music friday: ian dury

On this date 20 years ago, Ian Dury died. I was never a hardcore fan, and he was never as popular in the States as he was back home. But his serious Cockney accent, which might have been a factor in his lack of popularity in the U.S., was part of the charm of his music, and he was always an excellent lyricist. A few of his songs were inescapable, even here in California.

by request: echo in the canyon (andrew slater, 2018)

Fiona Apple. The Beach Boys. Beck. Justine Bennett. Jackson Browne. Buffalo Springfield. The Byrds. Jade Castrinos. Eric Clapton. David Crosby. Jakob Dylan. Norah Jones. The Mamas and the Papas. Roger McGuinn. Graham Nash. Fernando Perdomo. Tom Petty. Michelle Phillips. Cat Power. John Sebastian. Regina Spektor. Ringo Starr. Stephen Stills. Matt Tecu. Brian Wilson.

That's an impressive list of artists. If you knew there was a movie featuring these performers in archival footage, with new material (including Tom Petty's last interview), and some younger artists performing songs from the originals in a special concert, and you like most or all of the above, you'd be right in thinking Echo in the Canyon must be a great movie, or at least, enjoyable for fans of mid-60s folk-rock out of LA. And yes, for an hour-and-a-half, it's enjoyable.

But it is also frustrating. As is too often the case in documentaries like this, too many songs are presented piecemeal. I might have preferred a straightforward documentation of the concert ... at least I could appreciate the performances.

The interview segments are of varying interest. Petty's last interview is great, Michelle Phillips is a delight, and David Crosby is helplessly honest (he admits he was kicked out of The Byrds because he was an asshole). Ringo's dry humor is always welcome. But there is also an odd interview interspersed throughout, where Dylan sits around on a couch with Cat Power, Beck, and Regina Spektor, and they stare at old album covers while saying the equivalent of "wow, groovy". All of those people are interesting artists, but here they are mostly dolts. Meanwhile, Dylan is such a low-key interviewer that he disappears, although in fairness that may be one reason the artists felt comfortable during the interviews.

And, as many have pointed out, there is no mention of The Doors, or Joni Mitchell, or Love (although an Arthur Lee song appears on the soundtrack album).

Oddest of all, there are clips from the Jacques Demy film Model Shop, with many of the old-timers talking about how important the movie was in showing what the Canyon was like in those days. They speak as if the film was contemporaneous with the music featured in the film, but the movie came out in 1969, while the music we see was rather specifically from the mid-60s. Buffalo Springfield broke up in 1968, The Mamas and the Papas were about to disband, Pet Sounds was 1966. They might have liked Model Shop, but that movie had nothing to do with the music we are learning about (and the movie featured the music of Spirit, who are nowhere in the film).

There are some solid performances ... big-voiced singer Jade Castrinos' effervescence is contagious. By all means, see the movie if you are a fan of mid-60s LA folk-rock. But despite its pleasures, Echo in the Canyon feels like a missed opportunity.

music friday: kalie shorr

Christgau gave Shorr's first full album, Open Book, an A, saying "Shorr is yet another smart young woman who might once have been a sharp-tongued folkie but knows Nashville is where that way of music still has a life worth living." I picked up the album ... actually bought it, even though I listen to it on streaming, because new artists need the money. It's as good as Xgau said.

Like all of us, musicians are having a tough time of it during the pandemic, especially since a lot of them live on their tour money. Shorr said on her website, "I had to postpone my tour due to a global pandemic which is not something I ever thought I would say. But, the show must go on...line. I’ll play some new songs, make some mildly inappropriate jokes, and we can forget about the madness for a bit." Last night, she streamed "The Social Distancing Tour - Part 1".

She played for half-an-hour, six songs, four from Open Book, one Alanis Morissette cover, and a new song. My favorite was "F U Forever":

You never bought me anything
Because I paid for everything
But you got me a random ring
With your tax return

You played the victim with all our friends
Then turned around and slept with them
But I know you closed your eyes
And thought about me

Looks like my abandonment issues
Got the best of me again
'Cause we should have never been together
Now I'm wearing your stupid ring
On my pretty little middle finger
So I can say F U forever, oh yeah

How can you be scared of me
When you're the one who put your hands on me
In the bathroom when our friends
Were in the kitchen

You hated when my dreams came true
'Cause they were better as just dreams to you
But what you really hated was yourself

Looks like my abandonment issues
Got the best of me again
'Cause we should have never been together
Now I'm wearing your stupid ring
On my pretty little middle finger
So I can say F U forever, oh yeah

And I believed you whenever you said
That you were older and you always knew best
I was the problem, so narcissistic
I was a child, I was a train wreck
But I'm just a mirror reflecting
And you're just an asshole projecting

Looks like my abandonment issues
Got the best of me again
'Cause we should have never been together
Now I'm wearing your stupid ring
On my pretty little middle finger
So I can say F U forever and ever

Oops, I forgot to listen to my intuition again
But that's the last time I'll ever fake it
Til I'm making myself miserable, yeah I'm so glad
That I don't have to fuck you forever

music friday: alvin lee and ten years after

Alvin Lee, guitarist/singer for Ten Years After, died on this date in 2013 at the age of 68. (Unrelated trivia: Estepona is where my grandparents were from.) We saw Ten Years After at Fillmore West in 1968, on a bill headlined by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, with Fleetwood Mac (the Peter Green version) as openers. This was a year before Woodstock ... more to the point, it was two years before the movie of Woodstock came out, after which Alvin Lee was the proverbial "household name":

I've always wondered about that watermelon at the end. Someone named Mark Rosenthal, who was at Woodstock, has this story, which he told to Raquel B. Pidal, after seeing the movie. Seems someone near Mark had a watermelon, and they were going to cut it up and share it. But some stoner said no, he was going to give it to Alvin Lee. They told him he was crazy, the stage was a million miles away, but he disappeared with the watermelon. A year later, Mark saw the movie, and found out what had happened to that watermelon.

Ten Years After was a major act for a few years after the Woodstock movie. Lee's guitar playing was always the center of attention, but he was also the primary composer for the band. For me, he was a better instrumentalist than songwriter. The band's biggest hit was "I'd Love to Change the World", and it sounds great ... whenever it comes up on Classic Rock stations, I have to listen. But the lyrics ... as Christgau said, "fellow seems to believe that if you 'tax the rich to feed the poor' you soon run out of rich, with dire consequences."

Everywhere is freaks and hairies
Dykes and fairies, tell me where is sanity
Tax the rich, feed the poor
'Til there are no rich no more?

My favorite of all Ten Years After songs was Woody Herman's "Woodchopper's Ball". Lee's speedy fingers are so ridiculous that they make me smile every time. The version I grew up on was from their live album Undead, but this version from 1983 gets the point across:


I mentioned Fleetwood Mac. I can't let the moment pass without giving a shout out to Peter Green, and his greatest performance, "Love That Burns":

music friday: high fidelity the series

High Fidelity the TV series is yet another version of Nick Hornby's creation. The trick here is that the lead character, a man in both the novel and in the 2000 movie with John Cusack, is now a woman played by Zoë Kravitz. The show is never a simple gender flip, but it still needs mentioning, since Hornby is sometimes considered the first "lad lit" writer. At least as important, though, is the updating of the story to 2020 (if nothing else, the idea of a show focused on a store that sells only vinyl records has a different feel nowadays). The casting is solid ... Kravitz is wonderful as Rob, showing all facets of her complicated and not always "nice" character, and the primary supporters, Da'Vine Joy Randolph (Cherise) and David H. Holmes (Simon), are equally fine. And Kravitz pulls off the "Fleabag" style of talking to the camera without being annoying.

Here is a Top Five Songs Featured in the TV Series list:

"Heart of Glass" turns up in a scene with Debbie Harry that matches a scene in the movie with Bruce Springsteen, right down to the dialogue being almost an exact match:

Bowie's album The Man Who Sold the World is featured in a mid-season episode where Rob fetishizes the album's original pressing (she is thinking of buying a collection from a woman played by Parker Posey who is getting revenge on her husband by selling his records). The album turns up at the end of the season, as well.

At one point, Rob puts on a Swamp Dogg record in the story, claiming "I will now sell five copies of Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune". Immediately, people in story ask, "who is that?"

In a marvelous episode written by Solomon Georgio, Rob gets a suggestion as a DJ to start her night by playing "Automatic":

In that same episode, Simon offers this analysis of Sylvester and "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)": "In the 70s, the only way to get a disco song on the radio was if the DJs at the gay bars played it. That was the first time we ever had any say in the record industry. Disco was the sound of liberation."

music friday: valentine's day

I'm driving a big lazy car rushin' up the highway in the dark
I got one hand steady on the wheel and one hand's tremblin' over my heart
It's pounding baby like it's gonna bust right on through
And it ain't gonna stop till I'm alone again with you
A friend of mine became a father last night
When we spoke in his voice I could hear the light
Of the skies and the rivers the timberwolf in the pines
And that great jukebox out on Route 39
They say he travels fastest who travels alone
But tonight I miss my girl mister tonight I miss my home
Is it the sound of the leaves
Left blown by the wayside
That's got me out here on this spooky old highway tonight
Is it the cry of the river
With the moonlight shining through
That ain't what scares me baby
What scares me is losing you
They say if you die in your dreams you really die in your bed
But honey last night I dreamed my eyes rolled straight back in my head
And God's light came shinin' on through
I woke up in the darkness scared and breathin' and born anew
It wasn't the cold river bottom I felt rushing over me
It wasn't the bitterness of a dream that didn't come true
It wasn't the wind in the grey fields I felt rushing through my arms
No no baby it was you

So hold me close honey say you're forever mine
And tell me you'll be my lonely valentine

music friday: the clash

This is at least the fourth time I've milked a blog post out of this: 41 years ago today, I saw The Clash for the first time, at their United States live debut in Berkeley. As has become custom over the years, I'll indulge in a little cut-and-paste for the oft-told story.


The band was asked who they wanted to have as an opening act, and they said they'd love to play with Bo Diddley. And they were told hey, that might not work, can't you come up with an up-and-coming punk band? But no, they wanted Bo Diddley, he was one of their idols and they wanted him to play. And they got their way, which is why, on February 7, 1979, I saw Bo Diddley play for the first and only time. He was great, of course.

Time sure does fly. I remember that part of Bo's act that night was to make fun of his age ... he'd bend down and as he did so, he'd have his guitar making creaky noises like his bones were too old to take the stress. Well, I just looked Bo Diddley up on Wikipedia, and damn, he sure was old back in 1979 ... 50! Yep ... Bo Diddley was younger the time I saw the old geezer than I am now. Geesh.

Bo Diddley in 2002, when admittedly his memory might have led him to embellish just a little:

I posted both of those items last year when the 40th anniversary came around. Here's something different, an article about the concert, by Bryan Wawzenek: "When the Clash Finally Played Their First U.S. Show".

Finally, all setlists I have seen are incomplete, but here's a Spotify playlist with the songs from the show that we know of:

music friday: capitalist blues

"Resist false hope: America under Trump is in big trouble, and there's no going back"

In a time of crisis such as the Age of Trump, what the American people need the most are "hope warriors." These are journalists, pundits, writers, activists, elected officials and other opinion leaders who will tell the truth about the state of their country and society, and about what must be done to heal it. Empirical reality and context must come together with sustained analysis and critical thinking. A slavish devotion to "both-sides-ism" must be jettisoned. Hope warriors connect institutions and structures to the daily challenges being experienced by real people. Hope warriors explain that power is not neutral or something ineffable. It is real. It works through, by and on individuals, groups and communities.

-- Chauncey DeVega