Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

All-Time Favorite Songs

1.  Hey Baby – Bruce Chanel / Delbert McClinton

2.  Artificial Flowers – Bobby Darrin

3.  Handyman – Jimmy Jones

4.  Jailhouse Rock – Elvis

5.  Stagger Lee – Lloyd Price

6.  Smokey Places – Corsairs

7.  All My Lovin’ – The Beatles

8.  You Really Got Me – The Kinks

9.  123-Redlight – 1910 Fruitgum Company

10.  Highway 61- Bob Dylan

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Humor? – An Imaginary Telephone Call

A telephone call from Joseph Stalin to Dmitri Shostakovitch in the middle of the night during the 1920s – think Bob Newhart’s telephone comedy routines.

Stalin: “Dmitri – This is Joseph – Joseph Stalin.  How are you this evening?  I saw your new opera last night – too many notes Dmitri – too much dissonance and what is it with these twelve tones? – You are our national hero composer.  I should think you would write for the workers Dmitri – a music for the people.  Are you with me on this?  You continue being creative – release your genius for the people – do we see eye to eye on this Dmitri?  Anymore dissonance and I’ll have you shot and if it’s atonal I’ll shoot you twice.  Good night Dmitri – pleasant dreams.”……..this is not funny but accurately conveys Stalin’s intimidation of artists during his years as leader of the Soviets.

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Night at the Opera – the birth of Mr. Gasoline

In 1980 I was working in Athens as an architect designing a large section of a new city to be built from scratch in the desert in Saudi Arabia.  This new city was to have a projected immediate  population of 500,000.  It was going to be constructed on a site adjacent to the Red Sea, that at the time, held a single  one-pump-gas station  on the two lane road to Jiddah.  My responsibility was to design twelve public buildings including a police station, several government office buildings, a supermarket, a large parking structure, a medical clinic and miscellaneous structures and systems.  Each person on the fifteen member team had similar responsibilities.  Each team members performed more  design work than most architects do in a career.

There is fast track project scheduling, there is hyper-track and there is warp-track, the Yanbu project was warp-track.  We were in the un-air conditioned office every waking hour for the first six weeks of the  summer  completing the schematic phase.  It was an intense, very high-pressure experience for an architect just one year out of school.  At one point during the early autumn I got incredibly frustrated on my design team and sought an alternate creative outlet away from the architecture.

This new outlet manifest itself very late one night while on a date with a Greek aristocrat.  We spent the hours after a candlelight dinner strolling around her Athens.  We walked down streets where she pointed up to the sign, her last name!  We walked through farmer’s market stalls (Greeks shop late into the evening) she pointed to fruit stands that bore her family name (they owned entire islands thus the fruit species name) She told colorful stories of her dashing father’s exploits during WWII, of her mother dating famous American public figures.  Heady stuff.
It was a drizzly night at first then later a full moon was revealed as we walked and talked for a few hours.  At around one in the morning we were walking near the American Embassy compound not far from the office where I worked.  There was an opera house under construction.  I was curious.  We entered the site and walked into the darkness and up stairs trying to find the stage.  The place smelled of lumber, concrete form oil, familiar smells from my time on construction sites.  The moon had come out so there was a bit of light that allowed us to sidestep large openings in the floor and edges that were many feet above adjacent spaces with no railings.  We stepped over debris on the floor and around puddles.

We finally made it to the stage.  The roof had not been built yet so I could look out in blackness to the dim back of the hall and see the moon rising.  I began to test the reverb time in the space by singing a few bars of spontaneously invented blues melody.  The hall had great acoustics even without a roof.  Geez, I sounded great.  This was much better than any shower.  I didn’t know I had it in me.   I began to sing louder and more rhythmically.  Then months of creative frustration burst like a dam and I began singing at full voice some deep, raw, gut-bucket blues.  Channeling B.B. King, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters.   I looked over  to my friend who I hoped was amused but I could hardly see her in the darkness.  After about three songs of loud and resonant Delta shouting I saw shadows moving in the back of the hall.  UH –  OH !  WTF !  I stopped singing and stood frozen on the stage watching the shadowy black profiles move toward the stage.  My God! There were more than just five.  There were waves of them.  Must have been  twenty figures dressed in black converging at my feet.  My heart was beating like hell.

These figures in black each had a machine gun pointed at my head.  A bold voice called out in Greek.  It was Greek to me,  but my date understood and we both jumped off of the stage to greet the Athens Chief of Police surrounded by the entire Athens SWAT Team with their weapons still raised.  My date and the police chief had a brief conversation during which she let it be known who she was and that I was her nutty American date for the evening.  The chief motioned for the SWATs to lower their weapons.  She assured him that we meant no harm, that we were not protesting the American presence in the Embassy across the street and that we would go home immediately.  WHEW! – she kept me from getting arrested or shot or both, thanks CM!  This was the beginning of the songwriting career of Mr. Gasoline.

Footnote:  Twenty eight years later while I was teaching at Montana State University in the architecture program, the University held a gala “International Festival Banquet” where students from all over the world who were in attendance dressed in their native costumes and served native cuisine.  I walked over to a group of Saudi Arabian Students and, of the five, three were born and raised in the city I had designed, Yanbu.

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Bill Spooner (TUBES) and Zorba the Greek

Bill Spooner, mastermind of The Tubes, is a great songwriter,  arranger and guitar player.  Bill was the music director-guitar wizard in my band Mr. Gasoline for two years.  We played a few dives but no gig was a throw-away for Bill.  He played as masterfully in the rat holes for an audience of ten as he did for 100,000 people at Knebworth or during a sold-out week at London’s Hammersmith Odeon.  Bill had the spirit of Zorba.  Don’t wait for bliss.  Track it down and harness it to your small tasks.  Allow it to fill your heart wherever you are no matter what you are doing.  Great ideas will sneak up on you – be prepared.  Doing mundane tasks is always an excellent opportunity to think, to plan, to dream.
Listen to one of Bill’s great solo Albums “Mall to Mars” @ CD Baby

Listen to “Wing Tank” and “Meet Miss Match”  by Mr. Gasoline @ CD Baby

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Drum Wisdom

“You either swing a band or you don’t”  Buddy Rich

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Rock and Roll Fascism

Rock and Roll is a distillation of Fascism.  The viciously insistent 4/4 beat, the small palette of rhythms and chord progressions.  A history of rock band politics from myriad garages to the vast arenas of the West would reveal scenes that would make Napoleon, Mussolini and Stalin appear as benevolent as Mr. Rogers.  It is ironic that this is the music embraced by the  boomer generation to symbolize freedom, risk-taking, and rebellion.  But I like it, love it, yes I do.

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Garth Brooks: Let Them Eat Cake

Garth Brooks has sold more albums than any other solo artist in history.  The great majority of these fans are hardworking middle-class American men and women i.e. scrimpers and savers struggling to survive from payday to payday.  If one votes with one’s pocketbook then Garth Brooks has ridden this enormous wave of populist support to the presidency of all recorded music.  Now, after ten years of rest, Mr. Brooks is singing better than ever and wants to perform again.  He has made a deal with Las Vegas hotelier Steve Wynn to play Las Vegas fifteen or twenty weekends a year to small audiences who pay $150. Per ticket i.e. the rich.  Garth is abandoning the people who created his popularity and wealth,  following the footsteps of many elected leaders who, once they are ensconced in the halls of power, sell out their constituents via lobbyists for global corporations and financial interests that victimize the people who empowered them – the average hardworking American.  Garth Brooks is now committing his artistry to his friends in high places.  Garth – say it isn’t so!

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Dylan and Picasso – late work

Bob Dylan’s recent relationship to his music / lyrics is similar to that of late Picasso in that they both evince a  casual-seeming language of expression.  Perhaps the reason Dylan doesn’t think too much of late Picasso is that he sees too much of his own relentlessly casual yet urgent laziness in him.  Advice to Bob:  take a six month vacation from the road, study art / painting, write some great songs (music and lyrics) If I want to hear Robert Hunter’s lyrics, I’ll buy a Robert Hunter CD.  Calling in a co-writer for one’s lyrics is like calling in a trusted colleague to make love to your girlfriend.  I doubt that Picasso ever did this.  However, I love the new Dylan CD  “Together Through Life” especially “It’s All Good”  and “My Wife’s Hometown”  these two songs are among Dylan’s best of past twenty years.
It is perplexing to see a legendary artist in one field holding forth on adjacent art (Dylan on painting) and reveal themselves a tyro.  Unless Bob Dylan must crank out an album a year to keep a mobster from breaking his knees, he should slow down, relax and let his innate wisdom emerge.  It would be a shame to see an artist as great as Dylan fall into the Clancy / Patterson zone where he calls in others to write his material just to have something for the voracious entertainment maw.  On the other hand, there are hundreds of  songwriters in America, (*myself included), who would love to write a song for or with Dylan.  Let the co-writing continue.  Dylan as messenger rather than oracle.
In order to do great things, artists need great critics.  Dylan’s biggest handicap at present is that his legend status dissolves all constructive criticism into either fawning encomiums or dismissal.  Has Dylan entered the late Picasso zone where there is no effective criticism and the art wanders loosely?  Picasso did his finest thinking / painting from 1905 – 1914 when surrounded by his viciously critical friends, his Bande au Picasso.  Where is the Bande au Bob Dylan who would kick his artistic ass in order to inspire a few late great works that surpass all that has gone before,  like late Rembrandt or the Turner paintings that Dylan so admires.  To date, Dylan’s late phase resembles that of Picasso for whom he has little regard.  I treasure late Picasso.  It is painting as speech.  Whether it is “sloppy” or not is beside the point.  It is the work of a great artist in his maturity, speaking a casual, conversational style.  He is no longer trying to be great here but he is great.  This late work of Picasso will someday get its due.  I’m struggling here.  Is the most recent Dylan work among his best?  Is the recent work very high quality?  Given the late Picasso framework, it is songwriting of the highest order – it is simply no longer revolutionary.  It is the work of an elderly artist speaking in a more private language.  Dylan is on shaky ground (he should co-write with Neil Young) when he voices disregard for late Picasso because he is revealing a lack of regard for his own estimable work.

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Bob Dylan – droite de Seigneur

Bob Dylan creates a large musical playing field in the 1960s, a field upon which a generation of talented singer / songwriters played.  Tom Waits is one of these artists playing on the field of Bob.  It is interesting that after forty years Dylan has his pick of which of his students to mimic for his own uses.  Dylan’s current mumbly, croaky voice singing low-life stories is a big page out of his student Tom Waits’ book.  This is exactly what Frank Lloyd Wright did when, after inventing the playing field for twentieth century architecture, he goes to school on two of his best students, Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler.  Inspired by their work which was directly derived from the work of Frank Lloyd Wright (they both worked in his office), Wright creates his masterpiece – Fallingwater.  Wright and Dylan are exercising their artistic * “Droite de seigneur” or * “Jus primae noctis” over their most talented minions.  It’s funny that when Picasso tried this with young Diego Rivera during the late cubist years he almost got shot by Rivera,  who didn’t take kindly to Pablo visiting his studio and stealing his latest cubist spatial inventions or flirting with his girlfriend.

* The right of the king to sleep with your wife on your wedding night.

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The Beatles and the Law

An idea for a take home final exam in Law School.  Calculate the county jail, state and federal prison exposure for crimes committed, threatened or implied in the lyrics of the Beatles song catalog between 1962 and 1970.  The low-hanging fruit:  Maxwell Addison – murder one with circumstances – life in prison – that silver hammer stunt.  The theft by Lovely Rita of the poor guy’s heart – six months in the county jail – larceny.  Rocky Racoon gets punched in the eye by his rival – assault and battery – six months suspended sentence – electronic monitoring – three years probation with one year of anger management class.  We all live in a yellow submarine – one of you are distributing prescription pharmaceuticals.  Were these “mother’s little helpers”?  Did you steal them from her medicine chest?  Did you distribute them to minors?  Just exactly who got on board?  Were these people over eighteen? – six months in county jail, three years probation , drug treatment program.  “Run for Your Life”- felony domestic abuse threatening bodily harm  “catch you with another man – that’s the end- a – little girl”  the prosecutor in the D.A.’s office sees a murder threat and also felony child endangerment if the victim is indeed a “Little Girl”.  Defense claimed that “that’s the end -a “ only refers to the romance – they’ll lose in California – two years in state prison – one year to serve with five years probation.  “Till there was you”  those bells on a hill that you always heard ringing, were they your bells? – violation of noise ordinance – reprimand, court costs –  remove bells.  “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”  who exactly is this “Henry the Horse”?  Horse is a name for heroin – dances the waltz?  Injected? Snorted? Smoked?  It’s all gonna get you in big trouble.  “Get high with a little help from my friends”  depends on which state and how many friends.  “Roll up – Roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour”  Roll what up?  Some Mary Jane?  Mystery Tour – you bet, with munchies on the back end. – six months in the county jail for possession of a controlled substance or alternately,  must be addressing a small army of the physically challenged in their wheelchairs – ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) violations abound – are there curb cuts?  What is the slope of the ramp to the door of the bus?  Surface texture? Coefficient of friction of pavement? Seat spacing on the bus?  “Step right this way”  any truncated cones for the visually impaired, license for operating a tour bus, special use permit for public gathering over ten persons and with music -all misdemeanors.  “Semolina Pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower”  disturbing the peace, public nuisance, trespassing on public monument.  “Why don’t we do it in the road?” – better not – indecent exposure – two counts – six month suspended sentence with fifty hours of trash clean up along said road.  “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” how high was Lucy?  If over five hundred feet she would need clearance from local airport tower and a license to be an ultra-light aircraft.  Were diamonds attached to her body or clothing or free floating – if the latter then they are at risk of being sucked into engines of a passing jetliner – crash risk.  VFR or IFR conditions?  If Lucy is in the sky in low-visibility, she is a very hazardous object – six month suspended sentence for interfering with commercial air traffic.  Walking along a “Long and Winding Road?” – are you white or black?  North of the Mason Dixon line or south?  If between 1900 and 1945 and if black you are picked up and charged with loitering and sentenced to thirty days at the county work farm.  While there, you are “sold” to a labor broker who, in turn, sells you to the Steel plant in Big City, Southern State  where you are worked to death with no medical care while being beaten and starved – i.e. a death sentence.  You never made it to her door.  “Happiness is a Warm Gun”  If the gun is warm because you fired it you are in a boatload of trouble depending on your jurisdiction.  Possession of a firearm?  Unauthorized discharge of a firearm?  If the gun is warm because it is in your pocket – concealed firearm – six months in county jail with one year probation.  “Bungalow Bill went out tiger hunting” – threatening an endangered species – throw the book at him.    There is a mock trial – defendant-  Maxwell Addison.  He is charged with first degree murder.  “Made sure she was dead”  Maxwell is a medical student and a painter “…testimonial pictures – Joan”  his defense asserts that Maxwell’s  deranged mental state was from unreasonable hours as an intern in a big city hospital ”majoring in medicine” and his temporary insanity at the time of killing was due to inhalation of volatile vapor from his oil painting materials in his unventilated garret
studio.

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