Friday, March 30, 2007

Good Guys Finish Last (Again)

If you were making up one of those interminable lists about the important things in life; i.e. The Right Stuff, what would you jot down? Mom? Apple pie? The deep blue sea? The Beatles songbook? Barney Fife's bow tie? If I hadda go there, somewhere between Yaz's 1967 stats, filet mignon, and every single frame of Mean Streets I'd have to include a good, reliable, all-purpose drinking establishment. A bar. Not a pub, or a nightclub, or a performance space, or a restaurant accessory, but a pure out-and-out watering hole. A bar. What do I want from a bar? Not much. A straight-up drink, decent service, no frills or nonsense,a shot that's not served in a thimble, exemplary camaraderie, and the warm glow of well-being provided by drinking alcohol in a comfortable environment. Did the recently closed Decatur have all that? In spades, mofos, in spades. What a crying shame, a frightening waste, and a terrible loss its sad and wrongful demise is. In a short time the place had become an oasis in the West End, a joint that rock and rolled with the verve, balls, and smarts of it's proprietor Joanne Seddon, a watering hole that squeezed together young pups, old dogs, salty dogs,and real (bow-wow) canines within it's limited confines, and did it with tough love, beer sweat and a ton of humor. Although The Decatur's lifespan was a horribly short one, it will certainly hold down a place in the alcohol-infused memories of those of us who drink our way around La Prov. I used to tease Joanne that she had accomplished something a bit more special than opening a successful bar and establishing a highly personal tone--She (a smart and devoted Red Sox fan) had somehow miraculously turned a whole clientele comprised of hippies, anarchists, surly rockers, hard drinkers, fast tawkers, avante-sophisticates, and funky but chic artists into a teeming, rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth mob of Red Sox devotees. RIP Decatur. I will lift one (or three) for you this weekend, saluting your rise and bemoaning your fall.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rome is burning, but the kids are alright

Darren Hill on the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference and Festival, held in Austin, Texas. Thanks Darren!

At Scott's request, here is a little summary of my SXSW experience this year.

Two themes resonated loud and clear this year. On the business side: "Rome is burning" - record company and retail woes continue as cd sales continue to plummet.
On the music side: "the kids are alright" - the music is more vibrant and healthy than ever.
Over 2000 (yes two thousand) bands this year, most of them playing multiple shows (I spoke to one band that had 16 shows there in 3 days). bands are set up everywhere - they're in the airport when you get off the plane, and in every club, restaurant, coffee shop, hotel lobby, vacant lot, sidewalk, rooftop, and hole in the wall.

Attendance at the panels and interviews (which are top notch) was way down this year. In part, because of the increase in number of daytime parties going on - all with live music, usually free beer and food. You start each day by mapping out a plan as best you can, often sprinting from one venue to another and you still can't come close to catching all you want.
A couple of highlights for me this year were:
- Pete Townsend jumping up on stage with Ian Maclagan for a Ronnie Lane tribute
- Townsend again on stage with The Fratellis (the band in the Ipod commercial) for a version of "The Seeker" Click here: Video: Pete Townshend with the Fratellis
- Townsend again...(fill in the blank)...he was everywhere!
- Andrew Bird - mesmerizing under the stars at an outdoor stage
- Riding in an elevator at my hotel with Public Enemy and discussing the Yankees prospects this year
- Doing the "Tighten Up" with Archie Bell at in a tent around 2am one night
- Lickin' BBQ off my fingers while watching Kings of Leon at the Spin daytime party
- Seeing Kristen Dunst (and unfortunately her English bandguy boyfriend) everywhere I went
- Catching several sets by young Irish troubadour (and prospect) Fionn Regan
- A late night surreal scene sitting on a pool table with John Doe and David Byrne drinking Lone Star while watching Big Sandy front - Los Straightjackets (wearing trademark sharp suits and Mexican wrestling mask) for their first ever "with vocals" performance
- Paul Siminon once again wielding his bass like a machine gun with The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
- Australian (if you haven't heard these guys, you should) rockers You Am I firing through a booze fueled set
- A friend of mine leaving me in stitches recounting a classic Riki Lee Jones' freakout/meltdown while trying to perform at a record company keg party in the afternoon.
- And of course, my event Roky Erickson's Psychedelic Ice Cream Social with Roky, Spoon, Mogwai, Robyn Hitchcock with Peter Buck, the surprisingly good Michelle Shocked, and JT Van Zandt (who looks and sound so much like his father Townes, that if freaky). Below is from the editor of Mojo:
Click here: MOJO4MUSIC - The Music Magazine

While his music has influenced everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Primal Scream, for the last 20 years the legend of Roky Erickson has been defined by his eccentric behaviour and mental fragility. However, yesterday – March 15 – the ex-13th Floor Elevators’ mainman played a stunning show in Austin, Texas, which confirmed his remarkable recovery. As part of his daily update on the South By Southwest festival, MOJO’s editor-in-chief Phil Alexander celebrates the return of The Godfather Of American Psychedelic Music….

So today was simply meant to be the second installment in this part-blog dedicated to MOJO’s meandering around Austin’s SXSW festival. And certainly the day started off with a midday wander down to the British Music BBQ at Brush Square to catch a snatch of Seth Lakeman and to see whether Amy Winehouse would turn up following her emotional trauma in London last week (you correspondent is happy to note that she did, performing three acoustic numbers, followed by a full set later in the evening). And then Raoul Hernandez – the music editor of the Austin Chronicle – mentioned that Roky Erickson was hosting a bash over at Threadgills bar and restaurant…

Hotfooting it over to the eatery in question on Riverside Drive, MOJO arrives in time to hear a bearded man on the outdoor stage inviting the crowd to “Fuck the system, because the system needs to be fucked!” He is Leonard Ray Frank – a leading anti-electroshock campaigner – and he holds forth on the effects of this dubious branch of medical science. Standing by his side is Michelle Shocked, preparing to perform. Rather than start her set, she tells the audience of the time she was subjected to the ‘therapy’ in question. The story is horrific.

Then again, Roky Erickson’s story is equally disturbing. Erickson was arrested in 1969 for possession a single joint and then incarcerated at the Rusk State Hospital For The Criminally Insane. It was there that he found himself subjected to eletro-shock therapy and, allegedly, lost his mind. The intervening years have been traumatic and yet today, at his annual Psychedelic Ice Cream Social, Erickson has reason to celebrate: after a long battle he is finally his own legal guardian and, after close to two decades of medical oppression, a free man.

It is to celebrate this fact that Michelle Shocked, Robyn Hitchcock And Peter Buck, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite and local heroes Spoon (among others) have elected to play this benefit for Roky which is also designed to raise awareness for the victims of electro-shock therapy.
At 7.15 – and following an acoustic performance by his brother Sumner – Roky himself takes to the stage alongside his friends and band The Explosives. Erickson beams at the ecstatic reception he receives and launches into an hour-long set that is nothing short of remarkable, spurred on by guitarist Cam King and underlining just how ageless Erickson’s voice is. The set itself traverses the Elevators catalogue as well as Roky’s latter endeavours, but most poignant is Splash #1, the refrain of “And now I’m home to stay” echoing loudly beyond this mere performance.

The finale of Two Headed Dog, You’re Gonna Miss Me and an encore of I Walked With A Zombie leave the audience – that include beaming US critics David Fricke and Dave Marsh – elated. Speaking to MOJO briefly afterwards, Erickson proclaims himself “happy with the way it went” and plans are discussed as to possible UK and European shows. Indeed, the latter discussion is proof positive of Roky’s much improved state of mind. We leave Mr Erickson signing autographs for an adoring audience of fans and friends and prepare for the night ahead.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Philip Marlowe was a Sage, a Poet, and a Trenchant Observer of American Life (Even though he was created by a frustrated Brit)

From Philip Marlowe’s Guide To Life, Edited by Martin Asher, from the writings of Raymond Chandler (Alfred A.Knopf, 2005, 78 pages, $14.95)

“About the only part of a California house you can’t put your foot through is the front door.” The Big Sleep

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole through a stained glass window.” Farewell My Lovely

“Alcohol is like love,” he said. “The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothing off.” The Long Goodbye

“There was a sad fellow over on a bar stool talking to the bartender, who was polishing a glass and listening with that plastic smile people wear when they are trying not to scream.” The Long Goodbye

“The fog had cleared outside and the stars were as bright as artificial stars of chromium on a sky of black velvet. I drove fast. I needed a drink badly and the bars were closed.” Farewell, My Lovely

“I drank two cups black. Then I tried a cigarette. It was all right. I still belonged to the human race.” The Long Goodbye

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.” Trouble is My Business

“The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips.” The Lady in the Lake

“She was wearing a white wool skirt, a burgundy silk blouse and a black velvet over-jacket with short sleeves. Her hair was a hot sunset. She wore a golden topaz bracelet and topaz earrings and a topaz dinner ring in the shape of a shield. Her fingernails matched her blouse exactly. She looked as if it would take a couple of weeks to get her dressed.” The Little Sister

Monday, March 19, 2007

"You Can't Get a Man With a Gun"

As the years tick-tock on, cinema aficionados (or film buffs, whichever nomenclature appeals more to yer inner snob), by the mere nature of the game of staying awake in the dark, gain increasing awareness about directors, genres, actors and the like that heretofore seemed uninteresting, boring, or squarer than your grandma's ass. In other words, ya can't just stick with the Brandos and DeNiros, the Hitchcocks and Fords,or westerns, film noir, and French new wave. For me, the movie musical has always been a tough pill to swallow, as a kid I thought they were cheesy and too artificial, as a hipster film student I thought they bordered on the effeminate and were far too devoid of rock and roll, as an aging baby boomer I've learned to dip my toe in the sparkling water fountains and under the blazing spotlights of the crayon-colored back lot settings of the grand ol' movie musical, and yep; I've grown up and learned to enjoy and admire that which is such a quintessential American spectacle.
All of this comes to mind because of the recent passing of Betty Hutton (1921-2007). Betty, born Elizabeth June Thronberg in Michigan, started performing in her Ma's speakeasy in her pre-teens, sang in Vincent Lopez's big band, hit the Broadway stage, and found her way to Hollywood, making some 20 features from 1942 through 1957. Hutton was a unique talent, a brassy, wholesome but sexy girl-next-door,with a bullhorn of a voice and loose-limbed dance moves that could rival Cab Calloway, and she could also sell a ballad,forging a decent recording career with RCA and Capitol. She basically turned her back on Hollywood in the late fifties, and somehow wound up in the kitchen of some Portsmouth, RI Catholic rectory during the 60's, and even earned a degree and taught at Salve Regina. She was classified by the powers-that-be as "difficult", and before finding God, admitted to some problems with pills and booze. Her screen presence was thoroughly unique--- Doris Day on speed, or a Debbie Reynolds as a guttersnipe, and she was a huge box office star during her brief heyday. She is near perfect, and eternally hilarious, as the virgin-who's-not-a-virgin in Preston Sturges's classic The Miracle of Morgan's Creek ('44)(one of her few non-musicals), and equally memorable as the pistol-packing mama in Annie Get Your Gun ('50), a movie in which she replaced her similarly "difficult" movie musical sister Judy Garland,and manages to equal (or even surpass) the infamous original performance of Ethel Merman in the stage production. She also did strong, memorable work in Incendiary Blonde ('45), Perils of Pauline ('47)and as the trapeze artist (a straight role) in The Greatest Show on Earth('52). I personally really dig her comedic moves as Jerry Lewis's on-screen galfriend, in a sort of guest-starring role, in the Martin and Lewis concoction Sailor Beware ('51), where she is humorously billed as Hetty Button, signifying the fact that audiences everywhere would immediately know her. Bob Hope described her as a "vitamin pill with legs" and her movie image and persona--long gams, farmer's daughter-with-a-flask-in-her-pocket looks, wackyjack dancing, belt-it-out singing and spitfire comic stylings have never really gotten the credit they deserve.If TCM reruns her interview with Robert Osborn in his Private Screenings series make sure to watch.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Not So Sweet Pete

During my early, pre-adolescent, baseball crazy years, I was both fascinated and repulsed by the player they called Charlie Hustle, Pete Rose. A true blue Red Sox kid, I adored Yaz, having fallen in love with the sport during the Impossible Dream season of 1967, but I also rooted for a few players clad in enemy uniforms, like Willie Mays, Sudden Sam McDowell, Roberto Clemente, Rod Carew,Al Kaline,and Bob Gibson. Rose, on the other hand, despite the stories and photos depicting him in perpetual motion, running out walks like his ass was on fire, along with his much vaunted ability to spray the ball virtually anywhere, just didn't look, or act, like my kinda ballplayer. He was built like a fireplug, and with his hair shorn into a tight military crew cut, he seemed like a holdover from the '50's, a Hardy Boy in the Age of Aquarius, a chipmunk scampering around amidst gazelles and thoroughbreds. After the Reds and the Sox met in the fantastic World series of 1975, I began to view Rose altogether differently. His hustle, his multiple abilities, his down and dirty approach, and, most of all, his undeniable appreciation that he was a grown man allowed to make a living playing a kid's game made him particularly endearing during a time period when most of my turned-on and tuning-out peers were rejecting professional sports as uncool, old-fashioned, and yet another tool of the dreaded establishment. I rooted like mad for Rose when he managed his consecutive hits assault against Joe D's record, I loved the fact that he managed to move from second base to third to right field and finally to first, and I clipped a Sports Illustrated cover that featured elder statesman Yaz and Pete smiling stiffly at the camera and posted it in a variety of digs I settled into for the next decade or so. When the great debate began, and the initial revelations of Rose's betting habit came out, I simply thought that one thing mattered---4,256 hits--No doubt about it, that stat alone made him an unquestionable Hall of Famer. As the years progressed,and each and every unsavory tidbit was revealed, Rose's off-field persona became distinctly off-putting--He came across as a low grade hustler, a baseball savant,a social miscreant, and worst of all, an inveterate liar. Today's newest Rose story--that he now admits to betting on the Reds on a daily basis, so as not to give the bookies an edge, is his most idiotic spin yet on his ever-changing tale, making it almost impossible to defend the guy. It isn't so much say it ain't so Pete, it's don't say it at all. I'm still a believer that a player's off the field exploits shouldn't affect the criteria for inclusion in the Hall of Fame, but ol' Charlie Hustle has become a sick and sad joke, and my once cherished images of him sliding hard and dirty into home, or stroking a line drive and popping up on the first base bag like a rabid jack-in-the-box, will be forever displaced by multiple-looks of the corpulent Pete, the sniveling Pete, Pete-as-conniving-interviewee, or Pete with the snaky, squinty, desperate, lyin' eyes.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What Hath Quentin Wrought?

This piece was published in Providence Monthly Magazine in the March, 2007 issue in the "EYES WIDE OPEN" column.

The Quentin Tarantino story remains fresh to movie buffs, vidkids, cinephiles, aspiring screenwriters, wannabe Spielberg’s, fame seeking academic scribes, ambitious stand-ups, movie-movie freaks, and just about any other geek or culture-gulcher vampire. Smart ass video store clerk, half-ass actor bones up on classic films, genre gems, exploitation movies, foreign cinema, and everything in between, smokes enough weed to help him freeze frame and rewatch the good, the bad, and the ugly, sells some audacious screenplays (Natural Born Killers, True Romance) and manages to both pen and direct his own, miniscule budget film (Reservoir Drugs), follow its cult status up with a genuine mainstream hit (Pulp Fiction), and writes his own, highly personalized ticket in the enchanting kingdom of Hollywoodland—He’s soon declared the zeitgeist of the 80’s, and he parlays this into romances with starlets he couldn’t have even chauffeured around before, appears as an actor in films, TV, and even the theater, grabs some big bucks as a highly acclaimed script doctor, , hangs (and smokes) with the Wu-Tang Clan who dub him QT, plops his imprimatur on re-releases of cult movies and Honk Kong features, guest directs network TV, smokes some more weed for the hell of it, makes only the movies he wants to, and generally self-defines a new brand of cheeky, self-reflexive, retro-cool, modernist, neo-nihilist, popcult film /collage wherein elements derived (and underlined) from such disparate film types as blaxploitation, chop socky, classic film noir, the movie brat seventies, Italian neo-realism and French New Wave all get tossed in the same popcorn stew with eye-popping, mind-spinning results.

It’s a beautiful tale, more satisfying than getting to the sixteenth realm of some obscure video game, knowing the order of release and the record titles of Lee Hazlewood’s career, or posting that hilarious video of yer roomie stubbing his big toe on YouTube. Therein lies the problem. As good as QT had been (and his work has largely been first class, despite his obnoxious persona), the world of contempo cinema is filled with the sons and little bro’s of QT, all of ‘em operating with his bag of tricks, virtually know of them succeeding anywhere near his level. The films are too numerous to name (Killing Zoe, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, The Way of the Gun, Hostel among the most talked about), all snarky, blackly comic, in-yer-face, amalgams of carnage, talkiness, and gleeful self-consciousness. Smokin’ Aces is the latest entry in the QT sweepstakes, a glory hole of a movie posing a sleek, eye-winking, provocative cool- daddy film.

In 2002 Joe Carnahan wrote and directed Narc (with Ray Liotta and Jason Patric) a hardscrabble cop film that seemed to owe much to Marty Scorsese and the dark side of Mad Francis Coppola, a movie that delivered on it’s own promise—a cop thriller that was effectively (and subtly) brutal, self-contained, and poetically bleak. Carnahan has proved he can write and direct with panache, but with Smokin’ Aces he’s seems intent in upping the ante, striving for a QT-like combo of speed-tawkin’ dialogue, big dollops of absurdity in plot, character and action, and a carnage-for carnage’s sake sensibility that is remarkably off-putting.

Smokin’ Aces plotline is beyond simple. One Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), a mob-connected Vegas magician and all-time scumbag has run afoul of the baddies, resulting in a million-dollar contract on his head, which in turn makes decide to go all cheese-eater and turn state’s evidence against the mob. Then the fun begins, with Carnahan unleashing a rogue’s gallery of comic book-styled figures all with some stake in the rabid, cocaine-fueled, profusely sweaty Buddy. Admittedly, some of the cartoonish characters are funny, at least in their conception, (there are nazi hit men, black lesbians assassins, FBI guys, mob lawyers, henchman, bail bondsman, ex-coppers, a disguise artist and a psycho sadist) and some of the actors who traipse through these caricatures (Jason Bateman, Ray Liotta, Ben Affleck, Common, Alicia Keys, Any Garcia, Peter Berg, Ryan Reynolds, Taraji Henson, Nestor Carboneli) hare obviously having a ball. Of course Piven (with a scary fright-mop on top of his skull) doesn’t know the meaning of low gear, and his Sammy Davis-meets-Elisha Cook combo of desperate cockiness meters up well into the high ranges of outrageousness. It’s funny but over baked, like Smokin’ Aces itself.

Already out in the movie houses a few weeks now, it’s obvious that Smokin’ Aces isn’t going to catch on, QT-like, and fill the pop culture landscape with new phraseology and reference points. (However, don’t rule out the effect of its DVD or cable release.) It packs the kinda mixture of flamboyance and obvious violence that contempo audience seems to crave, and, although filled with smart, witty bits, it shoots itself in the gut with an over reliance on the formulaic hipster smorgasbord of blood, irony, and hopped-up immorality. Joe Carnahan doesn’t need to be Quentin Tarantino, nor does any other young filmmaker with chops. By the time the firepower, multi-killings, maiming, and tongue-in-cheek ultra-violence clears, Smoking’ Aces is more appalling than appealing, proving once again that it’s a little tough to spill any tears on the filthy floors once you’ve made the decision to enter the whorehouse.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Okay, so now you know where I've been

I should clarify that if anybody wants to give the thing I posted earlier a shot, pieces have to be inspired by, pinned to, spun off (you get my drift), a specific song. You can be as obvious or oblique as you want. I've probably taken up too much blog space with this already, and should be getting back to contributing the occasional riff on cool and semi-toxic things right here, where it belongs.

Sunshine Superman

Ah wilderness. Ah Florida. What a strange, weird vaccum of a place. I've just returned from three days of, uh, education, as a union fund trustee, in Orlando, three days spent listening to actuaries, lawyers, and accountants drone on and on about the do's and (mostly) the don'ts of sitting on a fund, sticking a pencil in my eyes to keep awake after one horror story then another was trotted out describing the predatory actions of the Republican-controlled DOL, swooping down, vulture-like, with their blood-stained eyes and bony fingers, sticking their corpulent red noses into the basic biz of union monies. After that wild party, I moved onto Port Charlotte, home of my parental units, for a couple of daze of listening to my mother assuage the past and prattle on about important, earth-shattering issues like the ethnicity of the American Idol contestants, and the sturm and drang of the life of Anna Nicole Smith, while I drank tequila outta a coffee cup and my father searched for the next televised hockey game and my wife dragged hard on yet another Virginia Slim Menthol Light. North of Miami and South Beach Florida seems to be one big commercial strip, peppered with Chili's and Waffle Houses and Walgreen's and muffler shops, peopled with the multi-clones of Thurston and Lovey Howell, scrawny southern whiteboys with spiders tattooed on their necks, chubby chicksters stuffed into rainbow-colored Capri pants, Latino service people with plastic smiles and resentment smoldering in their eyes, snowbirds from Michigan and Canada decked out in stupid sandals, dark socks and Bermuda shorts, senior citizens cheating death for at least a nickel, maybe a dime, so-called baseball fans wilting in the sun during a spring training game talking amongst themselves about the price of breakfast and the always eminent possibility of rain, and nary a decent local pub, newspaper of substance, regional foodstuff eatery, or a hint of culture anywhere in the endlessly flat landscape.

shaking like a mountain

“This is a Public Service Announcement with Guitars”*
*thank you Joe Strummer*

shaking like a mountain, an online journal about contemporary music, is seeking poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction inspired by the soundtrack of our lives. In a piece called “The Music of Prose,” Richard Goodman wrote recently, “At the highest level, the sound a writer makes on the page is music.” No argument. But the inverse may be true as well.
shaking like a mountain is prepared to test the waters. Rock you on the waters, hit you in the head and leave you feeling okay.
We believe everybody has a song, or songs, that speak to them in ways particular and wondrous, and we welcome new writers, established writers and old but never-to-be-forgotten writers to give us their best take in the form of poetry, fiction or non-fiction.
Take risks, be creative, shake your money-maker; shake it like a mountain.

We will be live! by April 1.
Until then, submission guidelines are available upon request by writing

Your editors are Wayne Cresser and Vito Grippi