Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Let's Talk About Sax

When I was a young street tough, roaming the suburbs menacing the local populace, I held certain principles to be sacrosanct, at least as it pertained to how I liked my rock music. Keyboard players weren't allowed to wear leather pants, drummers weren't allowed to sing, and most importantly: rock songs weren't supposed to have saxophone solos.

Let's be clear: many terrible things happened in the 1980's and early 1990's, and the most heinous of them seemed to involve saxophone solos. [But there was good along with the bad; there was the great Lora Logic, but I didn't know about that kinda stuff just then, and of course Clarence Clemons gets a pass.]

Which of course brings me to Roxy Music. While my views on them have transmogrified over the years, I worked backwards from what I once classified as slick, metrosexual art-disco, to their edgier early recordings with Brian Eno, and through them I have made my peace with the modern day rock and roll song sax solo.  "Over You" is my favorite tune. And it is perfect; a hooky slice of teenage bubblegum heaven.

One must remember that it was a more innocent time, and the sax crimes that my generation was cursed to endure were far off in some unimaginable future. And while it can be argued that The Great Rock Song Saxophone Solo Moratorium of 1991 (also popularly referred to as the Cobain-Vedder Act) may have been a bit heavy-handed, ultimately, it was the kind of musical enema rock music needed. Though if you miss the 1980's Pop Song Saxophone, there is a Facebook page for you, so fret not.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Left of the Dial

By the time I heard the Replacements, they were pretty much over. The freewheeling band of miscreants and rock and roll clowns were now a semi-professional outfit that was flirting with—never to achieve—commercial success. “I’ll Be You” was a minor radio hit, and I was intrigued enough after shelling out 2 bucks for a cassette of Don’t Tell A Soul to seek out their other records.

And oh, the treasures contained therein. The “facts” I gleaned about the band (do you remember life before the internet? Me? I'm starting to forget) only served to fuel the mythos: Bassist Tommy Stinson was twelve when the band started. His brother, Bob, the guitarist, often played onstage wearing tutus. They were crazy Midwesterners who drank a lot, and broke stuff. And did things that musical acts trying to make it as a moneymaking concern were not generally advised to do. Live and in toto, they were generally a drunken mess, occasionally capable of the sublime. But the music speaks well enough for themselves: Paul Westerberg sang about alienation, boredom and working class anonymity better than anyone before or since, and songs like “I Will Dare,” “Unsatisfied,” “Here Comes a Regular,” and “Can’t Hardly Wait” combined Raymond Carver’s eye for heartbreaking detail and Johnny Rotten’s vitriolic snarl.  

So how do you make a documentary about one of the most revered, self-destructive and influential band to come out of the American rock music underground…without including any of their music by the band, or any interviews with the members? Well, there are the anecdotes, and they inspired a lot of them. Everyone who heard them, saw them, and loved them had a story, and I'm guessing that's enough to make this a worthwhile documentary. A story for fans, and about fans, and fandom, as much as it is about the band. Color Me Obsessed is showing all over the country next week, and in Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent on November 4.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Even though the last album I remember buying the day it came out was Monster in 1994, I'm pretty sure there isn't any album I've listened to more than Life's Rich Pageant. Now that REM have officially broken up, I'm pretty confident in saying that if the work of any musical artist is in my DNA, it's theirs.

When I saw them on an overcast evening in the fall of 1989 at my local suburban amphitheatre they played "Perfect Circle," a ballad from their much-ballyhooed first album, and a light mist began to fall, as Stipe sang the first chorus, which is "heaven assumed, shoulders high in the room" (or at least that's what I think he says, but that's another matter altogether), and Buck strummed his strummy strums and Mills sighed his backing vocals and plucked out those sad, descending root notes, and Berry quietly kept the beat, and it was a small but beautiful and epiphanous moment, the kind of moment of which I hadn't--being fifteen--had too many. It is my favorite REM song, and that was--and remains--one of my favorite live moments from any rock and roll show. And I've seen my share. I remember later reading somewhere that Peter Buck said the song made him think about seeing kids playing football as evening came on. Which is perfect.

As with many of their best songs, the lyrics are opaque--if intelligible at all--but certain words and images shine through and elicit very specific emotions. Like good poetry does. "Happy throngs take this joy, wherever you go." "The children look up, all they hear are sky blue bells ringing."  And so on.

I moved on to other musical vistas in the mid-1990's. But looking at my music collection, I can think of several dozen albums and musicians that I love, and that I know about because I heard Stipe mention it in an interview I read, or because Peter Buck produced it, or because they toured with them, or because they covered them. Records by folks like Vic Chesnutt, Robyn Hitchcock, or Patti Smith.

Thank you Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Finally saw Low last night, after many years of missed opportunities, and after getting a late entry on to the back of the bandwagon, at the El Rey. To my endless delight and appreciation, they played this song. 

The moment after the middle eight (at precisely 3:07) where Alan counts back in to the verse with a gruff and barely perceptible "hup" is one of my very favorite moments in a rock and roll song. 

Life is beautiful and don't let anyone tell you any different.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

every so often finds something on the interwebs that makes one remark to one's self, "well, gee, that certainly was edifying and soul-embiggening, and my existence is all the richer for having found it." This, I'm sorry to report, is not one of those things.