Should old acquaintance be forgot

24 01 2010

Scotland’s beloved poet Robert Burns’s 251st birthday is January 25.  In honor of the man himself, family, friends and I will be putting on our kilts, gutting the haggis and toasting our health with some fantastic whiskey this coming Saturday.  Before that special occasion — our Second Annual Burns Night — I’d like to honor the man with the poem (set to music) for which he is most famous.

Best known here in America as the song played to ring in the new year — thanks Guy Lombardo! — Auld Lang Syne is also fitting at most celebrations marking beginnings and endings.  It’s customary and, indeed perfectly fitting, to play it in Rabbie’s honor.

Cheers Rabbie.



14 01 2010

I’m breaking a bit of etiquette when it comes to critique or criticism.  I have some thoughts about The Stooges’ album The Weirdness and, well, those thoughts are mostly negative.  The problem is that I didn’t listen to the full album, simply because I didn’t feel like muddling through it.  I got five songs deep and had to turn it off.

It’s pretty simple.  The music is quite good but the lyrics are atrocious.  They are embarrassing.  I know that some of what made the early punk or even pre-punk stuff like the Stooges so great was that it deemphasized music as a craft, made it (again) more of a visceral experience.  Often that means throwing away the poetic, flowery words and getting right to the heart of things.  There’s a huge place in music for that approach.  The Ramones mastered that, I think.  The Stooges made amazing music that said very little.

But I felt embarrassed for Iggy Pop, 60 years old at the time this album was made, when I heard this little bit from the song “Trollin'”:

Baby, baby take a look at me
I see your long legs riding your Lee’s
I see your hair has energy
My dick is turnin’ into a tree

Offensive? No. Stupid? Yes.  Songs like ATM weren’t much better.  If you want the Stooges power, you’ll find some of that.  Otherwise, you’re better off sticking to old Stooges material and even Iggy’s solo work.

When radio did not suck

10 01 2010

Probably because Elvis would have been 75 Friday, I picked up Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, by Peter Guralnick.  While Elvis is always an interesting subject, what jumped out at me the most so far (I’m less than 100 pages deep) is Guralnick’s description of the radio scene in Memphis in the late 40’s, early 50’s.  In particular he says this is probably what Elvis listened to:

Memphis radio in 1950 was an Aladdin’s lamp of musical vistas and styles…In one typical 1951 segment he (Elvis) would have heard Rosco Gordon’s “Booted” (which had been recorded  in Memphis, at Sam Phillips’ studio), Muddy Waters’ “She Moves Me,” “Lonesome Christmas” by Lowell Fulson, and Elmore James’ brand-new “Dust my broom,” all current hits, and all collector’s classics some 40 years later.  “Rocket 88,” which has frequently been tagged the first rock n’ roll record, came out of Sam Phllips’ studio in 1951, too…

In the morning there was Bob Neal’s wake-up show on WMPS, hillbilly music and cornpone humor in a relaxed Arthur Godfrey style of presentation and at 12:30 p.m. Neal offered thirty minutes of gospel with the Blackwood Brother… The first half of the High Noon Round-Up featured country singer Eddie Hill, who along with the Louvin Brothers…was among Memphis’ biggest hillbilly stars.


If you changed the dial to WDIA, which since its switchover in 1949 to an all-black programming policy had billed itself as “The Mother Station of the Negroes, you could here not only local blues star B. B. King, deejaying and playing his own music live on the air, but also such genuine personalities as Professo Nat D. Williams…; comedic genius A. C. Moohah Williams; and the cosmopolitan Maurice “Hot Rod” Hulbert, not to mention the Spirit of Memphis Quartet…

The book goes on to also mention the Grand Old Opry and other perhaps more familiar southern sounds from that period.

I’m not a music expert.  I don’t claim knowledge about all those artists.  But that certainly seems like an amazing amount of musical diversity.  There really isn’t that kind of new music scene these days.  While college and internet radio provide a great deal of artistic freedom and musical variety, today’s less mainstream sounds lack the novelty such a mix would have had 60 years ago.  Of course, radio was hardly Elvis’s only influence, but the rich musical history to which he was exposed on the radio seems to go a long way in explaining how he developed such a hybrid sound and style himself.

If only radio were this cool these days.