Oct 202011

I was listening earlier to some early Springsteen and thought, not for the first time, that I wish Bruce had never gotten involved with Jon Landau.

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/07-Thundercrack.mp3|titles=Bruce Springsteen, “Thundercrack” @ The Main Point, April 24, 1973]

I have been a fan of Bruce since the first album and loved the second album and have always thought that it was all downhill (as far as recordings go) from there. The next few albums were still great but nothing matches the looseness and the freewheeling musical aspects of The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle. After that it became increasingly codified & repetitive.

And that started when Landau got his clutches into Bruce. Coincidence? I think not.

Not that I think Landau was Col. Parker to a compliant Elvis. Bruce certainly was complicit in it. But it’s hard for me not to think that Bruce would have been a lot better if Landau didn’t sand off the edges, give Bruce a mentor for that politicization he underwent (and I’m not one of those who thinks artists shouldn’t be political—it’s fine with me and I agree by & large with Bruce’s politics—I just don’t like what it did to his music), & prime him for mega-stardom.

Agree? Disagree?

And what other pivotal events in rock & roll history do you wish never occurred?

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 »

Jun 102011

Because of the series in which this post is being framed I run the risk of being perceived as inflammatory for no good reason—or naive or even outright idiotc. I like my share of Phil Spector‘s works; own his box set, Back to Mono; and know more than enough about his influence on The Beach Boys and beyond, including the reach of his studio cats, The Wrecking Crew.  That said, I am tempted to call bullshit on Spector and his Wall of Sound, or maybe more accurately the degree to which it’s praised.

I unabashedly like probably a baker’s dozen Phil Spector productions. The Ronettes were the best of the bunch who worked under him. Ronnie Spector has personality out the whazoo. The Crystals had some winners. He cowrote “Spanish Harlem,” which is, as Lenny Bruce put it, “so pretty, man!” His Christmas album is charming, although a couple of years ago I had my fill of it and have done my best to leave the house whenever my wife wants to play it by the yuletide. Like a lot of Spector’s work, it grows cloying over repeated listens.

Continue reading »

Mar 152011

This one’s gonna be hell to referee, but someone’s gotta do it: Jesus songs—Rock ‘n Roll Jesus songs—which we will define as songs including Jesus in the title OR prominently featuring Jesus, specifically, as the main character or subject matter of the song.

Songs referring broadly (or specifically) to God, Lord, Him, The Boss, or what have you are not eligible for this contest. The songs must be about Jesus, and address Him by name.

Songs in which a singer simply asks for Jesus’ help or take His name in vain as a throwaway line are not eligible for this contest, unless the throwaway or blasphemous reference to Jesus is in the song’s title.

The song must be, at least broadly, a rock ‘n roll song. Some gospel song that Little Richard did during one of his sacred periods does not count solely because Little Richard is “rock ‘n roll.”

Crystal clear? I thought so! In honor of our Jesus-obsessed Townsman of the Jewish faith, andyr, let’s kick things off with one of my favorite Jesus songs composed by a musician of Jewish heritage, The Velvet Underground’s “Jesus.”

The race is on.

Jan 182011

The Boss holsters a la Rambo!

Popular music discussion blog Rock Town Hall has awarded Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen its first-ever Rock Badge of Courage for His heroic efforts to lift “Born in the USA” to the anthemic heights the song required. 

The Rock Badge of Courage is the highest artistic decoration awarded by Rock Town Hall, even higher than induction in the Hall’s Foyer of Fame. It is bestowed on musicians who distinguish themselves  “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her artistic cred above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against The Man, apathetic bandmates, or any other enemy of The Power & Glory of Rock.”

Although the song “Born in the USA” first saw the “light of day” while being composed for possible inclusion in the Michael J. Fox/Joan Jett movie of the same name, the rocking studio version had yet to be recorded as Bruce and His E Street Band neared completion on their 1984 album. With the band off for Presidents’ Day and The Boss anxious to record this passionate tribute to veterans of the Vietnam War, he took matters into his own hands. For the rhythm track He looped a recording of Max Weinberg‘s kick-and-snare drum check at the old Meadowlands. For the distinctive synth riff He called on the services of His 12-year-old nephew, Nelson, who had recently received a Casio keyboard for Christmas. Bruce played the rest of the tracks and singlehandedly carried the slipshod arrangement on the strength of his lyrics and vocal performance.

Rock Town Hall’s Rock Badge of Courage Commission is accepting nominations for future recipients of this honor.

Nov 262010

Reconsider me?

Here’s a weird thought. See if you can stick with me…

While watching the PBS American Masters piece on John Lennon last night I was constantly reminded how deeply I’ve always related to this public figure. I don’t mean to compare myself to Lennon or anything like that, but—this is embarrassing to admit—I feel about him the way Christians are probably meant to feel about Jesus. (And I don’t mean to compare myself to Jesus, for that matter, so cool your jets.) For a public figure I never met he was a true role model and hero in a world that I’ve always found a little short on both counts. In my imagination and heart Lennon represented just about all that humans can be: creative, intelligent, idiotic, outspoken, witty, angry, tender, cruel, plainspoken, puzzling…. He capped off his abbreviated life by growing the hell up and, on his second try, becoming the father his own father couldn’t have been for him. As a teenager trying to manage growing up without a half-decent father myself that was an especially meaningful final act that I continue to hold onto well into my future.

Among modern-day artists it seems that Bruce Springsteen resonates on almost as deeply a personal level with his fans. Is it anything like the feelings I know Lennon fans feel for their hero? It seems to be, and I hope we don’t have to see The Boss come to a tragic end to gauge just how deeply his fans feel about him. Do you relate to Springsteen on anywhere near as deep a level? What does he represent for you? Continue reading »


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