Saturday, March 10, 2007


Scott Walker performs "Rosary" from his album Tilt on Jools Holland's Later program sometime in 1995.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Accidental Tsuris

I got behind the wheel of the 2007 Chevy Cobalt and fastened the seatbelt. Leafing through the case of CD’s, I picked one out and inserted it into the CD player, which sprang to life. I turned the key in the ignition and the engine started so silently I couldn’t be sure for a moment if it was running.

Tapping the gas, the car lurched out of the driveway. It took the slightest amount of pressure to zip up to 50, 60, 70, in addition to which I could scarcely feel the road beneath me as I went. I felt hermetically sealed, floating on a cushion of air. The heat kicked in immediately, something the old car took about 20 minutes to do.

This was me today, driving to work.

Wishful thinking? A pleasant daydream? Nope, it’s all true.

But these things are paid for in one way or another.

To explain my landing in the lap of luxury, we have to turn back the clock about 24 hours.

The wife and I had gone to the local organic supermarket because it was “Pickle Bag Day.” Yes, with the purchase of a sandwich, one was entitled to a free insulated pickle bag, a handled bag that was specially insulated to keep things cool and crunchy. Attractively designed, the bold lettering on it read “What’s The Big Dill?”

Of course you would have gone.

We were about a block and a half away from the house when it happened.

It was just like that commercial where the people are driving and talking and you can’t figure out what the commercial’s for, when a car pulls in front of them.

We had just passed through an intersection when it seemed like a brick wall appeared out of nowhere. With less than a second to process it, I hit the brake, knowing it was futile. We did what we could to brace ourselves.

The truck that had decided to pull out of the driveway and directly into traffic pushed the hood of our car up into a pyramid. A circular design of spiderweb cracks appeared on the passenger side of the windshield. Steam appeared from underneath the hood.

We got out and saw the debris all over the road. The kid driving the truck gets out and, after we ask him what in the world he thought he was doing, tells us that it was “unfortunate” that it happened. His truck barely has a scratch on it.

We wait for the police as a sickly green river of radiator coolant begins to make its way down the gutter. The wife’s more bruised and scratched up than I am, but otherwise appears to be ok.

The info is exchanged and the policewoman follows us the remaining block and a half to make sure we can get the car into the driveway, which we do.

The rest of the day is a blur of aches, pains and phone calls, which ultimately result in the loaning of the 2007 Chevy Cobalt mentioned above. It’s ours either until the car is fixed or until it’s declared unfixable.

If they can’t fix it, then we have to figure out how to afford another car.

Which…well, I needn’t tell you.

Just a longer traffic light, or another turn, or 3 extra seconds at the store and…

In the meantime, the 2007 Chevy teases me with dreams of grandeur.

It’s so insulated, it’s like a pickle bag with wheels.

No bumps, no noises, no struggling uphill.

Who drives such a thing?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Exposed Weirdness

The first two words that Iggy Pop sings on the new Stooges album The Weirdness are “Good God!”

Which seems strangely appropriate, as I remember thinking when James Brown died that the mantle of hardest working man in show business now falls to Iggy.

It would be impossible for any album to live up to the expectations created by this one – as if they were somehow going to pull another Fun House out of their hat. What you’ve got is a pretty decent Iggy album with one or two classics that make it worth the ride.

And it opens promisingly enough: squealy rock riffing that proclaims the return of the prodigal scum. Iggy launches into a tale of cruising with the top down – it only takes 4 lines, in fact, before one of his most legendary attributes is mentioned by name – and the chorus almost makes you laugh out loud:

“Ya can’t tell me this is not a suave thing TA DO!!”

For a moment, it’s everything you want.

And there are great moments in many of the other songs as well, even if it all doesn’t seem to come together as much of a whole. And I’d certainly rather spend 40 minutes listening to Iggy complain about the state of things than just about anyone.

There are two real diamonds here, though: the title track, which features the crooning Iggy, and Passing Cloud. These probably just reflect my own taste and other listeners will have their own favorites. But in a world where it’s impossible to tell the real thing from the manufactured, and 80’s bands are reuniting so they can charge $50 for nosebleed seats, it’s nice to have The Stooges back to put the cutlery out of place.

So we blew a little cash over the weekend on CD’s. The other notable one I wanted to mention is old news, but I’ve only just caught up to it.

Last year, a double-disc set of Robert Fripp’s Exposure album was released. I’d been looking for it since I heard about it, as a “deluxe edition” of just about anything can induce me to buy it.

I was eager to get it, though, as I hadn’t heard it in years (haven’t had a turntable for ages), and the extras would just be icing on the cake.

Well, the first disc is, as you might imagine, the original 1979 LP with its guest vocals from Daryl Hall, Terre Roche, Peter Hammill, etc., that made it such an interesting crazy quilt.

But what the second disc gives you is something much more interesting, especially if you’re familiar with the original. For when Exposure was originally recorded, Daryl Hall originally performed all of the vocal duties. It was his manager at the time, Tommy Mottola, who decided that the record wouldn’t do much for Hall’s commercial appeal. In fact, Fripp points out in the notes that Hall’s first solo album, the Fripp-produced Sacred Songs, had its release held up for three years (!) for fear of what it would do to his career.

And so he was allowed to pick two songs on which he could retain Hall’s vocal work. The others then had to be rerecorded with other vocalists with the end result being, Fripp hints, a better, perhaps broader album.

The second disc restores all of Daryl Hall's original vocals and it's fascinating to hear how songs like the elegiac “Mary,” which we’ve only ever heard sung by Terre Roche, and the frightening “Disengage” might have sounded had things gone as originally planned.

Back pages, sure, but what pages.

The other reason to buy it is purely for Fripp’s liner notes. Well aware of how the elusive guitarist feels about the music industry in general, I was not disappointed by the following:

In 1977 I had no intention of returning to the music industry, having experienced at close hand the stupidity, vanity, jealousy and greed that accompany success and its attendant income flow; amongst artists, management, record companies and even innocent members of the audience.

Longer, wider, deeper experience suggests that I underestimated the dishonesty of artist management, record company cynicism and deceit, the capacity for self-deception among artists, and the sheer dopiness of those who nominally support the work of their favoured artists.

He then ends this particular paragraph by concluding:

This is not the bad news.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Political Commentators I Have Known

I think it’s probably true of most of us that we often don’t recognize the talents of those around us. We see them every day, so it’s only when we’re granted some distance that we begin to see how talented and perceptive they actually were.

My mind started traveling in this direction when I heard about political commentator Ann Coulter’s latest quote.

Standing before an audience that consisted of the best and brightest of today’s Republican Party, she characterized Presidential candidate John Edwards as a “faggot.” To enthusiastic applause, in fact.

At first I was confused. Surely the standard bearer of the party’s Family-Value-Christian-Soldier wing didn’t mean to use a bigoted slur while discussing the opposition.

Why, it’s just not the sort of thing you expect from them.

With the exception, perhaps, of the time she called Al Gore “a total fag.”

Other than that, though, it just doesn’t fit the profile.

So I remained perplexed until someone took me aside and explained that Coulter is what they call a “political commentator.”

Once I wrapped my mind around that, I realized I’d seen political commentators at work for years without realizing it.

There was this one fellow in the mail room at Endless Bore and Tedium when I started there 20 years ago who had this political commentary thing all sewn up.

For 8 hours a day, he kept up an endless monologue that revolved around the word “fag.”

Everyone, apparently, was a “fag” or, as he liked to draw the term out to squeeze the last bit of pleasure from it, “a faaaaaaag.”

His routine never varied. So-and-so was “a fag,” his friends were “fags,” and everything he did was “faggy.”

It was truly astonishing how he managed to twist and turn the word, stretch it and shape it, to create a myriad of forms.

At the time, I thought he was a small-minded bigot with a limited cranial capacity. Now I realize, of course, he was just a political commentator.

He eventually left EB&T for a lucrative career in show business, strangely enough, where vocabulary is not necessarily the first thing looked for on the resume.

I’ve had political commentators yell at me on the road, from time to time, not to mention the savage Swiftian satirists who’ve cut ahead of me in line at the local supermarket.

In fact, in retrospect, I’m astonished at the number of political commentators I’ve had the pleasure to become acquainted with over the years.

So I’m making a silent promise to myself not to have a knee-jerk reaction of disgust the next time I hear someone use the term and instead, pause for a moment and take pleasure in the subtle wit and incisive understanding that’s part and parcel of political commentary.

I mean, I don’t want to be a fag.

Get it?