songs, superb band dynamic.