Monday, March 27, 2006

I sweat all day and half of the night

Three autobiographical facts torn from the good book on Universal James:

I'm a Greedy Man
I Got Ants in My Pants (And I Want to Dance)
I Got a Bag of my Own
(all selections from Make It Funky - The Big Payback: 1971-1975)

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Fellow Americans,
Lady Americans,

I present to you the Minister of the New Super-Heavy Funk, Soul Brother Number One, Mr. James Brown.

For more information, please go here, here, and here.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

All you got to do is get your living down

Sly & The Family Stone - Life (from the Greatest Hits)
Sly & The Family Stone - Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (from the Greatest Hits)
Sly & The Family Stone - Thank You for Talkin' to me Africa (from There's a Riot Goin' On)

It's hard to make it these days. Not that it was ever simpler before; but these days, it certainly ain't easy. A lot of people I know are all scattered about - not really certain where they're going to land and entirely clueless about what they'll grow into. By day we scurry about going to work and running errands, and by night we loaf out, thinking about how things could be different. And, hey, if we haven't accomplished anything great yet, it's alright, we've got time; plenty of people hit their stride later in life. Fifty is the new 30, right?

Trouble is, we were all raised on success stories. We read novels about young artists who soar above their home towns with a few lines of paltry verse; we scarf down movies about gifted or chosen individuals who accomplish great things from humble beginnings. It's so easy to empathize and identify with a Harry Potter-type character. Is there any particular reason he was bestowed with these fantastically important powers and charming cast of friends and supporters? Nope, just cuz. He was born that way, I suppose. And of course it's not fair, but you know what, if that jerk can do it, why can't I?

It's natural to fantasize about greatness - it gives us something to look forward to. And yet, most of us choose to put our heart and mind into much less dramatic pursuits: data entry, radiography, timber. It may not always be enviable, but at least it's reassuring. And so you’re not the president, or an NFL quarterback, or a timpani virtuoso; nobody's going to hold that against you. Who could resent somebody who drives a Toyota?

But the worst part, our terrible little secret, is that we half-hope for the stars we idolize to meet some sort of just and cataclysmic failure. How cruel and hearty our laughter is when tween Louisiana pop sensations become bloated caricatures of success; train wrecks in platform heels. Who did she think she was, anyway, walking around like she owned the place? And what would we make of our icons of rock’n’roll if they met some fate other than drug-related heart failure in the bathroom of a distant hotel? It becomes a perfect parable. Well, they should’ve known it wasn’t a stable career path. We need artists and creative risk takers to have outstanding failures because it validates what we’ve chosen to do with our lives. It’s not an easy job, being a wanton fan.

So you have Sly Stone, the star-spangled explosion of the American dream incarnate, chicken-strutting across the globe with his multi-ethnic Family band, laying healthy, free-range eggs of hope and funk wherever they traipsed. What a paroxysm of style and substance and free will! This is what the world is coming to, or at least where it ought to be headed, why not stop what you’re doing and come on and join in the party? But for all the good cheer he spread, Sly was a victim of his own success. Nobody really took the sentiment that “Everybody is a star” too seriously, it was just some cool shit to say when you were feeling groovy. He gave us what we wanted, but nobody actually meant anything by it.

By 1970 Sly was expressly ambivalent toward his mainstream success - television appearances were usually conducted under a cocaine cloud and he become increasingly absent from his own live appearances. 1971's There's a Riot Goin' On (a cynical rejoinder to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On?) was recorded almost entirely by Sly, while the Family Stone began to fracture under the duress of Sly's manic behaviors. Something was not quite right. For all he had done to help everyday people see themselves as stars, he began to see himself through their eyes and by what they expected of him.

Flamin' eyes of peoples fear, burnin' into you
Many men are missin' much, hatin' what they do

The promise of the American dream is so great, so spectacular, that its denial is almost too much to bear.

What happened to Sly Stone? He used to be wrasslin’ with the devil, struggling with his own authenticity and coming out on top, and then he retreated from the lime light. Even at his recent and unusual appearance at the Grammy's, he left the stage before the song was finished and took off on a motorcycle he had stored out back.

Like Sly, I too have wrassled with the devil. However, it remains to be seen whether or not I will come out on top.


Clearly, I am rambling tonight in an effort to compensate for how long it has been since I last updated. But to continue with a musical theme of the greats reworking what made them great in the first place, here's James Brown with a brand new (1975) twist on a dance floor classic. Good night.

James Brown - I Feel Good (from Make It Funky: The Big Payback: 1971-1975)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

When it rains it shines

BockFest was last weekend. It was a celebration of drunkards, druids, and polka music. I didn't really understand it, but I certainly enjoyed it.


In a completely unrelated series of events, while I turn to bock beer to cope with the stress of paying my bills, the man who lords over the corporation I work for happens to be the ninth richest man in the world, according to Forbes.


Although it's too gray and moist and miserable outside right now for me to grab the Sly Stone I wanted to share with you this week, here are some topical cuts.

Django Reinhardt - Stormy Weather (from Django in Rome, 1949-1950)
The Beatles - Rain (from Past Masters, vol. 2)
Nina Simone - Here Comes the Sun (from The Essential Nina Simone, vol. 2)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Pensive Draculas and Pancakes for One

Marbles - Out of Zone
Of Montreal - Jennifer Louise (from Aldhils Arboretum)
Of Montreal - Old People in the Cemetary (from Aldhils Arboretum)
Of Montreal - Wraith Pinned to the Mist (from The Sunlandic Twins)
Brian Eno - The Paw-Paw Negro Blowtorch (from Here Come the Warm Jets)

Overheard in line while waiting to see Athens, GA-based band Of Montreal perform Sunday, Feb. 26, 2006 at the Southgate House in Newport, KY:

Stoner with Ironic Bling (SwIB): Dude, I'm so stoked to see this show tonight. Check out this bling I busted out just for tonight. This is serious stuff, man, I don't bust this out for just anything. Man, this shit is for real! (Bites into gold dollar sign medallion.)

Bearded Stoner (BS): Yeah, man. Yeah yeah.

SwIB: I was just so afraid we wouldn't even make it here tonight. My car is haunted you know? I've got a haunted car.

BS: Wha-at?

SwIB: Yeah dude, everytime I pump on the brakes it goes, "Whooo-ooo!" (Holds up spooky fingers.)

BS: (Laughs.) Right. (Pause.) Hey, you reminded me, I brought my parachuters. They're little draculas. We can drop them from the balcony for the encore.

SwIB: Why does Dracula need a parachute? I mean, he's got a cape. Draculas can fly, right?

BS: Yeah man, I don't know. This little guy must be afraid to fly. He's a pensive Dracula.

The college stoner crowd was out in full effect Sunday night. Maybe it had something to do with me hitting my official mid-twenty-something status this week, but I felt like I was already becoming that old guy who goes to young rock shows. For instance, when a young college student with black X's on her hands asked if I wanted to hang out with her and her friends, I had to reply, "Uhm, I'm going over to the bar, actually. Sorry."

Thankfully, I'm still a few years shy of the grandfatherly attributes of the portly, balding, and bespectacled Robert Schneider who opened the night up with acoustic renditions of brand spanking new Apples in Stereo songs. Also, by popular request, a version of the Apples' "Ruby," which has too many painful connotations for me to enjoy.

His acoustic set was short, graciously, as I don't think I could have handled much more of the teddy bear affectations he takes up in an effort to be a sweeter John Lennon. "Thanks for listening," he said, "Marbles is up next." Little did I know what was about to happen next. Schneider whipped the drapes off a stand behind him, revealing anntenaes, stereo equipment, and circular neon lights. He hit a button and loud, droning interlude music started pouring out the speakers.

As he started to undress, his accomplice - a svelt blonde in Barbarella garb - started hoisting cardboard cutouts of Darth Vader and the robot from "Lost in Space" on to the stage. A key-tar was elegantly draped over Darth's shoulders. Schneider, now in his underwear, quickly put on what appeared to be a thrift store astronaut outfit - with a cape, because no astronaut outfit is complete without a cape. The second band, Marbles, was now ready to perform.

With another push of a button the stereo started to play melodious '80s synth pop, which Schneider sang over, karaoke style. Guitar solos were noted by him picking up a guitar and pumping it in the air; while he gestured over to Darth for the more prominent keyboard parts. Although this set was short as well, it required another costume change into a silvery varsity jacket bedazzled with the phrase "I Heart Math" on the back. Too cute to boot, Mr. Schneider.

Not to be outdone, Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal walked on stage in a full bridal gown and veil. "We love you Newport!" he yelled. "And we want to make love to you all night long! But we're kind of old-fashioned, you see, so we're going to have to get married first. Newport - will you marry us?" "Yeah!" "Well come on then!"

Since I wasn't familiar with Of Montreal's back catalogue, I expected to casually enjoy the few songs I could identify (i.e., "Wraith Pinned to the Mists" from The Sunlandic Twins), and casually listen to the rest of the unfamiliar set. But from the very first song I was enraptured with the whole psychedelic dance party energy. I'm still buzzing from all the good vibrations. Thank goodness for online recommendations. (Here's looking at you, Scout.)

While waiting for the encore, I noticed that a short, plump lady draped entirely in black was staring at me. Apparently she also suffered from anterograde amnesia. Every time she opened her mouth she sounded completely bewildered: "How old are you? When did you say your birthday was? Do you play in a band? Are you playing next? When was your birthday again? God you're so cute. I must be at least ten years older than you. Oh, I'm sorry, I must be flirting with you." Excuse me, do I know you??

After a period of uncomfortable and prolonoged staring, the lady in black drifted back into the darkness of the crowd. Another man, who looked strikingly similar to me - conservative sweater, Scott Baio hair - approached me. "Do you have any idea who that lady is?" It turns out this lady had a certain type of man-child she liked and was making the rounds this night. This stranger told me how the mytery woman came up behind him and rubbed his back, telling him how cute he was. We shared a hearty nervous laugh.

For the encore, Of Montreal asked Robert Schneider to join them on stage for an Apples in Stereo cover of "Seems So." Afterwards, Kevin Barnes asked the crowd, "Do you like Brian Eno? Yeah? Ladies and gentlemen, Brian Eno!!" He gestured toward stage left and started to applause. "Actually, Brian Eno couldn't make it tonight. Wouldn't it be great if he was here though?" They closed the set with a cover of "The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch," which segued into another song I had never heard before.

By this time I noticed that the mystery lady was standing suspiciously close behind me and my clone. I quickly grabbed my jacket, closed my tab, said my goodbyes, and dashed to the door. I had to work in the morning.


For the record, I finally fixed my comments box so non-bloggers can let me know they care.