Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Greatest Albums of All Time In No Particular Order (entry # 2)

Shock Headed Peters- Not Born Beautiful (1985)

This unfortunately completely obscure act was fronted by Karl Blake, a descendent of the poet William Blake (it seems from my research). Hence, there is a poetic and quite literary bend to the guitar noise mayhem utiliized at times (it has been noted he adored Black Sabbath and Vanilla Fudge at a time that it was not so cool to do so) and augmented it by pastoral passages of very, very traditional British motifs both in music and in words via the “Beat” style of poet/singer/reader Rod McKuen, an American. So that is all very easy to digest and get, right?

In short, there is no band out there that sounds like these guys-then or now or ever. That is a very good thing indeed-they are iconoclastic and singular and I find this album to be seminal and otherworldly straddling many styles and centuries of musical influence. Though only one song from this album (Say No to Funk) is currently on their myspace page, you will get a sense of their diverse sound approaches by visiting it here:

The album kicks off with “Say No to Funk” which is sorta funky but all over the place with military/heavy metal drumming and thick riffs and echoed chanted vocals augmented by a slow falsetto chorus with deadly harmonica lines. Yeah, that all makes sense in just over 2 minutes. Next up, “Ideal” seems to be fronted by a harpsichord riff in a baroque style that IDs what all majestic Brits circa 1800 wanted-”I want a house with big thick doors big brown room and rippling fires and real big chimneys”. Perhaps this “ideal” was lifted from one of William's poems? I do not know, it does not matter. This tune is among the most soothing I have ever encountered and Karl's voice is haunting and illuminating. “Chatel D'Amour” follows with a love death dirge with delicous e-bow guitar effects. Karl emotes with the opening lines that define it all: “My girl's so nice, she wears pink dress, she likes strangers, I can't say I do.” It appears the relationship is not all that good. “Dog Eats Dog Eats Dog” is next, with coy flute and thick bass counteraction building to a frenzy of jazz sax chaos. Side one closes with “Bad Samaritan”, a litany of church bells and bird songs that morphs into another dirge, although more like an industrial one similar to those of Throbbing Gristle accompanied by the closing line of the title “We're not born beautiful”.

Side two starts off with “Parabola”, a disappointing throw away new wavey track that is inexplicably featured as one of the five on their myspace page so you draw your own conclusion by listening to it there. But redemption is next in the form of “Miserable Worm”, another lovely baroque dirge highlighted by Karl's deep and poetic vocal approach. The hits keeps coming with “Mons Repos” all dark violins and spaghetti western guitars and sinister vocals describing a place “'round here” you do not want to be. “Wheel in the Bait” is much like “Parabola” in approach though more accomplished in execution. Finally, the coda, is “Kissing of the Gods”, the simplest track on the album, a plaintive cry of despair augmented only by sparse piano, bass and vocals that get to the gut as Karl states “I think locked in a cage puts all heaven in a rage”.

This album is one I return to again and again as it has a timeless quality almost 25 years later. They all should. Very few do as we all know.

A Carnaval "Tail"

As I have previously mentioned, I have been to Brasil and Rio de Janeiro many times. In 2006, I lived there for two months starting in late January and Carnaval started about a month later. Oh my, what a festa. Probably never to be repeated in my life (even though I do plan to move there someday soon and be an ex-pat) as I do plan to keep living and living thru another the way I did it the first time will probably kill me as I enter old age.

This year it starts this weekend, hence the new entry (though festivities start a few days earlier-after all it is officially a 4 day party starting on a Saturday and ending on a Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, 40 days before Easter and then there is Lent and all that massive fun, blah, blah, blah.). Though it's all about the Catholics as a non-believer in all dudes in the sky who look over us, I will say that it is my fav religion of all time if I was forced to pick one (despite having a little issue with the celibate priest thang which obviously tends to lead to diddling little altar boys and worse, right?).

Why? In short, you are allowed to confess your sins at “church”, says a few (or many as directed by the priest) Hail Marys and you are absolved and back to do all the bad things you were doing before (drinking, stealing, fornicating, etc.) and you are in great shakes until you feel guilty again and go back to confess and start the whole ludicrous cycle again. How great is that!!!??? It seems to work well for Brasilians as they seem to greatly enjoy all those things previously mentioned. To further elaborate on this, I learned that in Rio very few of the “beach set” go to church on Sunday morning at all. Why? Well they have to sleep off the late night before and head to the beach in the early afternoon. Therefore, the “smart” local churches also hold an evening service after it is dark. Hey, one must have priorities, right?

The great thing about Carnaval is that you can endeavor in even worse behavior while it is on! After all, it literally translates as “removing of meat” or “eating meat”. I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty sexual along the lines of having a nasty sexual appetite. And that certainly defines the attitude of Cariocas (the term given to an inhabitant of Rio) during Carnaval and after it and before it and well, 365 days a year so there goes the whole Popes plan to get every one to wait until MARRIAGE to get it on. Duh.

In short, the Rio Carnaval is not only the biggest Carnival, the benchmark against which every other carnival is compared but also one of the most interesting artistic events on earth. Pretty much everyone has heard of the Rio Carnaval unless they do not like watching perfect female specimens shaking their bundas at 200 beats per minute.

Yes, Carnaval 2006 was almost the death of me. I spent the week with the lovely Patricia who I met through a friends of hers and for about 6 days the festa was non stop. Formal street parties and informal beach festas. Events at elegant clubs. An erotic ball at Scala. The many Samba parades at the Sambodromo that start each each night at about 9 pm and can last until 7 am with each Samba school strutting down the massive runway (and, unfortunately, with each school basically playing a very similar samba beat and song OVER AND OVER again and for the uninitiated it may be the height of boring repetition but it was still a once in a lifetime spectacle. The one night we went we got there at 10 and stayed till 4 am and I was a zombie by then and finally got home at 6 and crashed shortly thereafter). Yet no matter what we were doing, every night followed the same schedule.

In closing, many bad, bad things happened. But as Patricia and all other Brasilians explained, “It's “bom” (OK), it is Carnaval. You can do anything. Anything at all!” I did. And that is good. The end.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Greatest Albums of All Time In No Particular Order (entry # 1)

The Stooges – The Stooges (1969)

First off I know I am going to get guff that this is not even the Stooges best album. Yes, there are a billion devotees of “Funhouse” and “Raw Power” each. Well, F off. It's my list, remember??? I even had a “tete a tete” with the noted chef/TV personality, “Mad” Anthony Bourdain, on this matter when my hockey mate and fellow U-M sports aficionado, Brendan, attended his book signing/dinner at the Heathman Hotel (Tony's a good bud of the chef there) in June of 06'. Well of course he prefers “Funhouse”-he readily admits to being a horse jockey/junkie in the 70s so it makes all kinds of sense. Whereas, the first album seems to be all speed and weed to me. So I presume, that is my bias, OK???

I start here because very recently Stooges guitarist, Ron Asheton, left this mortal coil (usefull trivia-Circle Confusion's drummer, Aaron Jones, lived across the street from Ron-both of their moms owned the houses they lived in) which is a shame. The first Stooges album is both a classic AND incredibly influential. To me, it is punk before there was punk after there was punk. While the only true Sex Pistol album, “Never Mind the Bollocks” is all fun and good, it's clearly a joke compared to this album. This disk is pure nasty, skanky, horrifying SE Michigan/Detroit death at its finest. It is dirty and grimy and ugly and sexy and hot. Just like most of the chicks in the area.

You got two songs directly about chicks (“Ann” and “Little Doll”). You have to wonder who were these chicks and what were they like in the “flesh”. They must have been something to drive the Igster wild the way they did (Iggy trembles to start in Ann, “You took my arm and you broke my will”). “Ann” continues, creepily builds to a crescendo of the most direct, heaviest, brutal and beautifully repetitious guitar attack ever laid down that pounds your noggin over and over again. You will know this if you have listened to the remastered sessions released in 07' because back in the day record companies tended to fiddle with and cut tracks after the sessions in order to make songs shorter and the Stooges had zero control over this as did producer John Cale. The remastered version that finally saw the light of day thankfully lets this riff roll and roll for about 4 mind numbingly glorious minutes while the original version only had about 30 seconds of this. In short, longer is always better.

What else? Oh, where to begin. So start at the beginning. “1969” says it all about the times, particularly after the race riots of Detroit in the summer of 68' and the much needed death of the hippy joke of SF/Haight “hate” Asbury. Then there is “I Wanna Be Your Dog”-the greatest love song ever written I do declare. Side two leads off with “No Fun”-the box end to “1969”-man, it's a bad year but the hate is great for the Stooges-at least there is confrontation and they are “alive”. But then they say screw that, we didn't mean it with “Real Cool Time” but wait a minute, she's “Not Right” (are they referencing the previous track, the aforementioned “Ann”-who knows or cares-every time I'm listening my skull is having a real cool time as “Little Doll” closes it out.).

So yes, there is room to argue on the merits of their first three proper albums before their early 70s breakup. But at least they called it quits in time (I do politely discount the reunion and the new album from last year-at least they stayed apart for twenty five years or so before deciding to cash in a little-assholes). Sonic Youth, who did a great cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” early in their career could most certainly learn a lesson though it appears to be too late.

Mi Casa en el Burque

So when I decided to leave PDX once and for all at the beginning of 07', I landed in the Land of Enchantment in late March after an excursion to Perth, OZ (to finally see my old matey Nathan from my time in Japan who had finally “retired” to the area of his birth after over a decade in Nippon), Bali and Vietnam. Of course, I wasn't going to buy a house right away-had to check out the hoods particularly since ABQ does have a rep for some sleazy areas, so I did a 6 month rental near the UNM campus. In the fall I started scoping out neighborhoods more seriously and at first my luck was not good-lots of overpriced houses needing lots of work. But after about a month I found a great place and went about making my pitch/offer and since the market was down (though not as bad as much of the rest of the country), I had some leverage as well as a seller motivated to move the house-it had been on and off the market for about 6 months and she had already bought and moved into a new house.

In short, my low ball deal went through at the end of the year and in comparison I got a better house with more space (though yes, much less land though I do not miss cutting grass or raking leaves so really there is no trade off) in a nicer and quieter neighborhood at almost half the price of PDX just a few miles farther from downtown than in Portland but only about 2-3 miles from the Sandia Mountains with a full front view of the range. Additionally, there is a great park a block away for Windsor sniff around in, a police substation a block away just in case, a post office a block away and a good sized library branch 4 blocks away. And my hockey rink is only 7 miles away straight up Tramway Blvd., next to the noted Tram that goes up to the peak of the Sandias, the world’s longest passenger aerial tramway. My place is solid and very Southwestern style in d├ęcor and design with an open 400 sq. ft. main room as well as 6 skylights throughout so I can take advantage of New Mexico's greatest asset, sun.

In closing, more on the Burque and the “Land of Manana” to come down the line.

"Pop" That "Top" Purses

When I lived in Rio de Janeiro for two months in early 2006 during Carneval season, I was hanging out on Copacabana Beach with a friend and a vendor (one of dozens upon dozens every day) who had something unique-recycled pop-top purses. I decided to get a little small scale business going through him and put in an order and see if I could sell some back home. The petite ones have moved here and there though I have generally put in little effort on the process. But they have sold well in local boutiques in Portland when I was still there and some here, as well as on eBay and Craigslist. When I returned in late 2007 for a few weeks I had him do some of a deluxe prototype that he gave me the first time around and those have moved very well in the past year and I am running out of them but still have a few left. More info about the artist and the purses are now stored on this link:

The guy who started this site saw them listed on Craigslist and asked me to get involved and share this unusual type of art accessory. So if you or anyone you know would be interested in one or more of them, send me a message. Tchau.

Circle Confusion & the Meat Dept.

So there has been a HUGE renewed interest in my old band, Circle Confusion, as I am sure you have heard, who rose and crashed in the late 80s. Sorry, but you probably were not there. Tough luck. You certainly do not know what you missed-we were simply way ahead of our time (like an early Nirvana with a drum machine-all “Sturm und Drang ” for sure with catchy, catchy melodies to boot!) and called it quits (like the original Stooges from our homebase of Ann Arbor too) before we became like the Stones (the Stones, I love the Stones, I watch them whenever I can-Fred and Barney), Aerosmith, Springsteen, Metallica, Sonic Youth and so many, many others-too many to list after just one masterpiece of an album-more info viewable here-click on the "Lively Art" link twice:


recently due to fortuitous luck, I was able to track down our missing bassist and reconnect with him. He stated that he would do a Wiki page and a Myspace page on the band in order to enlighten a whole new generation who had the grave misfortune to miss out on us the first time out (yeah, right). BUT, in order to do this he stated he needed me, as the main chronicler of our varied mischievous acts and outrages and debacles, to write down a rough draft of our history which I did a few months back and e-mailed it to him, Jim, and Paul, the guitarist, to review for inaccuracies and general outright lies. Since I am still waiting, here is that draft for you to dissect and be amazed by! Also in the meantime, since the Myspace page is not up and streaming music (ahem, Jimbo) or anything like that, I was able to transfer the album to digital format a few years back (since we were lovely vinyl only in a prestigious limited release of 2000 copies!) and therefore I have stored it in WMA format for your listening pleasure. In you want to hear a sample track for FREE, sent me a message and I will e-mail it directly to you as long as you can receive files of up to 10 mbs, which is the standard now anyway. Then you can “rock out” in total bliss!

So here's the draft:

“Circle Confusion formed in August of 1985 in Ann Arbor Michigan. The initial members were Richard Williams (vocals, drum machine programming), Paul Staskowski (guitar) and Parvin Panahi (bass). Within two months, they had recorded and released a three song demo cassette (Fly/Arctic Days/Interfear) that was recorded with engineer/co-producer Phil Seiden, owner of Tool & Die studios. Their first gig was at the Halfway Inn at East Quad at the University of Michigan with Slaughterhouse and Spahn Ranch.

With heavily processed and distorted guitar effects and a preference for thick tribal drum motifs created by the drum machine dubbed “Juggernaut”, the band's initial sound fit in the realm of darker/heavier acts like Joy Division, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Swans and Big Black.

The widely distributed demo garnered both local and national interest and by the summer of 1986 the band earned an opening slot in Chicago opening for Big Black. Around this time, more demos were recorded (Our Attitude and (In the Name of) Survival) and they were submitted to various independent labels of interest to the band.

Near the end of the summer of 1986, the band was approached by C'est La Mort Records of Baker Louisiana near Baton Rouge about appearing on a soon to be released compilation named “Dr. Death's Volume 1” featuring the likes of Boston's Throwing Muses (4AD records artist) and England's Breathless. (In the Name of) Survival was chosen by the label director and appeared as track 2 on side 2 when it was released toward the end of 1986. It was around this time that Parvin Panahi chose to leave the band and was replaced on bass by Jim Burg. Shortly thereafter, the band was chosen to open for Throwing Muses at the renowned St. Andrews Hall in Detroit during their US tour.

Early 1987 saw the band performing live more as well as recording more tracks with Phil Seiden. With the band's list of original songs expanding into the range of 15-20 regular tracks, it was decided to move forward with the production of an album's worth of material that could then be promoted to interested labels for future release. On and off for much of the late spring/early summer, the band retreated to Phil Seiden's Tool & Die studios to lay down tracks. Near the end of the sessions, the band was contacted by the label director of C'est La Mort records and told that Patrick Mathe, president of New Rose Records in Paris France, was very interested in putting out an album by the band and that he would be contacting the band shortly. As recording was wrapping up, a deal was struck and plans began for final mixing/mastering of the tapes with artwork development to be done by the label.

On January 15th of 1988, a test pressing was completed. One month later, the album was released in Europe and as an import to the US with the title “Meat Dept.”, as Arty 4 release, under the division label of New Rose called “Lively Art”.

The tracks were as follows:

Turkish Royalty
Arctic Days
(In the Name of) Survival
Death to Stars
You Bait
The Executioner's Song
She Sells My Life
Our Attitude
False Bastards

The next few months saw the band promoting the album in the States and garnered positive reviews, both locally and nationally and charting highly on various college radio station charts. Around this time, the band finally found a drummer that met their criteria for live performances and Aaron Jones was added to the line-up, rehearsals ensued and Juggernaut was retired.

Thus newly re-established, the band embarked on numerous local gigs in the Detroit area that culminated in once again opening for Throwing Muses in May, traveling to Morgantown, WV, Pittsburgh PA and Toronto, Ontario for a mini tour in early June with the band triumphantly opening for the Pixies on their Surfer Rosa tour at Rick's American Cafe in Ann Arbor.

The band continued to search for a licensing deal for the release of the album in the US, but nothing workable came to fruition. Additionally, at this time, Paul and Jim were in the final stages of determining their plans for graduate school which meant relocation and, for all practical purposes, the end of the run for the band. Richard and Aaron (on bass), shortly thereafter, formed a band dubbed Black Jesus with a Detroit area guitarist and drummer."

“Crash”ing with Dennis Hopper

So the deal is that over time thru some folks here I know who are involved in the growing film industry here in ABQ, I've been told about opportunities to be an extra on the set.  Crash, as you probably know, is based on the Oscar winner from a few years back.  I, personally thought the movie was just OK and the series has its moments with Dennis being in it but the main cop from a separate story line is a joke and a poorly written character in my estimation.  Anyway...

ABQ is a stand in for LA in this series.  Got picked to be a "record executive" (ironic, I know) in a scene where Dennis' character is trying to get back in the good graces of his daughter who has taken over the family business because he is a washed up drug addled mess.  I am in a scene with about 8 other record exec types as Dennis is pitching his new "future" for the record industry with a stripper on each arm (including this lovely Filipino girl who “works” locally). 

BTW, the episode is titled "The Future is Free" so you know what to look-the season is over but they rerun all episodes on the various Starz networks and on Encore.  We shot for about 6 hours from about 10 different angles with about 30 takes and various reaction close ups and I ended up with two shots for about 5 WHOLE seconds starting at about the 32 minute mark of the episode so I made the cut. I know most of you probably do not have Starz and this is their first original series, but I am throwing it out there-maybe it will be on at some point or something like that.  BTW, Dennis is pretty darn hilarious in person. He cursed a lot when he messed up his dialogue, which happened a lot. Of course, he had to do about 30 takes as I mentioned-I can't imagine how they can tolerate the process and repetition-it is so very tedious. It would have been awesome if had slipped into his Frank Booth character from Blue Velvet and said something like “Radiohead, fuck that shit! PABST BLUE RIBBON!!!”