Thursday, November 26, 2009

Book Review: The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene

Rapper 50 Cent’s life as a hustler (aka drug dealer) in Queens and subsequent rise to fame as a rapper and entrepreneur served as the inspiration and the framework for the book The 50th Law.  So what is The 50th Law? The back cover of the book bears the imprint “Nihil timendum est.”, Latin for “fear nothing” and that’s the gist of The 50th Law's message. Fiddy, a fan of social science writer Robert Greene's 1998 book,The 48 Laws of Power, approached Greene to work on a possible project. The result was the The 50th Law, a street-smart primer on power and self improvement.

Greene’s prose and research hinges on historical and psychological underpinnings interspersed with tales of Fiddy’s life on the streets. Napoleon, explorer Andrew Selkirk, and the philosopher Seneca have a lot more in common with a rapper like 50 Cent (and other successful modern people who’ve overcome adversity) than you might think.

Touchy-feely self-help books and the “everyone’s a winner” mumbo jumbo favored by women’s TV talk shows and California psychic/chakra types may make people feel good temporarily, but they don’t spur the complacent into action. Robert Greene ‘s  rational, proactive approach in this book, as in his previous works,The 33 Strategies of War and The 48 Laws of Power  will do just that. I discovered Greene’s work after reading a list of The 48 Laws of Power on some random website. I noticed that I had unwittingly followed some of those laws during several happy and productive times in my life. So there is something relatable about Greene’s writing for people from all walks of life.

The 50th Law distills the doctrine from Greene’s other books, including the brilliant The Art of Seduction. While The Art of Seduction brimmed with examples (and quotes) from the lives of European courtesans and philosophers, The 50th Law quotes Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I knew very little about 50 Cent before reading this The 50th Law and have only a cursory knowledge of the rap world, but I have utmost respect for him as a businessman and artist after reading this book. Now as for all those controversial feuds with other rappers mentioned in the book, that’s way over my head. Maybe a rap expert can clarify all that for me.

The fact that 50 Cent is a co-author might scare away middle of the road types looking for some life coaching, but that would be a mistake. There’s a lot of good advice here. Whether you seek fame or fortune or just want to live life on your own terms, The 50th Law will shake you into repositioning yourself for success. The book isn’t sugarcoated or simplistic, but it’s not Machiavellian either. I know many people use that term to describe Greene’s work, but I don’t agree. The 50th Law is a dose of reality, assertiveness and common sense.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Review-Bowie:A Biography by Marc Spitz

Writing an icon’s biography must be a daunting task. You have scads of material to sift through and an adoring public ready to criticize any false turn you may take regarding said idol.

That was evident with the biographies of John Lennon and Michael Jackson. Then some rock star biographies have so many career twists and turns to cover, any controversy is just gravy. Marc Spitz's book Bowie: A Biography is one of those books. Spitz explores David Bowie's chameleon-like personas, from Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane to the Thin White Duke. David Bowie championed reinvention long before Madonna. Rock journalist Marc Spitz, (whose last rock bio was about Green Day), obviously did a lot of research via magazines, other books and original interviews. Tony DeFries, whose management company ran Bowie’s career in the 1970s, and other characters that passed through Bowie's life, are recounted. Spitz reveals long lost, gossipy tidbits from Bowie’s past, among them, a party at a disco in DJ Wolfman Jack’s house.

There’s a dizzying amount of rock ‘n’ roll history here. Bowie publicist and all-around rock chick Cherry Vanilla explains “You had to be on, on,on” Perhaps that’s where all the cocaine came in handy during the mid-'70s.  Spitz covers Bowie's "lost" years in L.A, his friendship (and work) with Iggy Pop, the filming of The Man Who Fell to Earth, and his notoriously erratic (and rumored cocaine-fueled) debut TV appearance on the 1974 Dick Cavett Show.

Many of the events in Bowie’s life merit a full recounting; the Ziggy Stardust/glam rock era is explored in-depth, but there’s not a lot of detail after the mid-'80s. Spitz’s account recaps Bowie’s career but offers little insight into the man and what makes him tick. There’s always a family tragedy in the lives of most rock stars, and Bowie’s story is no different. Spitz details David’s relationship with his older half-brother Terry — who helped inspire David’s musical beginnings — in the first few chapters. Terry committed suicide in 1985. David's wild, open marriage (and bitter divorce from first wife Angie) is the only off-stage scenario that gets much attention, and the obligatory first chapter about his childhood. We get a sense of the journey, but Spitz doesn’t give us a sense of Bowie's off-stage persona or tie together the recollections and make sense of them.

Spitz conducted no new interviews with Bowie himself, but interviewed Bowie cohorts like photographer Leee Black Childers, Cherry Vanilla, ex-wife Angie Bowie, Joey Arias, Peter Frampton, Spider from Mars Woody Woodmansey, and a whole cross-section of Bowie associates. So there’s no shortage of juicy stories and behind the scenes' minutiae.

However, Spitz does relate a few stories of his own life as a Bowie fan. He saw Bowie hailing a cab in NYC, but didn’t approach him. Sidetracks like this in a biography are fine if they’re  short and add to the point. In Bowie: A Biography, they happen a bit too often.

Despite a few shortcomings, Bowie: A Biography packs a lot into its hefty 448 pages. That’s more than enough to jog the memory of any Bowiephile and lead to more memories not extensively covered in the book. Remember Bowie's duet with Cher on her TV show? I know, you’d rather forget.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Who Are These Jon and Kate People and Why Are They Following Me Around?

Another sign of the apocalypse occurred recently when it was revealed Octomom Nadya Suleman and annoying media whore Jon Gosselin were in talks to do a new reality show together. At best, the Octomoms and Jon Gosselins of the world should be minor celebrities. Sadly, on any given news day these jerks are saturating the media more than many other celebrities with actual talent. Even porn stars have to be skilled at something  to get where they are--have a perverted specialty like having sex with a sock puppet, etc. At least that would be original.  All those morons had to do was procreate. And if you can’t support eight kids on your own or with your spouse or family, don’t expect the media to give you the money to raise them.

Now, the reason these idiots are still famous? Because people are talking and writing about them. Now 99 percent of the people who write articles, message board posts and blog entries like this one deride them and want them to disappear. But admit it, folks, its fun to have jerks like this to make fun of, and of course, they deserve it. Even apologizing to the (soon to be) ex-wife is done in public with a celebrity rabbi, documented by cameras for all the world to see. Would Jon Gosselin have apologized by his lonesome in private without making a spectacle of it?  That's highly doubtful.

But they don’t care. Any publicity is good publicity. It’s the “I don’t care what you say about me, just spell my name right.” culture in full bloom. What does it say about America that "reality-dweeb" celebrities and our fascination with them have inundated pop culture for a decade now? It’s like the viewing public are fair weather friends or bullies in waiting. We love to make fun of reality stars, but they always come back for more and get paid for it, either in cash or freebies. But remember Britney's tale. Everyone participated in death pools when she shaved her head, but there were always a few people who said, “Oh, but her comeback will the greatest in history.” Well, Britney did comeback. It certainly wasn’t the greatest ever, but we got to keep her around. It’s that up and down cycle that fascinates the minions. We just can’t get enough of whacking ‘em when they are down and gushing on ‘em when they’re up.

And I can’t wait til the Gosselins or Octomom  take acting lessons and take work away from  talented thespians all in the name of  box-office appeal. It’ll be the most highly touted acting debut since Vanna White in Goddess of Love. But wait-that will involve real effort. I wonder if any of these folks would even put in the requisite practice to be on Dancin With the Stars since they’re so used to their unscripted lives being fodder for every media outlet in America. I kinda feel sorry for the young women that hang around this Gosselin guy, too. Just think…in the ‘60s groupies had the Stones and Beatles; in the '80s Duran Duran, but now they have the Jon Gosselins and other reality show schmucks of the world. It's slim pickins' out there, ladies. Could we just get tired of  the Gosselins and other self-absorbed reality stars so they can fade back into obscurity and take care of their kids sans 24/7 cameras and interviews with the Star? Then maybe the American public could get back to being entertained by, and talking about, people with real talent, substance and/or charisma.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Book Review-Fat Guys Shouldn't Be Dancin' at Halftime

I know, I know. Why are you reviewing a book by a Chicago sports guy on an entertainment blog called The Slums Off Hollywood Boulevard? I was born & raised in Chitown, and before I hit puberty and discovered rock 'n'roll, I was a grade school tomboy who cut class to watch Cubs games. This book brings back a lot of those early sports fan memories for me.

Every city has its local celebrities. These folks are local newscasters, DJs, TV show hosts, athletes and they have a longer shelf life than most national celebs. This type of fame usually doesn’t translate well from one region of the country to another. A local New Yawk type might be too real and down to earth for the surf and suntan crowd in Laguna Beach. Some local icons do cross over to the national spotlight, getting their act known to fans of a certain “niche.”

In Chicago, some of its sportscasters are as famous (or infamous) as its athletic heroes. Harry Caray is the most famous example. Harry even made it to SNL, thanks to Will Ferrell’s colorful impersonation. Chet Coppock, one of Chitown’s longest running sportscasters, made it to the national spotlight several times, as a syndicated sports talk show host and as an announcer for the World Wrestling Federation and the Roller Derby.

After almost 40 years as a sportscaster, Coppock has written his first book, Fat Guys Shouldn’t Be Dancin’ at Halftime. It’s divided into 100 ultra-short, stream of consciousness chapters about every facet of Chicago sports you can imagine. Chet leaves nothing out, even dedicating chapters to Northwestern football, Cog Hill golf course and long defunct (or long ignored) franchises like the Chicago Fire and the Chicago Sting.

Chester isn’t one of those sportscasters who just rattles off statistics. He’s a genuine Chicago sports character himself, just like Ditka and the’85 Bears. Chet praises and lambasts local execs, coaches, fans, and other sportscasters in his indefatigable, rapid-fire style, which translates surprisingly well to the page.

Pro sports are part of the entertainment biz and Chet dissects the good, the bad, and the ugly with pithy observations. In one example, about Cubs player turned sportscaster Ron Santo, (who is given to malapropisms and once had trouble pronouncing the word fuchsia on-air,), Coppock writes, “Ron and the English language haven’t had that dinner they’ve been talking about.”

There’s a section called “You Call These Sports?" Here Coppock reminisces about covering the Indy 500, the WWF, the original Roller Derby and other sports of questionable repute. (Yes, Coppock was there during the halcyon days of the T-Birds and the Pioneers. As proof, there’s a YouTube clip of a very young Chet interviewing Joan Weston and Tonette Kademas.) About the current Windy City Rollers team, he says “The old roller derby was a con, a play for laughs. The Windy City Rollers, so help me Midge “Toughie” Brashun, are completely on the level. The fact is, they beat the living hell out of each other and generally go get loaded.”

The “Fat Guys” of the title refers, in part, to half-time entertainment at Chicago Bulls games these days. Apparently, the Bulls have funny dancing fat guys as half-time entertainment in addition to the slim, female Luvabulls cheerleaders. Fat Guys is a fast and fun ride through four decades of Chicago sports history.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review: I, Doll: Life and Death with the New York Dolls by Arthur "Killer" Kane

It’s hard to believe the New York Dolls remained an obscure but highly coveted rock curiosity for almost three decades. If you listen to the seismic activity in the New York Dolls camp since the surviving members reunited, the amount of media coverage, and the kudos from young kids and their Moms, Dads and Grandpas, you'd think they were the aging glam rock equivalent of over-saturated reality TV stars.

But from the time Morrissey reunited the remaining band members for the Meltdown festival in 2004, the reunited 2York, I mean New York, Dolls have blazed into music consciousness at an accelerated pace that makes up for the initial confusion and shunning they received from the world at large the first time around.

What with two brand new CDs of original music released since 2006, DVDs, concert tours, and renewed interest in the tiniest detail of the band’s heyday. Not to mention indefatigable Johnny Thunders nostalgia, that’s been going on forever. Lech Kolwalski has edited several versions of the unreleased (and heavily bootlegged) JT documentary Born to Lose. Kowalski’s biopic though, deals mostly with Thunders post-Dolls music (and drug) career.

The Dolls original bass player, the late Arthur “Killer” Kane, the sweetest and least flashy member of the band, insofar as a tall, lumbering guy in platform boots, boa and sparkly tube top can  be considered  unassuming. Kane was the subject of the 2005 documentary New York Doll, and now his posthumously released memoir I Doll: Life and Death With the New York Dolls is now available from Chicago Review Press. As far as I can tell, Arthur wrote the book without a ghostwriter, and he has a breezy, conversational writing style. Some of his recollections are hazy-the passage of time can further dim events that occurred in a drug and alcohol stupor in the early ‘70s. (There are a few pages of editors’ notes at the end of the book to correct factual errors).

It’s refreshing to read a first hand account about the Dolls first 16 months. They go from being an underground hit at the Mercer Arts Center in NYC to play Wembley Arena in London during those 16 months. They rush from a celebrity studded party in London to a hotel and find original Dolls drummer Billy Murcia dead, O.D’ed in a bathtub. They create their first costumes from vintage clothes and even sew some of their own stage clothes from scratch. They get sloshed on Newcastle Ale and ambling drunkenly though a gig on their English tour, getting so loud and obnoxious in their natural Manhattan habitat that fellow bar patron David Bowie skitters away into the night. And of course there are the drugs and groupies…

Arthur’s widow Barbara adds a foreword and an epilogue to the book. Her marriage to Arthur was full of ups and downs; when he was drunk or angry he was physically abusive; once he even beat her up and tied her up with a telephone cord.  Arthur died from leukemia in 2005, a few weeks after the Meltdown reunion concert. Barbara notes in the epilogue that Arthur blamed his problems (and the demise of the Dolls, in part, on singer David Johansen Arthur refers to him as "our singer" instead of by name in the book. Anyone who saw New York Doll knows the story of how Arthur was jealous of the outgoing and outlandish Johansen.

Kane’s dislike for Johansen and managers Leber/Krebs overshadows some of the antics and narrative at times. As a firsthand look at the inner dynamics of one of the most infamous and influential bands of all time, I Doll is intriguing. A good read for hardcore Dolls fans and other lovers of early New York punk/pre punk.

Disclosure: I was provided with a free review copy of this book by Chicago Review Press.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Music Review: The Essential Janis Ian

Singer/songwriter Janis Ian, best known for her 1975 hit “At Seventeen” began her career as a child prodigy. For the next 40 years, her songs dealt with everything from domestic abuse, coming out as a lesbian, the Holocaust, teenage alienation and incest, along with ballads about loneliness and love.

The Essential Janis Ian provides the travelogue for this journey. Ian picked all the songs on this two-disc compilation. With over 30 albums dating back to 1967, alternate versions, unreleased demos, and live performances, she had a huge amount of work from which to choose. This set from Columbia/Legacy traces Ian’s career from her first tumultuous hit as a teenager to the quieter, more introspective tunes dealing with topical issues and lost love in the decades that followed.

Essential’s first CD covers Ian’s work from her teen years to the early 1990s. The first song is a demo recording of “Hair of Spun Gold,” which Ian wrote when she was 12. There is a wistful, folk tale quality to this coming of age saga. “God & the FBI” was inspired by J. Edgar Hoover and his buddies spying on her left wing parents. “Silly Habits” has a swinging piano and jazzy vocals. Ian’s early work didn’t get the airplay of other folkies and troubadours of the time like Joan Baez , Pete, Paul and Mary or Bob Dylan, but she certainly was a vital part of the folk movement, due to one song in particular.

Her first success was with the controversial tale of interracial romance “Society’s Child.” The song, produced by Shadow Morton (Shangri-las, New York Dolls), was so taboo many stations refused to play it. “But, honey, he’s not our kind’, Ian sings, mimicking a mother forcing her daughter to break up with her boyfriend. This song was so controversial when it was first released; a radio station was burned down for playing it. Her initial record label, Atlantic, considered the song too volatile for public consumption and shelved it. Verve then released it, and “Society’s Child” became a top 20 hit in 1967.

After the whirlwind success of “Society’s Child” Ian faded into the background for awhile to “find herself” and recover from dealing with sudden onslaught of fame and controversy at such a young age. In 1973, she returned with the album Stars. It’s most famous song, “Jesse,” a tender love song about an absent paramour, was popularized by Roberta Flack, and later recorded by Shirley Bassey and Joan Baez, among others.

Ian didn’t become a household name herself until 1975, when her album Between the Lines spawned the hit “At Seventeen.” Both the single and album version are included on this collection. "At Seventeen" the theme song for alienated teenage girls everywhere. And where else could you hear poetry like "in debentures of quality / and dubious integrity/ Their small town eyes will gape at you in dull surprise / wham payment dot exceeds accounts receive at seventeen..” on AM radio.

But all Ian’s musings are not bleak. The hopeful twang, harmonica and all, of “This Train Still Runs” looks at the bright side of getting older. Night Rains, her last album of the 1970s paired her with early electronica kingpin Giorgio Moroder for the disco-pop anthem “Fly Too High,” her most upbeat and commercial single (It was more successful in Europe and Australia than the U.S.). The sweeping and majestic “Love is Blind” is the only offering from the poignant Aftertones. 

The second disc contains songs unfamiliar to the causal listener; since there are no radio hits included.  By the early ‘90s, Ian had her own label Rude Girl, and most of the songs on this disc are selected from those releases. There’s “My Tennessee Hills” (with Dolly Parton on second vocals), a lovely ode to Appalachia. The melancholy “Some People’s Lives” dissects the ways people live in emotional squalor, while “Stolen Fire” brims with percussive verve.

The lyrics here stand on their own as sheer personal and emotional poetry. While Ian’s work (and certainly her personal stance) has always had a liberal political bent, the romantic songs included on Essential are applicable to anyone’s love life, regardless of gender or sexual proclivity. There’s an inclusive, humanistic appeal to her messages.

Ian has a sense if humor, too. She once guested on Howard Stern’s show, strumming a spoof of “At Seventeen” about Jerry Seinfeld and his young girlfriend. A snippet of the song was also famously used on The Simpsons. Her autobiography “Society's Child” is now available, and you can read more about Janis Ian’s life and music on her website.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Lady Gaga - The Real Deal

I usually don’t pay much attention to the “musicians” at the top of the Billboard charts nowadays since, well, most of ‘em ain’t musicians but lukewarm retreads from American Idol or Sing Your Ass off or one of those brain dead but here to stay reality shows. It’s been rather hard, however, to totally dismiss Lady Gaga.  A quick glance at a photo of her in an outfit made from Kermit the Frog dolls makes you do a double take even if you've never heard her music. Britney didn’t even wear something that wacky that when she was batshit crazy. Hell, Madonna didn’t do that during her most outrageous reinventions. So I did a little fact-checking on La Gaga out of curiosity. It seems Lady Gaga, aka Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (she’s Italian, like Madonna),  is more than what meets the eye. No, I'm talking about those hermaphrodite rumors, either.

Before recording her first album, Lady Gaga:

*was a staff songwriter for  Interscope Records and Akon’s Konvict Record Label. She wrote songs for the  Pussycat Dolls and Britney Spears, among others
*sang in Lower East Side clubs with a performance artist named Lady Starlight
*attended New York University

Not the usual mass-manufactured pop bimbo the music industry has hoisted upon us this decade. Only time will tell if Lady G’s songs eventually concern themselves with more arcane references than “a disco stick” On Saturday Night Live last week, she managed to wear a gyroscope and heels, play piano and belt out a ballad. Girls can play "dress up" and be  real musicians, too. You can do both. Now this is the fully-rounded role model younger women pursuing a mainstream music career should emulate. Well, except for the Kermit the Frog costume.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Music DVD Review-Anita O'Day:The Life of a Jazz Singer

Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, and Ella Fitzgerald have outlasted all other female jazz singers in the pantheon of musical consciousness. Ella was famous for her scat singing. Billie had heartache down, exhibiting intense pain and longing in her delivery,while Sarah Vaughn had a smooth mainstream appeal, even garnering a pop hit with “Brokenhearted Melody”.

Most other female jazz singers are known only to hardcore jazz aficionados. Some of them turned into pop punchlines, like Martha Raye. But there was one pure survivor of the jazz life, Anita O’ Day. And her story is chronicled in the documentary Anita O’ Day-The Life of a Jazz Singer. This 92 minute film by Robbie Cavolina (O’Day’s manager at the time of her death), and Ian McCrudden examine O’Day’s career, which spanned six decades. Full of performance clips and interviews with jazz experts, O’Day's friends, and her peers, the film reveals a real tough cookie, a feisty character the viewer can like even if “Cowboy Bebop” is the only bebop you ever heard of before watching this documentary.

O’ Day, a perky Chicago-girl with lots of freckles and no uvula (due to a botched childhood tonsillectomy), rose from making money in walkathons as a teen, to becoming a jazz singer performing with the likes of Gene Krupa, Stan Kenton, and Duke Ellington. She was playful, coquettish and a bit bossy, in one clip from a TV show she directs the musicians into a trio for an improvised version of “Let’s Fall in Love.” She was arrested for marijuana possession and did jail time, and this branded her the Jezebel of Jazz. Anita was no coy songstress. Her forte was bebop, swing and improvisation, she was about the rhythm baby. O’ Day called herself a song stylist, improvising and using lots of quick eighth notes in her renditions.

Her first popular song, performed with Krupa's orchestra, was the novelty “Let Me Off Uptown”. It broke racial taboos, when she bantered onstage with African-American trumpet player Roy Eldridge. The effervescent O’Day held her own onstage with Eldridge, and Eldridge would later grumble “she's upstaging me!" Given the racial climate of the times, this was a bold move, and the pair had to sneak out of some theatres in the South.

The documentary interviewees, which include director John Cameron Mitchell, are in awe of her talent, sure, but on the flip-side, there’s an ex-manager who says O'Day was paid $2500 week for non-stop touring at one point and saved not a penny. Where did the money go? “(The money) went into her right arm, her left arm and for the care and maintenance of (drummer and companion) John Poole” says the manager. The longest relationship in her life was with aforementioned drummer John Poole, who introduced her to heroin.

But she wasn't a tragic figure like Billie Holiday, or an unapologetic hedonist; rather, O’ Day just seemed to fall into addiction by mistake and stay there for almost 20 years, but it proved barely a glitch in her day-to-day career. There were no long respites in rehab; she just kept performing. And it didn’t affect her shows. O’ Days most heralded performance is documented in the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Looking demure in a wide-brimmed hat, black and white dress, opera gloves, glass slippers, she sang "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Tea for Two" while high on heroin. It didn’t harm her performance though.

Anita O’ Day kept singing, recording and touring, despite alcoholism, heroin addiction, backstage rape, abortion and nearly every other part of the jazz life. O' Day finally kicked heroin in 1969. In the early ‘80s, Anita, now a pant-suits wearing woman in her early 60s, appeared on the talk show circuit to pitch her autobiography High Times, Hard Times. When astonished interviewer Bryant Gumbel recites the long list of her sordid experiences, she responds, “But that’s the way it went down, Bryant”. O’ Day was an existentialist, for sure. She has that feisty attitude right down to the interview clips filmed shortly before her death in 2006.

O' Day even made a comeback in her 80s, singing to young fans at Manhattan’s Iridium Jazz Club and touring Europe. There are clips from her last tour, in 2004, shots from the recording of her 2006 album Indestructible. O’ Day remained quite an endearing character in spite of her drug addiction and all her poor life choices. It was a long, tough journey from Jezebel of Jazz to the spunky old lady playing the horses at Santa Anita, but O’Day survived the jazz life to live to a ripe old age, unlike many of her contemporaries.

The film includes 90 minutes of extras, including full musical performances and full interviews with O’ Day and others. The documentary itself is somewhat scattered, jumping from partial musical clip to interview to montage and back again. You sometimes get the feeling there was so much raw material to work with that the director didn’t know what (or when) to edit. The DVD includes a 32 page booklet with a chapter from Anita’s autobiography High Times, Hard Times, and essays by James Gavin (Chet Baker’s biographer) and Wall Street Journal jazz critic Will Friedwald.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

DVD Review: Bad Ronald

In the 1970s, particularly the halcyon years 1971-1975, many made-for-TV movies attained mythical status among kids and teenagers. The grindcore salaciousness of drive-in movies couldn’t be replicated on the small screen, so a blood- and boob-free version of B movies hit such venues as the ABC Movie of the Week. They dealt with serious issues like runaways and the generation gap (Maybe I’ll Come Home In the Spring with Sally Field), reform school (the infamous Born Innocent with Linda Blair), or devil/horror fantasies like rampaging Zuni fetish dolls (Trilogy of Terror starring Karen Black). Through the years, these made-for-TV quickies have gained popularity, even with the younger generation who’ve only heard of the films and never seen them. There’s even a Facebook application called Made for TV Mayhem. 
In Bad Ronald (available from the Warner Brothers Archive Collection), B-movie favorite Scott Jacoby plays the title character, a geeky kid who lives with his bossy, doting Mom (Kim Hunter playing an understated version of Mama Bates). Ronald has the hots for a neighbor girl, but she prefers football players, and consistently spurns his requests for a date. He encounters one of her sisters and accidentally kills her after she insults his Mommy. In a panic, he buries the body, then runs home to Mom for advice on what to do next. Mom and Ronald fashion a hidden compartment from a second bathroom. Mom keeps watch over Ronald, bringing him meals, insisting that he exercise, and encouraging him to pursue his artwork. Ronald draws figures from a fantasy world he calls “Atranta”, weaving complex storylines about maidens and warriors.
Mom goes off for a gall bladder operation. She says she'll be back in a week. She doesn't make it. The next voice Ronald hears is that of real estate salespeople getting ready to sell the house. Soon they show prospective buyer Mr. Wood (Dabney Coleman) the house, along with his wife and three daughters. They all love it, except for one suspicious daughter. She finally relents to her parents and siblings and reluctantly agrees to go along with the purchase.

Now the fun begins. Ronald takes to peeping on the girls. Of course, there are realism problems, such as “How could they miss the flushing of the toilet in the hidden bathroom?” and “How does he take showers?” (watching a made for TV movie requires one to suspend disbelief for 90 minutes). The premise keeps things creepy; just thinking about a gawky, disheveled murderer hidden behind the walls of your house is unsettling.
Younger viewers used to a faster and bloodier pace in horror films might wonder what the fuss was about because Bad Ronald is merely tense and the momentum builds up slowly. There’s the snooping neighbor lady who is always peering through the back door window at the right time, and the progression (or is it regression?) of Ronald’s fantasy figure artwork to foreshadow the film's ending. Ronald has created a psychotic Lord of the Rings-type plot featuring the girls in the house, their suitors, and his macabre revenge fantasies.

Entertaining but a little dated, Bad Ronald has a medium “ick” factor that will keep you watching despite its flaws. Jacoby and Kim Hunter are psychotic but not overtly so, and the ‘70s furnishings and fashions will elicit a chuckle or two. Bad Ronald is part of the Warner Archive Collection of previously unreleased cult favorites and black and white classics.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

WLS- Chicago Rock Radio Giant of the 60s, 70s & 80s

(This article was first published on in 2001 in a slightly different version under the byline Marianne Moro)

For those of us old enough to remember, radio was once a kinder, gentler medium. Now I listen to and enjoy shock jocks as much as anyone. Howard Stern was never a problem for me, its just that after 10 years you get burnt out on strippers having sex with deformed midgets, and you move on. The reported downturn in Howard's ratings proves that people can tire of anything, no matter how initially weird, disgusting, or titillating.

The first DJ I remember hearing was a guy named Art Roberts on WLS-AM 890 in Chicago. I stayed up late Sunday nights when I was supposed to be asleep for school the next day while my Mom's radio played the mellow voiced DJ spinning platters like "A Rose And A Baby Ruth" and the Fendermen's "Mule Skinner Blues." At first I thought the show had no commercials, then I realized the commercials were actually woven into the convivial stories the DJ told. These are among my first memories of anything.

As I grew up, so did WLS. Soon the smooth patter of Art Roberts and Barney Pip gave way to the deadpan sarcasm of Larry "Uncle Lar" Lujack. Within a year, the music metamorphisized, with Gogi Grant replaced by Janis Joplin and the Fendermen usurped by Sergeant Pepper era Beatles and "In-A-Gadda-La-Vida". Uncle Lar was neither happy-voiced announcer or hippie dippie weatherman. He forged his own unique style of understated sarcasm. It's no surprise David Letterman cites him as an early influence. Well-known DJs are usually famous for being over the top, yelling and screaming, and just being plain loud. Lujack, however, played against type. Lar had true daily comedy bits on his show that didn't involve obvious teeny-bopper humor.They included the "Klunk Letter of the Day" - a letter from a listener reamed by Uncle Lar and the "Cheap Trashy Show Biz Report." Uncle Lar put celebrities in their place with a simple "umm-hm" and a quick segue into the next story. Radio ad legend Dick Orkin contributed two serials, "Chickenman" and "The Tooth Fairy",which were similarly tongue in cheek. These serials appeared on dozens of other stations from 1969 through the early '80s.

Lujack left WLS for rival station WCFL in the mid-70s. A true illustration of how radio -as well as other media - have changed to favor the performer over management occurred when Lujack, unable to get out of his contract, was forced to stay on air when WCFL changed its format to beautiful music. ( Beautiful music was the 1970s equivalent of New Age music.) Fortunately, Super CFL bought out Lar's contract, and a few months later, he was back at WLS.

Uncle Lar now shared the airwaves with such notables as Tommy Edwards, Chris Eric Stevens, Ron Britian, John Landecker (more on him later), and in the 1980s Steve Dahl and Garry Meier (of Disco Demolition fame.) There was no love lost between Lujack and Dahl, as Steve insulted him mercilessly without explanation or provocation. This resulted in an infamous on-air confrontation where Steve and Garry left the studio rather than explain why they were constantly bagging on Uncle Lar. Lar took over the airshift, and put Steve in his place. (I'm leaving Garry out of this one.)

Steve Dahl and Garry Meier were consistently hilarious from Disco Demolition through the end of their partnership; they weren't afraid to tell it like it was. Everyone from station management to other DJs to callers were harangued. I have 2 hours worth of cassettes from their 1985 shows on LS and the grin never leaves my face when I listen to them.

Lujack is retired in New Mexico (he always used to threaten that he'd leave radio to become a forest ranger during his rants) Landecker conducts an afternoon show on WIMS-AM.There are no more Boogie Checks; maybe soccer mom checks would be more appropriate for this demographic. Steve Dahl was let go as an on-air jock by WJMK (Jack FM) in Chicago last year. He now conducts a daily one-hour podcast which is available on iTunes and Jack-FM's website. Garry has a conventional talk show on WGN-AM. On Steve's podcast, the topic is basically Steve, but the show is at its best when he pokes fun at his assistants or talks to old cohorts like Buzz Kilman or the Bears' radio announcer Tom Thayer.

You can listen to airchecks from these DJS and other '60s and '70s icons like Charlie Tuna, Gary Owens, and Loehman and Barkley at

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Music Review: Iggy Pop - Préliminaires

When you think of Iggy Pop, you think of Raw Power, Lust for Life, the Stooges, pre-pre punk’s original wild-man, crawling through broken glass, jumping onto an adoring main floor crowd at a concert, or exhorting them to jump onstage during “No Fun”, …and now (on his first solo album since 2003’s Skull Ring), French jazz? Spoken word? New Orleans swing? It sounds weird, but on Préliminaires (Astralwerks Records), it works intoxicatingly well.

Préliminaires is based on the novel La Possibilité d’une île (The Possibility of an Island) by controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq. A literary provocateur whose fiction deals with subjects of sex tourism, fringe religions, and cloning, Houellebecq was put on trial in France for alleged anti-Islamic themes in one of his books. Loosely conceived as a soundtrack for the film version of “La Possibilité", this short (36 minutes) jazzy collection of Iggy originals and jazz covers conveys an elegant, laid-back decadence that even non-readers can appreciate.

It’s unsettling to hear Iggy crooning the first few notes of the French jazz classic “Les Feuilles Mortes” when that raspy voice jumps out at you. Iggy’s balladeer vocals are a little shaky, and more lecherous than romantic, but his world-weary sincerity and Marc Phaneuf’s clarinet draws you into the eclectic journey that follows. Think of Serge Gainsbourg with a twist. This song provides a leitmotif for Préliminaires, easing into the album and then tying it up with a slightly different arrangement on track 12. “Je Sais Que Tu Sais” combines breathy female vocals in French (by co-writer Lucy Aimé) over heavy percussion and Iggy’s exhortations of “She’s a Business/and business is good”. This is reprised a few tracks later with “She’s a Business”. The repetition fuses the CD together as a cohesive story instead of providing mere filler; there’s a method behind this madness.

In his 62 years, Iggy's seen and done it all and then some. His gruff, smoky voice is perfect for the lyrics “You can convince the world you’re some kinda superstar/ when an asshole is what you are” in the sardonic “I Want to Go to the Beach.” The snarling Iggy-of-old makes his appearance on “Nice to be Dead”, but by that time, we don’t care that Préliminaires isn’t all rock ‘n’ broken glass.

The New Orleans style swing of “King of the Dogs” has a cocky Basin Street swagger, complete with a rollicking brass section. It’s based, says Iggy, on a passage in the book where the main character's Corgi "Fox", talks about how a dog’s life is better than a human’s. The most touching song on the CD though is, “A Machine for Loving”, a homage to man’s best friend and unconditional love. “And however ugly, perverse, deformed or stupid this human being might be, the dog loves him.” The lyrics, taken from Houellebecq’s text, are haunting, and Iggy brings them to life against bare bones guitar accompaniment.

Iggy and producer Hal Cragin have created a sophisticated yet undeniably accessible marriage of music and literature with Préliminaires. It draws you in, whether you have a musical “open” mind or not.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Born To Boogie DVD Review

Born To Boogie
T-Rex/ Concert Film, Documentary & Extras Sanctuary Classics DVD Release Date: June 7, 2005

Marc Bolan of T-Rex was one of the few artists that can be termed both a flash in the pan and a legend. In one sense, T-Rex could be called a flash in the pan because T-Rextasy, as it was called in England, lasted only a few years, 1971 to 1973, and then the band's status dropped dramatically in the mid-70s. being the banner years for leader Marc Bolan. But T-Rex's popularity has grown steadily since then. Bolan has become an icon and an influence to countless musicians and new fans in the years since his untimely death in 1978. During T-Rex's heyday, Bolan's mere presence inspired the sort of frenzy not seen since the Beatles. One of Bolan's most famous fans during this time was Ringo Starr, who bonded with the curly-haired star and eventually directed and produced Born To Boogie, the chronicle of two defining shows T-Rex played at Wembly Empire Pool in 1972.

Born To Boogie, the movie, runs 64 minutes with numbers from the early show at Wembly interspersed with rollicking studio performances and surrealistic vignettes. Bolan takes the stage at Wembly, the place erupts in a hail of screams. Sleek and strutting in green pants and ivory jacket, Bolan plays the arrogant, impish rock god to the hilt. Girls scream, boys rush the stage. Percussionist Micky Finn, drummer Bill Legend and bassist Steve Curry complement their flashy singer. Even during performances filmed in the recording studio, the ebullient Bolan hams it up like he's playing to a screaming crowd during a rendition of Tutti-Frutti. Elton John plays piano in the studio numbers, smirking away as Marc's head floats mid-piano during a rendition of Children Of The Revolution. During a scene where a car drives onto a field with Ringo in a rodent suit - and a maniacal midget biting into the car mirror. This was filmed way before Ozzy made it de rigueur to feature a "little person" in rock videos. Mustachioed men in nun's habits join the band at a "Mad Hatters" tea party officiated by an English actor who starred in a TV series known as "Catweasal." These scenes were surrealistic and weird for the sake of being weird in that post-hippie, Apple Films kinda way in 1972; now, they're endearingly cheesy. The refurbished print is crisp and clear with no tell-tale signs of wear. This is amazing considering that the footage was culled from over 272 canisters of film that languished in storage for over 30 years.

The cache of extras is enough to keep a viewer occupied for hours. There are two complete Wembly concerts, a black and white Tyrannous Rex performance featuring a hippie, pre-glam Marc and percussionist Steve Peregine Took in a London club. This segment is introduced by John Peel. Legendary DJ Peel was one of Bolan's biggest fans from the beginning. Producer Tony Visconti and "Old Grey Whistle Test" host Bob Harris are interviewed by Marc's son Rolan. (That's right - Rolan Bolan.) While the interviews reveal a few details about Bolan's legacy, we don't get a fully rounded view of the phenomenon, as there are no interviews with journalists or with Bolan himself.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

DVD Review: Punk and Disorderly: The Festival-Vol. 1 Best of 2005 & 2006

The Punk and Disorderly Festival, a three-day extravaganza featuring hardcore punk bands, mostly from the UK and Europe, takes place in Berlin every year. The Halo-8 DVD Punk and Disorderly, Vol. 1 chronicles the 2005 and 2006 fests with over five hours of highlights from dozens of bands. A few of the the main stage bands, like Anti-Nowhere League, Sham69, The Boys, and Eddie and the Hot Rods should be familiar to any self-respecting punk fan. And if you don’t recognize any of those names, the other bands may be waaaay too hardcore for you.

This two DVD set compiles professionally shot snippets from each band that performed at the '05 and '06 fests. Most bands get one featured song on the DVD, while some of the more popular bands, like Sham 69, have two songs each. This DVD doesn’t play favorites, representing main and second stage bands equally. Each DVD contains interviews with some of the bands.

Some background: An album called Punk and Disorderly released in 1982, sold well and was the impetus for the festival. The P & D fest formed officially in 2002 as an answer to other successful punk festivals across Europe and the UK like Holidays in the Sun. Next to the UK, Germany is a hotbed of European punk rock. Punk is to Germany as black metal is to Scandinavia, so Berlin was a logical home for the fest.

The first Punk and Disorderly disc carries a selection from the 2005 festival. Replete with stage invaders and glimpses of burly male fans in bright fanned mohawks (think of all the glue and egg whites used on those babies), this DVD has performances by a few legendary, but definitely underplayed, punk bands. There are two songs from The Boys ("First Time" and "Living in the City"). Anti-Nowhere League’s codpiece-wearing singer Animal growls “Nowhere Man" (not the Beatles song... far from it). Pub rockers Eddie and the Hot Rods, who paved the way for punk slightly before the Pistols, rock out with “Better Without You” and Chelsea’s singer, Gene October (Billy Idol and Tony James were in the original incarnation of this band) is in great voice.

The 2006 disc starts with Sham69 doing “Borstal Breakout”, but from there it’s strictly geared for serious moshers, with hardcore bands from all over the world, including Sweden’s Negatives and France's J’aurais Voulu. To dilute the nonstop moshing just a tad there’s some upbeat skanking and sax from Mark Foggo and the Skasters.

Displacing the myth that hardcore is an exclusively male domain, female singers make a few appearances on Punk and Disorderly. On the 2006 disc, Deadline singer Elizabeth Rose channels a bit of X Ray Spex along with Joey Ramone in her rendition of "Sheena is a Punk Rocker". In 2005, Chamblz of hardcore all-stars Chemical Kaos trades off vocals with dreadlocked Pop, and veteran Italian ska/oi band Klasse Kriminale are joined onstage by female singer Emanuela.

Punk and Disorderly is an acquired taste. It's very much geared towards longtime punk fans and new converts with an intense interest in the genre. There's so much material here, it may take a few sittings for even those fans to watch it all. The audio and video quality are also top notch, and the DVD menu is easy to maneuver, with separate listings for main stage and second stage bands.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Best Rolling Stones Music Videos of the '80s & '90s

Harlem Shuffle (Dirty Work, 1986)

Animation by Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi

Most Stones fans agree that Mick and Keef created their last perfect (or near-perfect) album in 1978 (
Some Girls) or 1981 (Tattoo You). But Mick turned 66 last month and the boys-I mean grandpas-are still rockin'. The albums released in the last 28 years all have memorable songs on them, of course. The problem seems to be that the Stones post 1981 output dims in comparison to the band's '60s and '70s albums. Lotsa folks can name most of the songs off Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street and the '60s hit compilation Hot Rocks. But how many songs can you name off Steel Wheels or Undercover?

Still, there are classic songs and videos from the '80s-'00s. Here are a few of my faves.

Has Anybody Seen My Baby? (Bridges to Babylon, 1997)

Angelina Jolie as the object of Mick's affection , New York street scenes, sleazy burlesque club.

One Hit to the Body (Dirty Work, 1986)

Mick & Keith weren't really getting along during this era, as evidenced (in a tongue in cheek kinda way) in this video.

Too Much Blood (Undercover, 1983)

Cheesey, fun video. Woody and Keith with chainsaws, fake blood running from faucets, Mick reciting the story of cannibal killer Issei Sagawa

Like A Rolling Stone (1996)

With Patricia Arquette as an Edie Sedgewick type character. Directed by Michael Gondry.


Anita Morris seduces Mick & Keith, Charlie ends the video with some comic relief.

She Was Hot (1983 Undercover)


Undercover of the Night

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Last Testament by Sam Bourne Book Review

Mediating divorces instead of world-threatening squabbles between countries, Maggie Costello misses her former career and lives in a holding pattern, stuck between a boring job and an unsatisfying relationship with a control freak boyfriend. Her stint with the U.S. government ended after she made a grievous mistake that cost lives.

But the government needs Maggie’s expertise on a new crisis, and when a U.S. agent seeks her help, she complies, much to her boyfriend’s chagrin. In Sam Bourne’s Middle Eastern thriller, The Last Testament, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, an ancient clay tablet looted by a boy from a museum in Baghdad, and all types of shady assassins, terrorists and would-be assassins combine to engage the reader on a fast-paced journey.

The coveted clay tablet holds a revelation destined to change the course of Middle Eastern relations forever. Archeologist Shimon Guttman is murdered just before he gives a letter to the Israeli prime minister about the tablet’s meaning. The incident damages the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and Maggie returns to the world of international relations and detective work. Guttman’s death sends Maggie — and his son Uri — on a desperate quest to find the killer(s) and decipher the true meaning of the tablet’s ancient language. A lot of wrong turns down dark alleys, cars driving off cliffs, and cyber-intrigue follows; Maggie spends time guessing passwords and decoding Second Life characters to reveal the identity and plans of the perpetrators.

The Last Testament is a breezy beach read. I finished the 436-page book in one afternoon. Each cliffhanger and revelation makes you curious to discover the “who” and the “why,” and that keeps you turning pages.

Sam Bourne is the pseudonym of British journalist Jonathan Freedland, who has reported on the Middle East for 20 years. His first-hand knowledge of the conflict certainly colors this book, as he humanizes its characters from an ill-fated Arab greengrocer to Uri, Maggie, and the perpetrators who chase them. There’s even an occasional mention of the everyday horrors and tortures of life in the war zone. A scene involving a car trailing Maggie is especially wrenching.

If you like topical, political thrillers, The Last Testament won’t disappoint. It’s tightly written, though only cursory info is given on main characters Maggie and Uri. Bourne’s first thriller, 2006’s The Righteous Men, had a more detailed narrative about Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah that some critics found preposterous. The Last Testament's storyline is easier to swallow, and its slicker prose style makes it Bourne's most accessible novel to date.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lee "Scratch" Perry-Chicken Scratch Deluxe Edition CD Review

Reggae and Jamaican dub pioneer Lee "Scratch" Perry is one of those larger-than-life musical figures who fascinates young, trendy types. Perry’s latest album was produced by Andrew WK, with appearances by Moby and porno star Sasha Grey, which certainly brings his work to the attention of twenty-somethings. Yet the eccentric 73-year-old vocalist, songwriter and producer has influenced a legion of reggae and ska artists. His prodigious output ranges from solo works to production credits for Bob Marley among others, as well as dozens of guest appearances on albums by other artists.

For Chicken Scratch [Deluxe Edition], Rounder/Heartbeat Records travels all the way back to Perry’s formative days as gopher and vocalist for Duke Reid at Federal and then for Clement Dodd at Kingston’s Studio One circa 1961. Perry then struck out on his own with “I Am the Upsetter,”, entering the commendable realm few musicians attain. And now after almost fifty years of producing and performing with other ska and reggae artists, Chicken Scratch [Deluxe Edition] gives us a listen to Perry’s first recordings.

The original Chicken Scratch, released in 1989, dusted off some of Perry's earliest recordings from Dodd’s Studio One & Reid’s Federal. This remastered edition includes bonus tracks and the album's fourteen original studio recordings. The term “Chicken Scratch” refers to the short-lived early '60s dance fad — no rival to "The Twist" — that prompted the titular track. The songs on this compilation, while far from Perry’s best work overall, still guarantee a good time.

This compilation exhibits the bare-bones start of a legend in the making. The production is sparse, the vocals aren't as forceful as the Black Ark efforts, but Perry’s trademarks are all here. There's the double entendres of “Roast Duck” and “Rape Bait,” a battle with the ever-nasty “Mother in Law’ before Ernie K-Doe got to her, and an early version of “Just Keep It Up”, written by Otis Blackwell. Also, serving up a contrast of content, "Madhead" brims with skanking buoyancy while “Cannot Wrong (And Get Right)” provides some moralizing and philosophizing. And “Feel Like Jumping” should make listeners feel as told.

Perry’s back-up singers, the Soulettes, comprised of Rita Marley, Marlene Gifford Constantine Walker, add charm to most of these fledgling recordings with the Wailers providing background vocals on “Hand to Hand” and pre-Upsetter musicians lending the ska beat.

Perry still wows in concert, having performed last year at CMJ and the year before at SXSW. If you get the chance to see him, definitely check him out. Between his outlandish outfits and multi-colored dreads, pro-ganja sentiments — not to mention a kick-ass backup band — he puts on a show that keep you smiling 'til the final note.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Quick! Name 30 Semi-Famous or Obscure Hair Metal Bands from the 80s/Early 90s

..without surfing the Net for info. I first played this fun trivia game with one of the sales reps at a mag I worked for when the SD was out of town. I just plucked the number “30” out of thin air, considering how prevalent the spandex and twiddly guitar sound was circa 1989. We thought we’d have to struggle to get to 30…but at 33 we were still going!! Yes, big record companies did shell out bucks for the likes of Kik Tracee , Sleeze Beez, and Babylon A.D. Shockingly, many of the bands were damn good-- and entertaining. By 1991, however, the genre was oversaturated with screechy vocals and singers with leopard print pants. Then those pesky Nirvana guys showed up and stuck a fork in it. Every few years, my friends and I play this game from scratch. No cheating! Even if you DETEST this form of music, the names are somewhere in the back of your mind, admit it. It’s okay to include hard rock/metal/glam-punk bands who rocked the sound but not the look, or vice-versa.

My List

1. Phantom Blue

2. Salty Dog

3. Circus of Power

4. Life, Sex & Death

5. Star, Star
6. Kik Tracee
7. Electric Boys
8. Electric Love Hogs
9. Junkyard
10. Jetboy
11. White Sister
12. Precious Metal
13. Smashed Gladys
14. Spread Eagle
15. Dad’s Porno Mag
16. Every Mother’s Nightmare
17. Slik Toxik
18. Little Caesar

19. Princess Pang
20. Rough Cutt
21. Sound Barrier

22. Dangerous Toys
23. Love/Hate
24. Loudness
25. Pretty Boy Floyd
26. Bang Tango
27. Danger, Danger
28. Hericane Alice
29. Vixen
30. Alice in Chainz
(Yes, they started out as a hair metal band. I used to have a great pic of them all Aqua-netted out, but lost it. Backstory here)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Paul Jones-Starting All Over Again CD Review

Paul Jones, best known as lead singer of ‘60s Brit Invasion group Manfred Mann, dropped out of the limelight in the late 1960s after a mildly successful solo career in the UK. Jones, who sang such unforgettable pop staples as “Do Wah Diddy” and “Pretty Flamingo,” has concentrated on other musical genres since then, most notably blues as vocalist and harmonica player with The Blues Band.

Collectors' Choice has just released his first mainstream solo album since the 1960s, Starting All Over Again. Although Jones has appeared on several albums since the Manfred Mann days, they’ve highlighted his blues stylings (Blues Band) or interpretations of standards and evergreens (the 2001 CD Showcase).

Jones’ career trajectory has taken many interesting turns over the years. He’s played hero Jack Green on the BBC children’s show Uncle Jack, performed in several musicals including Cats and Pump Boys and Dinettes, and hosted a long-running blues radio show. Cult film buffs may recall his starring role in Privilege, Peter Watkins’ ahead of its time satire about government and celebrity.

On Starting All Over Again, Jones enlists the help of several friends and A-list musicians, from Eric Clapton and Percy Sledge to Austin, TX guitarist Jake Andrews and drummer Mike Thompson. The album was produced by ex-Textone Carla Olson, who has also worked with Mick Taylor, Gene Clark and Otis Rush. Their expertise fleshes out a collection of rock and R&B tunes that convey everything from life lessons and spirituality, to omnipresent themes like “making coffee for one.” Jones’ smooth and studied voice serves the material well. Neither trenchant or watered down, his interpretations lend the songs an air of authenticity without sacrificing mainstream appeal.

“Lover to Cry” has a deep groove and classic electric blues riffs that will keep your feet tapping. Johnnie Taylor’s “If You Love Me Like You Say” stays true to the buoyant R&B feel of the original. “Choose or Cop Out,” the only Jones penned song on the album is a pleasant surprise. A self-help book in a song (“nobody forces your hand if you don’t let ‘em/it’s your decision, baby, what to do with what you receive”), Jones’ effortless tone and blues harp are outstanding here. And Eric Clapton’s familiar guitar work pops right out at you (Clapton also plays on the title cut).

The instrumental jam “Alvino’s Entourage” gives the players a chance to strut their stuff, with more killer riffs by Jake Andrews and plenty of Jones’ signature harmonica work. It’s a fun tune you’d expect to hear at closing time at a Crescent City or Chitown blues club. Covers of Van Morrison’s “Philosopher’s Stone” and Earl Carson’s “Big Blue Diamonds” (a duet with Percy Sledge) round out the collection.

A fine return to form for Jones, Starting All Over Again is a mature sampling of R and B and pop that will appeal to a wide audience. It’s also the first CD of original material released by Collectors' Choice, a label primarily known for reissues and imports.

Friday, June 26, 2009

R.I.P, Sky, Michael, Farrah..

Sky Saxon and the Seeds on The Mothers-In-Law, 1966?

The Jackson 5-I Want You Back

Farrah Fawcett

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Brian Wilson-Smile & John Waters' Cry-Baby DVD Reviews

 Brian Wilson Presents Smile Rhino Home Video Mired in mystery for 37 years, the most famous unreleased album of the rock era, Brian Wilson’s Smile, is a mystery no more. Rhino recently released an impressive double DVD set. Brian Wilson Presents Smile, a chronicle of the rebirth and completion of the legendary album.Disc one is the documentary Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson And The Story of Smile, a look into the initial recording, resurrection and completion of the album. Disc two is the first public performance of Smile in London in 2004. The DVDs are attractively packaged in a white plastic case with the Smile logo on the front and includes a colorful foldout poster. Originally conceived by Wilson and co-writer Van Dyke Parks as a concept album about a journey from the East Coast to Hawaii, the original recording sessions for Smile began in earnest in 1966 while the rest of the Beach Boys were on tour. At the time, much was made of Wilson’s genius, reverently highlighted in the old newspaper and magazine clippings featured in the documentary Beautiful Dreamer. The documentary reveals a playful genius coming into his own. The camaraderie between Wilson, Van Dyke Parks and other original collaborators like is instantly evident in the documentary. Beautiful Dreamer omits any substantial mention of Wilson’s long-time struggle with depression or his advisor Dr. Eugene Landy, but instead concentrates on the positive aspects of Smile and its’ rebirth. The lost years we only get through still pictures. Wilson was given free reign too young, in heady, freewheeling times. Much credit has to go to Wilson’s wife Melinda and Darian Sahanaja, the musical director for live debut to helping resurrect Wilson’s musical ambitions. Wilson’s road to initial success as a Beach Boy was speedy but troubled. As a kid in Hawthorne, California, he was the victim of a cruel, abusive father, a failed musician who lived vicariously through his children. (For a complete bio of the Beach Boys, see the excellent history Heroes and Villains by Steven Gaines.) Smile’s concert debut in London in 2004, features a cast of vocalists and the Stockholm Strings And Horns. During Barnyard and Mrs. ‘O Leary’s Cow, the musicians don fire hats and kazoos. Every looks like they’re having fun. The ensemble cast, including keyboardist Darian Sahanaja boost Wilson’s morale and bring his genius to life. Although the sunny and silly aspirations of Smile seem very connected to its’ 1960s roots, in reality the piece is timeless and buoyant as the title suggests. The original concept, a cross-country trip from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii, endures with snippets of music. After the initial surfin’; hits and the acclaim heaped on Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson went into seclusion to work on Smile, a concept album ala Sergeant Pepper. Van Dyke Parks was recruited as Wilson’s lyricist. Best known for his folksy storytelling on solo albums such as the eclectic song cycle, Parks was somewhat of an underground phenomenon in the music biz, with a career as a session musician and composer and lyricist. Parks’ inventive poetry proved the perfect counterpart to Wilson’s musical whimsy. The recording sessions are revealed as a creative free for all. Interviews with Parks, bassist Carole Kaye and others divulge a litany of hijinx designed to inspire in-studio creativity, including an exotic, made to order tent, and the infamous piano in the sandbox. Although some vocals were recorded when the Beach Boys tour ended, the overdue status of the material, Wilson’s mental state and a freak fire down the street after the recording of Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow, shelved the project indefinitely. Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains survived unscathed from the sessions and became radio hits. in the late ‘60s, with a fresh, psychedelic spirit that made that made tamer radio fare of the day sound trivial. With the completion of Smile, Wilson’s long-dormant dream is fulfilled.
Cry-Baby: The Director’s Cut Universal Studios Home Entertainment Cry-Baby, released by Universal Pictures in 1990, was the first Waters feature that was produced by a major studio, and it also heralded Johnny Depp’s transformation from 21 Jump Street teen idol to lead actor with specialty in quirky characters. Cry-Baby retains Waters’ inherent trashiness, despite the studio’s stipulation that the film procure a PG-13 rating. Set in Water’s beloved Baltimore, Cry-Baby’s plot concerns the charismatic Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Depp), the leader of the wrong side of the tracks Drapes, and his battle with the bland Squares led by Baldwin(Stephen Mailer) Amy Locane, in her first starring role, plays the Allison Vernon-Williams, the pretty young thing caught between these two worlds. A curious combination of Waters regulars, newcomers and pop culture icons round out the cast. Mary Vivian Pierce and Mink Stole (in an iron lung) make cameos. Other great cameos are Joey Heatherton, Joe Dallensdro. Troy Donahue, and Patty Hearst and David (Ozzie & Harriet) Nelso . Iggy Pop stars as Cry-Baby’s Uncle Belvedere. "Oh, you caught me in my birthday suite buck naked," Uncle Belvedere says as the Drapes come home to find him enjoying a bath in a big tin bucket. Oscar winner Susan Tyrell is Ramona, the Drapes’ matriarch, and, judging by some of Waters’ commentary, was just as outlandish in real life as her character was onscreen. Traci Lords, in her first foray into respectable acting, is sharp and funny in a parody of a pouting sexpot in a tight skirt. Ricki Lake, in her pre talk show days, is Cry-Baby’s sister, the tough, perpetually pregnant Pepper Walker. The director’s cut DVD contains deleted scenes and a commentary. including musical numbers cut from the theatrical release, a subplot involving Lords and a sleazy “art” photographer, and the obligatory Waters gross-out scenes involving bodily fluids. The story, as Waters explains it in the It Came From Baltimore featurette, is based on the real Drapes and Squares from early 1950s Baltimore. Of course, Waters idolized real-life Drapes as a kid, but was never fully initiated into the fraternity. Cry-Baby, he explains, is a homage to his childhood fascination. The soundtrack, a blend of original early ‘50s doo-wop and rockabilly and songs written specifically for the film, is stellar and stands on its own musically. Even though Johnny Depp did have a passable singing voice, Cry-Baby’s vocals were provided by L.A. rockabilly singer James Inveltd. Rachel handled Amy Locane’s vocals. Lending more rockabilly cred to the soundtrack are High School Hellcats and King Cry-Baby, original songs written or co-written by the Blasters’ Dave Alvin.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Blue Ash-No More, No Less CD Review

The Blue Ash story is one of rock’s best kept secrets. Formed in Youngstown, Ohio in 1969, Blue Ash were a powerpop outfit in the same vein as Cleveland’s Raspberries, albeit with a harder edge. Of course, the term “powerpop” hadn’t been coined yet; then it simply meant good pop music. Blue Ash and the Raspberries played on the same bill often back in Ohio. The band’s name is taken from a real town in Ohio, though none of the members were born or raised there. Four long haired guys done up all nice, in striped jackets and white ankle boots, Blue Ash countered the disheveled hippie look favored by Midwestern rock bands at that time.

Mercury Records won a bidding war, signed them, and the underground classic No More No Less hit the shelves in 1973. Collector’s Choice recently rescued the album, out of print for over 30 years, from obscurity with a CD edition. Even a cursory listen of No More, No Less makes one wonder why the album wasn’t all over the airwaves in ‘73.

“Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)” is a crossbreed between garage rock and frilly power pop that served as a precursor to bands like the Nerves and the Plimsouls. (The Records included it as a bonus track on one of their albums). Singer Jim Kendzor alternates between effortless, uptempo delivery and emotive wailing to make the tune something special. The song has a timeless quality that surely sounded as good crackling though a transistor radio as it does streaming through an iPod. Where were these guys when the radio audience at large was force fed a steady diet of Lobo, Helen Reddy and Cher doing cheesy story-songs like "Dark Lady"?

“Dusty Old Fairgrounds” a previously unrecorded Dylan song when Blue Ash adapted it for No More, No Less. For a Dylan song performed by Blue Ash, it sure sounds like the Who! Drummer Dave Evans exudes Keith Moon frenzy on this one. You could slip it right at the end of Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy without disrupting the flow. “Just Another Game” has country pop undertones more reminiscent of the The Byrds than any of Blue Ash’s power pop brethren. The catchy "Plain to See" has one of those choruses that gets stuck in your head, with a pop sensibility that captures the essence of bouncy and melodic Brit pop bands from the Searchers to Freddie and the Dreamers. Likewise, the wistful lyrics of “I Remember a Time” wrapped in a bright, sugary base of smooth harmony vocals and jangly guitar.

Blue Ash had the (mis)fortune of being signed to Mercury by Paul Nelson shortly after the stiletto heeled appearance of the New York Dolls on the same label. Blue Ash toured around the States, opening for iconic acts like Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, and Iggy and the Stooges to support the album. No More, No Less made many critics’ Top 10 lists for 1973. Chicago Sun Times writer Bob Greene championed them in his column a few times and named them the best American band of the 1970s. Bass guitarist Frank Secich begins the reissue’s liner notes by mentioning Greene’s penchant for the band. None of the buzz impressed Mercury, and they dropped the band shortly thereafter. After a few singles and another album on Playboy Records, followed, but soon that label folded.

The band continued to write and record until 1979, many of the songs contained on the Not Lame compilation Around…Again covers the band’s 10 year history. Blue Ash called it quits at decade’s end with over 200 songs written and/or recorded. A sidenote- Blue Ash bass player Frank Secich played on fellow Ohioan Stiv Bator’s solo album Disconnected and also contributed a solo song to a Stiv Bators tribute album out of Italy. Luckily, Blue Ash are back together, currently playing shows in Ohio and Pennsylvania. They even have their own blog and MySpace. The reissued No More, No Less is selling briskly on, proving that it’s never too late to pick up where you left off.