Tag: Music

Day 922: Riding That Train, High On Cocaine & Pretty Much Everything Else

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Within a span of about five months, the notion of the Grand Hippie Music Festival had deteriorated from a three-day swoon of good vibes, great drugs and phenomenal tuneage at Woodstock into an angry and disorganized mess at the Altamont Speedway in northern California. I’ve written about the latter already, and I’ll have plenty to say about the former in an upcoming piece, but the question left unanswered by Altamont can only be: “what happens next?”

The digestible myth is that the disastrous Altamont concert nudged the nail in the sixties’ coffin, not only landing near the decade’s calendar terminus but also smushing into ash any hopes that the peace ‘n love generation could haul their good vibes into adulthood. But beyond Altamont you’ll still find the stellar 1970 Isle of Wight festival and the poorly-managed (but heartily rock-tastic) Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. The dream wasn’t dead, it just took a nasty little hit in late ’69.

One of the first post-Altamont gathering of groups took place in Canada in the triumphant early days of 1970’s summer. Where festivals like Woodstock and Monterey Pop had previously lured fans from neighboring time zones and beyond to the event, the Festival Express was set to cruse across the country, bringing the idea of a super-conglomeration of super-groups to a myriad of cities. It was a concert game-changer, and solid proof that the perpetual party of the previous decade had not yet reached last call.

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Originally known as the Transcontinental Pop Festival, Ken Walker (above) along with his partners Thor and George Eaton aimed for four cities: Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. They secured a 14-car Canadian National Railways train for the artists, and booked a documentary crew to film the entire event. Walker and his associates booked passage for themselves on the train also, as no self-respecting businessman of that era was foolish enough to throw a party like that without attending it. Read more…

Day 916: I’m About To Lose My Worried Mind – Led Zep 4Ever

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With practically the entirety of recorded music’s history available at the touch of a trackpad, it’s hard to find a lot of common ground among the masses. Back in the sepiatone days when I was in high school, there was certainly a cultural splintering effect afoot – some grooved to Hammer-time, others nodded angrily and forcefully to Nirvana, while still others begged C+C Music Factory to make them sweat upon a hormone-clogged dance floor – but there remained some sacred touchstones.

For whatever reason – and I pray a sociological study will one day uncover the mystery behind this collective madness – the girls in my high school were united under the secret thrill of ABBA. The boys, however discreetly some of them held back their own cravings for retro Swedish vocal-pop, united under an unwavering commitment to one of the greatest rock bands in ear-thumping history: Led Zeppelin.

Most of us had bands we liked more. For me, there was always the Beatles, while my other friends leaned toward Pink Floyd, Roxette or Extreme (yes, Josh, I’m talking about you). But we all sang along when Robert Plant belted out the first “Hey hey, mama” of their conspicuously untitled fourth album. Today Zep nets a kilograph, if for no other reason than as a thank you for the respite they provided after five straight listens of “More Than Words.”

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The group’s origin story funnels straight back to this guy, one of the most awe-inspiring yet least well-known (among today’s younger rock-lovers) guitar gods of the 1960’s. Jeff Beck had joined up with the Yardbirds after Eric Clapton had left the group in frustration. Now Jeff was feeling the pull of sweet freedom, and his frustration led him to record his own thing, away from the rest of the group. He invited his buddy (and future Yardbirdian) Jimmy Page to play guitar. Read more…

Day One After 909: Mr. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer Of Quality Education

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It is the final day of classes. Just a day in the life of Mr. Maxwell, a grade six teacher who’ll be flying across the street to teach summer school next week. It’s not the end for him, just the annual hello/goodbye to this year’s crop of kids. The man has a real love for his profession, but something doesn’t feel right today. This boy wants a vacation. And his kids are running here, there and everywhere with the bottled-up energy of ten months’ anticipation of being – finally – free as a bird.

 

MAXWELL:  Good morning! Good morning everyone. Take a seat.

JIMMY: Mr. Maxwell?

MAXWELL: Yes Jimmy?

JIMMY: I forgot to remember… to forget… to get a note from my mom about our end-of-year picnic today.

MAXWELL: I’ve got a feeling you’re still half-asleep. The picnic was last week. Remember the rain?

JIMMY: Right. Those three cool cats were sniffing an old brown shoe while two of us threw rocks at it by the new grazeeboo.

MAXWELL: The what? What’s the new – Mary-Jane, tell me why you just smacked Joey in the head? You can’t do that.

MARY-JANE: He told me, “Run for your life, cuz I’m searchin’ for a taste of honey, and baby, it’s you.” He’s always so bad to me!

JOEY: Oh yeah? Well she said… she said I was the sun king.

MARY-JANE: I did not!

MAXWELL: Alright, that’s enough. Mitchell, slow down and get back to your desk; you’re liable to trip and roll over Beethoven, the class gerbil, and I ain’t using my first aid skills for no one on the last day of school.

After all, the school's first aid kid is woefully out of date.

After all, the school’s first aid kid is woefully out of date.

MITCHELL: Yes Mr. Maxwell.

MAXWELL: Okay everyone. It’s the last day! Let’s talk about the summer. I’ll be on my way to the airport after dismissal today. I’m headed back in the USSR on a long, long, long flight (please let it be a smooth one). It won’t be long though, and I’ll be back here with another class of bad boys – sorry, just ‘boys’ – and girls. Ha ha.

JULIA: Mr. Maxwell?

MAXWELL: Yes, Julia?

JULIA: Why do you call it the USSR? It’s Russia, isn’t it?

MAXWELL: I call it the USSR just as I call your name – it’s how I’ve always known it. You see, in my life there’s a place in my heart for Moscow in the 80’s. The inner light of that city always spoke to me; I’m so tired of hearing how bad it was back then. The night before I left last time, the warm and lovely Rita – she’s a girl I’d just met – whispered words of love into my ear. She said, “I need you to know that I’m happy just to dance with you, but that true happiness is a warm gun.” Yep, that’s what I loved about Moscow – the girl and the guns. Read more…

Day 905: Slapping Those Words In Their Smarmy Little Faces

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There is a scene in the Kevin Smith film Clerks 2 in which a character (a very white character) decides he wants to “take back” the term ‘porch-monkey’ so that it can shed its racist connotation and act as a slur against lazy people of all tints and hues. The joke, of course, is that he is far too pink to spearhead any reappropriation effort. That sort of collective shift in perspective has to take place within the group who had been thwacked and battered by the word to begin with.

This is why I get physically jolted by a mighty douche-chill whenever I hear two white guys refer to one another as “nigga”. That not only betrays the linguistic rules, it comes across as patronizing and – as much as the intent may not be there – at least mildly racist. Oh, and put your damn hat on straight. The brim has a functional purpose, squank-bag.

The unholy n-word is probably the most famous case of a word being reclaimed by its one-time victims and re-introduced into their lexicon – albeit only into theirs. But all across the cultural spectrum there are reappropriation missions underway, consciously or unconsciously shaping the way our language will taste and smell for the next few decades.

Sorry, white people. Even if we're quoting Chris Rock bits, it's still not cool.

Sorry, white people. Even if we’re quoting Chris Rock bits, it’s still not cool.

For a minority to capture a word that had once been used as a pejorative slur against them, to tame it, then to re-release it into the wild as a neutral or even a positive thing, that’s an act of true empowerment. A perfect example is the word ‘gay’ – once fired as a derisive snip toward homosexuals, the word was forcefully taken back with the advent of the Gay Pride parade in 1970. So much so that the word is now commonplace among gays and non-gays alike. Unlike the n-word, those outside the box are allowed to use it. Read more…

Day 900: All The #1 Hits Of The 1990’s, In Dialogue Form

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“What are you going to do for Day 900?”

People have been stopping me on the streets and demanding this information for weeks now. Pretend people, sure, but then they’ve also been on pretend streets so that cancels out the white lie. Anyway, the answer is “pizza” because I just ate some pizza and I don’t really feel like flexing my imagination today. Also, I will incorporate the titles of every song to hit #1 on the Billboard charts in the 1990s. Yes, all of them.

 

After recently imbibing a cigarette of curious origin, a man (MAC) and his wife (JEAN) call up their regular pizza guy (LOU) in hopes of ordering something that will conquer their suddenly mighty hunger.

 

MAC: Hey Lou, it’s Mac. I’m hungry. Again.

LOU: Mac! A-rain-a, or a-shine-a, you truly, madly deeply love-a your pizza!

MAC: …

LOU: Mac?

MAC: What… are you doing some sort of accent now? You trying to freak me out?

LOU: Heh. For me this is the first night back at work, one week after I dropped on bended knee to propose to my dreamlover. I’m just full of good vibrations and warm emotions, my friend!

MAC: Ah, the mighty power of love. No offense, but every creep takes a joyride with the right girl eventually, then boom! You’re in love.

LOU: This is a good thing though!

MAC: I don’t have the heart to tell you the truth, Lou. Sure, your vision of love is unbelievable today. She wants to be with you and she’s your fantasy. Right. But have you ever really loved a woman, Lou?

LOU: I swear, as water falls from the sky, I don’t have to justify my love to you, Mac. I feel more than words about her. Everything I do, I do for you-know-who. Read more…

Day 897: Zoot Suit Violence

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One seldom looks very deeply into the lyrics of a modern swing-dance revival song. When Colin James and his Little Big Band sang about a Cadillac Baby, he was singing about a woman, one who enjoyed a particular Cadillac automobile. When Lou Bega prattled off his laundry list of desirable women in “Mambo #5”, he was simply expressing his identity as a man-slut. But beneath the boppy jump-blues veneer of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot” is something surprisingly dark and sinister.

The ‘riot’ in question is not merely an alternate wording for a party featuring a bunch of guys in outdated jazz-wear. The song refers to an actual string of riots in the early 1940’s, which began in the embers of the era’s prevalent racism, before rising into an inferno of violence. This is an ugly chapter in American history, from an age before Civil Rights was on the tip of anyone’s brains, and when patriotism could drive people to do heinously ugly things.

It all begins with the zoot suit: high-waisted, tight-cuffed pegged pants and a long jacket with boisterous shoulders and splashy lapels. The outfits were fun and jazzy, originating in inter-war black culture and eventually becoming a staple of the southern Californian Latino community. Then the style became illegal – that’s where the ugliness begins.

You have to be way funkier than this guy to pull off this much zoot.

You have to be way funkier than this guy to pull off this much zoot.

The 1930s was a time of heavy anti-Mexicanism in the southwestern United States. Despite the deportation of 12,000 Mexicans (many of whom turned out to be American citizens) from the Los Angeles area in the early part of the decade, there were still roughly three million Mexicans in the country, many without legal status. L.A. was the hub of immigrants from the Land of the Hot Sun, and by the end of the decade the tension between whites and Latinos was beginning to boil over. Read more…

Day 887: Disco Inferno In The Heart of Chicago

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Unite a crowd of people under the frumpy awning of hate and it’s not hard for things to shimmy out of control. Provide those same people with a river of cheap beer and a charismatic leader to stoke their ire and you’d best check that you’re insured against a savage pandemonium. When the promotions team for the unimpressive 1979 Chicago White Sox were looking for ways to beef up fan attendance and amuse their loyal ticket-buyers with something that could counterbalance the Sox’s pitifully mediocre season, they’d have been wise to heed this advice.

Mike Veeck, the promotions director and son of team owner Bill Veeck (hooray for nepotism!), was determined to bring some fun into the stadium, maybe by catering to local music fans; Disco Night back in 1977 had been a huge hit. When Veeck heard that local loudmouth DJ Steve Dahl was thinking of blowing up a huge stack of disco records at a local shopping mall, the gimmick seemed somehow perfect to entertain the kids in the cheap seats at Comiskey Park.

And so was born Disco Demolition Night, a convoluted cocktail of bad ideas and pitiful execution. Anyone who brought a disco record to be blasted at the park was admitted to the July 12 doubleheader for 98 cents (Steve Dahl’s radio station broadcast on the 97.9 frequency, so this made sense). In between games, the batch of disco records would be hauled out to centerfield and blown apart in a ceremonious hurrah. Then, everyone could have a good laugh and settle back into their seats for the second game.

Yeah, right.

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Chicago disc jockey Steve Dahl had been fired from WDAI on Christmas Eve, 1978, when the station abandoned rock for the hugely successful disco format. He had a reason to hate the genre. Hired right away by rival station WLUP, which was still very committed to the thumping thrusts of top-notch rock music, Dahl proceeded to become Chicago’s preeminent anti-disco crusader. He rallied his fans into a mock-army known as the Insane Coho Lips, “dedicated to the eradication of the dread musical disease known as DISCO.” Read more…

Day 883: The Starlet Of The Sports Pages

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“It would be much better if she and her ilk stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring.”

So said sportswriter Joe Williams of the New York Herald-Tribune. He was writing a critical (and overtly misogynistic) piece about Babe Didrikson-Zaharias. Babe’s name is anything but household today, though at the time she was the most important woman in the world of sports.

To claim that Babe was the single greatest female athlete of the 20th century would not be an unmerited hyperbole; she played a myriad of sports and excelled at every one of them. Babe was tough, she was brilliant, and she wasn’t afraid to be an “athlete” instead of a “woman who plays sports”. She hammered out her own identity and handled all her own PR. How her life story remains unknown to so much of the general populace today, I have no idea; we all know Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Arnold Palmer, Red Grange… and those schmucks only mastered one sport apiece.

Babe Didrikson-Zaharias conquered most of the sports section, game by game.

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Mildred Didriksen (she’d later change the ‘-en’ to ‘-on’) was born to Norwegian parents in Port Arthur, Texas – also the birthplace of Janis Joplin. She took the nickname ‘Babe’ from her mother’s childhood pet name for her, though she’d later claim she was given the nickname in honor of Babe Ruth after she’d hit five home runs in a childhood baseball game. Her version of the nickname origin was an exaggeration, though I suspect the baseball story is true. Read more…

Day 872: Here Come Ol’ Levy, He Come Groovin’ Up Slowly

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A survey of music lovers who possess even so much as a passing interest in the Beatles’ music will undoubtedly reveal “Come Together” to be one of the most universally beloved bullets in their melodic clip. From its swampy bass, its percussive “Shoot me” refrain to its absurdist and almost comically weird lyrics, the song righteously opens the gates to the magnificent Abbey Road album, tantalizing and gratifying most every pair of ears it meets.

It’s almost shocking to imagine the pretzel of nefarious backlash it provoked. “Come Together” may have begun its life as John Lennon’s attempt to pen a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s quest to unseat Ronald Reagan as governor of California, but it wound up inadvertently connecting Lennon with one of the most insidious corners of the music industry.

If only it were as simple as Lennon scribbling a new idea then slapping it onto vinyl with his buddies through the immaculate channel of producer George Martin. For the origin story of the madness that would follow, we need to travel back to 1956, back to when songs about cars were a veritable genre unto themselves. To a little single by rock ‘n roll’s illustrious grandpa, Chuck Berry.

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In 1956, Chuck released a song called “You Can’t Catch Me”. Lennon’s song boasts a similar vocal melody and a set of lyrics (“Here come old flattop, he come goovin’ up slowly” to “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me”). The similarity ends there – Berry’s song is about driving quickly whereas Lennon’s is about something called ‘toe-jam football’ and some guy with feet below his knees. But it was enough to snag the ear of music publisher Morris Levy, who owned the rights to Berry’s song and promptly launched an infringement lawsuit against Lennon. Read more…

Day 868: Tapping The Rage Of The Bus Uncle

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Before plopping my be-Speedo’ed word-butts onto the winding waterslide of today’s twisted topic, I’d like to point out that I never intended to pen a disquisition on any Youtube celebrity or trendy viral video. That was before I encountered The Bus Uncle.

The Bus Uncle is no Numa Numa, and he’s no Leeroy Jenkins. In fact I’d wager that none but a few folks in this hemisphere have ever heard of him. But in Hong Kong, the participants in this video each had a lively and strange fifteen minutes of fame. The spotlight upon their encounter prompted an entire society to examine itself, to question its mores and the tensile mesh of public etiquette. In fact, the story after the video is far more engrossing than the video itself.

Youtube has expanded to the point where one can lose an entire afternoon watching nothing but trampoline accidents; a public transit shouting match is not likely to rocket up the hits parade in 2014 unless it involves violence, a celebrity, or possible demonic possession.

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51-year-old unemployed restaurant worker Roger Chan was having a lousy day. He’d had an argument with his girlfriend, and his stress level was set to boil over like an unchecked pot of angst-ridden soup. He was on his cellphone – allegedly talking to the Samaritans, a hotline specifically for people with emotional distress. Then a young uppity kid named Elvis Ho tapped him on the shoulder, asking for him to be a little quieter. That was when shit got real. Read more…