Apr 072011
 

The Rock Town Hall Mailbag has been left unattended for too long, but following are a few messages of particular interest.

Josh Wilker, author of Cardboard Gods, who recently took time to chat with us about baseball cards and rock ‘n roll, took to heart a Townsperson’s subsequent pince nez regarding a reference to “the first album by the Band” when Wilker obviously meant to refer to their second album! He wrote me offlist and asked that I share his mea culpa.

Man, I cannot believe I referred in the interview to the Band’s second album as “the first album by the Band.” I deserve to be, to quote a line from the actual first album, “tarred and feathered.” It is a deeply troubling comment on my frazzled mental state and deteriorating cognitive faculties that I would make this mistake. I don’t know why it happened. I must be turning much sooner than scheduled into a version of my beloved grandfather near his end, when he walked into rooms carrying his oxygen tank and, with widening eyes, said, “Now, damnit, why in the Sam Hill did I come in here?” I am a huge fan of The Band, who have been an intimate part of my life since even before I collected baseball cards. I’ve leaned on their music all my life, read whatever I can get my hands on about them (“Across the Great Divide” and “This Wheel’s on Fire” and “Invisible Republic”), had the luck to see Garth Hudson play at the Bottom Line, detoured on a rare trip back east to try to see Levon in his Midnight Ramble (it got cancelled at the last minute, unfortunately), blah blah blah—and now I realize I’m sounding even more like some blowhard poser trying to defend his legitimacy. Fuck! It is as if I misspelled Yastrzemski. I can’t believe I did that. I may need to go away for awhile to “rest.” If you see fit to share this moaning with the Rock Town Hall community, that’d be okay with me—maybe it’d even convince a fellow Band fan or two that I’m a fumbling dolt rather than a dispassionately superficial douche.

Anyway, thanks for listening, and thanks again for the interview!

– Josh

Don’t sweat it, Josh. This happens to the most obsessive of us. You are a better man for this experience.

Townsman chergeuvara sent in the following links for my enjoyment and education. These may be of interest to you, as well, but caution punk rockers: some myths are about to be exploded. Continue reading »

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Mar 292011
 

Paperback edition of Josh Wilker's Cardboard Gods

One day last year I was paging through an issue of Entertainment Weekly when I arrived at a spread they run every few issues, containing about 4 pages of gift ideas. It’s the sort of seemingly paid marketing/alluring editorial hybrid feature that typically bugs me, but EW does it so well. It’s rare that I don’t read that section without briefly considering purchasing some fancy electronics item that feeds into my deep sense of nostalgia. The people who put together that section have a remarkable knack for knowing what feeds the emptiness of a middle-aged, middle-class man’s consumer life. How I miss the days of being so excited over the release of a new Elvis Costello record that I was once willing to follow my friend’s idea of breaking into his friend’s parents’ extremely permissive house to listen to our new purchase over a bone, I think to myself. Next thing I know I’m seeing if I can justify dropping $299 on an mp3 player/clock radio that’s in the form of a Close ‘N Play phonograph.

One day a book recommendation caught my eye, an actual, affordable hardcover book. Maybe it was part of one of these marketing-driven spreads or maybe it was part of the book reviews section—after you’ve read EW for a while it’s easy to lose all distinctions between marketing and editorial. Whatever. The book was called Cardboard Gods, by someone named Josh Wilker. The review read, in part:

A baseball-loving loner deciphers his complicated childhood through his old box of trading cards. . . . Wilker’s book is as nostalgically intoxicating as the gum that sweetened his card-collecting youth. [Grade:] A —Entertainment Weekly

There was no need for excruciating self-analysis and consideration of this item’s ability to fill The Void. I put a big lower corner dog ear on that page of the magazine (ie, my “important point to revisit” dog ear rather than the smaller placeholder one at the upper corner of where I left off reading) preparation for my next trip to the “library.” I re-read the review a few more times, each time getting more excited at the prospect of revisiting my own life as a baseball card collector, solitary baseball board-game player (and more importantly, manager and league commissioner), and generally desperate kid who was in need of the power provided by the sport’s over-arching history and frequent periods of anticipation (ie, what non-baseball lovers call “all the boring parts”). A couple of days later, without hesitation, I picked up a copy of Cardboard Gods and proceeded to tear through it, cover to cover, in the course of a weekend.

The book was everything I could have imagined, with color reproductions of a mid-’70s–era baseball card kicking off each chapter’s meditation on what that player’s card meant in the lovingly dysfunctional childhood world of its author. It was so much fun to tap into another kid’s relationship and chew on life’s inner meanings while contemplating baseball cards of the likes of Rudy Meoli, Mike Kekich, and Mike Cosgrove (no, not that one). This wasn’t some thumbsucking attempt by Wilker to explain away his life according to an in-vogue branch of pop psychology or the agenda of a “special interests” group, as is too-often the case these days. This book was nice and messy—and truly personal, the way we were more comfortable being in the Do Your Own Thing 1970s. In the words of fully satisfied moviegoers of my youth, I laughed and I cried.

Soon after reading the book I found Wilker’s Cardboard Gods blog and became a regular visitor there. I wrote him a gushing e-mail and over the course of a few e-mail exchanges learned that he was also a music obsessive. Baseball: check. Music: check. Good egg? Highly likely! A few weeks ago I read that Cardboard Gods was being released in paperback. I wrote Wilker and asked if he’d consent to a Rock Town Hall interview that would attempt to further bridge the relationship between baseball and music and their roles in the predominantly male means of sharing personal information. Good egg that he is, Wilker was all for this chat. If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend checking out Carboard Gods, both in book and blog form. Batter up!

RTH: The Cardboard Gods blog preceded your book, right? (I was late to the party, learning of your book before being directed to the blog.) Was there a turning point in writing the blog that you realized you actually could organize a full-blown memoir through the prism of your card collection?

Josh Wilker: For most of my adult life I have been on the lookout for things that might develop into a book, a habit that has almost always crushed the life out of whatever it is that might have otherwise developed organically if I just gave it some space to grow. And I started the blog as an anti-book in a way, since I’d just finished several years working on a novel that I wasn’t able to sell and I was a little discouraged and just trying to have some fun. That said, I think I had the feeling almost immediately, like a tug on the end of a line, that there was something going on with the baseball cards, but I consciously tried to put thoughts of a book aside for a while and just have fun and go wherever the cards wanted to go.

RTH: Baseball in the mid- to late-’70s, like the world of your childhood, experienced a latent period of counterculture-rooted self-awareness. As a boy were there certain players who best represented your family’s new world? Were there other players you felt represented the “square” world your family was leaving?

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Jan 222011
 

Mom!

In tonight’s edition of Saturday Night Shut-In, Mr. Moderator and his prednisone-charged airways kick out the mucous membranes before getting annoyed with former PiL guitarist Keith Levene, his 2008 non-interview, and a commentator named Charles. It’s an unfortunate, uncharacteristically unclassy end to an otherwise rockin’ show.

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[Note: The Rock Town Hall feed will enable you to easily download Saturday Night Shut-In episodes to your digital music player. In fact, you can even set your iTunes to search for an automatic download each week’s podcast.]

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Dec 102010
 

Morrison and "ladyfriend" on an undisclosed beach, circa 1988.

Rock Town Hall has received exclusive word that a correction is due to today’s news that outgoing Florida governor Charlie Crist has posthumously pardoned former Doors singer Jim Morrison. “Mr. Mod,” began a most unlikely voicemail received this morning, “can you see that media outlets drop the ‘posthumous’ part of stories about my pardon?” The caller, who identified himself as “Jimbo,” offered an exclusive interview with Rock Town Hall because, as he put it, “You guys deal shit, but you don’t take it.” The message ended with a promise of a return call at 12:55 pm EST. The caller chuckled knowingly.

What could I do but see that my calendar was clear at that time and see what developed? Following is a transcript of my call with “Jimbo,” who would not disclose his location but did convincingly cite all the inaccuracies in Oliver Stone‘s movie The Doors.

Rock Town Hall: Thanks for getting in touch with us. This is, to say the least, an intriguing story. For the record, you claim to be Jim Morrison of The Doors?

Jimbo: I’m Popeye the Sailor Man, all right. You can call me Jimbo.

RTH: OK… At the risk of this being some cheap snow job, let’s continue.

Jimbo: Are you a Gemini? Continue reading »

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Nov 272010
 

Crabby Appleton

You may recall a recent Mystery Date featuring a proto-power pop song that Townspeople correctly identified as being from 1970 while puzzingly and incorrectly guessing was recorded by an obscure Dutch band. Our Mystery Date turned out to be an American band, Crabby Appleton, led by Michael Fennelly, who’d previously come to underground pop acclaim as a member of “sunshine pop” commercial flop and cult favorite The Millennium.

I first discovered The Millennium when Begin was reissued on CD, probably around 1990. My friends and I had started a Rutles-like offshoot band that we envisioned as one of the “second-tier” pop-psych bands we loved, including The Turtles, The Hollies, Grass Roots, and The Pretty Things. This new old band we’d discovered, The Millennium, was just the sort of band we’d envisioned. “It’s You” is one of the great songs from that era; I still get chills everytime I hear it. Little could I have imagined that, 20 years later, I’d piece together a long, vague personal history with the music of one of the writers of that song and get the chance to talk to him.

As mentioned in the Mystery Date thread on Crabby Appleton, when I first came across their album at my college radio station, in 1981, my late-night DJ shift friend and I didn’t get it. The band name and the hard rock elements threw us off. Revisiting the album with nearly 20 years of time to catch up on early 1970s’ hard rock I actually dug it! I played “Go Back” for my old college friend too, and he did too. One of the reasons we enter the Halls of Rock is to revisit stuff we didn’t get at earlier points in our lives. The good day of discovering that Crabby Appleton’s debut album was actually a solid, slightly ahead-of-its time piece of work that tied back to an earlier band I loved continues with our chat with Michael Fennelly.

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Nov 192010
 

A couple times a year I meet someone at a party, a show, or even here here in the Halls of Rock, get into a deep conversation about music, and then get around to asking this music lover what instrument he or she plays. “Oh, I can’t play an instrument,” the person tells me, “I’ve got no rhythm!”

I usually don’t say much, but inside I’m blown away that this person who knows so much about the music he or she loves, maybe even knows some of the music theory behind it, claims to have absolutely no ability to play any instrument, not even poorly. You’ve got hands, I want to say, you’ll find some kind of rhythm! Maybe I shouldn’t be so idealistic, or presumptuous, but I’d like to hear every music lover take a crack a playing an instrument. I’d like to hear ever music lover’s song, or if not actually hear it know that it’s out there. File Under “Freak Flag.”

Earlier this year Townsman sammymaudlin told me about a new design project he was kicking off for a friend’s album cover and website. The story behind the debut album by Chris Amodeo was like something out of a Hollywood adaptation of an Oliver Sacks book: middle-age Master Rolfer (a body-centered form of psychotherapy) and voiceover artist buys his first guitar at a fundraiser for the dying son of his friends, begins playing Beatles songs to his own kids, is encouraged by his wife to write a song for their son, and soon thereafter is flooded with the gift of songwriting. Song ideas invade his activities of daily living. Less than two years after first picking up a guitar Amodeo is playing his songs for friends at some Oliver Stone-worthy shindig, where it is determined he must enter a studio and record an album of his songs. The resulting album, Homo Luminous, is not just an inspiring testament to a middle-age dog learning new tricks but an accomplished, melodic album of songs expressing the spirit and hopes of a grown man.

In anticipation of his November 20th show at The Coach House, in San Juan Capistrano, CA, I spoke to Chris about his latent awakening as a musician and songwriter, the making of the album, and his recent success in turning our mutual friend, The Back Office’s sammymaudlin, onto the elusive charms of Be Bop Deluxe. We concluded our chat with a round of Dugout Chatter and by looking forward to the completion of voiceover work this VH1 Behind the Music veteran is doing in support of a future Rock Town Hall initiative.

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Oct 042010
 

John Wetton: yet another good egg enters the Halls of Rock

Following a tosssed-off aside in a recent analysis/appreciation of a Lark’s Tongue in Aspic-era King Crimson performance an immediate groundswell of support gathered around the previously inconceivable notion that John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson, Roxy Music, UK, Family, Uriah Heep, and much more) was the Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock.

To clarify, it’s not that Wetton’s good looks had previously been inconceivable but that good looks ever played a part in the brainy, challenging progressive rock scene. In the wake of this discussion Townspeople were polled, and between the results of nearly 1000 voters and a panel of rock experts, Wetton was officially deemed – once and for allThe Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock.

That’s the silly part of the story. We managed to contact Wetton for his thoughts on this distinction (“I’m delighted to be deemed a cute pig in the litter,” he replied). Better yet, he agreed to an interview with us. It’s the following interview, one focusing on his musical experiences rather than beauty tips, that’s the most appreciated thing to come from a silly notion and an unexpected encounter with Wetton and a broad swath of prog-rock fans.

As you probably know, if this is even your second day in the Halls of Rock, Rock Town Hall regulars tend to be deeply immersed in the music we’ve lived through. Musicians like Wetton, whose careers have woven through a broad swath of rock history, can be especially enticing as interview subject. We spend more time than the average person contemplating Rock’s Big Issues, and who better to hear from than musicians who’ve straddled eras, genres, and band responsibilities? In the following interview, John Wetton provides insight on these issues and displays an enthusiasm for and confidence in his musical ventures and colleagues that I found refreshing. I hope you do, too.

RTH: How is your health, John, and what are you working on these days? Did I read correctly that been at work on projects with both Asia and Eddie Jobson?

John Wetton: My health is good, thank you—having survived (with enormous help on both counts) two life-threatening conditions, I’m being a little more circumspect, but still have a lust for life and a desire to enjoy the journey, regardless of the destination. I’ve just completed 50 dates with Asia–in Europe, USA and Japan—we complete the world touring for 2010 with a 5-date UK tour before Christmas.

I played 3 dates in Poland with Eddie Jobson last November, “for old times’ sake.” It was generally regarded as a UK reunion and was great fun, but we have no plans to extend that run right now. It was a terrific band–myself, Eddie, Marco Minneman, Tony Levin, and Greg Howe.


[NOTE: Mogul Thrash would spawn not only Wetton but two the founding members of Average White Band, which Townspeople also know as the band that gave us RTH hero Hamish Stuart.]

RTH: Your career must be a dream for writer Pete Frame and his Rock Family Tree books. The earliest band I knew of that you were in was Family, but I learned that you were in an earlier band that recorded an album, Mogul Thrash. The music sounds in the jazz-rock vein of Soft Machine and Colosseum. Prior to Mogul Thrash, were you already rooted in jazz and improvisatory music?

JW: I guess my name would have cropped up on many of Pete’s Family trees, but I did most of my band-hopping in the ’70s—since then I’ve done side projects, but the bulk of my work has been either with Asia or as a solo artist.

Jazz was never really an influence until I was in my early 20s, when I started to listen to some fantastic players–John McLaughlin, Miroslav Vitous, Herbie Hancock. My huge early musical influence from around age 5, was my brother, a church organist and choirmaster. Piano is my first instrument.

RTH: At the same time, you’ve also displayed a strong pop sense through your career. As a boy, were you more a Beatles or Stones fan?

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