Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Eagles & Glenn Frey: Beyond Cool, A Band for All Time

Looks so innocent but is probably about to say something totally incendiary

First of all, I have to say it’s simply crass to use a band member’s untimely demise as a platform to attack a band as Gersh Kuntzman does in this vitriolic diatribe for the New York Daily News, in which he calls the Eagles a horrific band. Why he is then astonished by the strong reactions of already grieving fans amazes me. It seems that the New York Times agrees, recently publishing an article on how to speak of the dead, partly as a reaction to these anti-Eagles tirades, the gist of which is summed up by this comment: 'Hey, it’s ok to not like the Eagles. It’s also ok to shut up about it for a few days when one of them dies.'

Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Don Henley, Glenn Frey – Eagles
I’ve already written a blog riposte (‘Kick ’em When They’re Up'), to a similar wave of ‘cooler-than-thou’ journalism, which extended across most of the British broadsheets,and in this, there’s a link to the idiotic article that inspired it (trashing Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles and any band who dared to have longevity as if their still being around was an affront to the world).

They invariably act like these bands were always dinosaurs and should be extinct by now. But to longtime fans, part of the appeal is their endurance and the fact that the songs, which were fresh and exciting when you first heard them and immediately memorable are now like old friends who you don't see that often but always get on well with when you do. They're as familiar and comfortable as the flannel shirts Don and Glenn wear onstage.

Heartfelt thanks to those, like Bob Lefsetz, who wrote moving tributes to Glenn. It's a shame that for every positive, there's a negative, like the aforementioned Kuntzman and a venomous piece for the Houston Chronicle that I can no longer access.

Jeff Bridges, The Dude in The Big Lebowski
Kuntzman's is the typical hipster's response, which runs along these lines: ‘The Coen brothers are cool, therefore their films are cool, their characters are cool, therefore the Dude must be cool (and Jeff Bridges of course), and the Dude doesn’t like the Eagles therefore the Eagles can't be cool, therefore, in order to be cool (and being cool is what I live for), I have to dislike the Eagles’. Do we care what these people think? Probably not as it’s their loss but it’s still incredibly aggravating when someone is ignorant enough to dismiss a band’s entire oeuvre.

With Don Felder
The Eagles don't need to be rehabilitated for the modern age or regarded from an ironic distance like people have a tendency to do with Abba (which is always so condescending). This sometimes happens when bands are inordinately successful. They exclude themselves from the cult of cool. Or cool of cult. There's always more cultural cachet to be had from supporting a little-known or even vaguely obscure artist and believe me, I'm crazy about a number of artists who fit the latter category, from Benedict Benjamin to XC-NN. I can see the cult in cultural. There aren't many people who want to believe that their taste is run of the mill and mainstream and there's an understanding that once you attain this universal popularity, you are somehow no longer worthy of it. You know the build 'em up to knock 'em down approach.

So, to rebut some of his assertions. Don't get me wrong, I know he has a right to his point of view, as much as I have a right to disagree. 

1 The Eagles were a lousy band (or 'horrific' as he puts in the title)
This is a statement designed purely to provoke attention and response. Surely no one who's heard Hotel California can really think this? Even if you think you don't know it, you know it.

2 The Eagles produced 'pop pap'.
To label One of These Nights, a song that could set my heart racing, it was so exciting, so atmospheric, 'pop pap' just beggars belief. It's possible that GK's childhood was a lot less mundane than mine. Either that or he has no imagination. Has he ever heard Outlaw Man (listen to that banjo), No More Walks in the Wood, Waiting in the Weeds, Doolin' Dalton? Pop pap would be Calvin Harris and his ilk.

3 The Eagles have too many songs with 'easy' in the titles.
Well, this does seem to be his point. Delve a bit deeper. There are plenty that don't.

Jackson Browne
4 Jackson Browne’s version of Take It Easy is sexier than the Eagles' one.
This is plain crazy. Only a man could have written this. Ok, I know that JB was a ladies man in his day but sexier than Glenn, who simply oozed pheromones? I don't think so. I always thought of Jackson Browne as sensitive and thoughtful while Glenn was master of the snap retort, every hair toss replete with unabashed sex appeal. More on this in Glenn Frey, Cowboy Casanova and in this appreciation of Timothy B. Schmit. Plus only Glenn could have written these immortal lines: 'It's a girl, my Lord/In a flatbed Ford/Slowing down to take a look at me'. Or have the humour and self-awareness to write in Already Gone: 'Well, I heard some people talkin' just the other day/And they said you were gonna put me on a shelf/But let me tell ya/I got some news for you/And you'll soon find out it's true/And then you'll have to eat your lunch all by yourself'.

5 You can't like the Clash if you appreciate the Eagles.
Hmm, I'm pretty sure that I bought a Clash album and an Eagles album on the same day. They're not mutually exclusive. Although the Adverts are my favourite band from the punk era. Yes, and that was a totally gratuitous nod to the One Chord Wonders, simply because I could and more people should.

Bernie Leadon
6 There's an implicit assumption that, if it weren't for the Eagles, people who the author deems more deserving (because they  have a smaller following or because they're less marketable) like Gram Parsons and Gene Clark would have been more successful. This is a fallacious argument. I would propose the opposite. For many, the Eagles were a ‘gateway’ band into obscurer terrain. Bernie Leadon’s My Man was in fact a tribute to Gram Parsons. If it hadn't been for the Eagles, I might never have listened to Poco or Gene Clark. It doesn't really matter who came first or who was more successful. And I expect there are those who believe that with the Eagles, it's all about the money. I appreciate their honesty - even when they were young, they admitted they wanted to make a lot of money. Because of this and because of funny items like this spoof of band members talking: 'Henley: Uh, I think what Glenn was trying to say was that sure, the album came out just fine, but do you not remember the torture it took us to make it? How Azoff had to ply us with $100 bills in a trail from our houses to the studio?', people have assumed that the music is secondary. They don't seem to realise that these are jokes but even so, doesn't it somehow make them cooler? For instance, this from the same cruel but funny article: 'Schmit: I can’t afford Eagles concert tickets. Henley: Well, I can. And trust me. You’d stay in your seat the whole time. Every time you turn your head away from the stage, you’ve wasted approximately 27 dollars.'

Joe Walsh
7 'This diatribe has one caveat: Joe Walsh. The greatest of all Eagles always kept his soft-rock comrades at arm’s length'.
Another thing you’ll notice about these carping critics. They always make an exception for Joe Walsh because they think he’s a card-carrying rockstar (complete with drugged-up past) with street cred because of his previous cool (read 'bad') behaviour, and his skill on the guitar. All the hipsters think Joe is cool – partly because he used to smash things up. Sure, he adds something but he’s not the Eagles (no offence to Joe fans, who are legend and legion), neither is Timothy B. Schmit (much as I like him now). They’re the Johnny-Come-Latelys, the New Kids in Town. Although I do make an exception for Don Felder. Whatever people say now, he'll always be an Eagle to me.

There were some straightforward but perfectly crafted country rock songs, but country rock itself wasn't even a proper genre then and what there was had little purchase on the music scene until the Eagles arrived. There was (the) Buffalo Springfield then Poco, but their reach was limited. And that's not to mention the influence the Eagles have had: Fleet Foxes, Jayhawks, Golden Smog and so on, all building careers on the template of exquisite harmonies, contagious melodies and something to say. Protest songs are now sadly a thing of the past but I love it when a writer cares about a cause or a situation. although I focus on some of my favourites here, in a list that includes Jackson Browne's tour de force, For America.

And there's so much wit and so much self-awareness in the title of their comeback tour: Hell Freezes Over. They simultaneously don't take themselves seriously while being deadly serious and cashing in on their previous pledge.

The trouble is that the Eagles are too successful and this kind of unprecedented achievement leads people to carp and moan. Once, when I was younger and more arrogant, I used to like to say that I thought the Beatles were overrated, in order to provoke a reaction. Now I think it's sort of great that I like some of the same music as my Dad and can take him to see the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac.

Glenn Frey, RIP Outlaw Man
Yes, as Bob Lefsetz mentions, they lived the American Dream, but they also analysed, deconstructed and dismantled it in songs like Hotel California and The Last Resort, showing how quickly it could turn into a nightmare. Henley’s lyrics roll off the tongue because they sound so natural but they’re still clever, polemical, insightful (surely there isn’t anyone too soulless or too secure to identify with the sentiment in Wasted Time?), or incisive, dismissive, satirical (Get over It: 'Victim of this/Victim of that/Your Momma's too thin/And your Daddy's too fat'). They’re not glib. But compare them with the subject matter of chart songs today – see my blog on ‘Modern Music’ – they raise issues, are often poetic and thought-provoking. They’re not about having a party or waving your hands in the air or being sexy in the club. So, you might say music is changing but subject matter, melody, scope are all decreasing. No longer do we have pop songs about boys being molested on school trips. Name that tune.

I’m not saying that I love every Eagles song – there are some on each album that I consider Eagles by numbers but these very tracks are other fans’ favourites: Busy Being Fabulous, Chug All Night (well maybe not Chug All Night) and so on.

And I'd like to ask: When does the Dude lose his 'coolness'? And surely, if everybody thinks he's cool, he's now too mainstream to actually be so. But what I meant to say was that Eagles music is timeless and will hopefully move and entertain future generations. They're not this week's fancy or last year's trend. They are much more than this, they are beyond cool and, as Glenn said, 'a band for all time'.

Every time I start to listen to an Eagles song now, I get all choked up and I know I'll feel this way for some time. I really wish I didn't have to write this but

RIP Glenn Frey.

The thrill has gone.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Rise Like a Phoenix – Conchita Wurst: The Best Bond Theme That Never Was

Dignified and defiant
Song composers: Charley Mason, Joey Patulka, Ali Zuckowski, Julian Maas, Robin Grubert
Singer: Conchita Wurst
[Conchita Wurst is the female alter ego of Tom Neuwirth.]

[Quick Kinks connection. Another contender would be Ray Davies’s ‘Oh, What a Day It’s Going to Be’, performed here by Mo and Steve (whoever they might be). I think this is the closest Ray ever got to the Bond oeuvre, for overblown passion, bordering on the histrionic.]

Conchita: 'I'm just a singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair and a beard.'

Conchita: 'It's just art.''

I didn’t encounter the phenomenon that is Conchita until this year, not being a huge Eurovision fan, when I caught the Eurovision’s Greatest Hits programme. In 2014, Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest for Austria, with ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’, her victory a testament to tolerance and a tribute to her inordinately disarming personality and incredible charisma as much as her voice and the song (and to persistence as it looks like this was her second attempt at Eurovision; in 2012, she narrowly missed out on representing Austria with 'That's What I Am' and specialises in delivering inspirational, life-affirming songs, such as 'Unbreakable' and 'You Are Unstoppable', with total conviction, although ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ is the only one that sounds like it should be played over Bond credits).

I think there’s a real case for ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ to be the theme for the next film in the Bond franchise. I’m by no means the first person to think so – just search on YouTube for ‘Rise Like a Phoenix 007’ and you’ll see what I mean. You could even call the movie Phoenix, in the tradition of the one-word title. Ok, there’s no tradition yet but who says there can't be? We had Skyfall and now Spectre. It even sounds like a Bond title, making reference to a fantastic, mythical creature (much like Conchita herself) rising from the flame (you only live twice and all that). Oh, I'm so annoyed. Someone's just released a film called Phoenix.

Golden Lady I
This song seems to have been written with Bond in mind, with all the requisite elements – the lush soundscape and accomplished arrangement of an archetypal Bond theme.  Reminiscent of those glorious John Barry anthems, immortalised by Dame Shirley Bassey, ‘Goldfinger’ (lyrics: Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley; coincidentally this and another Bassey classic, 'This Is My Life' (Bruno Canfora/Antonio Amurri/Norman Newell) were sung by Tom Neuwirth on a talent show – there's evidently an affinity over and above their fashion sense; Shirley's version rocks) and ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (lyrics: Don Black; here's The X Factor's Aiden Grimshaw’s more electronic take), with all the heightened melodrama and emotion of the thwarted diva destined to rise resplendent. I gather that Barry used to ‘Bondify’ (my term) the other artists' songs so that they fitted his aural vision for the Bond canon. All the themes have a particular feel, an elusive essence that is as hard to define as it is easy to recognise. It’s as if ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ has already undergone this process; it's already perfect.

[John Barry composed many unforgettable movie themes – the incredibly touching ‘Born Free’ which I never hear without shedding a tear, the gorgeously romantic and evocative ‘Out of Africa’.]

Golden Lady II
With the subjects of metamorphosis, transformation, self-realisation and adversity overcome as well as the promise of retribution, it could fit any movie script but is perhaps particularly apposite to a Bond narrative. Like other Bond numbers, it can be appreciated and understood on a personal and a universal level as a hymn to resilience, resurgence and self-empowerment. Bold, fearless and unrepentant. Hearing and looking at Conchita, you can't help but be reminded of Gloria Gaynor’s paean to individuality ‘I Am What I Am’ a little, in particular, the line ‘I am my own special creation’.

The lavish orchestration and Conchita’s perfect vocal delivery emulate and almost exceed those Shirley Bassey numbers but the lyrics and Conchita’s unique image (although there are some parallels with Dame Shirley here too, as can be seen in the pictures) – magnificent, figure-hugging floor-length gowns, the old-school glamour of the night-club siren, combined with full make-up (her make-up video on YouTube has had three million views; Shirley didn’t shirk on make-up either) and beard – help to reinvent and revitalise this tried and tested template for a new era. A daring blend of the familiar and the innovative that challenges the norms, just as any movie franchise should after fifty-odd years.

Make-up tutorial
'Waking in the rubble/Walking over glass/Neighbours say we're trouble/Well that time has passed/Peering from the mirror/No, that isn't me/Stranger getting nearer/Who can this person be?/You wouldn't know me at all today/From the fading light I fly'
A sweeping string intro before a muted piano accompaniment to Conchita’s at first deliberately portentous and subdued vocal, building excitement and the sense that something is about to happen. Cue the chorus.

Shirley no shirk in the make-up department
'Rise like a phoenix/Out of the ashes/Seeking rather than vengeance/Retribution/You were warned/Once I'm transformed/Once I'm reborn/You know I will rise like a phoenix/But you're my flame'
Conchita exudes mystery and sex appeal as well as an engaging blend of strength and vulnerability. Her utterly commanding interpretation makes the most of the majestic chord change for the obligatory soaring and triumphant crescendo of the chorus: proud, fierce, conveyed with defiant dignity. Or even dignified defiance.

‘Go about your business/Act as if you're free/No one could have witnessed/What you did to me’
The suspenseful strings here could easily be lifted and used as build-up to a thrilling Bond set piece.

The next Bond villain?
'I rise up to the sky/You threw me down but/I'm gonna fly'
The finale is suitably grandiose and simply glorious. Conchita's control is absolute.

Incidentally, when asked if she would like to play a Bond girl, Conchita quickly replied:
'No, that would mean nothing to me. But I would love to play a Bond villain, who fights to the very end.'
To be continued I hope.

A Radio Times poll has Conchita as an overwhelming favourite to sing the next Bond number. She scores nearly 82 percent, with her nearest rival on about 2 percent. That’s a pretty convincing win.

Tom Neuwirth
Here's a poem that captures the Conchita effect.

[I’m a bit confused about my reaction to Conchita. I’m a straight woman (though sometimes wish I wasn't) but I find the Conchita persona completely captivating even though she’s a man (yes pronouns don’t really work with Conchita), dressed and made up like a woman (hyper feminine and always elegant) with a beard. Of course, Conchita is really a gay man in drag (Tom Neuwirth) but still I wonder, is it just me? Or do some people’s charms simply override usual gender preferences? I sort of fancy Conchita but I don’t fancy Tom.]
Never less than ravishing

Monday, 9 February 2015

Shakey Graves: 'Are you trick or are you treat?'*

alejandro rose-garcia aka shakey graves
* From 'City in a Bottle'. Links to songs in the titles. For tenuous Kinks connection, see end.

Happy Shakey Graves Day!
Thought I would post this to celebrate.

Random, arbitrary, magical – how we hear new music these days
A musical segment on the TV series Third Watch showcased a distinctive tune and I thought, finally some good new music. However, investigations led to the revelation that this great new band was an old favourite, no other than Fleetwood Mac; the song was ‘Peacekeeper’. You didn’t know it was me who discovered the Mac, did you? Remind anyone just a little of Paul Simon's ‘Kodachrome’?

I first heard Citizen Cope on a trailer for a TV show that I never watched: Sons of Anarchy. Of course it was difficult to find out more about the singer and the song without knowing his name or the title but anything is possible with YouTube and Google so tried various lines from the short snippet I had heard until I identified the song as ‘Son’s Gonna Rise’. Now one album and two gigs later ...

On the plane, watched Boyhood and found myself humming an exquisitely pretty song from it all the way home so tried to remember one line of the lyric so that I could search for it online: ‘Hero’ by Family of the Year. Every time I hear this song, it cheers me up so I wouldn't be without it.

Was there life before YouTube? And why?
I’m not particularly techno-savvy. I haven’t even progressed to being able to download anything and don’t really understand people who go for long country walks while glued to their iPods. Don’t you want to hear the birds, the wind, someone yelling at you that you’re trespassing? But even someone as digitally retarded as me can cope with YouTube and I use it to check out new music although eventually I like to own a physical artefact, something to hold, like a CD/DVD. 

So how did I stumble into Shakey Graves?
I watched a movie and it was complete nonsense (Nora Roberts histrionics) but there was this totally sweet-looking guy in it, outshining the rest of the cast in a cameo as the evil brother. Read my review here. The film was Midnight Bayou. The actor’s name was Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

gotta love someone who looks like this ...
Early Graves
I was curious – he didn’t seem to have been in many movies so I checked him out on YouTube; thought this was really cute, ‘Ali, Ali, Julie, Julie’. I realised he had this alter ego or other title: Shakey Graves. I tried to listen to several tracks (emphasis on ‘tried’) but didn’t get it. Some of it was live and occasionally seemed like self-indulgent caterwauling, some supremely lo-fi, soft and understated, that left little impression on me but even though I’m not someone who usually has the patience to acquire a taste, I kept listening (I'd say partly because he’s not exactly hard to look at, but in fact most tracks I liked only had a pic of the CD cover from Roll the Bones. I wasn't ready for Shakey live).

... but uses this on his cd sleeve
These songs were like shy children (and I’ve always had a soft spot for shy children), standing behind me, tugging at my skirt, politely asking for attention, particularly ‘Built to Roam’, with the chorus quietly but increasingly insistently reiterating till it’s almost a threat: ‘Watch out/Cause here I come bored and lazy/Here I come no dignity/So long, sad city of angels/ You ain’t been very good to me’, this compounded with a laden pause (for effect) before the second instance – Shakey really knows how to emphasise a stanza or line with a breath beforehand or a sigh after. Subtly, slowly, they infiltrated my consciousness. They clung to me like teasels, attached themselves via static. I brushed them off but they would regroup and reconnect and so they insidiously crept up on me, spun gossamer strands around me, saved me till later.

some strange enchantment
I was beguiled by the girl-nextdoor prettiness of ‘To Cure What Ails’ (fantastic title, lyrics: ‘I think I’ve grown a little thinner/Without you riding my coat tails/I would trade it all again/For a nice stroll in your skin/Just to cure what ails’), the lilting loveliness of ‘Word of Mouth’ (‘When anybody tries to tell him what to do/He holds his breath until he turns blue’) and the sunny plaint of ‘Proper Fence’ (‘Well she said kiss me/And lord I listened’).

To begin with, they seemed like shadows of songs, sort of ethereal. I thought them insubstantial but gradually they began to exercise some strange enchantment on me. The plucking and finger-picking created delicate melodies, intricate patterns, falling like summer rain on ‘Business Lunch’ and ‘Roll the Bones’ (upbeat tune with downbeat message, a spoonful of sugar as Julie Andrews might put it: ‘Yeah so struggle all you like/Yeah put up the good fight/They say some day everybody dies alone’) or generating shades as subtle as a hand-coloured postcard on ‘Bully’s Lament’, sometimes with weirdly distorted vocals, often overlaid with syncopated handclaps, background vocals a nanosecond or so behind the lead.

The lyrics were intriguing, clever, full of allusions and mystery, and new ways of expressing interesting ideas. Take ‘Unlucky Skin’ (favourite line: ‘No monetary value(s) have I’; me neither), ‘Stereotypes of a Blue Collar Male’ (‘Church and stuff church and stuff/I never thought God would call my bluff/But he did/Yes he did/Yes he goddamn did’) or the rowdy live version of ‘City in a Bottle’: ‘If she was six teeth younger and I had half a mind/You know I'd carry her away from that wicked thing outside’. ‘Six teeth younger’! I love it. Atmospheric, sultry horns seem to stagger drunkenly through what is surely the seediest, sleaziest, sexiest swing tune since ‘Mack the Knife’ (Bobby Darin – accept no subsitute).

boy from the backwoods
I can only compare them to those Magic Eye pictures where you have to alter your focus in order to see something in the image, which isn’t immediately apparent, perhaps a completely different picture. But with Shakey, once you’ve altered your focus, you remain in this altered state, you can't go back and you wouldn’t want to. You can't unsee it. Or rather unhear it. It’s always magical to you.

Some songs were on the Roll the Bones album or The Donor Blues ep (only available via download on Shakey Graves Day) but many only exist on YouTube. Waiting for a recording of 'Bully's Lament' (unbelievable right?), ‘Once in a While’, ‘Where a Boy Once Stood’, ‘Word of Mouth’, ‘Late July’ (didn’t even rate this till I heard an astounding live version in Louisville), ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Parliament’ (SG as backwoods boy/hillbilly hobo), ‘Coat of Arms’ (‘When is the last day of school/Today is the first day of class’). I've made a list if anyone's interested ...

 boo and shakey
Vampire slayers
The new songs were a different proposition. Bolder, brasher, bolshier cousins to the earlier ones. They didn’t tap tentatively at the door; they high-kicked it down like vampire slayers. However, I was initially put off by a frantic, scary version of ‘Dearly Departed’, with Esmé Patterson that everyone else loved. I still prefer it when he does this alone or with Boo (Chris Boosahda) and she’s not there (inadvertently continuing the undead theme with this Zombies classic). I love the way Shakey and Boo whip each other up into a frenzy, into a perfect pitch of intensity. Boo adds a certain something to the Shakey experience until ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'. Compare the 2013 Pickathon version of ‘Where a Boy Once Stood’ (admittedly a different time, place, audience) with this from Stetson Center Stage 2014.

I think it was ‘Hardwired’ (which is on the new CD And the War Came) that did it for me. That was a song and a half. My reservations fell away. This is my favourite version – he doesn’t alter the tempo too much and the song retains its momentum more.
‘Well water was wine/Back on blue mountain time/While I watched your lovin' expire/While I lay close to you/As the lace on the shoe/And that's when I knew/We were hardwired’. The English grad in me loved the interline rhyme of ‘lay close to you’/‘lace on the shoe’. I might be wrong but I think originally the lyrics were: ‘Well I bumbled like bees/While you boiled like the seas’ but now he mostly sings ‘Well you bumbled like bees/And I boiled like the seas’ and he’s altered ‘But you are as you came/Mostly bliss and cocaine/A match just beggin' for fire’ to ‘But you are as you came/Mostly bliss and cocaine/Just a match beggin' for fire’ but I prefer the first version – it not only scans better but alters the stress too, making the girl (we assume it’s a girl) sound even more combustible. Like she can't wait. And the melody was instantly memorable; the backing reminiscent of early Hall and Oates – never a bad thing ('I'll Be By', for instance).

wild card
Next I was mesmerised by the stunning ‘Wild Card’ here from Stetson Centre Stage.Like I say when Christian Kane sings 'Rattlesnake Smile': it should be illegal for anyone to sound this sexy. This epitomises the Shakey/Boo dynamic: organic, symbiotic. The guitar and drum kick straight to my heart. ‘The Perfect Parts’ I wasn’t enamoured of to begin with, thinking it too rocky but now I'm particularly partial to the rowdy version. The way he delivers the line ‘Well I used to take my women on the rocks’ sends a thrill through me. And I love the image ‘The city’s put me through the wash’. Definitely felt like that. 'House of Winston' is irresistible, with sparkling, iridescent guitar work, coupled with the adorable line ‘I wanna waste your time’.

His lyrics are a mischievous mix of humorous and profound. ‘The Pansy Waltz’ always makes me smile: ‘Well I dusted all the bones out in my yard/I fixed the screen door, raised the barn/But still you call me from the moon/Every single afternoon/Tell me all about the astronauts you've come to love/And how the earth looks from above/And how I should've been a better friend to you’. Again, the natural connection between the musicians, their obvious joy in performing together (although illicit substances might be playing a part here) all add to the appeal.

‘It’s sort of a rediscovery on stage. I’ll write a song … you get thrown in a room with a bunch of people, I like to change it.’

the diumvirate
The live versions were always totally different to the studio tracks and I found this offputting at first. I thought he changed the nature (or what I perceived to be the nature) of the songs too much, slowing to a crawl when I thought he should be in the fast lane, yelling when I anticipated a whisper. It felt like he was constantly dismantling them, rearranging them and I didn’t understand why. There are still some I can't listen to. But I mainly heard the newer songs live first and found, with the exception of ‘Only Son’, one of those songs like 'Where a Boy Once Stood’  or ‘Wild Card’ on which he effortlessly ratchets from sublime and tender in the verse to a regular maelstrom in the chorus (Shakey the storm and the calm at the eye of the storm at the same time) – a satisfying contrast, although this live performance from Lagunitas showcases the Shakey/Boo diumvirate (ok, I admit I made that word up); they play as if they were two strands of the same cloth, interwoven to create an elaborate tapestry.

a man possessed
But now I see that a song is not an object set in stone that has to be reproduced as perfectly or accurately as the track on the record.  Grant Hart often alters lyrics for different situations. With Shakey Graves, everything could change; the song is a living thing, endlessly manipulable, and he can play it whichever way he wants, depending on his mood or maybe the mood of an audience. With his crazy musical skills and vocal range and power, he sees limitless possibilities so opts to explore them. He can pare them down or fill them out, purr or roar.

So sometimes the songs are like old friends in different clothes or they appear to be complete strangers who strike you suddenly as a little familiar, just a frisson of déjà vu. There's maybe one mannerism you recall. He continually confounds expectations. It doesn’t always work but it ensures each gig is an exciting experience with songs that sometimes sound brand new.

And I could never doubt his fervour as he howls till the veins cord in his neck, his face reddens and sweat streams, he sings like a man possessed, could never doubt his absolute commitment to performing them with utter focus and intensity. See this ‘Dearly Departed’ for instance or this electrifying, impossibly sexy rendition of ‘Call It Heaven’ from Telluride.

So anyway, I’m hoping that Shakey will come to the UK this year since we travelled all the way to the US last year (having not had a vacation for three years) to try to catch him live two nights in a row but the first attempt was a disaster. Even though we had bought tickets in advance and won tickets in a competition for the same show (what are the odds? didn’t find this out till we got back home), we weren’t allowed in at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville because my sister failed to bring any ID. I had my passport and we’re twins but there was no budging the management and the draconian laws of Tennessee. Did get to see him at the Mercury Ballroom in Louisville and the gig was incendiary but made us even sadder we’d missed him the first night. So just one UK gig please?

'I can be the city boy that I make fun of and I can also be the country boy that will get dip on you.'
Trick or treat, I don’t care. Just get over here.

A poem about Shakey’s version of  ‘I’m on Fire’ (akin to being serenaded by the devil) is here and another fan's perspective on Shakey is here.

Anyone searching for a Kinks connection, there is one. Shakey and some renegades sing a version of 'Dead-End Street' here. You know, given the title of the blog, I should always add one.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Glenn Frey – Cowboy Casanova

‘I love the way he leans’
'He’s a good time cowboy Casanova/Leaning up against the record machine/Looks like a cool drink of water/But he’s candy-coated misery' ('Cowboy Casanova', Carrie Underwood)
I’ve got to admit that, before I was Schmitten, which was pretty recently (see my Schmitten blogs), Glenn Frey was my favourite Eagle and Don Henley was my sister’s. She bought Henley's solo material, I bought Glenn Frey's. This song sums up the Frey persona to me – a bad boy you’d do well to steer clear of (but don't want to), with tons of charisma and sex appeal.

‘You're struttin' into town like you're slingin' a gun/Just a small town dude with a big city attitude’ (‘Just Like Jesse James’, Cher)
Seeing pictures of him from the 70s on the EaglesOnline forum, I’m reminded of Angela’s (Claire Danes) comment about Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto) in my favourite teen TV drama My So-Called Life ‘I love the way he leans’. Glenn leans pretty well. Anyway, I’ve already covered the Frey sex appeal in another blog.

‘If you look at my vocal participation over the course of the 70s, I sang less and less. It was intentional. We had Don Henley.’ (Glenn Frey, HOTE)
Although this is true, although I love Don’s voice, it’s partly (perhaps mainly) the different vocalists (and particularly the blending of their vocals), their strengths and styles that create the diversity in the music and increase the band’s appeal. I’m crazy for Glenn’s voice. There's an edge to it. And he sounded great on this tour. Plus Glenn does much more than sing – he writes songs, figures out arrangements, decides who sings what and still finds time to exercise his inner Svengali and get people's backs up.

Glenn Frey: ‘It takes Henley for me to finish a song. And it takes me for Henley to finish a song.’
The creative dynamic between Glenn and Don was incredibly productive. We have a lot to thank Linda Ronstadt for.

Desperado who leans best?

‘I like the way your sparkling earrings lay/Against your skin so brown/And I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight/With a billion stars all around’ (or in plain English ‘Like your earrings/Fancy a shag?’ but so much more persuasive the way Glenn puts it) ('Peaceful Easy Feeling', Eagles)
It was always Glenn – the hair, the attitude, the confidence, the moustache, the jeans, the smouldering gaze … need I go on? He was the ultimate 'Outlaw Man' for me. All that swagger and charm as epitomised in the above lyric.

‘Well, I'm standing on a corner/in Winslow, Arizona/And such a fine sight to see/It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford/Slowin' down to take a look at me … We may lose and we may win/Though we will never be here again/So open up, I'm climbin' in/Take it easy’ ( 'Take It Easy', Eagles)
Jackson Browne asks him to finish a verse and that was all (s)he wrote. It all comes so naturally to him. When we holidayed in the States, we had to go to that corner. I’m sure many Eagles fans have made the same pilgrimage and there we were when a cool-looking guy in a flatbed Ford (is that the same as a pick-up?) stopped to ask us directions to the Probation Office. Or was it the Parole Office? Well, two English girls in summer dresses – I guess we must have looked like we would know. He recognised the would-be bad girls in us.

Used car salesman on vacation?

In some ways, Glenn is the most altered (though still good-looking and wearing well) – possibly because he was the epitome of careless youth while Don always seemed more mature. The others simply look like older/rounder/balder/greyer/skinnier versions of what they were but Glenn now resembles a used car salesman on vacation except that he has managed to retain that slightly disreputable air and that ‘big city attitude’ in his persona.

'Outlaw Man'

'We gave Glenn a nickname, The Lone Arranger. He had a vision about how our voices could blend and how to arrange the vocals and, in many cases, the tracks. He also had a knack for remembering and choosing good songs.' (Don Henley)
So if Don is the main singer and writer, the soul of the band – the angst, bitterness, anger, world-weariness; Glenn’s the pumping heart, the motor that keeps it all going, the somewhat schizophrenic, one-minute romantic dupe (‘What Do I Do with My Heart?’ rivals the tortured love songs usually reserved for TBS), the next ranting paranoid with villainous past ('Somebody') – my favourite Glenn incarnation:
'There's a jack-o-lantern moon in the midnight sky/Somebody gonna live, somebody gonna die/But down in the graveyard on that old tombstone/There's a big black crow and it's callin' you home' ('Somebody', Eagles)
Unfortunately for us all, 'Somebody' is not available as a link anywhere.

'When you said goodbye, you were on the run/Tryin' to get away from the things you've done' ('You Belong to the City', Glenn Frey) 
I love the seedy side of Glenn: the romance of the illicit in 'You Belong to the City'. Always one step ahead of the law, restless, dangerous. That sultry atmospheric sax intro; Glenn's intimate vocal on the verse before the chorus kicks in and he steps it up.

Happy days
'Somebody's gonna hurt someone/Before the night is through/Somebody's gonna come undone/There's nothin' we can do' (‘Heartache Tonight’, Eagles)
Don Felder on The Long Run:
‘We realized that Glenn had nothing to sing on the record except …  "Teenage Jail" … we just had nothing in his genre. So we called Bob Seger, and Bob had started about 60 or 70 percent of "Heartache Tonight", which was perfect for Glenn … .We couldn’t put out a record without Glenn singing a hit on it.’
This relates to the 'Glenn singing less and less' syndrome (something I really really don't understand). The general feeling is that Don is trying to put Glenn down here. It didn't come across like this to me to begin with but I sort of get it now, as it sounds as if he and the the others had to find a way to help Glenn out.  But he’s right about one thing: this song is entirely within Glenn’s vibe. (I wouldn’t say Glenn has a genre though, that he can't step out of – he’s perfectly capable of singing anything but this is something he excels at – uptempo, rocky, a song with a bite for a Saturday night): an obvious single and a sure-fire hit.

Glenn rocks 70s fashion like no one else
Bernie: This is a song that I used to hear a lot of on the radio last summer. Right around Halloween.
Glenn: Yeah round Halloween. That ain’t the summer.
This 1973 exchange between Glenn and Bernie at the beginning of ‘Witchy Woman’ sums up their relationship. Backbiting. You have to hear the tone of his voice as he delivers this line. How much he enjoys it. So quick. He ain’t going to be a diplomat any time soon. By the end of the song though, it’s the playing that counts and I’m glad they were able to get back to that for the latest tour.

Glenn Frey: ‘There's a lot of compromise involved in a rock band and trying to make people happy and feel a part of everything that you're doing. It demands a lot of sacrifice and a lot of compromise and a lot of patience and diplomacy.’
Patience and diplomacy were perhaps not Glenn’s strong suit. This may be why Bernie ended up pouring a beer over his head.

‘A rock band is not a perfect democracy. It’s more like a sports team. No one can do anything without the other guys, but everybody doesn’t get to touch the ball all the time.’ (Glenn Frey, HOTE)
Glenn’s attitude has undergone a bit of a sea-change. Love the way he expresses this, with a touch of venom. You can almost hear him adding ‘So get over it’.

Hair looking extra cool
Glenn's never been given to wordy avoidance or justifications (the sort that Don’s so good at). Witness this from HOTE:
Don: In the context of the times and the profession, the way we behaved wasn’t all that remarkable.
Glenn: It was the 70s. There were drugs everywhere.
Leave it to Glenn to tell it like it is and there's little doubt that his blunt attitude led to much of the creative tension. Ok he can be objectionable but I love that about him, that he doesn’t attempt to excuse or rationalise. Sometimes I feel like I’m surrounded by people who hedge their bets and are afraid to have an opinion.

Everyone talks about how funny Joe is (and he has some classic moments in HOTE), such as:
 ‘The first thing that happens is that you get some kind of label, and you gotta live up to it, and you just get caught up in that, and I forget what the second thing is’
but with Joe I always get the feeling that he sometimes only realises he’s said something funny halfway through or just after he’s said it whereas Glenn is much more self-aware and just as entertaining and his throwaway lines in the HOTE  film are classics. He’s always been the master of the soundbite, hence ‘Life in the Fast Lane’, ‘Lyin’ Eyes’. Here are a couple of classic Glenn lines:

Did I mention the hair?
'These songs are so old that when they were written, the Dead Sea was only sick.'

‘Detroit, where mother is only half a word’ or ‘Detroit, the city that gave us Ted Nugent … and won't take him back’
There’s a reason Glenn gets to tell the jokes at the gigs, albeit the same ones night after night. He delivers them way better than Don could. My favourites are the Detroit ones above.

‘I own a lot of guitars. And the reason is, I'm looking for one I can play.’ (From glennfreyonline)
Never afraid to be self-deprecating, Glenn happy to participate in a joke guitar duel with Joe Walsh every night of the tour, in which he gets to showcase what he can do but never really win.

Glenn wins the battle of the moustaches

Not quite finished but it seems appropriate to post this today. Well, it's the 6th in the USA but the 7th here. Happy birthday, Glenn!

Some quotes and images lifted from GlennFreyOnline. Thanks, guys!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

'Kick 'em when they're up':* Backlash Lashback: Response to Eagles' Detractors

Long Road out of Eden era
* 'Dirty Laundry', Don Henley

This is really a rejonder to the general press’s reactionary response to the Eagles. Obviously the band don’t need me or anyone else to defend them but that won't stop me.

‘And still all the critics keep saying/Are they still around?/When are they gonna stop?’
(‘The Road’, The Kinks, the rest of the song is also pertinent)
I’m struck when I read the press reviews of the Eagles UK gigs that no one is saying very much. They’re very short and somewhat grudgingly appreciative but the common tenor is that the band have just been going too long. I was originally going to write a review but this rant got too long so I'm going to publish it as a separate blog.

'I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour/But heaven knows I'm miserable now' ('Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now', The Smiths) Miserable and not afraid to sing about it! Plus you can't knock a song with the lyric 'What she asked of me at the end of the day/Caligula would have blushed'
Prior to this tour, I read a really negative piece (worth reading for the cutting ripostes in the comments) in The Guardian (one of my least favourite papers) championing the new over the old and advocating that the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones, if they couldn’t do the decent thing and chuck it all in to let the new bands have a chance, should at least pay a tax to finance the development of such bands. It is possible to like old and new bands. So-called 'old' music does not prevent so-called 'new' music from existing. Much of the new music sounds like either generic rock posturing or is unimaginatively derivative. Friends go crazy for the Scissor Sisters, Arcade Fire and their ilk who ‘are all about fun’ and the current stand seems to be that you can't be any fun unless your songs are a melee of different styles, all rehashed with a sardonic ‘aren't we clever, look what we’ve done?’ knowingness, with a general emphasis in the lyrics on ‘having fun’ as if, if you don't say it every second, you're suddenly miserable and being miserable is a crime. They sound anything but original but are more like a fusion of several styles I never particularly cared for in the first place. The word that always comes to mind is ‘ersatz’.

I think hell's just about to freeze over
‘We set out to become a band for our time. But sometimes if you do a good-enough job, you become a band for all time.’
(Glenn Frey, HOTE documentary)
But why should liking current bands prevent anyone from appreciating older ones? After all, although of its time, truly great music is timeless. It isn't finite. There’s always room for more. If someone is successful, it doesn’t stop someone else being successful. Instead of criticising the Eagles who have created (and we hope will continue to make) so many beautiful songs, how about noticing the fact that much of popular music these days is lyrically drivel and musically limited? Most songs that get to Number One have the same words rearranged plus some often quite objectionable and/or childish rap inserted for the sake of it. I’m not saying it’s all like that but shouldn’t we fight against this endemic deterioration in standards, where there’s a sample of a previous song (sometimes a good one – not so bad – at least it’s bringing it to another generation) and if we’re lucky one original but ever so slight melodic refrain? See my previous blog for more on this, and, in particular, the Black-Eyed Peas.

Anyway, who’s to say what’s new or old? If it’s new to you, does it matter if it was made in the 60s? What’s that got to do with whether it’s worthwhile or not? I’ve just discovered Poco and Gene Clark as well as more recently, Citizen Cope, Christian Kane, Shakey Graves. None of these acts have had the acclaim or success they deserve but I’m sure they don’t blame the Eagles for this.

‘I decree today that life/Is simply taking and not giving/England is mine - it owes me a living’
(‘Still Ill’, The Smiths, a band that seemed totally different to anything that had gone before, replete with passion and pathos, memorable tunes and witty, evocative, thought-provoking lyrics)
I fear this bleating, which is typical of the wishy-washy, bleeding-heart liberals at The Guardian, always ready to jump on the next musical bandwagon but always a couple of years behind the times; they just about grab onto it as it disappears into the sunset and the credits roll, as with Jackie Leven or the Fleet Foxes, or just after an act has become a parody of itself and ever so quick to denigrate something they think is passé, is all part of this ‘the world owes me a living’ attitude. It doesn’t.

It’s not only journalists who indulge in this kind of carping. Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) says he knows why the Eagles still tour: ‘It’s not about the money. It’s because they’re bored.’ Always amazes me when somebody has the gall to claim they understand someone else's motivation. Henley (never a shrinking violet) has hit back at this in Rolling Stone but also at the London shows when he said they don’t do it because they’re bored but because it’s the best job on the planet or words to that effect. Sort of reminds me of when Oasis and Blur gloved up in the 90s.

‘You don't want to work, you want to live like a king/But the big, bad world doesn't owe you a thing’ ('Get Over It', Eagles) 
It’s always been difficult for new artists to break through and the talented don’t always thrive while the screechers and flavours of the day (according to the papers) such as Paloma Faith and Ed Sheeran (although I do like ‘I See Fire’) make it. Whether they do or not has nothing to do with whether Fleetwood Mac are touring or not. The two are not mutually exclusive.

The Mac
I hate this labelling. The Eagles songs and harmonies and ideas would still sound fresh and exciting if you were to hear them for the first time today. Same with the Stones. And there’s a reason that ‘The Chain’ is still used as background build-up for all the Formula 1 events on UK TV. It’s as exciting now as it ever was. A couple of years ago I finally discovered the Kinks who became a fairly long-lived musical obsession of mine. Not new but new to me.

So I say ‘live and let live’. Stop bitching and moaning. Good music is good music and it will endure. That’s not a fault, that’s a virtue. I like this comment on The Guardian article from MickGJ: ‘If it wasn't for these old acts there wouldn't be any 30-year old records for them to sound a bit like.’ I’m discovering new and old music all the time.That's how it should be.

The thrill ain't gone