I received the following message from a close personal friend and Townsperson who just joined a Dead cover band. He asked me to pass along his note in hopes of getting advice from the Hall on how to best handle this new challenge
I just joined a Dead cover band to help out a friend from our synagogue They do Dead, Stones, The Band, “Into the Mystic,” “Breathe” by Floyd, and some other classic rock. What was I thinking? Now what do I do? Can any drummers in the Hall give advice on how to play Dead-style drums? I’ve been listening to the band’s set recordings and it’s all bad habits and bad fills.
The other night my wife and I were watching TV when an ad came on for that new David Chase movie, Not Fade Away. As I was getting agita at the thought of soon hearing a patented, mouthbreathing Captain Obvious Fresh Air interview with another one of Terry Gross‘ darlings, something along the lines of her Fall 2012 interview with Stephen Colbert, which for some reason focused on his favorite musical artists, mostly obscure soft-rock pioneers like James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg, my wife distracted me with an unexpected question:
What’s this, a movie about the Dead?
I would never have made that connection, but I only saw the Dead once in college. She saw the Dead and assorted offshoot bands a total of 10 times before I knew her. That would have qualified her as a Deadhead, which helps to explain why I thought she was hot the first time I saw her. I always had a soft spot for Deadheads. Well, that’s not quite the right term, is it? However, by the time we met and started getting to know each other her Dead bootleg tapes were buried in a box of personal items, stuff I wouldn’t know existed for a few years.
For the next few days I couldn’t get the notion of the Dead’s cover of “Not Fade Away” out of my head. It gnawed at me, the way the thought of hearing Chase wax poetic over whatever obvious albums he grew up loving gnawed at me. I felt compelled to re-examine the Dead’s dreadful cover of one of the finest cover songs the Rolling Stones ever committed to vinyl. I got no further than the YouTube clip posted here: the Grateful Dead captured mid-jam. Note that the clip of this interminable cover is entitled Grateful Dead – Not Fade Away 12-31-78 – Pt. 2. The “Pt. 2” says it all: ROCK CRIME!
Townsman trolleyvox asked if we could talk about this 1969 promotional film for David Bowie, Love You Till Tuesday. Time has come today, and while we’re at it feel free to talk about a 1976 film starring Bowie, Nicholas Roeg‘s The Man Who Fell to Earth, which I finally watched all the way through.
My main thought about the promotional film is that the ’60s could not contain Bowie. He had no available space to occupy. Everything he tried to do in a ’60s vein, including whimsical gnome pop, UK pop balladry, and soft-shoe/mime routines, had already been done better by Syd Barrett, The Bee Gees, and Davey Jones (The Monkees’ Davey Jones, that is), respectively. The scenes with him playing alongside his buddies are really awkward. David did not play well with others. He had to be his own man. He had to help shape the next decade. It was a matter of survival.
Speaking of matters of survival, Bowie is really good in The Man Who Fell to Earth. I’ve mildly enjoyed him in other small acting parts, but he does fall into self-consciousness more than a real actor should. In Roeg’s film he gets to play a variation on his musical character. He’s even an alien space traveler who misses his wife and is named Thomas. (No word on whether he ranked as a Major on his home planet.) As an added bonus, I got to see way more of Candy Clark‘s acting talents than she was able to display in a movie from my childhood that did much to shape me: American Graffiti.
When I was younger Roeg’s visual-heavy style left me unsatisfied, but since seeing this movie and re-watching Walkabout a few months ago I’m willing to see him as more than a Thinking Man’s Ken Russell. Maybe I’ll revisit Performance or Don’t Look Now or even the one about Einstein and Marilyn Monroe. Jeez, I’m turning into Buskirk!
In this week’s edition of Saturday Night Shut-InMr. Moderator broadcasts “LIVE” from the Coast of Loving, “Frisco,” as the natives call it, specifically! The Moderator is calling all Peace Warriors to tune in, turn on, and drop whatever it is you were doing. As an added bonus, for those curious to learn more about Eric Burdon & The (Then-)New Animals, you’ve come to the right episode.
[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 of each week’s podcast.]
Well, no, actually I don’t love the Grateful Dead, but there are plenty of people around that do, and those Deadheads will tell you that Europe ’72 (issued in November 1972) is one of their best albums. The band was arguably it its strongest and Jerry Garcia was still vertical at this stage. As far as live albums go, this triple-LP or two-CD set is pretty good and makes for a quite sufficient introduction to the Dead to mere mortals like me. However, the true adepts are always wanting more grateful death, and even 30 years of trading concert tapes and purchasing all 2,387 Dick’s Picks CDs didn’t quite satisfy their junkie cravings.
Like all good pushers, Grateful Dead Productions and Rhino Records arrived with the goods last month to ease the cold sweats and shakes of these product-starved Deadheads by offering what might be the most mega box set of all time: Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings. Along with books, maps, and other paraphernalia, the massive wooden box consists of 73 CDs documenting 22 complete European concerts. Although I’ve not seen a complete track listing, I assume that means 22 versions of “Truckin'” and “Sugar Magnolia”. Funny me, I though that having only one version of each would be well more than adequate.
Again, like the good pushers they are, GDP and Rhino knew to keep the supply limited and the prices high. The price of the box set was $450 and only 7,200 copies were issued. Is it a surprise to anyone that every single one was sold within 4 days? The pusher guys came to the rescue once again with the recent announcement that the 72 CDs would be available to all without all the limited-edition nonsense. The price for the less-deluxe edition? Still an eye-watering $450.00, bless their rapacious little hearts. If you still can’t sleep at night without one of the full-luxoid packages, they’re now available on eBay with Buy-It-Now prices up to $1,200.00.
There has to be at least one hardcore Deadhead out there in RTH-land. What’s the buzz on the box set? Is it worth the legendary reputation and the equally legendary price? Have you purchased it or are you planning to? Inquiring minds want to know! As for everyone else, what other totally outrageous box sets come to mind?
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?
Until yesterday, when I belatedly read the news that the Godfather of Acid, Owsley Stanley, was dead I had no idea the guy had a last name, or should I say that Owsley was his first name! I also had no idea he was the man behind the high-tech stage soundsystem of the Grateful Dead. If you ask me it might have helped the band if he wasn’t so handy with electronics and their music came out inaudible. Here’s the New York Times obituary on Owsley. I wonder if all that acid he ate and handled had anything to do with his overall dietary philosophies.
Acid intake had a profound impact on rock ‘n roll, in many cases for the good of the genre. However, the drug—or at least music recorded to sound as if it had been recorded under the influence of the drug—led to some regrettable moments. What “acid” albums would you like to see packed off with Owsley’s corporeal remains…once and for all?