Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dirty Blonde: The Diaries of Courtney Love

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Dirty Blonde:The Diaries of Courtney Love Faber & Faber Hardcover: $35.00 When I first heard a book called Dirty Blonde by Courtney Love was about to be published, I thought “What will she say about the week Kurt died? About Marilyn Manson, Madonna, Trent Reznor, Billy Corgan? I bet she has a lot to say, well as long as she was sober when she wrote it. Hell, if she’s under the influence she’ll have a lot to say too.” But Dirty Blonde is not an autobiography, per se. It is a photo collage, a journal, a hodge-podge of notes, lists, drawings and photographs. It reminds us that grunge was the last underground music movement in America that was not chronicled instantly over the internet. I’d be interested to hear what a person who knows nothing about Ms. Love would say after picking up this book. There’s absolutely nothing linear in it and I wonder what opinion a stranger would have about the scribbled notes, lyrics and goals. "This broads insane!" might be a typical reaction. Lyrics to Celebrity Skin, Softer, Softest, Reasons To Be Beautiful, Sunset Marquis and other songs are interspersed throughout Dirty Blonde, along with such miscellaneous correspondence as a thank-you note from designer Marc Jacobs, a letter that Kurt and Courtney received from David Geffen after Francis Bean was born, and a letter from the Oregon Children’s Services Division concerning young reform school Courtney’s “theft and criminal mischief.”
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What gets lost and is not addressed much in any of the photos and scribbles in Dirty Blonde is the fact the Love, for all her faults and eccentricities, was one of the only prominent women covered by MTV and the mainstream media to consistently champion lives of young girls and women during the ‘90s. There were, of course, lesser known cult idols who always did so, but Courtney had a broader platform to express her opinions. She addressed certain situations in interviews and on her websites and message boards, such as counseling some groupies for Korn on self-esteem (see www.moonwashedrose ) and was very instrumental in teaching girls to be their own person and not simply adjuncts to men. This is particularly ironic because Courtney is always accused of simply piggybacking on Kurt’s success. But one of Courtney’s paths to fame was associating with other famous or talented people, male or female, even though she had the raw pluck to get to the top herself. She carried on this M.O. even after she become famous, even though it wasn’t really necessary for her to do so with such groupie like awe to stay famous. There’s that contradiction again. The photographs of Courtney in Dirty Blonde are very telling. She’s most interesting before the nose job. The issues of female beauty she touched upon with Pretty on the Inside, kinderwhore dresses, and Live Through This trumped the vacant, cross-eyed stare of her Celebrity Skin days. Courtney’s soulless Barbie doll plastic surgery look and the still seething timbre of her lyrics and music didn’t complement each other. Things got a little too schizoid, and it confused people. So was she a glamorous movie star or a rebellious dirty blonde? Was it even possible to do both simultaneously? I think the blowout after the New York drunk/stoned incidents in the Wendy’s and on the Letterman show fueled Courtney’s current trek to England to follow in the footsteps of her nemesis Madonna. Plus now we have Paris Hilton and panty less Britney, and they are in their 20s. A panty less broad in her 20s in silly and hot; a panty less broad in her 40s is just silly. For all her craziness, Courtney could mention such diverse topics as pop culture, history, Buddhism, yoga, and psychology in her music and interviews from the time she cavorted around the punk rock scene in ‘80s L.A. to the present. We don’t get that with role models for females in music now. Angelina Jolie is the only real female celebrity that can be admired for her dedication to these matters now, and often in a more selfless way than Courtney. The notes and snippets in Dirty Blonde make me wish Courtney would someday write a book in a linear, prose style. (She has said she will never write an autobiography.) But if she did, would the general public take it seriously? When a woman screams “Wax my anus!” and the quote is splayed along magazine pictures leading to said event, people tend to forget all her comments about Buddhism. While there is certainly room in one lifetime to be both a feminist icon and a nasty, out of control harridan, public perception only allows a woman to be branded for eternity as one or the other.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Stagger Lee Is Back by Steve Hooker-Real Rockabilly Is Back

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Steve Hooker
Stagger Lee Is Back
NV Records

Stagger Lee is Back is the latest solo offering from Steve Hooker, formerly of such bands as the Heat, the Shakers and Boz & the Bozmen. Stagger Lee is the real deal as far as current rockabilly is concerned, with 6 out of 8 tracks written by Hooker and sounding as hot and original as the ‘50s rockabilly that inspired it.

Steve handles guitar and voice, and along with drummer Eddie and bassist Terry, the sound is authentic rockabilly all the way around. Steve’s old bandmate Boz Boorer plays a soulful acoustic guitar on Black Train, White City and shaker on Swamp Trick. From the title cut, a fast-paced instrumental to the bluesy stroll of Black Train, White City, to the jaunty, sexy beat of Girl That Radiates That Charm, every song is a good time. There are no downers on this CD.

The full-on force of Hooker’s guitar can make even the most timid of wallflowers take to the dance floor. Stagger Lee Is Back is full of tasty guitar riffs buoyed on by solid production. Although the highlight here is on the guitar, the vocals provided by Hooker are quite commanding. Of course, he’s had a lot of experience in this sort of thing. Check out a copy of Boogie Chal, the compilation of Steve’s rare and unreleased work from 1985 to 1997 if you haven’t already.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Youth Brigade- DIY Punk Then & Now

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Youth Brigade, one of the most enduring bands to emerge from the punk explosion of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, is also one of the most underrated. They’re not mentioned much except by punk purists, but they are among the most prolific DIY outfits of the past 26 years. Brothers Mark (drums), Shawn (guitar/vocals) and Adam Stern (bass/vocals) formed the band in 1980. During the band's formative stages, they encounterd several of the touchstones of that era, including the Skinhead Manor (the infamous Hollywood mansion rented by punks), police disrupting a show at the Elks Lodge, and several other old-school venues like Troupers Hall and the Ukrainian Hall.
In 1982, Shawn and Mark formed BYO Records (Better Youth Organization), an ambitious concept that encompassed a record label, show promotion (at Godzilla’s Nightclub on San Fernando Road) and even the band’s artwork was strictly DIY. “My brother Mark did all the artwork for the label,” Shawn recalls, “He started doing it by hand. He’s not an illustrator but he’d get a lot of pictures from people. We used a lot of offset stuff in the early days.” For those unacquainted with YB’s music, 1998’s Out Of Print is a good starting point. A polished version of the group’s lauded 1982 album Sound And Fury, the reconstituted Out of Print contains four additional tracks, including a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s Questions. The brothers scrapped he original Sound and Fury after the first 800 copies were sold, ostensibly because of poor production, and recorded another, shorter version of the album. After the band reformed in the early ‘90s, the Sterns compiled Out Of Print, a spruced up version of Sound And Fury. Along with Sink with Kalifornia ('84), the album bristles with the requisite anger and a unique oi/hardcore sound. The themes, like most ‘80s hardcore, involve Reagan, the government, pointless suburban existence, but Youth Brigade, unlike some of their peers offer salient, ultimately hopeful lyrics. In 1982, filmmakers Peter Stuart and Adam Small followed Youth Brigade and Social Distortion as the bands toured the U.S. in a dilapidated school bus. Between the bus breakdowns, penny-pinching club owners and road weariness, the film isolates a sliver of time when “punk rock” really was in the underground. The resulting documentary, Another State Of Mind chronicled the nitty-gritty reality of a rock band on the road. As the end of the decade approached, the brothers moved in different directions, personally and musically. The specter of “hair metal” had reared its Aqua-netted head, and punk rock was on the decline in L.A. “There was a situation around 86’ and ’87," Shawn remembers, “when the metal hair bands took over the Sunset Strip and the punk bands were either breaking up or moving in different directions. ”They keep trying to revive it (the metal scene). That scene did not age well. The bottom line is they don’t have anything to say. They have no message, just partying, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. That’s all well and good, but that’s not going to last over time. You’re not going to reach a new generation. Whereas punk rock, I think, has lasted for as long as it has because it really has something to say to kids." With the popularity of punk in L.A. on hold, Shawn toured Europe with the punk band That’s It, while Adam and Mark heralded the swing revival with their band Royal Crown Revue. After a chance meeting in Europe, the Sterns reformed Youth Brigade, playing shows in L.A. in the early ‘90s and recording several new albums, including Come Again and Happy Hour, toured again, taking advantage of the revived interest in pre-MTV punk bands, now warmly embraced because of the popularity of mainstream punk bands like Rancid and Greenday. Youth Brigade are still going strong a quarter-century after their inception. and they’ll be touring Japan with two of the younger bands on their BYO label, the Briefs and Last Target. BYO boasts several of today's most popular young "real" punk bands, like the Briefs and Throw Rag. “The Briefs,” says Shawn, “are the perfect example of a band that’s carrying on the spirit if the late ‘70s and early '80s with the skinny ties and glasses. They bring back the sound of bands like the Buzzcocks, Adverbs, Rezillos and the early L.A. punk band, and then Throw Rag is just hard to describe, sort of like punk meets swamp and blues and craziness with a washboard player and an amazing live show. Then we’ve got younger bands like Clit 45 and Global Threat that are just sort of mixing the early ‘77 spiky hair English sound with hardcore sound that has been more popular in the 90s.” Other BYO bands include Manic Hispanic, Pistol Grip and The Unseen. Filmmaker Jeff Alulis, who directed Do You Remember? Fifteen Years Of The Bouncing Souls is currently compiling a documentary for BYO's 25th anniversary in 2007. The film is slated for a December release Youth Brigade play the the Henry Fonda/Music Box Theater on Oct. 20th with Rancid. L: 

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Knitting Factory Show Recaps-Flipper,Stitches, Dwarves, etc.

Flipper 6/30/06

Way of the World (circa early ‘80s)

While punk rock in general was way underground in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Flipper had the dubious distinction of being on outsider in their own scene. Eschewing the generally faster than thou riffs and two minute songs of their peers, Flipper were the punk answer to a jam band. Their bluesy guitar and long, sludgy jams brought to mind early Stooges. Flipper also suffered indignities worthy of Spinal Tap, except according to an interview with Bruce Loose. “it was the bass player who died, not the drummer.”

To further complicate matters, the singer, Will Shatter, died of a heroin overdose in 1987. Flipper’s seminal first album, Generic is out of print and sells for as much as $80 on American Grafishy, an album recorded with uber-producer Rick Rubin in the early ‘90s, brought the band back to the public’s attention, but faded quickly.The surviving members of Flipper reunited in 2005 for a show at CBGBs, and performed again at the Knitting Factory this June.

Guitarist turned frontman Bruce Loose walked onstage with a cane, but this did not stop him from delivering a powerful performance. The band played with a vitality that practically shook the stage, proving that time and tragedy hasn’t dimmed Flipper’s power.

Of course, Bruce Loose couldn’t help but deliver some between song commentary on the recent court decision allowing police to search property without warrants. That mention may have been lost on some of the younger kids in attendance.

Stitches 6/30/06

Cars Of Today

Crusty old rock critics with anarchic grading systems, slick A and R executives, bitter failed musicians, these types are entrusted with the job of telling you what music is good. Don’t listen to ‘em.

Ya know who to listen to? 14 -16 year old kids-cool 14-16 year old kids, not exburbuan kids who buy My Chemical Romance shirts at Hot Topic. You have to ask the cool "misfit" kids what they're into. And a lot of them are into the Stitches.
Mosh pits at punk shows usually consist of sweaty, tattooed guys. However at this all-ages show, the pit during the Stitches show consisted of teenage kids, girls and boys alike. They moshed playfully, except for a mid-set altercation near the back of the club when nearly all eyes focused on the melee.

Stitches songs are fun to listen to anyway, but even more so when played live. No drunken shenanigans tonight, no skinheads getting bashed over the head with guitars or endangered kittens, but the show was fun nevertheless. The band ended their set when vocalist Mike Lohrman sang an acapella version Floozy Of The Neighborhood. As guitarist Johnny Witmer left the stage, he slapped electrical tape over Mike’s mouth.

Listen to those cool 14 year old kids. They know what’s good.

Dwarves 7/2/06

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Contrary to usual opinion, I believe if a band has dirty album covers, that’s a sign of innovation and integrity. (Well, except for the late, great Mentors.) Thus the Dwarves sound as good as they look, or as good as their album/CD covers look. The Dwarves began their Knitting Factory set with a clip from their new video for FEFU, which features a plethora of Suicide Girls alternately oogling and beating the shit out of our boys. Then the band blared onto stage in front of a packed floor of heathens, performing favorites like Salt Lake City, a gleeful pop-punk song which should have been an all-around radio hit. But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction with songs like FEFU and Fuck ‘Em All (notice a theme here?) The Dwarves formed in suburban Chicago in 1983 and eventually relocated to San Francisco. They were dropped from a record label, Sub Pop, no less, for too much joking around. Gotta admire that.

Guitarist He Who Could Not Be Named wore a Mexican wrestler mask and little else...don’t remember if we’ve ever seen his face but we occasionally see ..ummm.. other stuff. Vocalist Blag Dahlia is obnoxious as ever. Seems age has not calmed the Dwarves down too much. And, the sound was so loud it popped my summer allergy plugged ears back to normal. What doctors can’t cure, loud punk rock can…

Diffs 7/2/06

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“How old is that drummer?” someone shouted from the Knitting Factory floor shortly after the Diffs began playing
14, came the answer.
And Maxi Pad (aka Max Kuehn) can hit the drums, lemme tell ya.. this band has a lot of people talking, including the LA Times, LA Weekly and Punks Not Dead director Susan Dynner. Bassist/vocalist Paulene has that vintage Exene look and singer Rick Slick channels old-school punks like Darby and Lee Ving. These kids have more guts than a lot of bands twice their age.

VCR 7/02/06

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Three keyboards! What is a band with three keyboards and a fog machine doing at a punk rock show? Richmond, Virginia based VCR are more rock ‘n’ roll than punk and certainly not “hippies” like an errant audience member suggested. They are more like a fun bar band than a band with a mission that fits into a neatly boxed genre. Don’t let the keyboards scare you.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Punk Rock Demonstration-Grass Roots Punk Radio

In the mid-70s when punk bubbled up from the underground, radio was one of the last places to embrace it. Hell, "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" played more Pistols and pre-Heart Of Glass Blondie than your local FM station. Radio stations like WXRT in Chicago were exceptions to this rule, but it wasn't possible to hear "punk" on the radio til Nirvana, Greenday, Rancid, etc. made it acceptable.

Of course, the bands radio began playing in the mid-90s usually didn't include L.A. punk staples like X, the Adolescents, the Vandals, and the Circle Jerks. All these bands plus countless others are featured on Complete Control Radio with Joe Sib on Indie1031 from 8-10 pm Thursday. The show is sponsoring concerts at L.A.’s Knitting Factory this summer, so a weekend drive to Orange County will not be necessary to see live punk, at for a few months.

But younger fans are doing their own radio shows and podcasts, too. Following is an interview with Jack, host of Punk Rock Demonstration, an internet show which features the best of current releases and older punk at the (Click title link above for webpage.) Not surprisingly, Jack mentions Complete Control as one of the reasons he was drawn to punk rock.

JB--Tell me a little bit about your radio show,
Punk Rock Demonstration. Where can we hear it & how
long has it been on?

Jack-The Punk Rock Demonstration is a punk rock show that
features punk and punk rock from its early days to the
present. You can think of it as a demonstration of all
kinds of punk rock ranging from street punk to
hardcore punk to mainstream punk rock. You can hear it
by going to or go to
the website at and click
on the listen link. The first show aired shortly
before Christmas, 2005 and new shows have been airing
every week on Mondays 7PM PST.

JB-You play all kinds of music
from older bands like the Adolescents to newer bands
like The Attraction and the Briefs. What are some of
your favorite new bands/songs?

Jack- Some of my favorite new bands/ songs are:

Soul 4 Sale - Down And Out
Die Nakse Banannen - Bummer 98
The Filthy Thieving Bastards - Back Of His Hand
Craic Haus - Can't Get Used To It
Lost City Angels - Broken World
The Loved Ones - Jane
The Briggs - Song For Us
The Agitators - A Salute To All

just to name a few new artists and songs within the
past year.

JB- If you could put together one show featuring your favorite new bands (bands formed within the last 10 years, let's say) who would they be?

The Filthy Theiving Bastards
Die Nakse Bananen
Soul 4 Sale
The Adolescents
The Briggs
Clit 45
The R.O.U.S's
Time Again
Pistol Grip
The Cunts
The Street Dogs
The Bouncing Souls
The Pain
Vice Squad
The Agitators
Flatfoot 56
The Street Brats
The Unseen
Niblick Henbane
Dick Politic
Monster Squad
The Abuse
Damage Case
The Riverboat Gamblers
The Lawrence Arms
Complete Control
The Bloodclots
Brain Failure

and many many more... not including the bands that
were formed more than 10 years ago.

JB-You attended British Invasion 2K6 this year and
interviewed some of the bands who performed there.
What was that day like? Were you there when the
"riots" broke out?

Jack-Yes, I attended British Invasion 2K6 and interviewed
many of the bands. Everyone was excited and friendly
and the bands were excited to be there. Everything was
very orderly, calm, and happy. Some people approached
me and asked me a few questions about what I was doing
with a briefcase, but they were just curious and
didn't want to start anything.

I was actually interviewing dBd when the riots broke
out. I left dBd's dressing room and saw people on the
roof of the buildings along with people running
around, screaming, and many asking for help.

JB-When did you first know you were attracted to
punk rock music? What particular song or band first
piqued your interest?

Jack-I first knew I was attracted to punk rock music when I
heard the radio show Complete Control on Indie 103.1.
I've always liked punk rock, but I never knew it was
called punk rock until I stumbled upon that show.
There wasn't any one song that got me into punk rock,
but I would have to say was Rancid was the one that
caught my attention with Tim Armstrong's insane guitar

JB-What are your favorite bands to see live?

Jack-I haven't seen to many bands perform live, but the
ones that I have seen live, I'd say the Street Dogs,
Brain Failure, and Craic Haus puts on an awesome

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Punk's Not Dead: Interview with Director Susan Dynner

May 2006

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Susan Dynner and Charlie Harper (UK Subs)

Susan Dynner co-produced the film, Brick, winner of the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and studied film at the University of Wisconsin, but movies are not her first creative love. She revisits her first passion, punk rock, in her new documentary Punk’s Not Dead. Independently financed and filmed in bits and pieces over a four year period, Punk’s Not Dead features performances and interviews with dozens of bands, many of them from Dynner’s hometown of Washington, D.C. The film explores not only the history of punk, but also focuses on today’s punk and pop-punk bands. Punk’s Not Dead was recently screened at Cannes, with a special after-party appearance by the UK Subs, and its world premiere is slated for Silverdocs Film Festival in D.C. this June. I spoke with Ms. Dynner in L.A. recently about what inspired her to make Punk’s Not Dead.


Director Susan Dynner’s career began at an age when most teens are still figuring out what they want to be when they grow up. At 15, she started photographing punk shows in her hometown of Washington D.C. Did her parents give her a hard time about it? ”. “As long as I got good grades, they didn’t care. I got grounded a lot.” Dynner photographed and became friends with such bands such as Minor Threat, Fugazi and Bad Brains. The atmosphere was much more laid back in those days (early-mid ‘80s). “One day I went into the local record store where we’d buy all our punk albums. One of the bands had my photos on their album. I said to the store owner, who I knew, “I took that picture.” I was thrilled when a band wanted to use my photos.”

Dynner’s initial inspiration for Punk’s Not Dead occurred when she saw an ad for the Inland Invasion 25 Years of Punk Concert in 2003. The all-day show featured the Sex Pistols, the Distillers, the Damned, X, Pennywise and many other punk bands. Dynner was amazed at the magnitude of the event. “When I got there, I thought ‘How did it get so big and out of control ?’ The Buzzcocks, the Sex Pistols, the Offspring, who I love, and Bad Religion played, but also bands like Blink 182, which I thought was really weird. That’s when I got the idea (for the film.)”

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Deryk Whibley, (Sum 41) Photo Credit:Kevin Estrada

The mixture of old and new didn’t bode too well for some of the “pop-punk” bands on the bill that day, like Blink 182 and New Found Glory, who were soundly booed by many members of the capacity crowd. Why do so many of the so-called “pop-punk” bands get a bad rap?
“I don’t know why that is,” says Dynner, “I think it was just the wrong place for them.”
“They’re passionate about it. Who’s to say they’re not punk? Who am I to call what they’re doing is right or wrong?”

Of all the genres of music I listened to as a kid, as an adult I always keep coming back to punk, not heavy-metal, not new wave, or (God forbid) REO Speedwagon. When I mention this to Dynner, she says “I feel the same way. When it gets in you, it’s part of you, it was more than just the music part back then.”

Per new bands, “There are a lot of good ones out there. God Awfuls, Narcoleptic Youth, the Diffs. I started with them about a year ago. I’ve been following them for quite awhile. Their father was in TSOL (Greg Kuehn, dad to guitarist Elvis and drummer Max) “They were brought up with that music. They carry on (in) that mold.”

The credit list for Punk’s Not Dead runs the gamut from “Most of the people I wanted to interview I got to interview,” Among the bands and musicians featured are Henry Rollins, Black Flag, Peter and the Test Tube Babies, UK Subs, the Adicts, GBH, the Sex Pistols, the Vandals and the Vibrators, juxtaposed with radio-friendly bands like My Chemical Romance, Sum41 and Greenday. Dynner’s connections paid off as she got to interview all the bands she’d photographed over the years. One of the only disappointments was Joe Strummer, who passed away before his scheduled interview.

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Colin Abrahall (GBH) Photo Credit: Susan Dynner

While Punk’s Not Dead examines “underground” bands and haunts, it also focuses on certain aspects of “corporate punk” culture, such as that ubiquitous mall staple, Hot Topic. A member of one of the bands, (Dynner won’t reveal his identity), booed when the Hot Topic segment came on.
“Why’d you do that?” Dynner asked him.
“Cause my daughter spends all my money there!” the musician replied.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Confessions Of A Closet Madonna Fan

I stood in the winding line at the Forum before the first show of Madonna’s tour last week after doing the unthinkable. I crossed a picket line of displaced Forum workers. The venue’s owner apparently dismissed long-time workers in favor of minimum wage peons. The usual tale of American labor in the 21st century. However, I did heed their request not to buy concessions or souvenirs inside the Forum.

I’m not used to big concerts. My days of stadium shows for the likes of U2 and the Stones are long gone. I see all the gay gays and 40 year old housewives reliving their teen years and felt out of place. This wasn’t my usual punk rock crowd. Just before the show started, I called my cousin April who, like moi, has maintained a love/hate relationship with Madge all these years. I take my seat and have a nice conversation with a gay guy, discussing the dress rehearsal details pegged on the Madge fan sites.

We traded our first Madonna memories. He saw her Virgin tour, with the Beasties opening. “When did you first see her?” he asked me. My first Madonna memory featured some unnamed one shot TV dance show out of New York. She sat on a panel and had a short ratty ‘do, harlequin glasses and performed a song-Everybody, I think. The song wasn’t particularly good, but there was something about her.

The show began 45 minutes late. Madge appeared out of her $2 million Swarovski crystal disco ball in equestrian /domatrix gear, with buff male dancers writhing around in bits. In top hat and jodhpurs, Madge slaps a riding crop. Even though I liked Confessions On A Dance Floor, Madonna’s artistic pinnacle was 1998’s Ray Of Light. But Madonna’s worst song far outshines any current Carrie Underwood/Jessica Simpson flavour of the day tripe.

Madge can shake it for an old broad. Yep, that’s not a hologram bending and stretching on the dancers poles. With a whole t-shaped stage to traverse, the usual cast of dancers the show definitely, but then again Madge never was partial to rock ‘n’ roll. All Madonna’s stage shows have been highly choreographed extravaganzas rather than fan-friendly, spontaneous affairs. The Confessions show is 1/3 Cirque de Soilel, 1/3 Vegas, and 1/3 Studio 54. The capacity crowd loved it. Also, the next fat ass guy who slags Madonna is getting a kick in the balls, cause that woman is in shape. I don’t care what a c-word she is in real life, you’ve got to give her credit for maintaining her physique and performing a two hour stage show that would fatigue a person half her age. On the way out of the Forum, a fan in her early 20s raved in amazement. "I couldn’t believe how fit she was. She’s two years older than my Mom, and my Mom is in shape."

A break in the dance segments occurs when guest vocalist Isaac Sinwanhy played ram's horn and sang vocals on Drowned World and Paradise (Not For Me.) And she also performed Isaac, the song that got her in hot water with traditional Kaballists. Hey, at least she’s taking an interest in something other than faux BDSM. Remember Body Of Evidence?

For Like A Virgin, Maddie cavorts on a stripper pole/mechanical horse. She plays guitar on I love New York, Drowned World and Ray Of Light. As for the controversial crucifixion scene-bah! No one does a crucifixion like Marilyn Manson, and his cross was made of TV sets! Madge sings Live To Tell on a mirrored cross wearing a crown of thorns after a clip of African children dying of AIDS is played. Shortly after, another video, replete with images of political leaders appears. The words “Don’t Speak” are emblazoned on the screens along with Madge’s svelte, Pilates toned figure. I have a problem with some self-absorbed 47 year millionaire in a leotard interspersed with videos of Hitler, GW and Osama Bin Laden. Doesn't that seem a bit ludicrous ? But all good mega-celebrities need to have a “serious message” embedded in their show.

Best bet-the Disco Inferno/Music mash-up starring roller skating dancers Madge does a Saturday Night Fever impression in a sleeker version of John Travolta’s white suit from the movie.

I always seem to pine for Madonna’s cute but tarty past. The salsafied TV variety show moves of La Isla Bonita would have been fine if I didn’t have such fond memories of the original video. Personally, I figured I’d part with $165 to see the old ho just once. No way in hell I was coughing up $350 for floor seats for anybody, not even M. I figured it’s a thank you for 25 years of good pop songs that provided the soundtrack to my life. Well, save for that horrible American Life album. (My theory: she wrote all the lyrics for that one herself.)

Saving her best shot for last, Madge struts around in black leotard and humps a boom box for Lucky Star/Hung Up. Hung Up ends, gold mylar balloons drop from the ceiling and the houselights go on. No encores, no extended bye-buhs, but then again Madonna has never been a romantic.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ringleader of the Tormentors and My Short, Wacky Life As A Morrissey Fan

Yes, I know wacky and Morrissey aren’t supposed to appear in the same sentence. For years, oh, like 20 of them, I avoided becoming a full-fledged Morrissey fan-- and not because I didn’t like his music or his videos. When I read any article about the guy it really bothered me. Most journalists wrote about him with such heavy headed and didactic prose that it turned me off—or they dismissed him in a flippant, acerbic manner. So I listened to the music and avoided the hype.

If I happened to hear a Smiths or Moz song or see a TV appearance or video, I’d watch or listen, but I never made a point of it. I also glanced at every photo of him as I flipped through a mag to get to an article about, oh, Pearl Jam or the Cult (my bad), but never pursued him seriously. I did take a special interest in the Your Arsenal CD cover, however.

Last year, as penance for reviewing a Kelly Osbourne album, I decided I had to review two “smart” guys, so I choose Lou Reed and Morrissey DVDs to atone for my sin.
When I finally got around to viewing the Who Put The M In Manchester? DVD, I noticed that most of the song titles had more words than the lyrics to most hit songs. I also noted, after doing some research, that real people, like journalists, either love and beatify the man, or loathe him with or without any real knowledge of his work. But what about someone, like moi, who never considered the myth, but only the music and the haircut, for years? When finally confronting all this backstory, what questions and comments sprung to mind as a semi-clueless Moz fan watched the video?

“Ok what’s the deal with this guy? Is he celibate? Is he gay?”

“He’s not celibate. Poor guy probably said something in an interview when he was 22 and now everybody expects it him to be celibate.

“Who’s that? Jerry Vale?” a friend of mine asked, glancing at the computer screen as I watched the video.

“No. Enzo Stuarti.” I joked.

Actually, more like a combination of Sinatra, Elvis and Keats. And I found him incredibly sexy in a grown-up way. Excuse me, have you ever heard anything as hot or sexually charged as the second verse of “Jack The Ripper” Yeah, a guy who’s not interested in sex wrote that.

Also, I thought he had was funny as hell when he wasn’t being a lyrical genius and slightly off-key crooner.” Some of the most profound poetry is written by people with pervasive senses of humour.

The funniest bit, however, occurred when Moz mentioned someone named Julia.

“Julia… is that his wife?” I murmured, totally befuddled.” A few minutes later he mentioned someone named Manuel “Who’s Manuel? Is that his boyfriend?

Shortly thereafter, I scouted around, naturally to find out more details about Morrissey’s life and times and buy up, in one fell swoop, his entire back catalouge.

I happened upon a site called Morrissey-solo. It filled me in on history and then some, but sadly with more in-fighting and obscene name calling among boardees than Metal Sludge. Always seems to me that the board will post anything. If a Walmart cashier in Ames, Iowa, says he saw Moz buying pork rinds and lime Kool-Aid, they’ll print that as a news item. The fact-checking on the site news page is somewhat inconsistent.

Turned out the man himself referred to the Board as Solow and adopted another website, as his official (non-record company) site. The Julia mentioned above, as it turns out, was not his wife, but a rich fan who has attended most of Morrissey's live shows for years.

Brush With Greatness

You see, I’ve always liked the New York Dolls. The first rock band I ever liked fell in love with via Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert just as Moz did in England with Old Grey Whistle Test. I attended a screening of the Arthur Kane documentary New York Doll and I’m sitting there look a few rows in front of me and there it was --the back of his neck. Strangely enough, in the documentary “Importance of Being Morrissey” that’s what Linder Sterling said. “People see the back of his neck and they know it’s him.” I can vouch for that.

“Oh, God! It’s him! What am I gonna do?” Panic set in...

I had a crush on Moz for a week at this point. I’ve had to wait decades before getting close to some rock stars I’ve admired. I’m like “Oh yeah I really look like one of his fans, with my fluffed up yellow blonde hair and so much blush I looked like a piece of candy.” I’m not quite sure what I thought his female fans were supposed to look like. Goth librarians? Sylvia Plath wanna-bes? When the movie ended and everyone filed out. I took a quick look at Moz. Hope I wasn’t grinning like too big of an idiot. As I stepped down the stairs, I thought “Oh God, he’s walking down the stairs across from me at this very moment.” The longest five seconds of my life ensued. “Now you put one foot down on the step, then the other foot,” I coached myself. "Good, now do it again.”

Which brings us to present day. So like a kid, I was really looking forward to Ringleader Of The Tormentors, not knowing what really I was looking forward. Of course, many people were breathless with anticipation, proving that one problem with ardent fans of any entertainer is that they have unrealistic expectations. In many ways, there’s not that much of a difference between an artist’s worst enemies and their best fans.

The hype surrounding ROTT seemed a bit too perfect. The album was recorded in Rome with Tony (T-Rex, Bowie) Visconti producing. Moz found love in Rome and he wrote about it. Our boy was out of L.A. and the mystery was over.

The elegiac, witty lyrics of the Smiths and well, all Moz albums save for Maladjusted and Southpaw Grammar are absent. Don’t put ROTT in the same category as those last two. The verbiage on ROTT is straightforward and for Morrissey, simple and slapdash at first listen. But as they say it’s a grower.To my taste, only one song falls flat after repeated listenings. Only the lyrics of “The Father Who Must Be Killed” still drive me batty. Did he hire a subcontractor for this song? I mean, the premise is fine, but the execution, so to speak, is lacking. It’s the only song without a discernible melody.

ROTT Highlights

Life Is A Pigsty- The seven minute epic, complete with rain and thunder sound effects ominously crashing in the background. The Youngest Was The Most Loved features a children’s choir.

Dear God, Please Help Me
The melancholy organ ,the Ennio Morricone arranged strings,the pleas to the almighty, and the much-touted Explosive kegs between my legs reference, it’s the best track on the album. And yes, you read that lyric right. It’s laughable when printed, but when you hear Moz sing it,it practically drives you to tears. He can do that to you, just with his voice.

You Have Killed Me-poppy radio hit. You don’t even notice the lyric I entered nothing/nothing entered me/til you came with the key after the after the first listen.

I Will See You In Far Off Places, with its Middle Eastern tempo and politically charged lyrics is to ROTT what America Is Not The World was to Quarry. Well, the inside of the CD cover does feature the phrase “Smash Bush” spray painted and discreetly camouflaged on a brick wall.

ROTT doesn’t demand my attention like Vauxhall and I or Viva Hate. Even so, it’s impossible to treat any Morrissey album as mere background noise. Ringleader of the Tormentors gives us a friendlier, more accessible, slightly less miserable Moz, carrying on the torch passed from Quarry and tweaking it a bit. The man can’t remain totally despondent for our amusement forever.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

"Get Your Fat Ass Out Of The Car & Walk 2 Blocks"

When I attended my brother's wedding in suburbuan Chicago last year, I was surprised by the lack of SIDEWALKS. Remember those? In the days before you parked your car and walked two steps from the carport into the house, you had to actually WALK outside in the fresh air and say hi to the neighbors before getting to the front door. Some of my friends didn't believe my "no sidewalk" story, but the link above proves I'm not the only person who's noticed this. Builders and city planners now assume people go from car to house or apartment with no human contact. There's no such thing as a pedestrian anymore. No wonder a huge percentage of Americans are obese and emotionally disconnected from one another. Get your fat ass out of the car and walk 2 blocks to the 7/11, for God's sake!!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Red Lightning EP Review

With his new band, Red Lightning, slated to play South by Southwest this year, Morrissey guitarist/collaborator Alain Whyte, along with bassist John DiMambro and drummer Milo Tedesco, forge a straightforward classic rock sound. On their eight song debut EP, the trio weaves melodic, accessible tunes akin to the tastier AOR of the 70s and early 80s.

I can’t sub-categorize Red Lightning’s sound with any trendy catchphrase. Whyte has the sort of direct voice that’s perfectly suited for classic rock. L.A. Crash Landing is still going through my head (The lights are on/but nobody’s home, Whyte sings. Yep,that’s L.A. in a nutshell.) Sign Up, an anti-war song (no album released in 2006 is complete without one), is effective without being didactic. The CD ends with a pretty acoustic guitar melody of Were You Ever In My Life? The band plans to release a full length CD later this year.