Sep 082009

Flipping channels one night last week I came to a screeching halt on the skateboarding documentary Dogtown and the Z-Boys. When this movie came out in the theaters I initially turned my nose up at it. I was never a skateboarder or had any interest in related “extreme sports.” That stuff always ran counter to my interest in team sports. My younger brother, however, has always run with that X crowd, and I do have a lot of interest in him and try to get my head around what he cares about. He loved the movie, so a few years ago I finally broke down and rented it. It was great! From now on, I’ll stop flipping channels whenever I come across that documentary, and I’ve since watched a few other documentaries on skateboarding and surfing.

My oldest son thinks I’m trying to relive my youth, but I tell him I’m not. I’m really trying to better understand my younger brother and prepare for the road I can see my younger son taking. Watching Dogtown and the Z-Boys again the other night I was struck by the marriage of music and extreme sports. What other sports have ever been so closely related to a form of music? I guess some extreme sports lean more toward metal than punk, but I’m not yet sure when one X Games competition requires the cueing of speed metal rather than hardcore punk. I know nothing about NASCAR. Are NASCAR docs fueled by some special country or Southern Rock mix of music? Is there any other equivalent to skate punk? Wait, what am I saying – skate punk is the direct descendant of surf rock, both in terms of the sport and, to some extent, the music.

OK, are there any equivalents to skate punk and surf rock? And whatever particular X Games sport is closely identified with speed metal…

Getting my head around the SoCal skater/surfer scenes has recently had the added effect of helping me tune into the music related to those scenes. I can hear how the music relates to the motion of the sport. I wonder if there’s a rhythm to the sport I love most, baseball.

Jan 122009

Even hardcore guys need to jam, sometimes.

Gone, “Fifth Force Suite: Hypercharge-The Wait”

I saw Gone open for Rollins Band on a double-bill. It was pretty cool and confirmed some suspicions I’d long had about the hardcore scene. In fact, seeing the two sides of the splintered Black Flag helped me eventually go back and better appreciate Black Flag, in reverse order of their releases.

Dec 102008

Warren Zevon, “The Factory”

Warren Zevon, “Detox Mansion”

As I mentioned yesterday, I finally picked up Warren Zevon‘s largely overlooked Sentimental Hygiene, his 1987 release with members of R.E.M. and other guests that signalled a return to form following a particularly long and intense period of drug and alcohol abuse, even by this hard-living cynic’s standards. Five years after Zevon’s unexpected premature death by lung cancer (who didn’t think he would OD?), this album stands as a bookend to the artist’s typically other overlooked work, 1980’s Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. Considering I’m listening to this album for the first time ever and it sounds exactly like every other album I’ve ever heard by the guy, my initial thoughts follow in cut-up fashion. My thanks to a variety of critics and bloggers, who did the heavy lifting and posed, sometimes unintentionally, a couple of piercing questions.
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Aug 202008

Doors shmoors man, we’re talkin’ Eagles babies!

The Movie: The Eagles

You: Casting Agent.

Mission: Cast it. Duh.

Who plays who? Not just The Eagles but any relevant player in the scene, man.

Wiley, the publisher of the Don Felder bio-tome discussed here, was unable to secure us an interview with the man (missed it by this much) but has been kind enough to offer 10 free copies of Heaven and Hell: My Life In The Eagles (1974-2001) by Don Felder and Wendy Holden.

Soooooo. Here in The Back Office we have assembled an anonymous team of judges who will select the top 10 responses. You will be awarded points based on; creativity first and foremost, historical accuracy and neatness.

You have until I say you have to stop.

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Jun 082008

The new Mudcrutch album is not the album they would have made in the early ’70s if they had not broken up, but it’s fun to think about it as if it were. Despite its appearance in the celebration of California Day, I’d like to think of it more as a Florida Day kind of album, with a distinct period vibe.

All that makes this album unique is disguised by the choice of the first single off the album, “Scare Easy”. Probably chosen so as not to scare off any of Tom Petty’s fans, this track sounds like it could have been on any of his albums from the last 30 years. As Ed mentioned, it has the “won’t back down” stance, and a very familiar chugging rhythm. It’s not a bad track at all. Au contraire, as they say in Florida. It’s just that it’s not representative of the album as a whole.

Petty’s Byrds influence was apparent from the very first, and it’s there on this album as well. But here we have the Gram Parsons and Clarence White versions of the band to thank, rather than the Feel a Whole Lot Better Byrds. Mudcrutch even covers “Lover of the Bayou” here, a McGuinn/Jacques Levy song from the Byrds’ Untitled album. And with Mike Campbell and Tom Leadon on guitars here, there’s a hell of a lot of guitar picking going on, and the sound often invokes Clarence White’s Telecaster.

However much we think of the Byrds as a California band, most of its members were not from the area. Only Crosby and Hillman were natives. McGuinn was from Chicago, and Gene Clark was from Missouri. And you know where Gram Parsons was from? Florida. He may have felt that Joshua Tree was his spiritual home, but he grew up in Winter Haven, Florida (and also Waycross Georgia). Parsons is definitely a presence on this album, and there are some his quasi-shitkicker style songs here. They also cover the trucker anthem “Six Days on the Road”, which the Burritos also covered.

Lots of people played that one back in the day. I think I first heard it from Taj Mahal. And this album opens with “Shady Grove”, one of those folk songs that was knocked around by lots of bands. It’s on one of those Garcia/Grisman collaborations, but the version here is probably most influenced by the one that was done by the edition of Quicksilver Messenger Service that featured Nicky Hopkins. Very ’70s. I read in an interview that Mudcrutch actually used to play this one way back when.

“This Is a Good Street”

This album also reminds me that, when Mudcrutch first went out west, they were signed to Denny Cordell’s Shelter Records, and if I remember correctly Petty and the Heartbreakers did some time in Shelter’s Oklahoma studio. Here and there – mostly “This Is a Good Street” and “The Wrong Thing to Do” – this reminds me strongly of another Shelter artist, Dwight Twilley. The same mixture of twang and British beat, but with strikingly different idiosyncratic lead singers.

“Bootleg Flyer”

Another thing that might surprise you if you were expecting a Heartbreakers album instead of a period piece is the jamminess. As I said before there’s a lot of guitar playing, and on the 9:28 long “Crystal River” there’s a LOT of guitar playing – solos with space echo, wah-wah pedal, even phasing. It’s one of those dreamy extended workouts like “Mountain Dew” or “Mountain Jam”. Remember that in the world of the original Mudcrutch, the Allmans would have been a major presence, and there’s even a nod to them on this album’s “Bootleg Flyer”, a dual-guitar lead passage that’s so obvious it will make you smile.

In general the playing here is great. I’m sure Petty is glad he gave up the bass for the rhythm guitar/frontman role, but I bet he’s having a blast playing bass like he used to. Benmont Tench does his thing of never calling attention to himself, but when you do pay attention to what he’s doing you realize how great he is. If you were worried about whether drummer Randall Marsh, who doesn’t have much on his resume besides Code Blue (an L.A. band he was in with former Motel Dean Chamberlain and Gary Tibbs of the Vibrators/Roxy Music), don’t. He sounds fine. Sometimes you recognize Mike Campbell’s licks, but in general you can’t tell if he’s playing or if Tom Leadon is.

The reason Mudcrutch headed to L.A. in the first place was that Tom’s big brother Bernie was doing so well with the Eagles, perhaps the stereotypical L.A. band, none of whose members were actually from L.A. Beside Leadon, Meisner was from Nebraska, Henley Texas, and Frey Michigan, but I guess that’s one of the truisms about L.A., that no one is from there. (And here’s a bit of trivia I found when fact checking that last bit: according to Wikipedia, Frey, in his pre-alpha douche days, played on RTH icon Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”.)

So I’m not saying anyone will mistake the Mudcrutch album for a Marshall Tucker Band album, and I’m not even saying that Petty is exploring his southern roots on this album. But maybe the sounds here crystallize the southern basis of Petty’s music that was there all along.

Jun 052008

The other day, when Townsman Sammymaudlin took it upon himself to drop a huge electronic dump on The Germs, I gladly dropped my drawers and added to the dung heap. It turns out I was not alone in having my issues with that band and with hardcore in general. Others were mystified by the negative reactions, telling us we “had to be there” to appreciate these bands, that neither sounded good on record nor, for that matter, in concert. Townspeople candidly shared stories, displayed scars, and acknowledged their own shortcomings. I’m OK, You’re OK, was the prevailing sentiment. It was a moving day, yet one Townsperson was not satisfied. SoCal transplant Mwall still needed an explanation as to why some of us felt The Germs sucked. He was not satisfied by the resulting inability of Germs sympathizers to explain why they were good. It’s as if he thought we were obligated to adhere to American values like Innocent until proven guilty.

To his credit, Mwall did not back down. He kept at us, finally recommending particular songs that we should hear – without prejudice. And so I acquired the songs he recommended; cleared my mind of all memories of hardcore dudes scoffing at my own band’s particular brand of “pussy” music; and cleared my mind further of those same dudes, a few years earlier, before they gave up on their aspirations of being the next Tony Iommi and took up hardcore instead, even then scoffing at my friends and I for being such pussies. Let’s just say I was very clear and open-minded before revisiting The Germs. I’m, like, totally Pacific as I revisit these Germs songs I dismissed on one listen nearly 27 years ago. Following are my thoughts and the songs, for you to play and revisit alongside me.
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