While preparing for our upcoming intervention with Townsman Hrrundivbakshi I stumbled on a personal Rock Video Holy Grail: live performances by mid-70s John Cale of a couple of my favorite songs from Fear, the title track and “Buffalo Ballet”. (The titles the foreign production crew gave the songs are pretty funny.) Cale’s hair is long and greasy, friend of Rock Town Hall Chris Spedding is decked out in black leather and is about as thin as a B string, the sound and performances are shakey, in a satisfyingly human way… In past efforts to find cool videos of Cale I’ve found plenty of stuff from his bloated early ’80s period and plenty of stuff from his more subdued Elder Statesman period of the last 15 years. I’ve seen all the crappy footage of the Velvet Underground that’s floating about. Until now I’ve never seen live clips of Cale from around the time of this relatively fertile period.
This is a simple one. What fantasy show would you make every effort to go see no matter the cost and location? The only rule is that it has to be feasible. So a Beatles reunion is out. But you can get creative like a Syd Barrett tribute featuring Robyn Hitchcock, Gilmour and The Soft Machine guys that played on Madcap. I’d consider that but probably wouldn’t go to the end of the Earth for it.
When the Velvet Underground reunited in London in ’93, I went so far as to look in to acquiring tickets and airfares and such. Didn’t pull the trigger but that was close. I only had to drive down to Long Beach to see The Stooges reunion. I went by myself which I think might be the only time that I’ve gone to a show by myself. So I’ll never know how far I would’ve gone for that.
The only show that I can think of that I would go to the end of the Earth for is , if and only if, they did it in full character and with a full blown psychedelic extravaganza.
What say you? Is it a reunion show? A super group? A reunion show of a super group?
Along with Dionne Warwick, the late-60s hits by Glen Campbell represent, in my memory, the best of the failed aspirations of middle-class America. I still see those albums sitting in front of the huge, wooden stereo consoles in our neighborhood, resting on plush, burnt-orange carpeting. Some elongated sculpture of a conquistador on a horse decorates one end of the console. A reproduction of some painting by one of the Dutch Masters is centered over the stereo; it matches the colors of the heavy velour drapes and couch. “Gavleston”, “Witcheta Lineman”, and “By the Time I Get to Pheonix” made vaguely country music safe for those of us on the more urban coasts–East Coast city dwellers and California dreamers alike. Campbell was pretty cool and sophisticated for a guy playing twangy guitar tunes. As some of us grew into rock nerds, leaving behind the fractured dreams of middle America circa 1968, there were unexpected depths of Campbell to plunder, such as his work as a session man for The Beach Boys and his role as mouthpiece to the surprising cult of Jimmy Webb, Songwriter. It was these after-the-fact revelations that kept the increasingly irrelevant Campbell on the right side of “cool,” despite the cheesy career apex of “Rhinestone Cowboy”, the rough-and-tumble Tanya Tucker years, the coke slide, and the more-recent Jesus-friendly infomercials. When I first heard of this album – a good 24 hours before it showed up in my mailbox – I thought, “Oh man, another Rick Rubin reclamation project! What’s he going to do next, produce a ‘cool’ comeback album for Vicki Lawrence?” (Turns out it’s not a Rick Rubin production, but the brainchild of Julian Raymond, who’s produced Roseanne Cash and The Wallflowers, among others.) After a few minutes I thought, this is Glen Campbell, we have a history together. So I pushed Play and got down to the business of sharing my thoughts, feelings, and other observations.
Adding new meaning to “lineman.”
“Sing”: Campbell’s tenor rises above the alt-adult contemporary fare of this modern-day wall of sound, complete with a skipping drum beat, orchestration, and the insistent plucking of a banjo. Turns out this is a song by Travis, a band I’ve heard of but have never passed judgement on. Do they do, like, iPod ads or something?
“Walls”: I know this song. Is it by someone I don’t typically like? Campbell’s delivery has a way of making me drop my defenses. His performances carry no baggage, have no agenda. He expresses nothing but love and joy for his material, and it’s contagious. OK, I peeked: this is a Tom Petty song. I haven’t been “duped” into digging, like, an REO Speedwagon song.
“Angel Dream”: Here’s another loping Tom Petty cover. This is what we call a nice cover: nothing earth-shattering but completely professional, befitting the studio cat that a young Campbell once was. If this is where this album’s heading, it’s a dignified comeback album we’ve got cooking.
“Times Like These”: Man, this song’s familiar and well constructed! There was always something refreshingly straightforward and good natured in the delivery of Campbell’s classic hits, which mixed the pride of country music with the optimism and hope of Southern California pop. This song has that combination in spades. Whaddaya know? It’s a Foo Fighters song! A lot of older dudes have been telling me there’s something to Grohl’s songs. It’s funny, this is the most like what I would have expected in an album presenting some producer’s version of a comebacking Campbell, as if Elvis Costello had been commissioned to write a song in the Jimmy Webb style. There may have been more to the singer than the song than revisionist hipsters would like to believe.
“These Days”: This song’s off to a lovely start. I’m afraid I’m falling in love with a song by an artist I’ve never much liked…Oh man, I’ve got to take a minute to let some tears flow. This is beautiful…I KNOW THIS SONG: it’s friggin’ Jackson Browne! Truth be told, this is one of the only songs by that guy that ever made the slightest impression on me, but hearing this preternaturally wise song through the voice of a guy who’s royally screwed up his life and lived to tell about it makes it really moving. I’m taken back to that huge, wooden stereo console; the burnt-orange carpet; and the aspirations represented by those conquistadore sculptures.
“Sadly Beautiful”: A Replacements cover. Much better, to my ears, than hearing it on a flagging Replacements album. Like the first few tracks, a “professional” cover.
Pleased to meet you, too.
“All I Want Is You”: Is this a U2 song or that horrible Rod Stewart song, “Forever Young”? It’s U2. As is often the case when I can get past the band’s stock digitally mystical production I’m impressed by how simple and direct the band’s music can be. I MUCH prefer hearing this song in Campbell’s plaintive voice than through the emotive Christ-worthy self-love of Bono.
The Velvet Underground are the first band that comes to mind for me. I feel the noisy/drone thing has been milked. G.G. Allin adequately squeezed the teats of the degenerate thing for all it was worth. The lighter, repetitive thing has been done over numerous times by the likes of Yo La Tengo. The surprisingly tender thing…ditto. If a woman in a band with a charmingly weak voice never steps forward to take lead on a song over the next decade, the world of rock will not suffer. No offense to anyone who’s milked any one of these rock teats, by the way. They are all part of the fantastic fabric that is the legacy of the VU. The only thing that was not milked dry in the VU’s music was the band’s ease with older forms of rock, but I’m not expecting any younger bands – bands that probably can’t play a journeyman cover of a Chuck Berry song if their lives depended on it – to pick up on that strain of VU magic.
I’m sure you’ve got your own legendary rock band teats you’d like to see retired. Give momma a break! you’ve been thinking. Now tell us why.