Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tuffy the Cat's Museum of Brilliant Mistakes

Hi there, DJMurphy’s cat Tuffy checking in again. An unexpected flood of fan mail response to my previous museum opening has coaxed me into creating another museum. Really, though, why do I need the stress? Why should I bother opening up another museum for you humans when all you do is kvetch and moan about the cost of crude? Still, somehow I feel it’s my feline duty to do so, and since Murphy is gone all day fixing computers, I find myself with a little time between catnaps and getting stoned off of catnip. So why do I open up museums? Well, who better to chronicle the absurdity of the human condition than a cynical cat who can type? You humans are usually too high on yourselves to realize that there are some wickedly absurd things coming out of you in the name of “art”. Whatever; stuff the art and send over another gross of fine Colombian catnip, please. But for you the blog reader, I give you some of my favorites in Murphy’s vast library of things that were a fine idea at the time, but now are brilliant mistakes.

Rufus Thomas – “Bear Cat”

Rufus Thomas was the self-proclaimed “World’s Oldest Teenager”. He was a Mississippi-born and Memphis-bred r&b singer. His greatest fame was while he was with Stax, with a song the world knows called “Walkin’ The Dog”. But his first hit was a song which my species can appreciate: “Bear Cat”. It was an answer song to Big Mama Thornton’s more popular “Hound Dog”. However, instead of merely cleverly referencing the earlier melody for its tribute, it stole it wholesale, prompting a lawsuit which nearly bankrupted the still-nascent Sun Records label which would later launch Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny, Carl, and Roy. Even though “Bear Cat” was a hit, it was injuncted out of existence before it could snowball into anything profitable. It’s a shame, too; the song is great! Rufus starts up before the music with the most blood-curdling impression of a wild cat; it even made my own fur stand on end. Imagine how stupid I must have looked to Murphy, me all hissing as if there was a real bobcat in his tower speakers. His master’s voice, indeed!

Stefan Anderson – “Keep On Lovin’ Me”

Murphy believes that Stax Records of Memphis is the finest record label to ever have graced this Earth. Even a cat like me has to admit that their successes are amazing: Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, Booker T. & the MG’s, Rufus Thomas, the Staple Singers, Eddie Floyd, the Bar-Kays, the Soul Children, William Bell… it’s a roster to be proud of. But after 1968, the brain trusts behind the label started making a lot of decisions which had a factor in the label’s downfall in 1975. However, this next brilliant mistake is one they should ultimately be proud of; Stefan Anderson was a white guy who reportedly could sing the paint off of the walls. He came to Stax’s attention in 1972. They signed him, and stuck him in the studio with Donald “Duck” Dunn and Bobby Manuel producing. Al Jackson Jr. was on drums, and the tracks were smoking. What was the problem, you ask? Well, just because Stax was progressive-minded enough to know that soul is soul, no matter what the color of the dude singing, soul RADIO wasn’t as broad-minded, and after six or so great songs, Stefan faded into soul’s history books. Silly humans; black cats and white cats all caterwaul the same. Any housecat knows that!! Leave it to knuckleheaded humans to make such distinctions important. What next, discrimination against golden retrievers? Actually, that’s not such a bad idea, those goddamn dogs!!

The Max Headroom TV Show

This one is a heartbreaking one. Most people who lived through the ‘80s (not me; I’m only ten years old. Which is sixty-something in people years…) can’t help but remember the stammering virtual Coke spokes-knuclkehead who exhorted viewers to “Catch the wave, COKE!” This overexposure thoroughly turned off most of the public off to the fact that the corresponding sci-fi/drama TV show of the same name was a fascinating, groundbreaking concept. Set “twenty minutes into the future”, the debut episode concerned an investigative reporter who is trying to find out the dirt behind these TV commercials called blipverts which are making viewers’ heads explode. How cool! How often do I wish that certain humans’ heads would explode (Murphy’s kid is a cat terrorist!! He won’t listen to reason!!). The TV show lasted approximately one season, died an ignominious death, and sadly has never seen DVD release.

Kevin Rowland – “My Beauty”

This one truly makes my fur crawl and my brain go “What the fuck were they thinking???” This album is so gloriously BAD that it supposedly sold only 500 copies, the poorest-selling CD in Creation Records’ history. That means 499 other dingbats were as dumb as my owner in buying this steaming turd. This CD isn’t only bad; it’s a far-reaching, over-ambitious shining example of what badness aspires to.

On paper, Creation Records supremo Alan McGee thought he was going to get a wonderful album to release when he signed former Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s lead singer Kevin Rowland to his label, Creation. Rowland had played McGee some of his demos, and McGee was floored at how soulful they were. In the interim between the bust-up of Dexys and the time he was signed to Creation, Rowland did drugs. A lot of drugs. Enough so that whatever madness he might have previously had was made to be crazy-mad. Silly humans; we kitties do drugs too, but you never hear a cat go batshit crazy from eating too much catnip. So McGee thinks that he’ll sign Rowland, and be able to release a triumphant solo album from the former lead singer of Dexys. He got more than he bargained for. Apparently, Rowland felt that this collection of cover tunes (with which he took substantial lyrical liberties) best represented the headspace that he found himself in 1999, the release date of this monstrosity. Rowland also believed that he should best represent himself on the cover by dressing up in a teddy, with his nipples showing. McGee, though floored, decided to release the album anyway as a punk-rock gesture, a sort of V-sign to those who expect him to keep releasing stuff as brilliant as My Bloody Valentine or Primal Scream, or even as successful as Oasis. If McGee was looking to release an album to make the punters squirm, then he had succeeded admirably.

The reason that this is so horrifically bad (aside from the snicker-inducing cover, which betrays the maxim about judging a book or CD by its cover) is that Rowland fashions the lyrics of each song to turn it into his own personal self-soothing therapy session. It’s obvious that Rowland is still a good singer (well, as good as he ever was). But for anyone who knows and loves the original versions of these songs, hearing Rowland make nutty changes so each song sounds like a rah-rah at a twelve-step meeting is a jarring experience. I’m glad that Rowland thinks that by singing these songs he will bring himself some sort of peace; I think he should have left this one up on the shelf, though. Next to all the kitty snacks he isn’t giving his cats; had he been keeping up with those, his cats wouldn’t have let him release such a horrifically bad CD, and deep-six what remained of his credibility.

Take a listen to how he mangles the Squeeze chestnut "Labelled With Love". Or for a truly disturbing experience, I dare you to listen to this! Don't say I didn't warn you...

Sports Night

Aaron Sorkin had already had experience in entertain- ment by writing the play (and subsequent movie) A Few Good Men before he tried his hand at television. Sports Night was a smart, witty, intelligent dramedy about life behind-the-scenes at the second-rated nightly sports report. It starred Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman, Robert Guillame, and a slew of other sharp cookies. But it was mishandled by ABC during its two season run. And with a title like Sports Night, it had no chance at finding its most-likely core audience (I wish TV marketed sports more towards cats; I'm lucky if there's ever a good puppy-bowling match on Animal Planet). Despite critical acclaim and a rabid following, ABC nuked it after two promising seasons. Sure, it has the feel of a freshman effort; Sorkin later perfected his type of hyper-intelligent television with The West Wing. But Sports Night was still a diamond that got buried in the mix.

Elvis Costello – The Juliet Letters

So the man himself who inspired my museum's subject matter gets his place in this hall of dubious fame. Like all the other creators of the above works who approached their mistakes with true earnestness and good intentions, Declan Patrick MacManus (or Elvis Costello to the rest of you) thought that it would be a daring step for him to team up with the Brodsky Quartet and release the fruit of their labors. Despite a critical "huh?" and the purchase of it from the diehard fanbase who hadn't gotten choosy at that point as to which Costello releases to judiciously avoid, the public stayed away in droves like cats to a dog convention. Which is a shame; there were some cool tracks, and one flat-out classic in the song "Jacksons, Monk and Rowe". Even the great ones sometimes release a turkey; Elvis is no exception.

So there you go. Thank you all for visiting, watch your step on the way out, see you at the opening of my next museum.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pete Townshend's Quadrophenia Recording Notes

Quadrophenia is arguably the Who's best album, despite the soft spot I hold for Tommy. Pete, chastened by his inability to bring the far-reaching science fiction rock opera Lifehouse to fruition, decided to conceptually aim lower with his next project. His eventual second rock opera, Quadrophenia, was meant essentially as a way for the world to never forget that Mod culture existed. The story, as told within the songs, cohered even less so than Tommy. This fact is ultimately one of the things which work positively for the album; the songs aren't shackled to the story as closely, and work just fine outside the confines of the album itself. But what a great album it is, taken in as a whole.

Upon the release of Quadrophenia, Pete Townshend wrote a long-ish set of recording notes which he asked his record company to send out to reviewers with their copy of the double LP, itself which was released with a beautiful libretto. I came upon these notes in a wonderful set of circumstances which aren't really relevant, but for me, having read these notes BEFORE I got intimate with the album, it made my enjoyment of it that much greater when I finally got it. Without further ado, here are Pete's unedited recording notes for Quadrophenia, which are too cool to NOT share:

"Quadrophenia" has taken us about a year to complete. We started thinking of an album of this type last year, about May, when we stopped work on an album we were doing with Glyn Johns. In fact, two songs that Glyn produced with us are included on "Quad." We started the new sessions last year at Stargroves using the Stones Mobile, these sessions also ran foul for various reasons and we decided that for a project this important we would build our own studio at our Warehouse in Battersea. This undertaking started late November last year, was headed by our road manager, John Wolff.

John enlisted the help of a small army of carpenters and builders all in their twenties and the studio was completed in about five months. We started recording using Ronnie Lane's Mobile before the studio was even finished. Our new engineer, Ron Nevison, who actually works for Ronnie Lane, proved to be a hard worker and committed to the album idea and worked right to the end at "The Kitchen" as our studio came to be called, because of the Lyons Corner House appearance of its decor. The control became the dining room, the studio floor, where the real work was done, the Kitchen.

I had already prepared a number of tapes and sound effects at my home studio, so we got ahead very quickly with backing tracks, John and Keith seeming to play better than ever in my opinion. Much brandy was consumed, sixteen crates so I hear and much food was eaten. Some of it superb from London's finest restaurants, some of it I'm afraid not so good. Cooked on occasions by road men and Chinese men in Brixton.

All the time we were recording we were surrounded by anxious builders watching to see their labours appreciated. Whenever we stopped working they would start again, putting air conditioning in and even doing acoustic treatments. A lot of love, or "vibes" they would say, went into the place and you can feel it, it definitely helps the atmosphere to know the people who built the place personall
y, and for them to have been involved in the recording. We were worried at first but things turned out well.

We did the mixing at my studio in the country. I'm a man of many studios now and I didn't want to leave any of them out. The mixing was a whole lot tougher than we thought, the effects tapes taking days to get right for only a few minutes of use. On one occasion we had nine tape machines running, I think it was during the mixing of "I Am The Sea."

Whether you like it, or hate it, this album is notable as a Who album because of the freedom we have had. Every facility was provided and with synthesizer and John Entwistle's brass collection we managed to embrace musical areas we've never hit before. I even played the violin! Keith Moon even sang! Roger even designed the cover! John Entwistle even... even... you'll hear John's contribution when you play the album.

Learning, very much the hard way, about making albums that "flow" I have decided, after listening and listening, that your first listen might be aided by a bit of preamble. It would probably be aided by a stiff drink and a comfy chair as the album is long and we want you to hear it all.

The concept of the album is pretty simple. It's really a series of reflections and memories that a young mod kid is having while sitting on a rock he has ended up on after a miserable and disturbing week. The boy whose name, hold your breath, is Jimmy, has four distinct sides to his personality. Each one
bothers him in a different way. One side of him is violent and determined, aggressive and unshakeable. Another side is quiet and romantic, tender and doubting. Another side is insane and devil-may-care, unreasoning and bravado. The last side of him is insecure and spiritually desperate, searching and questioning.

Each facet of the boy's personality was adopted by a member of the band, originally with a little type casting, we thought we might all play "parts." This didn't happen in the final version, although the type casting still fits. Roger is the first, John the second, Keith the third and myself the last. Each facet has a theme, and on track 1, "I Am The Sea" you hear these themes in the distance over the sound of the sea just before track 2, "Can You See The Real Me." The themes don't always come in the same order, on this occasion you hear Roger's th
eme first played on horn, "Helpless Dancer." The theme is take from the track of the same name. Next is John's theme "Is It Me?." Next is "Bell Boy," Keith's theme, (Keith actually plays the part of the Bell Boy in the song itself on side 3). Last is my theme from "Love Reign O'er Me."

Each facet of his character also represents what I feel to be a particularly marked trait of the "Rock" generation.

"Can You See The Real Me" gets everything going with a quick look in at the psychiatrist's, at home and even a quick visit to the local vicar. Mental security is unfortunately not obtained.

"Quadrophenia" is the title track you guessed. The four themes are now tarted up to form a kind of overture. We used a lot of synthesised strings and brass on this, but John also played a
lot of real brass as well. The themes are "Bell Boy;" "Is It Me;" "Helpless Dancer;" and "Love Reign," in that order.

"Cut My Hair" is a domestic interlude. The boy recalls a row with folks that culminated in his leaving home. We also hear a news broadcast mentioning riots in Brighton between Mods and Rockers, events at which he was present the previous week.

After spending some time doing precisely nothing other than swallowing purple hearts, he attends a Who concert. An imaginary conversation between him and your average mindless Rock Star is portrayed in "Punk And The Godfather."

Jimmy kicks his heels for a bit and the loneliness he feels, despite his four-way mental hangups, are put across in "I'm One." Happily, later on the record he does actually get his four themes into

Suitably disenchanted with his former religion, Rock and Roll, he gets a job as a dustman. Unfortunately, his extremely leftwing views are not appreciated by his work mates and he passes on the greater things. This action takes place in "The Dirty Jobs." No sound effects were available to get the stink across. (See photo) So we used a brass band. Incongruous enough?

In the next track, "Helpless Dancer," we get a real look at where the aggression comes from. Jimmy has a conscience that bites fairly deeply. His frustrations with the world only make him more angry, even bitter.

"Is It In My Head" is the track that shows that Jimmy, although an ordinary kid, has not only a conscience, but also self-doubt. He worries about his own part, and feels maybe his outlook is clouded by pessimism.

"I've Had Enough," A lot happens aroud this bit, much of it in the album cover story, briefly Jimmy "snaps" when he sees a girl he particularly likes with a friend of his. In a desperately self-pitiful state, he smashes up his prized scooter and decides to go to Brighton where he had such a good time with his friends chasing Rockers and eating Fish and Chips.

His train journey down to Brighton, sandwiched between two city gents, is notable for the rather absurd number of purple hearts he consumes in order to wile away the time. In "5:15," he goes through a not-entirely pleasant series of ups and downs as he thinks about the gaudier side of life as a teenager that we see in the newspapers like the News of the World.

Arriving in Brighton sees Jimmy brighten up a bit, get the pun? He talks about rows at home, and is a little sarcastic as he recalls the evening on the beach with his former girlfriend. This happens in "Sea and Sand."

"Drowned" is a song about Jimmy's genuine need to end it all, not in the literal sense we feel from the earlier track, "I've Had Enough," but in a more spiritually defeated sense. He feels old, despite his youth, and feels the sea represents a kind of metaphor of infinity, he longs to drown, to become water, even to become infinite.

"Bell Boy" is fairly up again. The sea and the beach even in the rain do cheer Jimmy up. As he is walking on the beach he sees his old hero, Jimmy remembers this bloke in complete awe, recalling his effortless dancing, his toughness,and his fearlessness with Rockers. He was leader of the gang then. The hero turns out to be a little different then in his ambitions drive than the image Jimmy has laid out for him. Seeing how degraded his former hero had become, he starts to feel the emptiness of his waving the flag for the mod movement. It's critical here because it's all he had left.

He steals a boat and heads out to sea in it, he gets wildly drunk and in "Doctor Jimmy" we see the real bravado at work. Something else happens to him though, something inside clicks, and his original drive to suicide becomes sidetracked as he starts to feel, on the boat at sea his first genuine high. Despite the booze and naturally the pills, his mind and heart transcend his misery and the feeling of the sea and the rain and also the anticlimax of having no axe to grind any more, free him inside.

He reaches the rock, and you hear the four themes again for the last time as he finally shrugs off his mental hangups. Finally, they all merge into one and for the first time he feels complete. This section is called "The Rock."

Sitting in the pouring rain he pours out his heart in a mixture of relief and awe at the new life he has to live ahead of him. "Love Reign O'er Me" closes the album with a traditional Who ending. We smashed the whole bloody lot.

N.B. The above information written by Pete Townshend is specifically intended to be used for reviewer purposes as a guide to your appreciation of "QUADROPHENIA" and not for reproduction in whole or part as a press release. The Who look forward to reading your opinion. Thank you.



Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Wife Is Cooler Than Yours (aka MBV part 2)

I know I risk a black eye for saying that, but the truth is, I have married the best woman in the world. Not only does she put up with all the bullshit attached to me (forgetfulness, lackadaisical attitudes, etc.), not only has she blessed our life with two beautiful little rockers-in-training, she somehow against all odds knows what makes me tick. She bought me two tickets to see My Bloody Valentine at Chicago's very own Aragon Brawlroom!!! I am excited beyond words, and thrilled that she would grace me with such a generous gift. Because suffice to say, she wasn't able to pay face value on these tickets, letmetellyou. WOW...

I almost wonder if she knows what she's in for. I've tried to play her "Only Shallow" and "You Made Me Realise", just so she has a hint at the potential sonic brutality which could result. But the two rockers-in-training are at ages that make even listening to two songs in one sitting a difficult accomplishment. We are definitely going to wear earplugs; forewarned = fore-armed (and not in the bodily appendage sense, even though we both have all of our limbs). I know that a MBV concert is potentially a once-in-a-lifetime event, and even though based on what she listens to (classic rock, Bon Jovi, Clapton, etc.) it's probably a sure bet she won't be able to appreciate their music as much as I do, I'm glad she's coming. Maybe just so she can see what all my fuss is about. And what the hell, she might end up a fan; stranger things have happened.

Coming soon: a bit about the Small Faces, the classic '60s Mod group that I've known about but just recently rediscovered. Here's a small taste of their greatness; you need to do yourself a favor and listen to this song!!! Also, my cat Tuffy might open up another museum soon; stay tuned...