Oct 052011

We all have one somewhere in our collection. An album that we love but the would-be tastemakers of rock and roll say we should shun like the plague. Some think Dylan‘s Self Portrait is a masterpiece. There are people who like the StonesDirty Work. Why, I know someone who actually thinks that Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, and Howe is the greatest Yes album ever. I question his sanity, even as a devoted Yes fan myself, but there you are.

The year is 1987. Things were ugly in the Pink Floyd camp. Roger Waters and David Gilmour were no longer on speaking terms, Richard Wright was tooting up coke on his sailboat, and Nick Mason was polishing his prized and enviable classic car collection. Nothing had been done since the release of  the tepid and strained The Final Cut, in 1983, and Floyd seemed to have come to a bitter and acrimonious end. However, something unexpected happened. Gilmour had been working on a solo album, but he changed his mind and devoted his efforts to a revived Pink Floyd. Against admonishments by Roger Waters, he brought Mason and Wright back on board, brought in The Wall collaborator Bob Ezrin to produce, and released A Momentary Lapse of Reason in September. Waters snorted in derision as he prepared a lawsuit over Gilmour’s seemingly unauthorized use of the Pink Floyd name. Reviewers were not kind but buyers didn’t care: the album was a multi-platinum smash and the subsequent tour was a monster.

To this day, people have written off A Momentary Lapse of Reason as weak and unimaginative fake Pink Floyd,a glorified Gilmour solo album, and a patchwork affair overly dependent on outside help. Never mind that Pink Floyd used soul-sister vocal sweetening, guest vocalists, and horn players since Dark Side of the Moon, not to mention an orchestra on The Wall. Ignore the fact that The Final Cut was basically a Roger Waters solo album with Mason and Gilmore as backing musicians and Wright left out in the cold. Me? I think Reason, while not perfect, is a pretty good album overall that largely manages to capture the grandeur and weight of latter-day Pink Floyd at its best. I’d rather listen to it than The Final Cut, Atom Heart Mother, and at least half of The Wall.

So what do you folks think about A Momentary Lapse of Reason? Also, what other album do you love that you’re supposed to hate?

Sep 012011

I believe yesterday was some slightly hyped release date of the Blu-Ray edition of the Brian De Palma-directed, Oliver Stone-written, Al Pacino-starring 1983 movie Scarface. What do you think of that flick? I couldn’t stand it when it came out. I walked out of the theater two thirds of the way through. I can’t stand it any time I’ve tried to watch it since. For me it marked the point of no return for Pacino, when he amped up his performance to cartoonish levels and never came back to the remotely human, slow-burning level that he showed he was capable of nailing in the first two Godfather films.

Scarface confirmed my belief that De Palma was, for the most part, a hack. I don’t think I knew who Stone was at the time, but years later it was clear where he was headed in his cry-for-help of a Hollywood career. I also remember, while fidgeting through the movie in the theater, being disappointed that De Palma couldn’t at least have gotten the young actress who played Pacino’s girlfriend, a young Michelle Pfeiffer, to succumb to one of his patented exploitive, kinky voyeuristic scenes. Jeez!

Years later I so dislike Scarface that I honestly prefer De Palma’s piss-poor flipside of his own film, Carlito’s Way. At least that movie tells its overblown morality tale from the point of view of a character as nerdy and pathetic in their latent quests for danger as I imagine De Palma and Stone to be. There’s a sense of atonement, too, in Pacino’s willingness to play the relatively straight man to Sean Penn‘s suddenly unbridled, geeky Jewish lawyer. I bet Pacino took some secret joy in watching the proud Penn stoop to the director’s heartfelt fantasies. I bet the director took some secret joy in knowing that he could get his new, unknown actress to take her top off for his edification. I know I took great joy in seeing this crew stew in the slop De Palma and Pacino created 10 years earlier.

Today, critics are willing to make “50,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong” excuses for the brilliance of Scarface. Yeah, yeah, like so many other ’80s pop-trash vehicles that require critics to earn their pay by reviewing their shiny, new Blu-Ray releases, the movie anticipates the fall of a cinematic era and the rise of popular expressions of grand notions of the American spirit as framed by the Reagan Era. Zzzzzzzzzzzz..

So all this got me thinking: What is the Scarface of rock ‘n roll, that is, the populist trash album that music lovers are strongly divided over that marked the beginning of the end of an artist’s golden age and that served as a vehicle for extreme fantasies of powerless, ordinary folk?

Continue reading »

Feb 222011

I’d like to try a new, quick-hit topic that might lead to a useful, occasional series: 1-2 Punch. Top 10 lists are too much; Top 5 lists invite too many opportunities for throwing in a hipster, obscuro choice to distinguish oneself from the raging masses. What I’d like to know is what TWO (2) songs you would choose from an artist’s catalog to say as much about that artist that you believe represents said artist’s core as possible? In other words, if you could only use TWO (2) songs from an artist’s catalog to explain all that said artist is about to a Venutian, what TWO (2) songs would you pick to represent said artist’s place in rock ‘n roll?

I’ll pose two artists and you—love ’em or leave ’em—give me each artist’s representative 1-2 Punch. Dig? Here goes! Continue reading »

Oct 282010

To celebrate Roger Waters‘ revival of The Wall for a tour that will likely lead to a Glee episode dedicated to the album, a smash Broadway musical, and a film version of the Broadway musical starring Justin Timberlake in the role originally occupied by Bob Geldof, let’s have some Pink Floyd-themed Dugout Chatter. As always, your gut answers are all that matter. If you’ve been following proceedings within the Halls of Rock for some time but have not yet jumped in with a comment there’s no better time to shine on, you crazy diamond.

Next to John Lennon‘s Plastic Ono Band and Pink Floyd‘s The Wall, what confessional album was probably most healing to both its creator(s) and listeners?

Flaming Lips and The Residents are the first two other bands that come to mind that, like Pink Floyd, depend on visuals and concepts as much as music. What’s the third band that should come to my mind?

In their prime, which member of Pink Floyd would you have most likely hired to perform architectural work?

Is Syd Barrett rock’s most powerful martyr? Has any band member’s initial burst of creativity and subsequent long-term suffering provided as much critical tolerance and interest for the surviving band members’ slow recovery?

In the years that have followed punk rock and teenage John Lydon‘s legendary, homemade Pink Floyd SUCKS! t-shirt, what established powerhouse band’s t-shirt would tomorrow’s teenage John Lydon wear?

Next to Roger Waters, what once-irascible rocker comes to mind when you think Wiser, Gentler Elder Statesman of Rock?

I look forward to your answers.

Oct 072010

First, what must have been the commercially released video to accompany this star-studded cover of The Buzzcocks’ most-successful song. A list of the contributing artists appears toward the end.

Then, if the notion of the UK as a small, close-knit music community unlike anything we could imagine in the United States still hasn’t hit you, there’s the following, more mind-blowing homemade video: Continue reading »

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?

Sep 272010

John Wetton Interview Coming Friday, October 1

Believe us, we care what the groundbreaking popular vote said regarding a poll that resulted from an analysis and discussion to determine – once and for allThe Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock. We care what the humble subject at the root of this heretofore-unexamined topic ultimately may have felt about all the attention he received. We cherish the new friends we’ve made in the last couple of weeks, and we welcome you to our daily gatherings and passionate discussions of rock-related topics, both serious and inane. We’re not sure how the other finalists in our quest to determine – once and for allThe Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock may have felt, but among those we attempted to contact, only go-to bassist/vocalist of the Progressive and Art Rock scene (Asia, King Crimson, Roxy Music, UK, Family, and many more) John Wetton responded to the ardent support of his fan base, summing up the consideration for this honor as follows:

“I’m delighted to be deemed a cute pig in the litter.”

We should all feel delighted to have finally established for all the world’s rock snobs, who have long considered prog-rock the sole domain of stoners and Dungeons & Dragons dudes, that the ladies dig prog-rockers on their own terms, including reasons as earthy as the music may be cerebral or ethereal. Just as cool, a number of Townsmen, regardless of their sexual preferences, felt comfortable discussing the importance of prog-rock bands containing a couple of good-looking guys to pull off those 17/8 time signatures. That’s what I call progressive rock music discussion! Most of all, however, we should feel delighted at the announcement that John Wetton has graciously agreed to subject himself to a Rock Town Hall Interview!

John Wetton: The Rock Town Hall Interview, Coming Friday, October 1.

The interview will cover John’s unique career and, hopefully, stimulate thought and discussion about the inner workings of some of the most-distinctive bands of the 1970s, the difference between “Prog Rock” and “Art Rock,” and the possible threat posed by Punk and New Wave bands. John also gives us a few additional seconds to answer the hard-hitting, rapid-fire questions of Rock Town Hall’s patented Dugout Chatter.

Thanks, John, and congratulations to leading popular vote-getter Carl Palmer and other runners-up Greg Lake, Keith Emerson (yes, the band should have been named PLE!), Chris Squire, and David Gilmour! Finally, thanks to the loyal and enthusiastic followers of one of rock’s most ambitious music scenes for making this silly notion turn into something of lasting value!


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