Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cover of the Week 43

Jay Bass fishing (we threw them all back)

I got to go out on a boat a few weeks ago. One of my best friends -- going back to high school days -- Rich Bonanno, is a professor and during his sabbatical this year bought a small Boston Whaler and big engine. Some of you, by the way, might remember Rich from the legendary -- if somewhat obscure -- University of Massachusetts band, the Staties, which included Joe Pernice. No? Well, sorry for you then if you were not at that party above B&S Glass in November 1987. Along with the third musketeer from Umass, Jay Bass(ilakis), we cruised around Centerville and Osterville via Cotuit Bay off of Cape Cod, grabbing some sandwiches (sangwiches) in Cotuit, then heading out to a deserted island to eat and drink Rolling Rocks. Finally sated, piling in some clams we dug for bait, we went out to Nantucket Sound to go fishing. We ended up laughing hysterically as we reeled in blue after bluefish. They were savage, biting like mad that day. I had not had a time like this since the summers of my adolescence in Huntington Bay, Long Island.

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I spend an inordinate amount of time recounting tales from my teenage years and would be forgiven for reacting to yet another entry with an exclamation such as “enough already!” or “move on, will ya, for chrissakes?” or thinking. “here we go again, another guy hitting middle age wanting to watch skateboarders for hours to luxuriate in nostalgia of his lost youth, like the Todd character in Perrotta’s Little Children." And I would not blame them/you. I guess it is just that I am covering all these songs from my youth; if I were recording more songs from more recent days -- which might be a better, or at least equally good idea -- I might be reminded to recount more recent entries in the Dirty Life and Times of Bill Janovitz.

As it is, though, I can’t let go -- we can’t let go -- of the songs that helped define that spongy time during which we pretty much defined 90% of our adult consciousness (not sure if that is clinically psychologically proven accuracy right there, but go with me). So indulge me this other one.

Back in those days, around the age of 14 and 15, a handful of my buddies had small boats, glorified dinghies in most cases, before the age we were allowed to drive cars, We were all more or less in walking distance to the water -- the harbor, the bay, a launch here or there -- so we had this freedom of movement via the boats. Of course, we had no where to go, or more importantly, no where to be. So we would just cruise the harbor and bay with fishing rods, bait, and a boombox or two -- and if we were lucky, some beer and joints. We would bolt out to an island in the bay that was once an old concrete factory or something and go flying off this rope swing into the Long Island Sound. Sometimes we would even, if I recall correctly, dart across the Sound to Connecticut. But mostly we would stick fairly close to Long Island’s old Gold Coast, which was peppered with plenty of the old Gatsby-era estates, mansions not quite Newport-sized, with rolling lawns unfurling to sea walls and boathouses. We would pull in to a dock in some exotically foreign village and pick up some Hostess apple pies and RC Colas and head back into the boats to listen to the boombox crank out the Specials, Skynyrd, the Stones, the Clash, the Doors -- whatever was going on the tapes we had.

One big tape/album of those years was One For the Road, by the Kinks. After years as an FM staple with classics from the early singles to their mid-period hits like “Lola” and “Victoria,” the Kinks had finally broken through again in America in a big way with the Low Budget LP and the live record, vaulting them back (for the first time in America, really) into arena-rock gods. I remember these tapes in constant rotation out on the boats. It was funny to be listening to these young punk rock, ska, and new wave bands back to back with all this classic rock stuff, and then hearing the older artists like the Kinks, Bowie, and the Stones appropriating some of the newer production techniques, trends, and most importantly, energy of these new bands.

We made no distinction, really, between eras. We were still discovering some of these old records at the same time we were learning about the new bands. As I say, we were sponges for anything that was new to our ears. Peter Tosh? Of course, Squeeze? Yes! “Love Me Two Times”? Why the fuck not? An American Prayer, however? Ummmmm, no thanks.

I had no problem hearing the influence of old bands on the new ones. Not many mainstream bands were as raw as the Kinks, Them, the Animals, even the Stones, when these bands were starting out. I mean, even the Sex Pistols covered the Monkees hit “(I’m Not) Your Stepping Stone.” And, in a similar E minor vain, I always felt like “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” was as good an angry-young-man punk anthem as any, much like "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" or "Don't Let me be Misunderstood." In fact, I have read that Ray Davies wrote it for the Animals, who turned it down. And it certainly works for the soundtrack against those feelings we all have as we are coming into our own in those crucial and tender years.

But somehow, singing it as a guy hitting middle age (not sure how much longer I can refer to “hitting” that age before I have to just say “in his middle age”), the song still resonates and likely always will. Who wants to fall into that middle path of mediocrity, to give in to the easy suburban path or responsible parenthood and polite dinner parties. Well, OK, I guess I don’t fight it too hard anymore. There was always something magnetic in the simple comforts and I was never very anti-social. But, man, did I feel this sentiment at 14 and 15 looking around at the idiocies of the typical high school archetypes. And this song was put to great use over the closing credits of one particularly caustic episode of The Sopranos. Now there’s a middle-aged guy who would no go gracefully into the suburban night. Not like everybody else, indeed.

(If you are a fan of the Kinks, you should also see this, Do It Again: One Man's Quest to Reunite the Kinks, by a friend of mine, Geoff Edgers, and consider donating to the cause. I have seen a cut of the film and think it will be a hit.)

I'm Not Like Everybody Else mp3

I'm Not Like Everybody Else hifi .wav

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cover of the Week 41 and (non) Cover of the Week 42

I'm heading out for a week of vacation. Does that mean I shortchange you, the 15 people who check this blog regularly, by taking a week off of the COtW project as well? No! I'm the kind of guy who doubles down instead, projecting ahead a week where I won't be able to get to the recording. So, I offer you this "Two-fer Cover of the Vacation Week" or, "A Bill Janovitz Cover of the Week Block Party Weekend."

First off, you get a non-cover of Buffalo Tom's "White Paint Morning." I include this because greatest response seems to be to the reinterpreted Buff Tom songs. I always felt this song was better than the also-ran status it seems to have. But that might be just me -- literally. Yet my wife likes it as well, so there you go. I hope you like this more sparse acoustic version.

Second on the playlist is a cover of a song from a band I just discovered this week thanks to my friend, Tom Perrotta, novelist and screenwriter extraordinaire, music aficionado, and all-around really great guy. He has become friendly with Tim Bracy of the disbanded The Mendoza Line. Tom and I went out to see the Sox on Tuesday night and he brought along a disc for me to hear.

Nowadays, it just takes so much for something to break through all the noise. I have piles of books, CDs, magazines, and children that I just never have enough time for, all yelling for my attention. Here comes this disc from a band who was around in the mid 1990s and put out 10 albums in as many years, and it turns out I never recall ever hearing the music. I am actively paying attention all the time -- college radio, eMusic subscription, not as much music press as I used to read, but checking in every once in a while on blogs, and so on. And yet how did I get this far without ever knowingly hearing this great music? Especially with so many friends into similar bands -- the ML touches on many of the same sounds/themes as Wilco; Whiskeytown; Leonard Cohen; Dylan; Tom Waits; Velvet Underground; Stones; Mazzy Star; and Bettie Serveert. In other words, great rootsy, but forward-leaning songwriting and performances. And really excellent lyrics.

If you're interested in the band, you can Google them and find out the whole drama and story behind the group. Or better yet, buy up all the music. I particularly find it interesting that Bracy wrote this song and it is Shannon McArdle who sings it on the record. It is a medium register for a woman's voice, in the key of A, but for me, it brings me closer to the high end of my range.

Hope you are all well. Hope you enjoy the songs. I feel the love. I hope you feel the love back. See you in a week or two.

White Paint Morning mp3

The Lethal Temptress mp3

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cover of the Week 40

Van the Man just did one of his Astral Weeks shows here in Boston last week. Somehow, after seeing him probably five times, I just didn't make a huge effort to get tickets. There was a lot going on. I went to go see Paul McCartney at Fenway, e.g. That was a first. And while there were some sublime moments -- the realization that this is the Macca, doing "Blackbird" and "I've Got a Feeling" e.g. -- I was just too far away to feel like I wasn't just watching on T.V. We were put up in a private suite, which is hard to complain about. But it almost seems pointless to go to these shows when you are going to be so distanced, which is why I more or less gave up on most of the big outdoor shows decades ago; I am just too conditioned to being in and of music shows in smaller and contained spaces and feeling more of a visceral experience.

And, frankly, though it sounds like some old guy dragging out a lame excuse, I was never a fan of much post-Beatles Paul. I never even felt compelled toward much of the peak stuff from his solo career. I am sure there are some songs I don't know about, and there I do know there are some great ones, like "Here Today," which was pretty emotional live. But "Jet," "Band on the Run," "Live and Let Die," ho hum. Nice fluff, I guess. It reminds me of being a kid and hearing Wings on the radio a lot. It has very little emotional resonance for me, however, after his purely solo "Maybe I'm Amazed."

Of course, Sir Paul doing "Yesterday," "Something," and other classics is in and of itself something one must do while the opportunity still presents itself. There still seems to be time, at least on Paul's end of the deal; he looks great and has not lost any discernible parts of his strong voice. At 67 he played 2.5 hours with such energetic highs as "I'm Down" and "I Saw Her Standing There" that it makes one consider swearing off the BBQ and becoming a vegetarian (and smoking more of the marijuana).

Van Morrison seems to be relishing playing live almost as much as Dylan does. He is on the road constantly, it seems. And though I can not say I have seen one of those disastrous Van shows you hear about, I have seen plenty of mediocre and one truly great one. When Solomon Burke opened for Van, it seemed to spur him to some higher peaks that I had ever seen.

Like so many other fans, Astral Weeks is one of my all-time favorite records. But like that 1969-72 period of the Stones, Van had a great run of records. One of the least known is one of his best, and probably my favorite of his, Veedon Fleece. But I am not sure why I did not do everything in my power to go see the Astral Weeks concert. I would be eager to hear the comments of those who did see him do this in any of the various venues.

This song, "Cul de Sac" (here is a song review I wrote many years back), is from Veedon Fleece. The album is definitely autumnal in tone, though this one is one of his gospel-soul-folk tunes. It still has that but of melancholy even though you might not have any idea what he is singing about or even the very words he's singing. It's all about capturing the vibe, the spirit, the mystic.

Cul de Sac mp3

Monday, August 3, 2009

(non)Cover of the Week 39

When Buffalo Tom played this past June, in addition to showcasing some new songs, we wanted to open up a bit and work on some less-often-played numbers from the past. One such song was "Your Stripes," from Sleepy Eyed. I loved playing and singing it and it was one that many friends remarked on afterward. But even so, it goes by so fast and loud that it does not allow a whole lot of listening to and enjoying the lyric. While I don't think it is Shakespeare or Dylan, I do think it is a nice little lyric, so why not give it the acoustic treatment for a (non)Cover of the Week?

The record was released in 1995, which makes me think I wrote the song in 1993 or so. It is an oddly nostalgic theme for a 27 year-old. Those of you following along at home will agree that this is a recurring theme and it makes me wonder if I was in the moment and enjoying those prime years enough. But singing it today brings me to the conclusion that I was nostalgic for the very period about which I was singing; I could feel it going by. But I also realized that nostalgia fools us into thinking all in the past is wine and roses.

Another thing that I am reminded of is that sometimes you hear a guy singing in a band and you assume he is singing about a woman. Sometimes, though, he is singing about his band.

Your Stripes mp3

For those of you with greedier ears, here it is in .wav format

Let me know if that makes a big difference for any of you.