November 30, 2007

The Bridge

I first heard the Chili Peppers on the radio. Local Harrisburg classic rock radio. 1991. "Under the Bridge". Yes, I was late to the game. But that didn't change my appreciation of its epic and accessible sadness. I listened. I became one with the elaborate but understanding bass line. The siren song of the call- and-response chorus sucked me in. I got it. I really did.

So when a high school classmate condescendingly asked "You know that song's about heroin, right?" I realized that I didn't really get it. This whole alt universe was new to me; I knew something outside my small-town world existed and I wanted to be there. Outside Harrisburg, and outside classic rock and into the libidinous world of college, edginess, and the big city. That was what I saw in "Under the Bridge", Nirvana, and anything else alt that snuck into my small world. Lyrics be damned.

My time was coming. Everything was set. My senior football year had just ended and I was scheduled to take a recruiting trip to Georgetown University. My nervousness was off the charts. What had I gotten myself into? The drinking, the girls, the big city, the alt-ness. Every part of me knew that I wasn't ready.

When I crossed the Key Bridge I saw the hilltop campus. It looked like a scary impenetrable fortress. The sky had a greenish-navy glow that spoke of doom. The parking lot I pulled into was nearly empty. There were no signs of life. No students. Just drifting leaves and the harsh glow of the parking lot lighting. I parked outside the McDonough Gym, the place where I was to meet the coaches, even more scared and more out-of-place than when I had left home.

I took a deep breath and headed up to the building's massive front doors. I gave a big tug. They were locked. I walked around the building. Lights all off. Every single door locked. I was all alone. A cold short lonely walk into campus revealed no more students. Everyone was gone. It was their winter break. The coaches had confused the dates. From a pay phone I contacted the necessaries (coach and parents) and decided to drive the two hours back home.

When I crossed the Key Bridge again "Under the Bridge" came on the radio and this time I really got it.
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November 27, 2007

Young, Dumb, and Full of Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik reminds me of U2’s Joshua Tree, not just in how these albums brought these already popular bands into the forefront of pop-cultural awareness, but also in how these albums let me down and proved to be the last albums that I would ever buy from either band.

Although I have found it nearly impossible to appreciate the post-superstardom work of either group, when I consider how enormously successful their careers have been since then, I realize that I probably should not hold it against either of them. Apparently, what really worked for them and most of their fans is precisely what doesn’t work for me.

So what went wrong?

For me and U2, it’s cut-and-dried: I don’t like the songs on The Joshua Tree; they don’t move or impress me, plus the production, despite the involvement of the genius Eno and the talented Lanois, makes everything sound washed out and dreary--just a few too many repeats and a touch too much reverb on the Edge throughout the album, I’m afraid. On the other hand, I share a more complicated relationship with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. There are some great songs on this album, and Rick Rubin’s production shines, really bringing out the best in every member of the band.

So what’s there not to like? Well, the major problem with Blood Sugar Sex Magik lies in the fact that it is just too damn long with too much filler. Pare it down to the essentials, and then you’d have one hell of an album:

Ditch the drab, mid-tempo “Funky Monks”. “Mellowship Slinky in B Major” is neither funky or punky enough to work for RHCP and just comes off as a lame attempt at hip hop, so we don’t need it on this “great” album. “The Righteous & The Wicked” is just Chili Peppers by numbers, and this band needs energy above all to be convincing, so this is a prime example of the chaff dragging this album down. Say “goodbye” to “The Greeting Song”, a weak riff on the same silliness that works so well on “Give it Away” but not here. Lose the pointless and terrible cover of “They’re Red Hot”, ‘cause when your cover can’t match the fun sexiness of an ancient, scratchy blues recording and “fun sexiness” is pretty much your whole game, you’ve obviously made a bad decision.

This leaves us with:

1. The Power of Equality. 2. If You Have to Ask. 3. Breaking the Girl. 4. Suck My Kiss 5. I Could Have Lied. 6. Give It Away. 7. Blood Sugar Sex Magic. 8. Under the Bridge. 9. Naked in the Rain. 10. Apache Rose Peacock. 11. My Lovely Man. 12. Sir Psycho Sexy.

That’s twelve strong songs culminating in the sickness of “Sir Psycho Sexy”! I never could wrap my head around Blood Sugar Sex Magik enough to really love it, but that looks like an album that would have blown my mind. Put the rest on an EP with “Soul to Squeeze”, and that would have sold millions, too.
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November 26, 2007

I CAN Live Without My Radio

It was a warm spring evening about nine years ago. I was in New York City on a date with the woman that would eventually become my wife. We were walking around Times Square in an attempt to try and find a good restaurant (something that I find to be surprisingly difficult in New York City).

The streets were crowded with tourists. As you walked towards an intersection you would begin to stand in a herd of people while everyone waitied for the beacon of safety known as the "Walk" sign.

As I walked across the street I was looking around. Instead of gazing up at the neon signs and flashing billboards I caught myself looking over at a flashy SUV that was caught at the red light. It was an immaculate black SUV which simply looked expensive.

As I walked closer I looked into the passenger seat. The window was open and the passenger was sitting with one arm hanging out the window. He was wearing sunglasses at night, which is always something that stands out to me.

Once I was within reach of the car I noticed that the passenger was LL Cool J. I was a fan of his music, but I do not think that I ever owned any of his albums. I liked his video for 'Doin' It', but that had nothing to do with him or his music. AS I stood there I realized that seeing LL Cool J was mildly interesting, but it simply did not call out to me or get me excited in any way.

I stood still for a moment in the middle of the crosswalk. LL Cool J slowly looked over at me and smiled. It was clear that I was the only person in the crosswalk that had noticed him. I could not quite tell if he smiled because someone finally recognized him or if he was simply entertained by seeing a goofy white dude staring at him.

After a brief pause I simply yelled out: "Hey, it's LL Cool J!". These simple words somehow broke through all of the commotion of New York City. The energy of the crowd completely shifted as everyone looked around. Moments later some girls could be heard shrieking. As I continued on my way to find dinner the beautiful new SUV was surrounded by a crowd of tourists as people all reached into the car to try and touch the celebrity that stood before them. The light turned green and it took a few moments for the crowd to clear enough room for LL Cool J to move on with his night.

The experience was enough to put a smile on my face. It also created a fun little story that I get to share with you today. I guess this also helps to describe how I feel about the three albums we are discussing this week. I can't get too excited about any of these albums. They are all by pretty good artists. They all contain some pretty good songs. They all fail to leave me with any type of lasting impression. They are all good enough that I would be able to recognize them, but I would just as soon let other people share their own excitement about these works. I would rather simply continue on my way and continue my quest to find a good restaurant in New York City.

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November 20, 2007

Hip Hop Lives in Our Memory

LL Cool J was 16 years old when he recorded Radio. But when we listen to the album aren't we all?

I first heard Radio when I was 13. Just one of a number of hip hop tapes providing background music in my next door neighbor's basement during epic battles of Double Dribble and Mike Tyson's Punch Out. It wasn't Radio in particular but this exciting music, hip hop, made me feel older. Maybe not quite 16 but not a mere 13.

This new music was ours. It wasn't made for our parents or our teachers. It was made for us. For our pleasure and for our fun. We knew that they didn't "get it". Sure, they might try to listen and see what this new rage was but they never stayed. They would never put our tapes in when we weren't there. They could never understand. Just like our Nintendo. It was a separation that I cherished.

So when I listened to Radio again I was overjoyed to hear LL's youthful defiance and his charming innocence. Overjoyed because I wasn't sure it was going to be there.

It's been a 20 years since 1987. LL's had dozens of feature films, a sitcom, a workout book, and like three greatest hits albums.

Was my memory of a furious sucker-MC-stomping rhymer accurate? A teenager so angry at the status quo, at pop music, that the targets of his lead single weren't other rappers but Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson. Musicians that adults listened to and understood; music that was played on the radio.

Of course that's the irony of the album's title: in 1986 hip hop wasn't played on the radio. OK, maybe it was played in New York late at night and in other cities on small AM stations, like LA and even Harrisburg!, but that was it. Heck, pulling in the Harrisburg station was so difficult that I never even tried.

Back in 1987 the words "Hip Hop Lives" were graffitied on a brick wall that faced the Harrisburg midget football practice field. Our team practiced there once daylight savings ended; they had lights. The graffiti was so declarative but at the same time so desperate and defiant. It screamed that hip hop was not a fad and would never die out. But at the same time only those in the know would ever understand.

It didn't turn out that way. In fact it was going to be just like rock and roll. Yes, I had just seen La Bamba, Peggy Sue Got Married, Back to the Future. They were just out on VHS. Their parents didn't get rock and roll either. They said it would die. It didn't.

Now hip hop is everywhere. And so is LL. When you listen to Radio you know it's LL just like you know it's hip hop. LL's rhyme flow and voice are still shockingly similar. It's the same inflections that same cockiness and the same self-assuredness. The rhyme subject matter is a different story. On Radio he's so young and so innocent so sweet and just a little bit corny. His rhymes could only come from a 1986. There's no cursing and the malice is playful. Not that LL ever changed, he just grew up. Just like hip hop.

In 2007 LL's album title, Radio, is no longer ironic it's anachronistic. The boombox has become a dinosaur and FM radio is close behind. Hip hop isn't a music of defiance and youth, it's the stuff of McDonalds commercials and big business. I can't hate the route LL and hip hop took; it was only natural. I'm just happy I can cue up my mp3 player, hear the booming bass of "Rock the Bells", and be instantly transported to my neighbor's basement, his Nintendo, and a welcome generation gap.
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November 19, 2007

Tunnel of Love

Tunnel of Love, Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stone Magazine's #475

exile staff consensus: Top 1000 album

the breakdown:
1.5 cannons - , venerableseed, polchic, and eurowags
1.0 cannon - lenbarker and the angryyoungman

the essays:
11/15 @ 1:00 p.m. - Eurowags captures the general malaise all but one of us have had regarding Tunnel of Love. We all really wanted to like it; we really did.

11/13 @ 8:00 a.m. - It seems there is someone else who is not enamored by Tunnel of Love; the album is too reminiscent of the Colonial Park Mall food court.

11/11 - A dissenting view from Len Barker. If he didn't like Tunnel of Love than what will he say about Don Henley's contribution. We shudder to think.

11/9 - Jahidi Hoya counters the doubts (but then adds to them in the comment section of post 1!). Oh, Julianne, poor Julianne.

11/9 - In our last poll, Bowie beat Bruce by a 2 to 1 count. Anglophiles all of you! We now have two retrospective poll on the albums listened to thus far. One question positive one negative. Just look to your right and vote.

11/8 - I'm up first, wondering about the veracity of Bruce's personal Tunnel of Love. (Note that in less than 14 hours! Springsteen's diligent cyber-sleuths found and removed the embedded Tunnel of Love music video from this site. If you wish to watch the video follow this link to youtube.)

the introduction (done with Don Henley's End of the Innocence):
It's 1985 and two 70's classic rock heroes had just found staggering success on the MTV and with a new generation of fans.

Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. and its remarkable string of seven top 10 singles were ubiquitous on radio and television.

Don Henley's single, Boys of Summer, seemed to usher in an era of artistry to the fledgling video network. Its constant play and VMA Video of the Year only cemented this fact. So how did our heroes respond?

Both released albums adored by critics but met with modest comparative commercial success. Springsteen strayed from his usual themes of social and political despair and moved onto a personal vision of love while Henley moved away from love and towards a message of political and social despair. Neither recorded their next album with their familiar band; Bruce's minimalist tracks featured few E-Streeters and Don continued Eagle-less (but not Axl-less) for at least the time being.

But most importantly, on their album cover both artists beckon the listener longingly with steely glares, "I'm the more sensitive one." "No, I'M the more sensitive one!" Do we still like these albums? Or better yet, which one is the most sensitive.

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The End of the Innocence

The End of the Innocence, Don Henley, Rolling Stone Magazine's #389

exile staff consensus: Why is this on the list?

the breakdown:
1.5 cannons - angryyoungman
1.0 cannon - polchic, lenbarker, venerableseed, and eurowags

the essays:
11/19 @ 9:00 a.m.
- Hold up. Wait a minute. Just when you thought it was over Len lends us another fitting tribute to the end of The End of the Innocence. Can he bring himself to listen to the album? Let's see.

11/17 @ 9:00 a.m. - A Don Henley supporter? Amazing! Even more amazing is that someone named the Angry Young Man is calling for an end to the hate.

11/14 @ 9:00 a.m. - Is this the end of The End of the Innocence? It's hard to believe how much discussion old Don has stirred up and at this point my post just feels like piling on.

11/13 @ 2:00 p.m. - The Ancient Scientist gives The End of the Innocence its just due.

11/12 @ 1:00 p.m. - Jahidi Hoya discusses his many memorable Don Henley concerts.

11/12 @ 8:00 a.m. - Newcomer JB is the first to capture the essence of the Walden Pond warrior's most acclaimed album.

the introduction (done with Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel of Love):
It's 1985 and two 70's classic rock heroes had just found staggering success on the MTV and with a new generation of fans.

Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. and its remarkable string of seven top 10 singles were ubiquitous on radio and television.

Don Henley's single, Boys of Summer, seemed to usher in an era of artistry to the fledgling video network. Its constant play and VMA Video of the Year only cemented this fact. So how did our heroes respond?

Both released albums adored by critics but met with modest comparative commercial success. Springsteen strayed from his usual themes of social and political despair and moved onto a personal vision of love while Henley moved away from love and towards a message of political and social despair. Neither recorded their next album with their familiar band; Bruce's minimalist tracks featured few E-Streeters and Don continued Eagle-less (but not Axl-less) for at least the time being.

But most importantly, on their album cover both artists beckon the listener longingly with steely glares, "I'm the more sensitive one." "No, I'M the more sensitive one!" Do we still like these albums? Or better yet, which one is the most sensitive.

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Dan Henley & Pat Nebatar

I can relate to JB’s post on Don Henley’s End of the Innocence and how his pop culture point of reference to Walden has shifted from that album to Eric Cartman and South Park. I have long been unable to think of Don Henley without recalling a Beavis and Butthead episode in which they watched one of his videos, referring to him as “Dan” Henley throughout and discussing his legal problems due to molestation charges* and how those troubles had led to the break up of his marriage to Pat “Nebatar”. And I don’t feel bad about that, because that’s about how much respect I have for Dan.

The first and only time that I have ever heard this album was at summer camp, somewhere between ’89 and ’92. Some of my fellow counselors introduced me to some great bands over the years, but other guys listened to some real crap in the shack where we used to hang out. As you may have guessed, I would place this album in that latter category. In fact, it may have been the single worst album that anybody dared to play on that shared jam box for all four of those summers. It somehow manages to stand out in my mind as being even worse than M.C. Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em or Aerosmith’s Pump, both of which were both played ad nauseam. I remember being astonished when my fellow counselor played End of the Innocence, because I was unable to find any redeeming qualities. It was simultaneously too stale to be exciting, too predictable and stupid to be intriguing, and too trite to be moving.

In the process of reviewing albums for this blog, I have tried to re-listen to all of them in order to refresh my memory and perspective, but I cannot bring myself to listen to this POS again. This fact, that I cannot summon the strength to listen to this thing again after not having heard it for between 15 and 18 years, has me hoping that this is the worst album on Rolling Stone’s list.

I’m rethinking that statement about how much respect I have for Dan, because it makes it sound like I consider him to be on the same level as Beavis and Butthead and South Park, when I actually hold those cartoons in substantially higher esteem than I do him.

* See jahidi hoya’s response to Ancient Scientist’s review for elaboration; I had never gotten the reference but found it funny anyway, so it was great to learn the story behind it.
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November 17, 2007

The End of the Henley Hating (but not the Boss Hating)

It was sort of my idea to do Tunnel of Love and The End of the Innocence together. At least it was my suggestion that Bruce has a Don Henley/Bruce Hornsby sound going on on Tunnel that prompted Kid Seed to put them up together. When I listened to Tunnel for the first time in years in preparation for this blog, I realized it didn't sound as much like Innocence as I had remembered. Mostly it's just the title track and Brilliant Disguise that really have that sound. So why did I always associate them in my mind for years?

Aside from the superficial similarities Kid Seed point out in the intro, I think it's because they both have a tone that's at once despondent and defiant. Tunnel's despair is more personal, while Innocence's is more societal, but that brooding quality is apparent in both. And also they're both totally full of shit.

The kicker though, is that while Innocence is a tight, smooth, well-crafted rock/pop time capsule of 1989, Tunnel is just, well...I don't think Len Barker and I see eye to eye on much musically. I mean, we like a lot of the same shit, but being a musician, I think Len probably has a lot broader interests than I do. But we're muy simpatico on Tunnel of Love. It stinks. There's no getting around it. I can't conceive what was going on in the minds of the RS voters who put Tunnel in the top 500. You can't call it Bruce's worst album ever, because he did release Human Touch, after all, but come on.

I'm probably even prepared to give Tunnel a bit more credit than Len, because I do pay attention to rock lyrics (in fact I think they're the most important part of the best rock music since rock & roll is basically our poetry) and the lyrics of certain tracks have the making of something sort of kind of halfway decent. Maybe.

On the other hand, I'm going to defend Innocence against all the haters on this blog. I most love its cohesiveness. It sounds like it was thought out and put together as a real album, as opposed to just a bunch of songs. The tracks flow into and build upon each other in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And how can anyone bitch about Axl's vocals? There's no song that was ever made worse by adding Axl Rose vocals. Now if only he would finish Chinese Democracy.
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November 15, 2007

Sous Chef or Assistant Manager

I have never seemed to buy into the myth of The Boss. During my teenage years, when I was first heavily exposed to the canon of classic rock, so many other artists captured my imagination. The Middle-Earth epic battle screams and guitar blasts of Led Zeppelin and their shark part cunnilingus shenanigans with hordes of groupies seemed utterly captivating. The voodoo/Native American shaman magic via the hipster and gritty London underground club rock of Jimi Hendrix was awe-inspiring. Even the extended family, ultra blue collar personas of Skynyrd and The Allmans were most admirable and uplifting.

Bruce Springsteen and his ragged bunch of East Coasters, on the other hand, seemed so pedestrian and remote, no matter his magazine cover success of the 1970s and 80s and the Jon Landau proclamations of Bruce being the future of rock. So, like other famous classic rock acts like Queen and Deep Purple, Bruce and his music have remained relatively unfamiliar territory to me.

Despite my ignorance of the Jersey Coast’s favourite son, Tunnel of Love has, curiously enough, always intrigued me. Probably based on things I have read over the years, I have had this romantic notion that Tunnel was this grossly underrated album, the true masterpiece of his since his 1970s work, and the one album that I needed to hear first to really delved into the oeuvre of The Bossman. Quite simply, I was rather excited to hear Tunnel of Love.

Well, while not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, Tunnel of Love was a mild disappointment for me. It’s a competent album with its fair share of well crafted lyrics and catchy tracks, but it seems to just to float so gradually and benignly with quaint melodies and memories of longing, unrequited love, and romantic mistakes. Worse, it is often lacking the impact pathos that one would expect from an album that is tied so closely with Bruce’s personal travails of the time. No doubt, it was a cathartic process for Bruce, but the listener is left a bit perplexed and annoyed with its coded self-pity (third person life snippets) and excessive introspection with a rather tame background sound that doesn’t do justice to the thematic presentation.

Some might find the sounds on the album a bit dated. Clearly the 80s keyboard (a la Bruce Hornsby), R&B adult contemporary background singing, and semi-wanker, Dire Straights-esque guitar effects gently permeate the album, although not too obnoxiously, thank heaven. For me, however, that is not a major concern and can even give an album its unique charm, as is the case with the title track, one of my favourites of Bruce and of the 1980s. “Brilliant Disguise” also has the late Roy Orbison via Traveling Wilburys feel, which is fun and catchy, but lacks a couple of right hooks or battle scars to really be remembered with the passing of the years. “Valentine’s Day” gently swaying ( although somewhat dated) organ sound is effective and, along with Bruce’s vocal tone, provides one of the few moving and contemplative moments on the album.

Amidst the simple charms, however, are some wince-producing moments. “Spare Parts” unfortunately foreshadows Toby Keith and Brooks and Dunn. “When You’re Alone” is a countrified, Salvation Army effort at what The Smiths did so brilliantly at around the same time: glorious self-pity and melancholy. “Tougher Than the Rest” is a rich-man’s Don Henley, but its still Henley-esque of the 80s variety. “Ain’t Got You” is rockified Blues 101 and seems a bit too obvious and gratuitous as an opener on an album that aspires for greater things, especially the painting of more complex emotional imagery.

What helps saves the album in many key points is Bruce’s voice, a great instrumental tool in transmitting delightfully engrossing cadence and in helping to turn the corner on so many otherwise difficult lyrical lines. “Two Faces” is a great example of this, with its haunting feel of Orbison and Bruce’s own “I’m On Fire”. Notice how his voice and the simply accompanying backbeat carry the song and make the intervals of organ music seem almost out of place or excessive. On “Tunnel of Love”, Bruce’s rhythmic chant, “Cuddle up, angel, cuddle up my little dove” has enough swoon and boogie to make the toughest of hearts a bit giddy and emotional. Too bad, then, that several of the songs take the straight up narrative singing approach and, hence, come across a bit monotonous at times.

So, in the end, mild disappointment is my immediate reaction to Tunnel of Love. That being said, I do not dislike the album and, in fact, find it generally rather appeasing to the ears, especially in the hectic commutes in the city. Unfortunately, amicable and mildly engrossing are not enough for a top 500 album mention, even with The Boss legends – which I still find difficult to appreciate – and the guilty pleasure “Cuddle up, angel, cuddle up my little dove” lyrics informing and running through this piece of work.
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November 14, 2007

The End of the End of the Innocence

end of the innocenceListening to The End of the Innocence is an exercise in patience. Songs struggle to begin (the ten songs have 36-second average intro, three clock in at 50 seconds plus!) and they never, never finish (average song length 5:45). Is "The End of" part of the album's title Don Henley's sick joke?

It's not as if Don was alone in his excess. His list of co-conspirators is just as endless. Imagine them as the three concentric circles of Henley's late-eighties self-indulgent personality: condescending Hollywood liberals, fusion jazz musicians, and a crystal-using non-traditional (but sort of rootsy) spirituality. Overlap may occur.

Here's a truncated list: Axl Rose, Take 6, Patty Smyth, Melissa Etheridge, members of Toto, Stanley Jordan, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Hornsby, hell, just go to the wikipedia list. But take note the Maxine Waters listed there is NOT the Honorable Senator from California, although oddly that would make perfect sense.

Each song features a different set of this ridiculous cast of characters thusly making the album (as well as the unending songs themselves) a disconcerting roller coaster ride of hilarity all held together by Henley's preening vocals and third grader-on-coke-level insights. I'll make it short and just look at song 3, "I Will Not Go Quietly" co-chorused by Axl Rose.

It opens with a Sportscenter-intro-lame 15 seconds of Led-Zeppelin-esque drums and guitar which segues into a jangly wah wah guitar solo which is then backed by a building synthesizer wall of sound. We're now at 59 seconds which is where Don first chimes in and is swiftly backed up by a reverbing monstrosity of a synthesizer bass. And at this point there's just too much happening in the background for me to continue. This is what 128-track studios were made for. There must be two-dozen people playing on this song!

At 1:35 the chorus comes in with Don and Axl singing "Gonna Tear It Up/Gonna Tear Sh!t Up". And really I have yet to get any further. I giggle I laugh and I turn my mp3 player off and think "once I finish this next sentence I can delete this album forever."
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November 13, 2007

End of the Innocence...

Dad rock.

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Apologies to Jahidi

My intro to the Boss came December 1984. Born in the USA was at the top of the charts and must have been one of the automatic answers to "what album would my daughter like for Christmas?" at the record store. Boston's self-titled opus must have been the other because I received multiple copies of both. On vinyl AND cassette.

Yes, obviously. Those are perfect choices for a ten year-old girl. F*ck you, Sam Goody.

Now that I am at a point in my life where Bruce is age appropriate, how does he strike me?

Old. He sounds old. He makes me feel old. I age as I listen. In fact, I feel as if these earphones are sucking remnants of youth right out of my soul. Get them off!!

The songs that I do recognize on Tunnel of Love conjure aural memories of early jobs at mall food courts and piped in music from the adult contemporary station. The ones that I don't honestly just blend together with the rest of the late 80s pop offerings. "Ain't Got You" reminds me of a failed demo track of U2's "All I Want Is You" which would be released shortly afterwards. "Tougher Than the Rest" is just Chris De Burgh's "Lady in Red" in a different color scheme.

"Spare Parts" once again invokes Bono's "When Love Comes to Town" mixed in with some Fabulous Thunderbirds' "Tuff Enuff." "One Step Up" = Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" (which, incidentally, was penned by Harrisburg's own The Hooters)

"Tunnel of Love," I admit, I like. But only because the Boss is doing his best Lloyd Cole impression. And there's no one smoother than Lloyd Cole.

Listening to Tunnel of Love makes me crave Boardwalk Fries washed down with an A&W root beer float. That, mixed in with its aforementioned reverse Botox effect, cannot be good for my health.
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November 12, 2007

Last Worthless Evening

It's a Don Henley T-Shirt, reallyI have seen Don Henley in concert five different times. I thought each concert was amazing, but unfortunately the most lasting memory of he show usually had nothing to do with Mr. Henley.

Lake Compounce - Bristol, CT - The End of the Innocence Tour #1
I was a big fan of 'The End of the Innocence' and I was really looking forward to the show. I was also discovering the music of the Eagles at the same time so I was pretty excited. I had really good seats about 30 rows from the stage.

Shortly before the opening act came out (Edie Brickell and New Bohemians) a moment happened that dramatically changed the course of my life.

There was a flyer handed out to each customer as they walked into the venue. It was a flyer with descriptions of each act that was playing the same venue that summer. There was an article in there about the rituals and customs associated with the concert of a one-hit wonder named Jimmy Buffett. The article described grass skirts, Hawaiian shirts, heavy drinking, dancing like a shark and a sermon about getting drunk and screwing.

I showed the article to my sister and we agreed that we would see him in concert next time he was in town. The next day my sister gave me $20 to go out and buy the live album that was referenced in the article. A Parrothead was born.

Madison Square Garden - New York, NY - Benefit for Walden Woods
The benefit to raise money for Walden Woods had three acts. Up first was Bonnie Raitt. She put on one of the most boring live shows I have ever witnessed. The headliner was Don Henley. However, the reason I went to the show was the other performer of the evening... Jimmy Buffett. It actually ended up being my very first Jimmy Buffett show. As promised, my sister was with me. I was also able to convince my mother to join us as she also started to ejoy the 'Feeding Frenzy' live CD that my sister had financed earlier that year.

The Jimmy Buffett set absolutely stole the show. It was a party from beginning to end. By the end of the night I actually felt bad for Don Henley. He had to follow a man that lit up the Garden with tales of pirates, landsharks and margaritas. Hearing about some sort of desperado was a doomed exercise.

the backLake Compounce - Bristol, CT - The End of the Innocence Tour #2
The opening act was Susanna Hoffs. She was the former lead singer of The Bangles. She was even more beautiful than when I first saw her on MTV in the 'Dance Like an Egyptian' video. She wore a short black dress, clearly playing into her sex appeal. At one point she decided to dedicate a song to a guy in the front few rows that was standing and dancing the whole time. It was a cover of 'Feel Like Makin' Love' by Bad Company. I am still jealous that she did not dedicate that to me.

Giants Stadium - East Rutherford, NJ - The Eagles
I brought my sister to the show. Looking back on it, I really should have waited to catch the show in a smaller venue. A stadium was not the best place for the more subtle sounds of this type of show.

The highlight of the show was Joe Walsh. He was amazing. He remembered that playing in a rock 'n roll band is supposed to be fun! The other guys on the stage all felt more like businessmen.

Madison Square Garden - New York, NY - Music to My Ears
This show had the single greatest concert lineup for any show I have ever attended. It was a benefit for Timothy White - a very well-respected rock journalist.

  • Brian Wilson
  • Jimmy Buffett
  • Roger Waters
  • James Taylor
  • Shery Crow
  • Don Henley
  • Sting
  • John Mellencamp
The best set of the night was without a question Roger Waters. He performed a new song in his set. A song that to my knowledge he has never released. Normally a new song in a set from a classic artist is a reason to run and get a beer. In this case, Roger Waters created something that was absolutely special and I experiened one of the most moving musical performances I have ever seen.

During "Comfortably Numb" he had a guest musician stand quietly at the microphone next to him. He was dressed in black and was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. It was not until he sang that I knew it was Don Henley. An absolutely amazing collaboration. It was my 5th time seeing Don Henley perform live and it was the first time that I walked out of one of his shows remembering one of his performances. click here to
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On second thought, maybe I will go quietly

Walden PondI can't remember specifically, but I surely had moments in high school when I considered instigating a campaign to revive Transcendentalism to its mid-19th century height. I passed Brook Farm on my way to/from school, had swimm'd in the waters of the great pool in Concord, and thanks to my sophomore year American Lit class, I was well versed in Thoreau and Emerson. All the elements were in place to become a transparent eyeball and go live deliberately, following the beat of that different drummer and all that shizz. Naturally, I gravitated towards Don Henley's The End of the Innocence to aid my quest. I recall prying the jewel case free from its cardboard cocoon the day it arrived from Columbia House, assured that this album, my first ever mature record purchase, would usher me out of innocence as the title suggested. And so began a lifelong effort to suck the musical marrow out of every lyric.

My ambitions abated around track three. 'Is that really Axl Rose?', I wondered. W. Axl Rose on this super-serious-supposed-to-whisk-me-into-socially-conscious-adult-preppyhood record?

My new CD listening routine consisted of a blind listen first and then a second listen while reading the liner notes. "I Will Not Go Quietly" inspired my first ever mid-initial-listen liner note check. Sure enough, 'twas Axl screeching those background vocals. Edie Brickell, Melissa Etheridge, and Bruce Hornsby contributed to other tracks to make for a somewhat eclectic list of collaborators. (Edie Brickell was still cool back then prior to the Paul Simon brainwash. Hey whaddya know?!? Just wiki'd Edie Brickell and turns out she released a new album with the New Bohemians last year. I'll have to check it out.)

Don Henley became something of an adopted New Englander by vigorously supporting the Walden Woods project in the early '90s. Turn on the news any given night and there was Don giving a speech or making a pondside appearance. With commercial development around Walden Pond in check now and for the foreseeable future, Don Henley seems to have disappeared. My pop culture point of reference for Walden is now Eric Cartman from South Park. BEEFCAKE! BEEEFCAAAAAKE!!!
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November 11, 2007

Fudged Tunnel of Love

I respect Bruce Springsteen. When I was a kid, I liked Born in the U.S.A. and the nine-minute long video to “Rosalita” that MTV used to play, and I dig much of his classic material to this day. I have no probem with anybody talking about how classic Born to Run, Nebraska, and The River are.

Unfortunately, listening to an album like Tunnel of Love makes me want to take three shots of Ragged Glory washed down with a gulp of Reign in Blood. Alright, so that’s never a bad thing, to want to listen to those latter two albums repeatedly, but what I’m getting at here is that Tunnel of Love is far too dainty and glossy for a dude who always works to project that “earnest blue collar frumpery” (as Ancient Scientist so aptly put it in another post here). Track by track, here are my complaints:

• “Ain’t Got You” doesn’t work. The arrangement and production are far too vanilla to pull off the intended rootsy effect, and this album is in trouble already.

• “Tougher Than the Rest”, huh? Then stop with this wussy shit and get back to some rock.

• Okay, “All That Heaven Will Allow” is even worse. “I can’t be late I’ve got a date with all that heaven will allow.” What the hell does that even mean? See, I don’t usually listen to lyrics in rock songs. I just assume that they suck, and I’m okay with that, if there are other redeeming qualities. When I like a song, and the lyrics turn out to be pretty good, too, then that makes for something special. But, damn, Boss, there’s nothing to save a track like this in instrumental or melodic terms, so you draw me to the lyrics, and I recoil in horror.

• He’s sure belting it out on “Spare Parts”, and with the full E St. Band, this may have worked, but it sounds ridiculous in this context.

• Okay, finally, the fifth track, “Cautious Man” is a good tune that really works with Bruce’s vocals and the acoustic accompaniment, so far the only tune saving this album from becoming a total suckfest. If we can’t have the E St. Band, then this is what I want out of Bruce Springsteen!

• But Bruce fails to sustain the artistic momentum on the stultifying “Walk Like a Man” (which has me dozing off at my keyboard while I’m trying to write this review!).

• The title track isn’t a bad tune, but the cheesy keyboards are far too prominent in the mix. They make Bruce’s Fender Esquire seem like nothing but a prop in the video, which is a shame, because the man can wail, and a little more guitar in the mix, beyond that ridiculously choked and dated-sounding Alex-Lifeson-esque lead, probably could have helped this one.

• Oh no! Listen to those hideous keyboard chirps at the end of “Two Faces”!

• “Brilliant Disguise” is a decent tune, but that obnoxious percussion track almost sinks it.

• A David Sanborn solo would be right at home on “One Step Up”, so I’m glad for Clarence that he didn’t suffer the indignity of being asked to contribute here.

• “When You’re Alone”. Cute there, Yogi Berra. . .way too fucking cute to work for Bruce!

• “Valentine’s Day” is alright, but it’s too late to salvage the album by this time.

There is no way that this should be on a Top 500 greatest-all-time albums list. Instead, Tunnel of Love belongs on the shitpile with other misfires by rock greats who succumbed to ‘80s production issues on some of their worst albums: Go to Heaven by the Dead; Landing on Water and Life by Neil Young; Dylan’s Shot of Love and Knocked out Loaded; Mistrial by Lou Reed; everything Paul McCartney touched; Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla; the Stones’ Dirty Work. Why Rolling Stone doesn’t let this stinker rot away with the rest of ‘em is beyond me.
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November 9, 2007

"Can I listen to it?"

Bruce and Julianne“Good morning, honey” Julianne says with a smile clearly realizing that her husband has been up all night working again. “How is the new album coming along?”

“It’s done.” Bruce softly rubs his eyes while trying to feel around for his cup of coffee. “I finished it about two hours ago.”

“Where was the band?” Julianne is starting to get concerned.

“They’re not on the album. Well, maybe I will have them do some fills and some light work, but this is not an E Street Band album.” Bruce has his back to Julianne as he looks out into the yard of his beautiful new home in Rumson, NJ.

“Can I listen to it?” Julianne asks, “I would love to be the first person to hear it!”

That is probably how it went. A simple conversation somewhere in the middle of a multi-million dollar mansion. A beautiful Hollywood actress and her rock and roll icon husband.

Every time I listen to the “Tunnel of Love” album I cannot help but think about what that experience must have been like for Julianne Phillips.

I know that she must have known the marriage was not going well at that point, but how did she react when she heard some of these lyrics: Did she call the divorce attorney immediately after the first listen? Did Bruce try to hide the album from her out of fear about how she would react?

I actually start to feel bad for her when the following verse comes up in “One Step Up”:

“It's the same thing night on night
Who's wrong baby who's right
Another fight and I slam the door on
Another battle in our dirty little war
When I look at myself I don't see
The man I wanted to be
Somewhere along the line I slipped off track
I'm caught movin' one step up and two steps back”

The tour to support the album also had some of its own adventures. Bruce started a love affair with his back-up singer - Patti Scialfa - which eventually led to a marriage and three children. There is an infamous picture of a married Bruce Springsteen on the balcony of an Italian hotel with his back-up singer.

Last month I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Madison Square Garden. He performed “Tougher Than the Rest” as a lovely duet with his wife Patti. The irony of that selection is palpable. As the first verse of the song begins my thoughts once again drifted to Julianne Phillips.

“Well It's Saturday night
you're all dressed up in blue
I been watching you awhile
maybe you been watching me too
So somebody ran out
left somebody's heart in a mess
Well if you're looking for love
honey I'm tougher than the rest”
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November 8, 2007

Distance of Love

(Note that in less than 14 hours! Springsteen's diligent cyber-sleuths found and removed the embedded Tunnel of Love music video from this site. If you wish to watch the video follow this link to youtube.)

I'm not saying that this video scared me...but it scared me. Not just the breakdown at the midway point with the jittery close-ups of the carnival barker, the tattooed man, the sword swallower, the fire eater, and the snake charmer. No, the entire video. The deserted winter seaside town, the ferris wheel, the dark empty tunnel ride, the pitch black lighting, the shadows, the blue hues, and Bruce's clearly pained face (which at 1:21 sneaks in an out-of-character charming, smirking smile).

My childhood experiences told me the Jersey Shore was fun and adventurous. My family had taken summer vacations to Wildwood; those were good times. This video wasn't about good times.

I was 13. Too young to understand completely but old enough to understand a little. Love and women and marriage is a day at the beach. Only it's winter, the beach is full of freakish people, it's cold, and there's really no hope unless you "learn to live with what you can't rise above." Which didn't seem like that great a choice.

I'm cynical about most things but I never wanted to be cynical about love. And even at 13 I decided that Bruce's despondent and hardened tunnel of love wasn't a place I wanted to be. He looked too weary, too sad and, well, who wants to go to the beach in the winter?

So now, 20 years later, I'm trying to get into Tunnel of Love but it feels so removed from anything I know. His suspicious and alienated view of love isn't mine. His macho angst, despite its excessiveness, I can relate to but the storytelling style is, er, another story. The obvious metaphors and multiple (but all personal) narrators strike me as a forced literary conceit. Why does Bruce need to establish distance from emotions that are obviously so personal?

"We've read the tabloids, Boss, we know you're marriage is in trouble." Better yet, we love this album because your marriage is in trouble. Maybe we think, "You're our friend, Bruce. With this album you've let us into your life and your emotions. We're here for you and we understand. In fact, they're the same emotions we feel. You've written our lives in your songs. You understand us."

But what if these weren't Bruce's emotions. What if he was just doing what entertainers do: entertain, become what their audience wants, and sell records? There's my cynicism again. What if his doomed, cynical Tunnel of Love character is no more himself than the array of characters that play out his other albums. Surely, they are not Bruce; why should this album be any different? Could that explain his distance? Could that explain the 1:21 smile?
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November 5, 2007

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie, Rolling Stone Magazine's #35

Ziggy Stardustexile staff consensus: Top 200 album

the breakdown:

4.5 cannons - eurowags
3.5 cannons - lenbarker and venerableseed
3.0 cannons - angryyoungman and polchic

the essays:
- Our last Ziggy Stardust post is an Ancient Scientist banger meditating on the end of the 60's, the end of childhood, and a new awakening. Amazing stuff. Now if only I could find a picture of that Ziggy Stardust poster... (UPDATE: I think I did!)

Note that the winning Halloween Bowie persona was Ziggy Stardust and that a new poll is up involving our next (beginning on Wednesday 11/7) album: Springsteen's Tunnel of Love. The question is simple: Bruce or Bowie?

11/3 - LB wonders why Ziggy Stardust fails to completely blow him away, which leads to a few questions and some terrific answers.

11/1 - How about that. The Angry Young Man snuck in with a post about organization which is soooo fascist Bowie. (the organization part, not the post itself) It lingered down at blog bottom for a day or so but now it's up to its rightful place!

10/26 - next up is eurowags invoking another English star of the gilded stage: Laurence Olivier.

10/25 - up first, me, and Why I Blame Andrew Lloyd Webber

the introduction:
A martian, a miscast Messiah, music mythology. Ziggy Stardust. If you can follow the album's story I suppose it makes perfect sense. But what does it mean, man? Well, what does it mean to you? The album's been adored, venerated in film, and played on jukeboxes in the most unlikely and likely of places. Let's listen again.

Poll Question:
which David Bowie persona would you most like to be for Halloween?
Ziggy Stardust - 25%
Halloween Jack - 8%
Aladdin Sane - 8%
Thin White Duke - 16%
Fascist Bowie - 0%
80's R&B Bowie - 25%
Jareth, the Goblin King - 16%
Tin Machine Bowie - 0%

Poll Question:
Bruce (Springsteen) or Bowie?
Bruce - 33%
Bowie - 66%
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Bowie Kills the 60's

The Ziggy Stardust PosterJust before my older sister got into DC Hardcore (this was the '80's, when Georgetown was cool), she listened to rock music, but rock music that sounded more dangerous and mature than the stuff on the radio like the Thompson Twins or "Karma Chameleon." This was when I was 10 or 11, on the cusp of adolescence but still basically a kid. In this phase, my sister had the holy triumvirate of the 1970's represented on her wall. (No, RS reader, this is not Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles.) I didn't know who any of them were, but I was fascinated by them because they seemed so cool, exotic, and older sister.

There was a poster of Lou Reed, although I didn't know the name, blurred out (it was the "Rock n' Roll Animal" album cover), and a weird poem about "smack" and "jim-jims" and "politicians making crazy sounds and dead bodies piled up in mounds." I didn't know what any of it meant, but I loved reading it because of the way it sounded (the opportunity to discuss this one will come later in the blog's life). Iggy Pop did not have a poster, but was instead represented by some lyrics my sister had scrawled on the wall in ball-point pen next to the phone where she exchanged dark secrets with her cool older friends.

And the king of them all was Ziggy Stardust, in a huge black-and-white poster, gazing down on the room like an alien space God pharaoh, with that disk of make-up on his forehead, glowering. He seemed so weird, I didn't know if it was a boy or a girl, and I didn't even associate that poster with the David Bowie that my sister always prattled on about. I didn't know who this creature was, but I knew he was better than me, knew everything, had to have seen it all, and certainly was able to be cool in a room full of cool older people, and probably wasn't "such a fucking spazz," like me.

I also remember from this period the song "Starman" playing on my sister's tapedeck. I didn't associate the song with the poster or with David Bowie, but I loved it. It sort of seemed like a children's story, but with an extra dose of sadness that I always liked, like "The Little Prince." It was about an alien who knows all this stuff, but he's afraid to come let us know about it because it will "blow our minds." I wanted him to come anyway - I thought that I understood him, and that I could withstand what others who didn't get him couldn't. The song made me feel like I was an insider, and that there were squares out there keeping the world from cool guys like the Starman. But I could handle it, I knew it.

I did not pursue Bowie, and my sister moved on to DC hardcore, as I said, (but, to her credit, never took down the Ziggy Stardust poster), and then she went to college. I started listening to music like Led Zeppelin, the Who, Beatles, Dylan, all those guys, music I loved then and love today. And so when I rediscovered Bowie in high school, it was sort of coming at him through my blossoming interest in 1960's rock music.

Which is very appropriate. Bowie started off as a flower child, admiring Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd at the UFO Club. His grossly underrated first album, Space Oddity, trafficked in the mystical psychedelia of his peers, although it was already showing signs of something different, with the legendary title track's evocation of outer space travel not so much a Pink Floyd-ian freakout as it was an opportunity to meditate existentially on loneliness and insanity. Paralleling Marc Bolan's evolution from Hobbit-rocker Tyrannosaurus Rex to glam-god T-Rex, Bowie went in a new direction as the 1960's, at least on the calendar, came to a close.

Ziggy Stardust is the culmination of Bowie's metamorphosis. Gone was the flower child singing of free festivals and laughing gnomes, and here was this freak celebrity rock star, delivering a new message to the waiting masses from on high. This reinvention was total, requiring a new persona, that of the alien Ziggy with a new message for the kids. What was this message? In a lot of ways, Bowie's still the '60's kid, singing about space aliens, dreams, and freaking out, testing the limits. But things have changed, babies. The alien is not singing about a tribal, communal experience of mind expansion: this exploration is a personal trip. It is a coming-of-age story, telling the young ones, those at the feet of the knowing alien, that the new territory is sexual awakening. I mean, look at the video.

Look at these young girls being flattened, communing with something they had not yet experienced, sex with a superior being, the knowing one, the better one, watch them undulate at the 2-minute mark, watch the girl in post-coital extasy after Mick Ronson's guitar solo has taken her "out... far out..." This is a new message of rock n' roll, purely Dionysian, the rock god celebrity spectacle rather than the tribal communion. It is the moment when the Moon/Teenage Daydream, the devotion to the rock idol, finds its communion in the performance on the stage. It is a return of music to its nature as an ecstatic, sexual rite, away from the everybody politics of the 1960's. Listen Suffragette, leave your feminist trip behind if you want to really go places that are REALLY out there. You can't afford the ticket to my show, you've got too much baggage for the good time. Are you a real freak? Well, no more kid stuff.

This sounds cold, and it can be, this brutal reality. But your rock n' roll momma/poppa, he's been where you are, he understands. "Just turn on with me, and you're not alone." The trip we're taking, the one in which he leave the kid stuff behind, it's a suicide, in a way, the death of your old self so that the new one, a freak alien, but an aware one, unlike those perma-children who never test their boundaries and remain squares with their childish hangups their whole lives, can be born. Bowie was performing a rock n' roll suicide on all of the naive things he cherished - everyone cherished - in the 1960's, signaling that that ego ideology of exploration was reaching its inevitable and logical conclusion. Bowie was killing the 1960's; against the deeper, more basic power that he was representing, that era would seem quaint, nostalgic, too easy ("cuz it ain't easy.")

That's why, as exhilarating as the posters and their promise of coolness and dark secrets in my sister's room were, I also knew there was something scary about them, about what I was going to go through as I said goodbye to my childhood years. At least I would have Bowie to help me.
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November 2, 2007

It's Not Muthaf7ckin' Ziggy!

David Bowie's legendary The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is about as bad of an album as it possibly could be.


But I love it anyway.

Here's what I mean: given the superb material and the excellent musicians involved, I don't think that this album could be much worse than it is. When I consider the great songs here unto themselves, it amazes me that this album fails to completely blow me away, leading me to ponder a few questions:

Is it overproduced?

Possibly. Only "Five Years" and "Ziggy Stardust" strike me as particularly strong renditions that really do the material justice. On the other hand, "Hang On to Yourself", the raucous badass opener in D.A. Pennebaker's film of the band's final concert, limps onto the middle of side 2 and barely registers. "Moonage Daydream", "Starman", and "Suffragette City" are all as castrated as Wendy Carlos (whose work from the Clockwork Orange soundtrack can actually be heard playing before Ziggy and the Spiders take the stage in the film!): Mick Ronson's playing is not punchy and present enough in this mix, with too much space given to keys, mellotron/strings, and backing vocals instead. Don't get me wrong, these recordings are definitely enjoyable, and it's not as if one has to listen hard to hear the obviously great songs, which remain evident, it's just that they could have been appreciably better.

I'm not just speaking theoretically here, either: both the Pennebaker film, despite a flawed, inconsistent mix, and the 2000ish archival release Bowie at the Beeb offer glimpses of how much more powerful these tunes could be in the hands of these same musicians in less heavily produced contexts. I do not mean to say that the production flourishes were all bad, either, but they seem to wash out much of the feel and impact.

Was too much time and effort spent on promotion and not enough on the album?

Particularly revealing to me on the recent Rock Milestones DVD, which offers a historical and critical overview of the album featuring interviews with bassist Trevor Bolder, drummer Mick "Woody" Woodmansey, and horror Angie Bowie, is how much emphasis was placed on building Bowie up into a rock star at this time by his handlers, to the evident chagrin of these folks (who were all quickly discarded by Bowie once that stardom was attained).

For example, the US tour consisted of the band playing a show somewhere, then partying for a couple of weeks in order to build up a high profile as extravagant, wild rock stars, although the record company had to subsidize it, since Bowie himself was not wealthy yet. While such theatricality is an undeniably critical, integral element of the whole Ziggy Stardust phenomenon, one has to wonder whether the music itself ended up being neglected in the whole process.

Bowie even neglected to finish writing a story about Ziggy in these songs. If this album can actually be viewed as a concept album at all, then that concept is, at best, half-baked, which is not a big problem in and of itself, since it would have worked out fine had the end result been that Bowie employing the concept as a basis for inspiration, since I would never demand adherence to a concept as a qualification for the creation of a rock album. Instead, the song order apparently follows the intact but skeletal remains of the plotline derived from the original concept, when it probably would have made for a better album if he had departed from those plot-related aspects of the concept altogether in order to attain a better flow, limiting the influence of the concept to a mere thematic nature.

Despite some evidence of overproduction weakening the impact of Ronson's playing in particular, it seems like some of these issues may have been resolved, had there a been a more concerted effort to work out the issues with the mix and song order, rather than making it a priority merely to get a product out there for Bowie to promote. I am definitely not sure on this point, but given what we know about Bowie's activities during this period, I have to wonder where the priorities lay.

Did Bowie step on Ronson's arrangements?

This supposition consists mostly of my reading between the lines, but some of the comments made by the interviewees on the Rock Milestones DVD led me to wonder whether Bowie and Ronson's joint production efforts didn't also lead to some compromises that weakened the album. While Bowie undoubtedly was the ring leader here, Ronson held responsibility for arranging much of the studio instrumentation. Bowie frequently insisted on providing his own touches, for which, despite his lack of technical studio expertise at the time, he deservedly acquired a reputation as having an extraordinary ability to select seemingly randomly instruments that would help beef up a tune. Contrasted with Ronson's more technically adept background in evidence on his arrangements, there was plenty of potential for friction there.

Someone on the Milestones DVD (I believe that it was bassist Trevor Bolder) notes how much he would have liked to have seen Mick Ronson given a shot at a whole project, which seems like an odd comment on its face, since Ronson produced multiple albums over the course of his career, so I take this to mean that what he meant to say, in a roundabout way, was that it was a shame that Ronson could had not been given full rein over this project. Yeah, that wasn't going to happen, since, again, this was Bowie's deal, but it leads me to believe that the commenter felt that Ronson's arrangements had been damaged by Bowie.

What about the vast legacy of this album?

Huge and undeniable. . .but even that could have been greater had either of the two films related to this project worked out better!

Unfortunately, the film quality of the Pennebaker film puts a lot of folks off, and, despite a scorching performance, the inconsistent mix is far from ideal. That said, it is great to have any filmed documentation of that tour, but it's a shame that the film remains so underappreciated, mostly due to technical issues.

Then we have The Man Who Fell to Earth, which, although it is an adaptation of a novel, is a solid film that's pretty much about a character that's extraordinarily similar to Ziggy Stardust, who happens to be played by David Bowie. Sounds great, huh? Well, it falls short of greatness, mainly due to one, glaring problem: no Bowie music! At all. Instead, reportedly due to contractual issues, there's a thoroughly unremarkable soundtrack provided by John Phillips (they just had to find a guy who had even bigger drug problems than Bowie's!) that seems like a placeholder for what should have been the tunes from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, which is a real shame when one considers how much more vital the movie could have been with those tunes. Another squandered opportunity!

But you love it anyway?

Oh, yeah, the issues aren't that serious, and I'm definitely overstating and overanalyzing them here. If someone digs Bowie, then they'll love this. However, given the material and musicians, it easily should be a top 20 all-time album, but it's not. It should be Bowie's finest album, but it's not.
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November 1, 2007

It's Worse Than Trying to Organize a CD Collection. Much, much worse.

I was originally going to write a whole lot about David Bowie, despite the fact that I don't have a strong opinion about him one way or the other. Musicians who are about the show first and the music second have never much interested me. So I will sum up what I was going to say that it wasn't until I was in Dublin in 1994 and spending late, drunken nights at this pickup joint called Major Tom's, that I investigated David Bowie a little further.

As an aside, the pickup joint I knew seems now to be Dublin's first and only Australian bar. Who knew there was even such a thing as an Australian bar?

So what I really want to talk about is the all-important topic of mp3 organization. (btw, can we all agree that mp3 is a useful shorthand for music files in general, whether they are actually in mp3 format or not?) Prior to downloading it for purposes of this blog, I did not own Ziggy Stardust. But I did own a 2-disc David Bowie singles collection saved neatly on my hard drive at My Documents>My Music>Zune>David Bowie>Singles Collection, Vol. 1 (and a separate folder for Vol. 2). Volume 1 included 3 of the songs from Ziggy Stardust.

So I was faced with a choice. I could download the entire album, in which case the Zune program would very neatly read the new album and place it in my library at with the album art in the directory which I set up My Documents>My Music>Zune>David Bowie>Ziggy Stardust. That would essentially waste hard disk space on copies of 3 songs already stored in the Singles Collection directory.

Another option was to just download the songs I did not have, and then create a playlist with all of the tracks in the correct order. The downside of this is that when looking at the album in the "album view" of Zune (or any other music player) it would appear to be incomplete. The 3 songs that are in the Singles Collection folder would seem to be missing. And to listen to the album I would have to click on the playlist I created. I would not be able to just click on the album. And were I to save the playlist to my Zune device and listen to it there, as the songs from the Singles Collection folder played, my Zune would display the Singles Collection album art, not the Ziggy album art.

So the choice is to "waste" disk space on 3 duplicate files (albeit with different tags) or to have the album saved all in once place for organization purposes. It's an issue that is going to keep coming up. I have every CD that the Angry Young Woman and I own ripped onto my hard drive. Many of those are greatest hits CDs and multi-disc anthologies from artists on the RS 500, like Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Ray Charles, Al Green, etc. As I obtain the actual full albums on the Rolling Stone list, if I download the whole thing every time (as I did with Ziggy) I am going to wind up with many, many instances of the same song saved in multiple directories with different tags. That's potentially a lot of disk space "wasted" on duplication.

Although as I write this I now realize a third option.: I could have downloaded only those tracks I didn't have, re-tagged the 3 tracks from the Singles Collection and moved them to the Ziggy folder. So in the album view it would be the anthology that would be missing tracks, not Ziggy.

I wouldn't really even need to create a playlist for the now-depleted anthology because if it's just a collection of singles, what difference does it make if a song or 3 is missing from a 40 song collection?

On the other hand, there are certain anthologies, like the Bob Marley Songs of Freedom 4-Disc set, that I would not want to break up in that fashion. Which leaves me right back at my original dilemma of wanting to be a completist with my albums but not wanting duplicate tracks on my hard drive. This is also the most time-consuming option, because it involves re-tagging the three tracks to match the downloaded Ziggy tracks.

How do other people deal with this issue? It must come up for people all the time.
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