music friday: dean martin

I finally read the highly regarded biography by Nick Tosches, Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams. I’ll try to write more about this book later ... for now, here are two quotes that hint at the existential void that was Dean Martin:

He was a wise man. Wisdom had blessed him with a disregard for the worth of his own racket. Where others sought nobility in acting or art in song, he had known things for what they were, and that knowledge had set him apart. Wisdom too had blessed him with an understanding of human nature, and that understanding had set him apart as well. It had never been his own compulsion for lontananza or his own abhorrence of communication that had been a problem. The problem had been the pressure from others to change, to become more like them – to share, to relate, to confront, to lend the lie of meaning to all those meaningless verbs and more. To him, the problem was theirs: they who could never accept what they were nor live alone with it. Wisdom had given him the strength to do both. And wisdom, in its way, was leading him now to withdraw from the world in fact as well as in spirit. He no longer cared. He never really had.... When he returned to the Riviera in October, he seemed “as if he were someone impersonating Dean Martin.”

As Tosches puts it more succinctly early in the book, “Deep down, that, as much as anything, was what he was, a menefreghista – one who simply did not give a fuck.”

Some of his hits:

That’s Amore

Memories Are Made of This

Everybody Loves Somebody

His only music video, from 1983, “Since I Met You Baby”:

And this medley, from the great Rio Bravo ... with Dino, Ricky Nelson, and Walter Brennan ... “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me” and “Cindy”:

music friday

Going away for a long weekend, so this is a hastily-compiled quickie list of the most recent songs I’ve listened to on Spotify.

  1. The Sonics, “The Witch”.
  2. Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”.
  3. Betty Davis, “Anti Love Song”.
  4. Mott the Hoople, “All the Young Dudes”.
  5. The Pretenders, “Precious”.
  6. James Brown, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”. (Great video!)
  7. The Beatles, “Act Naturally”.
  8. The Soft Boys, “I Wanna Destroy You”.
  9. Shirley Bassey, “Goldfinger”.
  10. Golden Earring, “Radar Love”.

blu-ray series #26: shake!: otis at monterey (d.a. pennebaker, 1987)

I thought I’d watch Monterey Pop again, after finding out that Dusty Baker was in attendance at the festival. Turned out my disc was unplayable, so I stuck in the supplemental disc and watched this short, which includes Otis Redding’s complete set.

The only Otis album I had as a teenager was Live in Europe, which I wore out from constant playing. I have always slept with the radio on, and I can recall a night in December of 1967 when I awoke to the sounds of Side Two of this album, in its entirety. It was the middle of the night, and there I was, figuratively jumping around in my bed to the music. After the songs were over, the DJ informed us that Otis had died in a plane crash. I made up for his loss by burying myself in Live in Europe. My favorite track was the last one, “Try a Little Tenderness”, which built from a soulful beginning to a frantic ending. After a false ending, you can hear the emcee pleading, “Help me, help me, release me, we’ve got to hear some more of Otis!”, after which Otis returned for a coda. In 2015, it’s easy to check YouTube and find this was the standard Otis performance of this song, but back then I had no idea. I knew “Try a Little Tenderness” was a favorite song of my Mom’s, probably in the Sinatra version, and I played her Otis one day. She was unimpressed, said he got the meaning of the song wrong ... it was OK at first, but it was about tenderness, and there was nothing tender about how Otis concluded things.

In the Monterey Pop movie, Otis was seen performing “Shake” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”. He was great, but I was disappointed at the absence of “Tenderness”. A couple of years later, an album was released featuring Otis’ Monterey set, along with Hendrix on the flipside, and there I got to finally hear the Monterey Tenderness. If anything, it was more raw than the Europe version. At the time, I preferred the one I’d grown up with, although in retrospect, I don’t think it matters. One thing that did make an impression, and does to this day, is when Otis leaves the stage for the last time after saying, “I got to go now and I don’t wanna go.” He was dead six months later. It’s like at the end of “Mountain Jam” by the Allman Brothers, when Duane introduces the band, finishing with “I’m Duane Allman, thank you!”, and every time I think about him dying.

Somewhere along the line, my favorite Otis Redding song changed to “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”. For one thing, the studio version is almost as good as the live versions, which isn’t true of “Tenderness”. It is the pinnacle of the soulful side of Otis Redding. It was featured in the original Monterey Pop movie, and it is the highlight of Shake! as well.

The disc comes with a good interview with Phil Walden, Otis’ manager (coincidentally, he was integral to the success of the Allmans, as well). Walden talks about the early days of Redding’s career, speaks with great love for the man. Peter Guralnick does two commentaries, one of which I listened to, where he discusses each song as Otis sings it. Both Walden and Guralnick try to put Redding’s Monterey appearance in the context of both Otis’ career and the crossing of soul music with the psychedelic audience. It is one of the great moments in Monterey Pop, when Otis takes the stage, after midnight and with rain beginning to pour down, and within a handful of seconds has that tired psychedelic audience completely fired up:

Shake! suffers from the camerawork, although the sound is now excellent. Pennebaker must not have had useful footage of “Tenderness” ... until near the end, he gives us shots of various women, which isn’t so bad, but you want to see Otis. The music is a 10, but this short film is a bit lacking, for the reasons just mentioned. 8/10.

music friday, 1986 edition

The first Bridge School Benefit concert was in 1986. We attended because Bruce Springsteen was one of the performers. Here are a couple of highlights from that night.

First, Tom Petty singing “Blue Moon of Kentucky”. I’m not actually certain if this video comes from that night, but it will do:


Bruce’s set included “Fire”:


And Robin Williams was there:

carrie brownstein, hunger makes me a modern girl: a memoir

The day before Carrie Brownstein’s memoir arrived on my Kindle, I finally got a copy of Nick Tosches’ biography of Dean Martin. The book is endlessly praised, and I’d been meaning to read it since it came out 20+ years ago. I started right in, and realized instantly that it was as good as everyone said. That night, though, I wondered to my wife what I would do when Carrie’s book was finally released. Which book would I read? Would I go back and forth between the two?

The memoir hit my Kindle just before midnight. I looked at the pictures in the back and went to bed. When I woke up the next day, I started reading the memoir. There were a few things that sidetracked me ... I do have a life, no matter how much it seems I am drowning in idleness. A friend was visiting from SoCal, and we had dinner at a Louisiana-food restaurant. And the World Series was playing in the background when I was home.

I finished Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl about 9:00 PM that night. It took 21 hours from when I got it to when I was done reading it. Now I can get back to Dino.

Early in his book, Tosches describes Martin using an Italian colloquialism. From everything I’ve heard, and from everything I’ve read so far, this one sentence summarizes the life of Dean Martin: “Deep down, that, as much as anything, was what he was, a menefreghista – one who simply did not give a fuck.”

Carrie Brownstein gives a fuck. But, like Dean Martin and like most public figures, there’s the face she shows us, and what is actually going on inside. During her years in Sleater-Kinney 1.0, we got occasional hints that Carrie wasn’t just the perfect focus of our fantasies, most clearly on their last album prior to The Hiatus, with “Entertain”. Carrie always sang it with not a little venom, and the first lines show how confusing things were:

So you want to be entertained?

Please look away

Don’t look away

We’re not here cause we want to entertain

You can go away

Don’t go away

There was also “Jumpers” from that same album, which Carrie had written about people who committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. She wasn’t describing herself in that song ... on the other hand, she was admittedly depressed when she wrote it.

The thing is ... and we’re talking before Portlandia turned her into a semi-household name ... Carrie Brownstein’s stage persona was so liberating in its ferocity that I rarely if ever thought that persona might have grown out of someone who didn’t necessarily feel either liberated or ferocious when she was off stage. There is something about the indie ethic that assumes the musicians on the stage are “real”. This was never more clear than when the band would set up their own gear, or work their own merch tables. It’s not that I never fantasized about what Carrie and Corin and Janet were like off stage ... it’s that I assumed I knew what they were like, because of course they had to be the same off stage or on ... they were Real. (I could carry this to silly extremes. I once interviewed Corin and her other band, Cadallaca, and even though the three women all dressed up with big wigs and big makeup, and even though they adopted stage names ... Corin’s was “Kissy” ... my biggest memory of that interview was eating burgers backstage before the show. Corin Tucker eats burgers, just like real people, because she’s real, wigs or no wigs.)

What Carrie’s memoir tells us is that I had it wrong. She has always been articulate about the difference between being a performer and being a fan. Here, she delves deep into that difference. Much of the book is about her search for an identity. Her mom was anorexic, and in his 50s, her father came out to her. She writes:

We want our parents to be the norm from which we deviate. So when my dad came out, my instinct was that I needed to husband-up and get married. As if my family wasn’t freaky enough. Me: adrift. My sister: unmarried. My mom: ? And now my dad. Who would fly the flag of normality? ... I immediately felt like I should be popping out kids within a few years of my dad realizing he was gay. Let our parents be anorexic and gay! That shit is for teenagers. My sister and I would be the adults. We would be conventional, conservative even. Guns, God, country, and my contrarian, reactionary self. (This phase lasted about ten minutes.)

The book is broken into three parts, Youth, Sleater-Kinney, and Aftermath. The middle section is the longest by far, but the first part is fascinating, and it is there that she shows what a fine writer she is. I wanted to quote passages every other page. At one point, she answers a classified ad from a band looking for a guitar player. The band turned out to be 7 Year Bitch. She went for an audition, but it didn’t work out. She responded with a letter to band member Elizabeth Davis, promoting her guitar skills, but then going on to tell her life story:

I wanted so badly to be taken to some special place, to be asked into a secret club that would transform my life. I felt like music was that club. And to see inside for a moment and then be asked to leave was devastating.

As time went on, they would cross paths on occasion:

Later, when I knew what it felt like to carry the weight of your fans’ aspirations, I would remember the way Elizabeth looked at me after I’d sent the letter: a look of pity, distrust, and weariness. There is a gulf of misunderstanding between musicians and their fans, and often so much desperation that the musician can't possibly assuage, rectify, or heal. You feel helpless and you feel guilty. With Sleater-Kinney fans I tried to be generous, but I soon grew uneasy. For a long while I could share nothing more than the music itself. I think I was too scared to be open with the fans because I knew how bottomless their need could be. How could I help if I was just like them? I was afraid I might not be able to lessen their pain or live up to their ideals; I would be revealed as a fraud, unworthy and insubstantial. The disconnect between who I was on- and offstage would be so pronounced as to be jarring. Me, so small, so unqualified.

The first section also covers the “pre-SK” years. I was interested to find that Carrie first hooked up with Corin because she loved Corin’s band, Heavens to Betsy. I guess I thought of the two of them just popping up together one day, but of course, they didn’t come from nowhere. As you might imagine, Corin floored Carrie:

It was a combination of Corin Tucker’s voice and the lyrics. The beautiful parts were edged in disgrace and disgust; it bordered right on ugly the whole time. The singing was louder than it needed to be – did she even need a mic? ... The voice asked to be listened to but it did not beg or plead, it dared and challenged, it confronted but needed no reply from the listener. Any sadness was also defiant: it was not the wail of mourning but of murder. And there was so much I wanted to destroy.

The Sleater-Kinney part reminded me of a long-forgotten book by Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople, Diary of a Rock’n’Roll Star. You learn what it’s like on the road, what it’s like to make records, what it’s like to be in a band. Much of it brought back good memories, but what seemed romantic for us (the lack of a road crew, the fact that they traveled in a van) was just drudgery to them. On tour, they lived for the time on stage. In the studio, they took pride in the ways they changed and the ways they never delivered a bad album.

I feel like I don’t want to spoil the whole book, so I’ll just say that it got really bad for Carrie by the time of The Woods tour. I remember sometime after the hiatus began, hearing bits and pieces about Carrie in the hospital while on the road, but here, you get the details. Throughout the book, she is extremely honest, which means she doesn’t always come across as the nicest person in the room. But she does come across as ... what’s the word ... real.

In an epilogue, she talks briefly about the return of Sleater-Kinney, and how their first rehearsal felt:

What I didn’t remember was how it feels to stand in a room while Corin Tucker sings. How her voice is the answer to so many of my questions, a validation, as if she knows the map of my veins. And I had forgotten the beastly avalanche that is Janet Weiss behind the kit, when our guitars are propelled by the cascading force of her. We ran through “Jumpers,” and this time it was not about death, it was about being alive.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl does a superb job of letting us inside Carrie Brownstein, via great writing and a smart sense of what makes a memoir work. In passages like the one above, Brownstein also perfectly describes why Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss are such special artists. If this book lacks anything, it’s just an outsider’s look at Carrie herself. That defeats the purpose of a memoir, to some extent. But those of us who read this book, who have followed Sleater-Kinney for all of these years, know that Carrie Brownstein is a special artist. She can’t come right out and say that ... it’s up to us to say it for her.

music friday

Jimi Hendrix, “Star Spangled Banner.” In making the anthem into his song, he made it our song. We usually hear this song at sporting events, but Jimi was playing at Woodstock.

Slim Harpo, “I’m a King Bee.” I’m not sure I even knew there was such a thing as the Grammy Hall of Fame, but this recording is in it. The first time Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi performed as The Blues Brothers, on Saturday Night Live, they sang this song. Well, they weren’t technically the Brothers yet ... they were dressed up as bees and billed as “Howard Shore and His All-Bee Band”.

Kanye West, “Power.” Imagine it’s 1969, and you’re in a prog-rock band that has just released its first album, which includes a song titled “21st Century Schizoid Man”. Prog-rock is something new, and your band is on the cutting edge. One day, you go to a fortune teller, who says that in the actual 21st century, a rapper will sample your song on a track he’ll call “Power”. You will not know what a rapper is. You will not know what a sample is.

Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven.” Or imagine the irony of Led Zeppelin being a popular source of samples. For an example of that irony, listen to “Taurus” by the band Spirit.

DeBarge, “Rhythm of the Night.” Helped jumpstart the career of songwriter Diane Warren, who is, according to the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, “considered to be the most prolific and successful contemporary songwriter of our time.” Take that, all of you talented but unprolific songwriters out there!

Van Morrison, “Slim Slow Slider.” It’s odd to remove any particular track from Astral Weeks. I do it all the time, especially with “Cypress Avenue”, but since I’ve been known to claim that Astral Weeks is the greatest album of all time, I feel obliged to actually listen to it as an album at least once in awhile.

Marianne Faithfull, “Losing.” People were surprised when the then 32-year-old Faithfull released Broken English, a great and memorable album from someone who had been mostly dismissed in the past. Who would have believed that 25 years later she’d release her 20th solo album.

The Capris, “There’s a Moon Out Tonight.” I used to say that if you didn’t like doo wop, you didn’t like music. Or something like that, I don’t actually remember any longer what I used to say. But it was about doo wop, and I was gushing.

The Shangri-Las, “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand).” You know, there’s a pretty good book out there about the Shangri-Las, Are You There God? It's Me, Mary: The Shangri-Las And The Punk Rock Love Song by Tracy Landecker.

Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” There’s no getting around it: if he hadn’t killed himself, this song would mean something different.

o.j. simpson never sleeps

This is going to be one of the most confounding “My Memory Is Failing” moments in awhile.

Well, actually since I have some concrete evidence, the only thing I don’t remember is ...

I’m getting ahead of myself.

I took my son Neal to his first football game 27 years ago today, October 22, 1978. The 49ers, who were just awful that year (they finished 2-14) hosted the Falcons at Candlestick, and if memory serves the tickets were given to us by a season ticket holder who couldn’t take the team’s poor performance any more. You might wonder why I remember the exact date I took him ... it’s funny, earlier that year I’d taken him to his first baseball game, and it’s easy to go back and find the date, because at his first game, we saw John Tamargo hit a triple. Since he only hit one triple in his major league career, it’s not hard to find the game where it happened. Similarly, we saw the 49ers take and early 7-0 lead when O.J. Simpson ran for a touchdown. It was his only TD of the season.

I have another memory, and once again, it’s easy to find the date. Robin and I went to see Neil Young and Crazy Horse at the Cow Palace. It was the show Young later used for the concert film Rust Never Sleeps. He only played one night at the Cow Palace on that tour, so it’s not like we went to a different show.

And yes, the date was October 22, 1978.

I remember OJ’s touchdown. I remember the Neil Young concert. But I’ll be damned if I remember them happening on the same day.

Here’s “Like a Hurricane” from that show:

music friday: 1990

My friend Tomás mentioned on Facebook that his 25th high school reunion is this weekend, which gave me an excuse to do a Music Friday from 1990. It’s funny, I met Tomás in grad school, but I was already there in 1990, while he was just entering college. Anyway, on his blog, Tomás often annotates songs with stories about what those songs meant to him at the time. He created a YouTube playlist for 1990 (his list isn’t confined to 1990). Here are some 1990 songs I liked, that aren’t on his playlist. (And if I have the year wrong, oh well.)

Deee-Lite, “Groove Is in the Heart”.
Madonna, “Vogue”.
Public Enemy, “Welcome to the Terrordome”.
Seal, “Crazy”.
Moby, “Go”.
C&C Music Factory, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now). (For some reason, my 3-year-old grandson sings this song on random occasions.)
Social Distortion, “Ball and Chain”.
Sinéad O'Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U”. (Note: Famous Video, if you only like to watch one or two.)
Digital Underground, “Doowutchyalike”.
Garth Brooks, “Friends in Low Places”.