Apr 102009

Yes, Jim Morrison was a bad poet with a ridiculous persona. Yes, Ray Manzarek is still smugly obsequious nearly 40 years after Jimbo’s death. And yes, that tour with Stewart Copeland and the dude from The Cult is one of the most pathetic attempts to keep a boomer-rock brand on the shelves waaaaayyy past its sell-by date.

But do The Doors suck? Like, is their music that bad? They had a kinda seedy punk-rock intensity about them, like The Velvets. They had jazz and blues chops that, to my ears, are more appealing than those of The Grateful Dead. They managed to convey both of the above in their singles, which are often hella punchy and catchy to boot.

I mean, if you think “Light My Fire” sucks, but “Marquee Moon” is awesome, that’s a little strange, right? You should have some really solid data backing up your statement, I think.

I’m not saying I’m a Doors fan all of a sudden. I just wonder if there’s an objective reason for saying they suck. But more importantly, I’d like to hear what Townspeople really think of The Doors.

Sep 092008

Since founding Silver Jews with with college friends Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, songwriter/poet/cartoonist David Berman has rolled stoned, gathered a little moss along with a rotating cast of indie-rock contributors, hit rock bottom, toured the Promised Land, saw the light, and built an accomplished body of earthy, intelligent work. Over the years, as the band’s recordings moved from lo-fi to a matte finish country rock, Berman’s deep, wry, downbeat delivery remained a constant. In 2006, after years of not touring and surviving the lowest point in his personal life, Berman took Silver Jews, including his wife Cassie on bass, on the road for the first time. The tour would take the band as far as Israel. June saw the release of Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City), the title of which refers in part to Berman’s restored eyesight following a cornea transplant. In the liner notes Berman supplies tablature so we can play along with the album and, if we’re not already hip to it, realize that the music is ours, not some complex mystery.

RTH: What are five songs that might ease the suffering of your local jukebox?

“Long Hot Summer” – The Style Council
“A Few Things Different” – Kenny Chesney (trust me on this one)
“Borrowed Angel” – Mel Street
“Rainy Day Woman” – Waylon Jennings
“Moments in Love” – Art of Noise

RTH: You’ve worked with a shifting cast of musicians. Do you have your next set of recording musicians in mind while writing? How much do you expect the musicians to execute your visions for a song vs how much you expect them to shape the song?

DAVID BERMAN: Some songs find me specifically coaching, but in those 5 to 10 days of practicing the songs in a circle, the band even criticizes itself or I’ll ask them what they think if x does y. There is some negotiation among the players and then there is the amount of figurative talk I’m feeding them about the song. I’ll try to explain the setting and mood with comparisons or correlations in the leadup to the first practices or as we go along. Until the basic tracks are down nothing is finalized, and so I never have to be stuck with a player’s part I don’t like. Not to mention they are all very smart and fluid, and one way or another “get me”, so a lot of this just happens silently and invisibly.

RTH: You include the chord progressions for the songs on your new album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea. What secrets will be unlocked when I start playing along with the album?
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Feb 062008

Giving new meaning to Beat Poetry…

I don’t profess to know a lot about poetry. I know it often rhymes and it’s got a meter. I know that it’s possible to memorize and recite it, although I’ve never been prone to such behavior. I know that when I was in school and had a teacher/professor practically holding my hand through the reading of a poem, I occasionally felt inspired. But not enough to give up reading novels and sports and music biographies in favor of poetry. William Blake‘s Songs of Innocence and Experience lead my small collection of poetry volumes. I wish more poetry hit me as directly as that stuff does. I can see why rockers and poets have tried to work together over the years.

Although poets have attempted to collaborate with rockers for some time, the difficulty of these forms merging hit me squarely when The Clash and Allen Ginsberg teamed to bring us “Ghetto Defendant”, from the as-if-it-was-not-already-disappointing enough Combat Rock.

The Clash with Allen Ginsberg, “Ghetto Defendant”

More on Mr. Ginsberg in a bit. Before moving forward, it’s important we distinguish between Rockers Who Poet and Poets Who Rock.

Mar 112007

Townswoman Citizen Mom provides the following thoughts on Patti Smith, as previously published on Phawker.com.

She’s hardly the most famous performer to ever come out of Jersey — The Boss and The Chairman Of The Board still hold those titles — but without a doubt, Patti Smith, the High Poetess of Punk, remains the greatest communicator of the kind of nameless electric angst that drives Kids In Search Of Something to head north on the Jersey Turnpike and never look back. When Patti beat it out of Gloucester County, fleeing a factory job and a year short of her degree at then-Glassboro State Teacher’s College, she was armed with a book of Rimbaud poetry bought on a used-book table in Philly, not dreams of becoming a rock star. In interviews, she’s said she didn’t know what she was looking for back then, but she knew it wasn’t to be found in South Jersey. Some things never change.
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