A subdivision of ACIDEMIC

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

More Lou Reed Remembrance - March 2nd - Now


See: The Great American Novel: A Lou Reed Discobiography from House Next Door (11/10/13)

(From Acidemic): When I first started hunting down his canon in local used punk rock record shops as a snotty 17 year-old I didn't even know we had the same birthday (March 2nd), we both wear glasses and we both majored in English Lit and Syracuse University. He supposedly stayed in my same dorm (Flint Hall), and like him I moved off campus soon after and formed a band. It was before the internet, or any bio on him, so one couldn't just know all these things. All I knew is, I had been adrift in a myopic solipsistic tweenage alienation for years, and Lou came along and said, "hey kid, don't settle for walking." He didn't lead me out of the abyss, but he helped me contextualize the pain into a grand artistic persona, a blue mask to reflect the glare of a hostile world back into its own eyes. He wasn't singing about love me do / you know I love you, he was singing about the agonizing pain of coming home from a dark and dirty fun party and instantly feeling paralyzingly lonely.


I saw him play, twice, at the Ritz, in '85, at the start of, and end of, his tour supporting Mistrial. Disappointing, since Robert Quine wasn't there, but Fernando Saunders was on fretless bass and I knew then I had to become a bassist. I finally joined a band sophomore year, when I was already on my way to becoming an acid rock hippie freak, but I still sang "Sweet Jane" and "I'm Waiting for My Man" and sometimes "Heroin" during the third set, and I was already making token struggles against my burgeoning alcoholism, again not knowing Lou was a drunk, too, and wrote "The Power of Positive Drinking," the sweetest justification for not getting sober when you know you need to, and then "Underneath the Bottle" an album or so later when he realized hey, sooner or later you're going to have terrible DTs, so why not get out in front of that, too?

In my late 20s living in a midtown loft with my lead guitarist, I would spent hours and hours hyperventilating over the toilet from 2-6 AM, nonstop, trying to keep down enough vodka to stop dry heaving. I was so sick from alcohol poisoning I couldn't hold down the liquor I needed to not suffer the horrors of alcoholic convulsions. I was caught in a vicious circle. My only company were Lou Reed in everything and Nic Cage in LEAVING LAS VEGAS. Sometimes I had a stolen-from-my-girlfriend Librium to help me come down but more often than not I'd drop it and be crawling around for hours in panicked desperation. But Lou had a song for that too: "Waves of fear, squat on the floor looking for some pill, the liquor is gone... " My decision to be so open about all my drug and alcohol use, to be blunt about my divorce, band difficulties, emotional rises and falls, losses and regrets, and ambivalence, the courage to let it all hang the stuff most people hide come out in the open, crafting art (or art criticism) from the medium of my own guts, it all comes from him.

None of that means I knew him personally, but I felt like I did. A lot of us did, it was a personal thing. We didn't even mind he could be a total shit some of the time, to his fans, to his world. He never tried to hide his venom, if he had he wouldn't have been him anymore. "Give me an issue, I'll give you a tissue," Lou snarls on Take No Prisoners. "And you can wipe my ass with it."


Sometimes, like after I read one of his unauthorized bios, I began to hate him, but I always came back, because he never sold out or got repetitive. Suddenly after a slump or two there was New York, a new classic, and one of my favorites, the Warhol eulogy record with John Cale Songs for Drella -so perfect and simple with Lou's guitar and Cale's viola never sounding clearer or better together, as if Warhol's spirit buried the hatchet and brought out a playful reverence that they never seemed to share before or since.

But he could be a shit. Maybe it was because he let us all feel like we knew him, and that level of broad openness in one's art is always going to have drawbacks, like finding out the most fun and awesome guy you ever dated is a thief and junkie, and so what, are you going to walk out on him? Lou never stole from us, and he gave so so much of himself that a lot of us freaks, who have never felt this way about any other artist before or since, could forgive his insecure lash-outs. He was the cool older brother who brought us to all the dangerous places most young suburban kids never see. He didn't leave us at home with mom, afraid we'd cramp his style. He didn't abandon us.


So I'm not going to cry this time. I'm just going to make a spotify mix and take a look back at the 30 odd years I've been a Lou Reed disciple, and realize if I'm anything, or anyone, or have any sense of belonging to the gritty New York streets I haunted for the past 20 years (before moving to goddamned Brooklyn) it's because of Lou. Lou, I swear I'd give the whole thing up for you. And I did.


"When Lou sang of the “whiplash girl-child in the dark” who said things like “taste the whip, / now bleed for me,” suddenly I could take the violent reproach of my aching hormones and twist it like a sword until I disemboweled the old me. The result was like dropping nitroglycerin on an oil fire, an alchemical reaction that set me free. I knew that I was, at heart, a sadomasochist."

"Death has brought you close to art as we know it today," says Lou, to Max Wolf, ailing manager of the film's equivalent of Bill Graham's Fillmore East. The film starts rough but develops a sweaty-palmed rock intensity that might recall the best rock movies and rock shows and flashbacks of any drug-fueled moments of transcendental pagan abandon, the wild fury of the mosh pit, and onwards.

King Blues sings "Mannish Boy!" Malcolm McDowell plays a T. Rex / Mick Jagger hybrid. There's a great Iggy Pop-ish animal man, a scabby punk rock poetess, a flooded bathroom with a shark swimming around it, a giant hypo, and Daniel Stern pausing to inhale some smoke from a $1 hookah hit-sellin' Rastafarian in one of the stalls... Iggy prompting people to jump off the balcony, including Paul Bartel. There's a Satanic pimp alien coke dealer, magical LSD in the water cooler, a crowd-surfing refrigerator, acid rock hippy freaks, a twitchy fire inspector, and that's just the tip of Malcolm's talking penis. It's the beginning / of a new age.

Here's my Lou Reed Spotify Mix, adjusted to reflect a tribute / eulogy / farewell / ode I think Lou would like. He loved assembling new CDs from his old catalog, and he has a flock of cool Spotify mixes himself, that he made, of other musicians he likes. My Lou Mix has no "Sweet Jane" or "Walk on the Wild Side." Too easy. This is the stuff I loved at the time, me alone, in my room, with headphones, blotting out the parents and the world outside the New York Streets. This is the weird stuff no one else would know, lada lie... RIP Lou Reed. xo




And lastly, his Warhol "Screen Test." Goodnight, ladies

Sunday, October 27, 2013

GET CRAZY (1983) - FInally Avail... on Youtube. Lou Reed's Dead. Long live Auden!


"Death is just another step on the journey, man.... The end is always a new beginning."

At last... Been waiting for this movie to come to DVD in forever. Sure it's a bit dumb and crude and confusing, but so are the Ramones. The late great Lou Reed plays great late scenes as a mercurial brooder rock star, seen above in an apartment meant to resemble Dylan's album cover for "Bringing it all Back Home." There's a sort of version of The Runaways, the Grateful Dead, Iggy Pop, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Blind Luther Washington, BB King, who delivers a great funeral oration for Howlin' Blind Luther Washington, which could surely apply to Lou:

He was the greatest guitar player,
the greatest driver,
the greatest manager,
Lover of women,
Drinker of whiskey,

God, this here is my man
and you better take care of him,
or I will wax
your
ass

For fans of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, and hey, THE APPLE... and lovers of the Lou, who will be missed.

"Screw stadiums!"

Monday, September 30, 2013

Demonic Soundtracks from Beyond the Grave - A Spotify Mix to Creep out the very fall itself


Fall, and its bite-size candy trick-or-treat assortments, pumpkin guts still on your fingers,
the slowly spiraling colored dry leaves, the darkness and the chill each
with its own rooted black wet shiver,
the crisp new school year already darkening into sinister homework maze; girls and/or guys gone wild... with other people, you left alone
with the Hardy Boys inside Smuggler's Coven,
but then the movies, that autumnal chill in the creeping tick-tockable momentum of HALLOWEEN, PHANTASM, SUSPIRIA, PHENOMENA,
they're coming to get you Barbara,

but then they leave without you,
curled under the watchful eye of your dozing big daddy, the heater coming on for the first time since May with the smell of mold and mop handle incense.
mom in the kitchen, the safety of her presence without the meddling,
and then when they dress and leave for bridge... you're all alone
and barely old enough to be without a babysitter. Powerless, even with a butcher knife in your side pocket
And the chill in the leaf-swirling wind settles into your bones
like a personal threat.

I feel it all whenever I hear one of those great horror soundtracks from the 70s-80s, the time when simplicity and synthesizers and eerie time signatures left an uncanny mark that no amount of Williams, Goldsmith, Shore, or Elfman-style orchestral themes could or will ever match. Less is more and the more instruments and elocution you stuff the music with the less we care. We're not idiots. Imagine HALLOWEEN if scored by John Williams. Yiick!



Yeah, he got lucky with JAWS, which is mainly a rip of the rip of Les Baxter's MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH 'initiation ceremony / shamanic dream' ritual music which itself is lifted from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. But then, all you need to hear is that ridiculous jaunty pirate music when the boys go out on the Orca to know that shark cue was a bleedin' fluke. Less is more: Goblin, John Carpenter, Ennio Morricone, Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh, and of course the ones that started it all, the creepy sing-song theme of ROSEMARY'S BABY and the moody keyboards of "Tubular Bells."


And a special shout out to the groups/composers Zombi and Umberto, who make music for 70s-80s movies that never existed! They use the Italian / American drive-in synth score format as a jumping off point, into the dark spooky heart of the creepiness that is the fall we love, remember, and chill to, so come along, or you might get left behind... in the dark!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

OVER THE EDGE sountrack (1979) + Other Anthems of Middle School late 70s (Spotify Mix)


Someone had to do make one - there was a soundtrack for ahwile on vinyl, but you knew that. And nothing on Spotify, so here it is. I cobbled the original songs in the order I remember them, and put on some songs that either could, should, or would have been on there, as they were/are a part of my life in one way or the other, and from the approx. same time and capture the same theme of wild rebellion.


If you have Spotify or something like it - enjoy whilst kicking back with a lil' hash, a 1.75 of Old Crow, some acid, and a brick to throw through the school window. If not, well, you can read my handy rant on this, the greatest youth film of all time aside from Dazed and Confused. Think of it as Dazed's little brother, who never got the chances to be crazy provided the Dazed crew.



Man oh man. Some day....
 In AA there's a saying "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." The ultimate factor that destroys New Grenada is the refusal of the parents to admit that the base of their pyramid will probably not widen, and that their kids aren't going to just stop growing just because the town isn't. Kids can't slow their maturation to suit your dowdy suburban growth schedule! Nowadays kids don't blow up their schools and the result is micro-managing parents breathing down their necks and ransacking their sock drawers at will. But today's kids are fighting back, finally. It's Wall Street they're going after now... where the money from Middle America flows and drops like a giant Coinstar. I watch these protesters on the news and for the first time in awhile I have hope. One day, we'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun, but first, I guess, the darkness... like homework, must be endured. Give the darkness to Claude, let him smoke it; Matt Dillon, go on and create modern indie junkie comovage cinema with Gus Van and Francis Ford. Motorcycle Boy, YOU Live! We... we belong dead. We will go now, into the beyond. Never before has a bus ride to juvenile hall seemed like such a triumph, a march into Valhalla, on the rays of a beautiful sun, one day, when the world is much righter.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When I was 17... I had a very Punk Year (Spotify Mix)


Punk was a big tent in the early 80s--it included thrash or 'slam dancing' (as moshing was called then), but also reggae, Dylan, Bowie, T. Rex, Stones, Johnny Cash, and what would later become known as Goth. Mainly even over and above the thrash, at least where I was concerned, was the free-form originality of rock songwriter groups like REM, Minutemen, Husker Du, X, Flesh Eaters, DOA, will the last American band to get played on the radio please bring the flag?

And me, I got into punk via Lou Reed, and wearing a Lou shirt caught me the notice of the punk contingent at school, who turned me onto the Clash, and by extension Bob Marley. That's right, Bob Marley used to be punk rock. Why? Because the only way to learn about him, if you were a white kid in the 'burbs, was via the Clash; I remember picking up an LP of Natty Dread from the 'world music' folder, and listening at home under my covers with headphones and feeling like I was breaking some kind of law, arriving at some wild-ass destination.

Maybe I was, and am.... our main hangout was City Gardens in Trenton, usually $5-10 for an all-ages show, in the days all ages could smoke, and mosh, and look tough. We'd sit on the floor under the stage and smoke so many cigarettes we'd almost pass out. Man I was bored of each band after three songs. But whatever, it's history: I saw Ramones (probably five times), Iggy Pop (thrice), Replacements, X, Husker Du, Circle Jerks, REM, and Lou Reed. At home we'd watch tapes of RUDE BOY, GIMME SHELTER, GET CRAZY, and REPO MAN while smoking in the house and siphoning our parent's liquor after they'd gone to bed. I wore combat boots, black eyeliner, a crew cut with a duck tail, and flat black nail polish. Like I said, big tent. I've gone through a dozen seismic taste shifts since, but hey. Shit still holds up.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

1993- When We were on MTV, the NY Times Style Section, and Ruling the City, so Hungover.... so Hungover



A mix straight from the NYC streets in 1993, when MTV was cool, Nirvana changed popular music for the better, more or less, and I had St. Vitus Dance and a love of PJ Harvey. I had Dry and Rid of Me on cassette, as well as Siamese Dream, Beck's Mellow Gold, Nevermind (of course), and Urge Overkill and listened to them during the super hot NYC summer on my Walkman while staggering around the black gum-sticky Manhattan streets, the music frying my dilated nerves and making the grime sparkle. Sexual longing and unemployment shame made it all come together like a soft-loud-soft chorus.

Soon enough the boy bands and dance music, the Britneys and the Syncs, would bury the grunge / punk scene. Cobain died, his wife went postal, Billy Corgan wouldn't sit with us at Chez Esaada the same night Catherine threw up like wine fountain in the midst of our circle, and Phillip got kicked out for a gay bathroom moment.. We went to Lansky's a lot - a real old speakeasy with a back alley entrance guarded by real rats on the LES. I'm sure it's gone now - while there, in our tuxes we made the NYTimes Style section cover - different times.

I don't suppose things are that crazy yet stylish now. For one thing you can't smoke in bars anymore, and you can't dance--the only two things I had left after I got sober in 98 and my fab friends are all now married with kids. The ones who kept doing coke are either dead or summering in Ibiza and Fire Island where sobesky poor folks like me dare not follow. That's fine for me, baby I'm a rolling stone. Yeah Yeah, Yeah Yeah, I can bleed when I want to bleed!
 



Things happen. Portishead and Tricky and Moby and MDMA changed the landscape. The sudden availability of cheap, good, delivery service coke changed it still further, badly. Right around the time I was getting sober and convulsing on the couch, my crew started with the rolled-up 20s and parties were marked by sudden surges of sleazy dealers stealing our hotties' attention and luring everyone but me upstairs to the master bedroom. I stood there, swaying, oblivious by the downstairs snack tray 'til I realized I was alone; they were all upstairs, angling for their money's worth. And so I left, and never came back. The 90s were over. It all came down. But we have the music, still... here.... on this Spotify mix, if you can press play, suckers, then I say the world is ours...



Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Finnegan's Wake Explained! The Clancy Brothers and Usquebaugh!


During the folk revival of the early 60s there was no one as cool, as hearty, as manly and drunky as The Clancy Brothers. Their LP, "A spontaneous performance" was in my parents' record collection and it became my favorite album from like age three to seven. I even made up crazy dances in the rec room (or 'gorpenplatz' as my dad called it), "Gorps!" he'd say when I'd show off my skills, including building a gallows out of couch cushions for the song "Roddy McCorley" ("He was excecuted on the Bridge of Toome in County Antermin Ireland. He was hanged. This is his story." The Clancy's appear in Pete Hammil's "A Drinking Life" and I love them though I'm not Irish at all.

 This is their story.

Check especially out the last video where one of the Clancys explains Finnegan's Wake. 

 




Abd kastktm here's my favorite Clancy album, mainly because I discovered it as a child (in my parent's collection) and loved its robust courage and hearty playfulness: I would make a gallows scaffold out of couch cushions and mock execute myself in a weird dance I made up, around five or six years old, set to "Roddy McCorley" oh for home video cameras back in that pre-VCR era!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tentacles of Love is a RAWKING album.





Walking home in the rain without my iPod I suddenly had a bizarre panic attack, dizzy, etc. came upstairs drenched in sweat. I'm returning to normal now thanks to three bowls of cereal. No not bowels, BOWLS. jeez, Lauren, you have such a potty mined.

Could I be having pre-Halloween anxiety? What the hell is going on? Tomorrow is a big night, though I am sure it will not go as I plan... I'm allegedly filming hosts of half-naked models in the act of dismembering rock stars; slashing off arms and whatnot, in some yet to be announced location by my modelizing millionare ex-roomate and former co-band member. Not that kind of member, Lauren! You have such a dirty mind.

Why do I get the feeling that it's all gonna pan out badly? Is it the rain? Making a movie is a difficult and arduous process, Jimmy, it's not meant to be done in a room full of hard-drinking, god-knows-what smoking and snorting models and their Euro-disco arm candy menfolk... all preening and gabbing and making me feel like Paul Giamatti, craven and seething with my flawed humanity.

There's something so.... finished? about those people... like they are perfect because they are simple. It's easy to draw a good stick figure, harder to draw a complex moody Piscean visionary mystic artist genius director painter writer editor guru advisor doctor special effects artists media consultant food blogger like MYSELF! Hey, where is everyone going?

I'm listening to my nearly finished album and it sounds like a stranger is singing... who is this person? Maybe I'm unfinished, but when I'm done, hoooo boy! A 45-minute documentary will scarcely be enough to contain my myriad quirks.

I trumpet the grandeur that is I. Tentacles of Love. No more panic attacks, Erich, stand tall and be mighty and fret not thine hour upon the stage. And stop procrastinating. you are supposed to be writing about this damned African Kora player.

Later I'll tell you about my damned other ex-bandmate who is getting married and went from having a small ceremony to making me rent a tux, and the guy who measured me was dour and had an oppressive aura, and I had to walk up 6th Avenue which is rotten with cell-phone talking swine, and I hate the L stop on 6th avenue, it's like what I imagine Hell to be. Enough whining. Life is good.

I had a dream last night I was doing heroin with PJ Harvey. I dont even know what heroin would feel like, but it was making us both stupid, and her new album was weak, and I could barely move, and her sister was looking at us and shaking her head. (originally written on myspace - 06)

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Dreams of the Duke


Watching Ken Burns' JAZZ over the course of last week I was dismayed by some things, intrigued by others. For one, way too much hovering over death details--grieving for moms, last meals, etc-- for titans like Satchmo and Duke, and not enough about some of the other tragedies, like the death of Scott la Faro interrupting what was fixing up to be one of the most ESP-ish of jazz trios with Bill Evans.  Mingus and Monk get little more than solos.

But one thing it did do for me was garner a newfound drive to find my old Duke Ellington disc. Now the man has made 100s of albums over a long, nonstop career of constant composing and touring, but I'm looking past the big band orchestral swing classicism and back to the 1930s with what was denigratingly referred to as 'jungle music' but which is now more than ever sounding like 'dream music.' With its soothing, lullaby-style melodics and gently rolling rhythm, Ellington's early sound is that rare hybrid that you can either dance or fall asleep to.

Here are some of my favorite video clips of the Duke's (below). I've written over on Acidemic in the past about my reverence for his 1929 short, "Black and Tan Fantasy" but surely there are others. And more than anything some of that dreamy ambiance reminded me of passages from the MGM opus, ZIEGFELD FOLLIES! I saw that film after emerging from a terrible flu and it just about expressed exactly some of the crazy visions I saw during my 36 hour nonstop delirium. Could it be that the world was just dreamier back in the 20s? Why not think so, since we'll never be there again... except in records... and dreams?


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Sunflower Attorney


 A WEIRD HARD ROAD.

Every time you have a villain who cannot be redeemed, can't be turned into a friend, you have fascism. That's the beauty and sensitivity of the work of Val Lewton. He was sensitve, like a chick. Us he-men, every once in awhile, we get our sensitivity on and we're like wow, life has meaning and value. 

Then it's gone

WARRIOR MIND:

Men are encouraged to develop it, women aren't. You see it develop in revenge films, sensitive guy goes from family man to ruthless killer. The warrior mind can be used for good but that's a weird hard road. The warrior mind is in three stages generally:

1. Grasshopper Stage -- Able to ignore skinned knees in a single bound, knows how to use "radar"  (as in a crowded train station), likes to collect stuff. The Bad News Bears

2. Thug Stage --- Petulant door kicking, pulling girls hair and running away to prove you are not afraid, D-Day, The Marshall Plan, Wheel alignment, Butch Cassidy,

3. The Pinnacle Stage -- Howard Hawks, Bogart, John Wayne, Patton, Conan

4. The Too far Stage - Syd Barrett, Charles Manson, Pol Pot, Hitler, Keith Moon,  The Mai Lai Massacre, serial killers, The Cleveland Browns.

For no damned reason.
-----------------


 The Sunflower Attorney

My neighbor is home, drunk.
I assume via loud, erratic thumps.
And bam the bathroom pipe
erupts with muffled steaming; once it stops
some deep down voices yell and cops with sirens
screaming loud then turning down and distant from outside.

Look how easy it wasn't
I gave pens to the lepers and rent to my cousin,
fingers fall like butterflies dipped in inky rain,
the ceiling heightens,
smartens, brightens.

Man, he just wont stop thumping!

Hideous heart, beat it, get thee gone.
Tear this out from, not my night but my pink-lipped
breakdancer Dynamite Dawn.
Look at her spin like a greaseless lightning, Travoltage cruising
on through the coarse thrushes of winter tedium,
blazing past the tomorrow pocked by babies,
up through daisies like a George Alpha Romero's morning rushes,
caffeine and take threes, monitors alight with needy moms
and temporary insanity no longer a sound defense:
three farmers, one chick, one back fence.
You do the math, you hillbilly sandbox cutter of men.

Let me count from one to ten
with this here magnum you can blow me, head, unclean off,
and then be towel dry for supper, and I'll not piss off your dad I swear,
so kneel down and take it off,
strip the bolt til it's bachelor-laid bare,
exposed to chilly, feet-smell air
let all the neighbors come and see
the low row backhoe toad called
me.

Ah, the other neighbor sneezes. He's the one behind the
brick wall to my right.
A whole other story...

the key to balance is in not giving up too much power to any of your troops, as if you were a general. A good general uses every strategic trick for the ultimate benefit of all. Finally freed from the bonds of self, he still has to acknowledge the self-ishness of his troops and to forgive them for it. Think about the root word of selfish, i.e. as part of the family of -ishy adjectives: oafish or thuggish, hashish (How very hashish of you). But to be selfish is then to lean towards an abundance of the self; to let the light bulb brightness of ego blind one to the sun at large. How can a good general not go mad watching his troops stagger through the world blinded by light bulbs when there's a perfectly good sun right above them if they'd only look directly in it? He must forgive and tolerate with the same patience a father watches his infant son.  

Anything less is to succumb to eventual madness.

Writers are forever trying to capture unique mental states, in order to trigger them in others. The butterfly nets catch both fairies and poseurs, gently daffo-dealing lilacs cresting past lucrative enchantments and panic attacks to get to the pearl of wisdom. Jump twice not once
from love's embankment.

As dreadful sorrow attorneys with golden sunflowers
stand near yet far away from the awful scene.

Only we, the chosen, see that both sides of the fence are fucked.
No choice then but to dig, dig dig.
Below all fences, into the nasty beating-blackness
of the crude oil void.
Grab some spoonfuls of crusted treasure
and hope it's what heals
our empty tanks, 
wheels our steel-enforced, four-door gurney farther 
from the morgue 
and seals our floors.




Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Open Letter to "The Piano Man"


I never like to write things wherein I'm hating on a song, but there are some songs you just can't avoid. One is Billy Joel's "The Piano Man," a fairly operatic if hopelessly maudlin ballad of working class blues and veiled self-aggrandizement that plays sooner or later in ever grocery store, Rite Aid, bodega, or bagel shop I go into. Nothing's worse than hearing it in the M2M (3rd and 11th in NYC) and then leaving to go the "Fern Cliff" deli across the street for Pepsi Max, and there's the same damn song still playing!

So I wrote a letter to the man, about his song, and his life, and here it is, as originally published c. 2009 in Letters to the Preditor, a now gone website of letters.

Dear Piano Man OR BILLY JOEL,

I need to address your song, "The Piano Man," a fairly operatic if hopelessly maudlin ballad of working class blues and veiled self-aggrandizement that plays sooner or later in ever grocery store, Rite Aid, bodega, or bagel shop I go into, and which I used to hear in bars, and all the annoying people would sing along, and even earlier when I had a car and listened to the radio, it would come on all the time.

So.. instead of hearing, say, a poem by John Donne or Edgar Allen Poe over and over until it's something we all know by heart, we get your mopey drunkard song as the popular ballad of our era. I thought then--to illustrate my annoyance--I'd analyze some of your lines as if we were in a songwriting workshop at an accredited art school.

Assuming you know your own song by heart, as does all of America, let's just skip around a bit:
John is a real estate novelist, who never had time for a wife.
Now that's kind of a double dose of crass and convoluted detail with a double meaning:

One, it infers that you, Billy--the piano man who brings hope and joy or at least melancholy solace to a bunch of working class drunks--instantly has the right to put himself above the sorry state of "real estate" novelists.
Two, what the hell is a real estate novelist? (Heard at bookstore: "I'm looking for the real estate novel section? You know like fictional stories about people buying and selling real estate? Do you know that burgeoning genre?")

And wait, your friend "John," if that is his real name, "never had time for a wife"? How much time does a wife take? Sorry, but that line reeks of feminist offense. Sorry, ladies, the burgeoning real estate novel genre won't write itself."

Oh you never had 'time' John? Joel makes it sound like a union with a lesser human, i.e. cohabitating in a lifetime partnership of equals--if it's with a female--is like reading War and Peace, or skydiving, as if recounted on a deathbed. "I..."choke"... never had time to do that sky diving thing... or the whole wife thing."

Does John's presence at the bar imply it's far too late for him to settle down? Is he now too old or are you just presuming he's such a loser he'll never find the right woman, one dumb enough to marry a real estate novelist, drunk enough to not notice his alcoholism, but hot enough to fit his unrealistic high standards?

Or is it just that in your jaundiced, overly conservative Little Italy world, a wife is about an hour of time between loafing around at bars and staggering up the steps to the garret of your mistress. God forbid John miss one hour in your company, you beer-soaked self-important maudlin drunk Piano Man!
And he's talking with Davey, who's still in the Navy,
and probably will be for life.
Now, I'm glad Joel finds a rhyme with Davey (Navy!) but in the process he show some serious disrespect for the naval branch of our armed services, which includes the SEALs and the Marine Corps who, frankly, my smug Piano Man, I wouldn't fuck with. When you're lost at sea and they're doing a helicopter search and lowering SEAL divers to rescue you, I hope you remember how you went around equating being a member of one of the greatest of all seafaring organizations into a jail sentence. I'm sure they'll be glad to hear that, over and over, wherever they go off drinking and trying to forget having to kill to keep you safe and drenched in freedom.
And the piano sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
As the piano man in this bar, it's your duty, Billy, to control what your instrument sounds like. If the piano sounds carnivalesque, it's perhaps due to your own limited ability or maudlin tendency towards grandiose flourishes (or both - and if he piano needs tuning, maybe suggest it to the proprietor) And as it is your own microphone that smells of beer, you seem to be in complete denial that you have been drinking, heavily and will soon be driving, or rather weaving, home, singing "The cop pulls me off to the corner / and my car and self smell like a beer."
and they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar.
When I was young and this "bread" line was fresh on the radio (instead of the overbaked moldy presence it is now) I took it literally to mean they were stuffing slices of bread into your jar. Now that I know it means money it's somehow even more disturbing. Why not say "change" or do they put dollar bills? Be specific --that's the first thing you learn in writing class. Instead it leads into the coup de grace of offensive superiority in your little ballad:
and say "Man what are you doing here?"
This translates, Piano Man, to some pretty serious disrespect - they're allowed to say it, but when you repeat it, well, it smacks of morose self-pitying grandiosity: "Oh the regulars love me so much they think I should be at Carnegie Hall instead of this dive."

Of course this is very self-deprecating on the part of this barroom crowd, but they're allowed to deprecate themselves... that's what America is all about. You're supposed to validate them and stick up for them, your misplaced 'sympathy' amounts to a superior dismissal. Why not something then like "they sit at the bar, occasionally walk over and put change into the jar on my piano and say I'm glad you're here as your playing helps my mood, to which I reply thanks it's a pleasure to be playing for any kind of audience."
It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
and the regular crowd shuffles in, there's
An old man sitting next to me / making love to his tonic and gin
Now here's some bad writing that wouldn't pass in a 4th grade poetry class. Just to rhyme gin with in you subvert the order of the name gin and tonic? Very lazy. Meanwhile "making love" to a drink paints only at first a portrait of a sad smiling old man gazing longingly into his ice cubes. But taken deeper, it becomes rather unpleasant to imagine, with ice cubes all over the floor, the man panting and screaming how cold it feels... don't tell me that wasn't in your mind at least for a split second.

And check out the passive aggressive, misinformed judgment about your audience for the night: "It's pretty good... for a Saturday." Saturday is usually the best night of the week, money-wise, for any bar, and here you're like "it's a good crowd for a Saturday, i.e. it's like your bar is so working class that it's best time is Friday happy hour and everyone is home watching The Love Boat on Saturday and drinking sour whiskies and Mary Bloodies and Collins Toms.

Even so, college kids will at least be there, and what kind of local bar even has a piano player--especially one of your alleged superiority--on weeknights? Not many.

In other words, Saturday night is going to be at least 60-90% percent of your money for the week. If you don't get a good crowd to put 'ahem' bread in your jar, then you're fucked. So, your phrasing doesn't make any sense! It's like saying "it's a pretty good party, for a New Years Eve," or "you ran pretty damn fast, for a Kenyan."

Do you get the picture, Billy Piano Man Joel? Do I have to even mention the endless "la la la la la" which would be fine in a little bridge or something, but then you add like five more la's, all the way into the little flourish that precedes the bridge: "La la lalala La LA LA LAAAAAAA." It's just not done, Mr. Man. Just not done.


But I feel for you, Billy. I mean, clearly the ubiquity of your hits on the radio ensures you'll always have pocket money, but when I saw how your ex-wife Christie Brinkley and her (then) new rich husband, Peter Cook, used you to play at their PBS benefit, which aired as a rerun on PBS a few years ago and I just happened to see.

How sad and lost and disheveled you looked, my dear Piano Man!

It all became so sad and clear: you had finally gotten out of the place where puffy red-faced Irishmen go "Man what are you doing here?" and made it to exactly the place they had wished you to reach, the pinnacle of bourgeoisie society, the PBS fund-raising gala, and there's your one-time ticket of goomba respectability, a nice WASP supermodel, Christie Brinkley, in her million dollar makeup, hair and gown ensemble, with her born-in-a-tuxedo-at-a-gala new husband, and there's you, kind of looking like some homeless Italian American drunk was dragged off the street, stuffed into a tux and pushed onstage for the amusement of the cruel hoi poloi. You made it to Carnegie Hall all right, but made to dance at the shouted orders of the well-dressed high society in the audience, including your ex-wife and her new husband. It was like The Blue Angel and Marlene and her strongman shouting for you to crow like a chicken.


I remember how you sat there onstage as they shouted for that song, you were all hunched over, and maybe said "I don't do that song anymore," as you wanted to play more recent work... but of course, with many a forlorn side look at Christy in the third row holding hands with her husband--you obeyed their jeering, almost mocking command--you started to play, barely singing, finally waving at the audience to continue singing while you barely even bothered to play a note.

Instead of singing, you looked like you were fighting not to cry, remembering the words of that song, how long ago and how far you'd come only to wind up in this humiliating position. I could feel you having an epiphany, a realization of your own hubris and artistic insecurity, all crashing down on your head in a moment of crushing freedom.

I loved you in that moment, Piano Man.

This moment was your kind of Monkey's Paw just reward for all the crimes you committed in writing "the Piano Man" in the first place. Forgive me if I haven't read any interview with you on your opinions towards the song's barroom jukebox inescapability, it's endless use in shopping centers and delis, it's infusion into our psyches. It's enough for me that it has happened, and your passive aggressive snottiness towards sailors, SEALS and overworked real estate novelists led you here, to this moment onstage in front of Christie, and a smirking tux-wearing audience.

But the good part in all this is, an this is why I suddenly loved you, you 'got it', you saw Christie and the dull Anglo Saxon clotheshorse she belonged with--their eyes completely free of any intellect, irony or self-awareness at the cruelty they were inflicting,--and you knew it wasn't their fault. They would always be shallow surface dwellers with no depth beyond a wine cellar at their Riviera chateau, but you have levels deeper than the hole in the heart of the world, and here you were in some private Sisyphusian hell of having to sing this one lame surface-only song over and over until you died... and maybe even beyond.

And I could see in your eyes that you weren't mad at Christie for exploiting your still smoldering torch for her by dragging you to this benefit; and you weren't mad about how now they all saw you as the guy who drove home drunk alone from gigs and got pulled over. You were mad at no one, and that's why I loved you. You were finally free. The long byzantine process by which the devil began to slither around you, layering you with gifts and fame, had finally come to its suffocating close. Finally free of all that bourgeois Faustian grass is greener fence climbing; free to shrug it off and go back to that working class bar, and start over. And the next time someone says "Man what are you doing here," you are going to punch them in the face, and then you will be healed in God's eyes, and mine.

Knowingly,
Erich Kuersten

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The best jazz trio you'll never see: Bill Evans (p), Scott LaFaro (b) and Paul Motian (drums)

For a few marvelous gigs in 1961 an unduplicatable ESP magic existed between Bill Evans, drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro. A marvelous extended gig at the Village Vanguard resulted in a few amazing LPs of live music. The three men knew they had a rare magic, and then LaFaro died in a car crash ten days after these tracks were recorded.

These are subtle works. Listen with headphones and don't listen the way you do to rock - i.e. following the melody until it rings like a jingle in your bran. Here's a music of communication. Just listen to the interplay of drums, bass, and both hands of Evans on piano - four distinct voices. It's so quiet and perfectly interlocked you can almost hear the whispering of an angelic voice inside of it. In fact, since it was recorded live at a club you can occasionally hear the clink of dishes and glasses, and the usually respectful low talking of people at tables around the microphones. It's nothing obtrusive, though does indicate the audience is a little distracted at times, getting their checks, finishing their coffee with a clatter of saucer. That's natural - it would be hard to focus in on this stuff in a crowded room. As I say it works best alone, ideally in an isolation tank or at least in bed with really good headphones, and maybe Salvia. Lucky for all of mankind, the brunch may be long over but the genius is going on right there in the room still, trapped in amber LP grooves, but free every time it hits the needle.

Evans was so broken up be LaFaro's death he went into isolation and stopped playing for six long months. His later work is good but it's never been quite the same. I completely understand. It's crushing. This is rare magic. So soak it up!