Friday, April 30, 2010

Cover of the Week 79

After I flew back from Florida this week and watched three hours of the Goldman Sachs drubbing on Capitol Hill on the airplane satellite TV, I posted on Facebook/Twittered the snarky but undeniably cute mock equation: "Goldman Sachs = Pete Rose + $ $." Simplistic, yes, but not far from the truth; guys betting with inside knowledge, hedging, and the ability to affect the outcome of the subject of the bet.

However, no matter how much money Rose bet, all he could do as compromise the integrity of the particular games he was betting on. That is a devastating sin to whatever baseball-fan innocents were left out there, the rest of whom have been wiped out in the post-steroid era. But Rose could do no amount of damage that could even amount to a drop in the ocean of damage the guys like these arrogant Wall Street pricks have wrought. As I also mentioned in that same post, "A wise man sang, 'Steal a little and they throw u in jail/Steal a lot and they make u king.'" The lines are from the great Bob Dylan song, "Sweetheart Like You," from the record, Infidels. About 8 or 9 years ago, I wrote about the song at, see the link. It has been one of my favorite Dylan songs since it's early-'80s release. The album is an underrated gem, commercial success notwithstanding.

Now, Bob may not have come up with those ideas, but his adaptation of them into his own, within the context of a rock song, typifies his brilliance. The first half is an aphorism credited to Samuel Johnson, the latter half ("Steal a little...") is, from the best I can ascertain, a version of some lines from the Eugene O'Neill play, The Emperor Jones. One character says to another:

Ain't r de Emperor? De laws don't go for him. (judicially) You heah what I tells you, Smithers. Dere's little stealin' like you does, and dere's big stealin' like I does. For de little stealin' dey gits you in jail soon or late. For de big stealin' dey makes you Emperor and puts you in de Hall o' Fame when you croaks.

I love how it ends with a Hall Of Fame reference at the end, given Pete Rose's controversial banning from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Of course, Dylan would have no idea about this when he wrote the song. I won't repeat here what I wrote at allmusic. If you're interested in more discussion of this brilliant song, please check that review out and feel free to voice your own interpretations. But Bob's brilliance is in his poetic ability to lay down these simple allegories, peppered with just enough prophetic-sounding lines to spur the listener into digging more. Dylan at his best is provocative, but never didactic.

My interpretation is, again, pretty straightforward. I have always felt agnostic at best about Knopfler, but he has tossed off some of the greatest guitar solos on record. His Hendrix/Mayfield lines on this song are beautiful. So I aim toward that vibe here (and though I am a rudimentary soloist, I nevertheless give myself twice as long to spotlight my solos than Knopfler had on the record). And I can still listen to the playing on "Sultans of Swing" all these years later. In a neat aside and dovetail with the last CoTW, Teenage Fanclub had brought out on the BT/TFC tour the legendary George Borowski as a guitar tech. He was a really excellent guy, gentleman, modest, a fantastic presence on the road.

Sweetheart Like You mp3

Some housekeeping: Please come and see me play solo acoustic out in Chicago if you are there on July 16, at Schubas. I'm coming out to play a private shindig the night before, so this is a one-off. Tix on sale:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cover of the Week 78

Buffalo Tom and Teenage Fanclub in Spain, circa 1995-96

I have always loved Teenage Fanclub, Glasgow's favorite sons. It is one of those bands that every guy in Buff Tom loves. Both bands got started around the same time. I think we predated them by about a year with our first record. I was smitten by the first listen of "Everything Flows," the first number off their debut LP, A Catholic Education. Of course, I later wrote about the song at And now I cover it here.The song is an ecstatic guitar-pop orgy. I give it the sparse 2-acoustics treatment. Not sure if it is a worthy tribute or not.

Around 1995-96, we hooked up with TFC for a double headline tour of Scandinavia, Germany, and Spain. This picture is taken in Barcelona or Madrid at the end of that tour. My wife, Laura, had come to join us at the end of the tour for a holiday we would take after the wrap, something we often did before the kid arrived. She probably took this photo.

After the last show, we spent a day in Madrid and then bid adieu to the rest of the Buffalos and took a train back to Barcelona for our vacation. We got in around dinner and after checking into our very nice hotel, went out and enjoyed a great late night Spanish meal, followed by some glasses of port and went back to the hotel to crash. We got there just after the stroke of midnight marked Laura's birthday. The next day was to be sightseeing and the real birthday celebration dinner.

Sometime during the wee hours of the morning, I woke up to hear a crash in the bathroom. I went in and found that she had fainted, something La had done once or twice in the past. It seems that waking up in the middle of the night, plus the jet lag and port (something she had never tried before) had conspired to make her dizzy. But this time, she had fallen and was bleeding slightly from her nose.

I got some ice and we were awake for dawn. She seemed fine, but her nose had swollen. So we decided to get it checked out once we got dressed and had some coffee. We asked the concierge or desk person if they had a doctor to recommend. He directed us down to a "hospital clinic." We figured we would zip in and get out in time for an early lunch.

Instead, we ended up spending the whole day, waiting in lines for tests and bandages. The language barrier was not making it any easier, despite what I thought was my expert high school Spanish. Never mind my poor verb conjugation, I could not even find the correct nouns. It is a wonder they did not amputate her nose or arm.

They never asked us for insurance or payment, I recall, but we had to wait for hours in lines at this particular spot. I have no idea if it was indicative of the medical service in general, but at some point we were waiting in a garage next to parked ambulances, in back of someone in a wheelchair.

But they seemed to care pretty deeply, hence this absurd battery of tests, X-rays, and consultations. They wanted to know why she fainted, and I could not explain beyond "muy cansado y bebe porto. Por favor, podemos ir?" A young doctor wanted to re-set the nose, which La probably only allowed because he was so handsome. And then he told us he wanted to place a cast on it.

"No!" cried Laura.

"Pequeño," he said, making a small sign with his index finger and thumb.

"He's saying it will be a small one," I translated.

He proceeded to place this ridiculous plaster that covered her whole nose. As if that were not bad enough, he fastened it with two strips of white adhesive tape on the top and bottom, above and below her eyes, in some facsimile of a weird tribal mask.

She was crying. Worst birthday ever. Back in the States later, our doctor friend told us there was absolutely no need for a cast. We were beaten down, hungry, and cranky when we finally decided to skip out and escape yet another line waiting for who knows what. It was almost dinner time, way past siesta. When we finally got out of there, I was able to at least tear the tape down to a slightly less glaring length. But the day, the whole trip was sunk. La felt so self-conscious walking around in this stupid mask-like apparatus, she was in a little pain, probably hungover, and really just wanted to go home and hide in bed -- not the hotel, home. But she soldiered on. We have pictures of each other at all the Gaudi sites.

We ended up at a famous restaurant in the Gothic Quarter for dinner. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I tried to sneak away to the baño and whispered to the waiter to see if they had any "postres por cumpleaños." Once he understood what I was trying to lay down, he motioned for me to follow him.

"Uno momento," I asked, but he walked briskly as I followed him down serpentine stairways, through various dining rooms, even through a kitchen, and finally out into the street. At this point I was freaking out that La would be wondering where I was. The waiter pointed to a bakery across the street and then turned and left me there in the street.

I went with it. I ran in, though down some pesos, asked the dude to write "happy birthday Laura" on a small cake, snappy. I ran the thing back in and handed it to the waiter and hurried over to the table. I was panting. I have no idea what bullshit excuse I supplied, something about getting lost, I am sure.

I have never seen anyone look the way La did that night when the singing and guitar-strumming waiters came over with the cake. She was simultaneously pissed, embarrassed to have everyone looking at her, and only sightly appreciative that I had tried to make the lemonade out of the lemons. It was more of a shaking of the head at how hapless and graceless my attempt was at salvaging the day, coupled with her mortification. She just wanted to write off the day and slink out to dinner as under the radar as possible. I only wanted to have a little cake to mark the occasion, but somehow I ended up booking the Gypsy Kings and ended up making this big deal. I still don't know if this ended up helping or making things worse. Actually, I am pretty sure it was worse.

But now we have one of those stories that the kids like to hear.

Everything Flows mp3

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cover of the Week 77

Sorry for those of you who actually follow this thing regularly. I have been nutsy busy lately and have not been able to keep up as promptly as I like. Speaking of which gig 2 of 3 at the Precinct in Somerville with Bill Janovitz + Crown Victoria, and Jenny Dee and the Deelinquints TONIGHT at 9:30, one set each.

This week I chose an old favorite of mine, performed famously by the Ink Spots, "I'll Get By."

I first learned about the song from the record you see here, which I have framed in my "listening room," i.e. basement. It is on very cool gold vinyl, from 1959 (originally released in 1957), and was my dad's. This is a great record, but probably unsatisfying for purists. By this point, the Ink Spots had been around for almost 20 years. This was probably one fronted by original honey-voiced tenor, Bill Kenny, but with few, if any original members aside from him.

I have since gone and collected many of the older Ink Spots recordings, but this record is just great and warm and recorded so well, that it is one of those "who cares about the purists" records. And it looks cool as well. Plus, it was my dad's.

My wife and I so loved this song that we chose it as our wedding song and had none other than my father sing the song at the reception. He used to sing second tenor in group called the Fabulaires around this same time (1958-62). They were an a capella quartet in New York, highly influenced by the Platters, Ink Spots, and other doo wop precursors like the Orioles. They cut an acetate, which I have somewhere. I am currently trying to find out which brothers of us, if any, have it digitalized somewhere.

I can't believe, actually, that this is the first I am writing about this. My father never took his singing seriously, and he never learned an instrument, nor did my mother. But they were pretty big music fans. Not real rock & rollers, though. They were on the straighter side of the cultural divide depicted so well in Mad Men. They were both the oldest of two children in their families, unusual for Irish and Italians, and their younger siblings were a bit more caught up in the shifts of the 1960s, while my parents were already starting a family by 1966. Elvis and the Beatles was about as edgy as they got. They preferred the smoother stylings of Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, jazz guitar, and Bossa Nova.

My wife and I were all about embracing the best of that era when we got married. When I would go down to Cape May, NJ (her hometown) with her to visit her mom and Ed, her mom's beau at the time, we would revel in the seaside kitsch in Wildwood, the next town over, that seemed pleasingly trapped in another era: '50s diners; the crooner Johnny Ray at a cabaret; and all sorts of lounge-y jazz acts everywhere. There was even a real low budget Vegas-style floor show with transvestites at an off-the-beaten-path (literally) joint called the Fun Spot (the neon was out on the "F" and the "T," resulting in the sign reading the "un Spo." The ladies wore extravagant costumes, with huge headdress plumes that would bend over on the venue's low dropped ceiling.

And Ed, "Fast Eddy," as he was known, was a connoisseur of the cocktail, a raconteur who told stories of pitching pennies with Dizzy Gillespie, and of cutting out of Philly Catholic school to go catch burlesque shows at the old Trocadero (where Buff Tom later played), was well connected to the local jazz musicians around the South Jersey shore. So he brought us to see these cats in Cape May called the Capers (also the nickname of the HS teams). They were a pretty versatile trio who were schooled in jazz but were GB (general business) vets as well. They played passable variants of bop and standards. The sax player did the whole "two horns at once" trick. They could sing a bit. In short, they seemed like a good and cheap option to play our wedding.

I didn't want some standard wedding band. But I really should have given it more thought and time. Tom Maginnis got married a year later and had the Holmes Brothers play his wedding, a way cooler option. The Brothers are booked by Chris Colbourn, who now is 1/3 partner of the booking agency he has worked at since college. I should have done something cooler, like that. But I thought the Capers would be semi-cheesy fun. And they were. But...

But (and I think I have told this story before in this space) they asked for a list of songs. I gave them a lot of rope, telling them to play the sort of stuff I had seen them playing in the cocktail lounge. I also sent them a list of songs I would like to hear, as well as specific wedding songs, like "I'll Get By," and songs to dance with the parents, etc.

But more importantly, I gave them a "do not play" list. Chief among these songs was "Old Time Rock & Roll," as well as "the Chicken Dance" and so on. For most of the night, the band lived up to their low expectations and served pretty well as a wedding band. But when it came time for my father to sing, they seemed way too cool for school. They seemed to have to suffer to do this, at least that was my observation, but I might have been overly sensitive. My dad can sing, and I think once they realized this, they perked up a little. But there was nothing but a cursory discussion of key or arrangement, never mind rehearsal. So the arrangement was meandering, with no one taking charge, and the song went on a bit. But my dad was great and it was a sweet moment. We have a picture of us dancing with my dad at the microphone in the background. It was taken by my old buddy, Jay.

The day went on, everyone getting a little loopy, the band playing fine, until I hear, "This one is for Bill, by request." And they launch into "Old Time Rock & Roll."

I hate Bob Seeger. Hate that shit. But this song, of all of his songs, makes my skin crawl. I was pissed. This was my wedding. I was paying these Capers. I tell them to play pretty much whatever they want EXCEPT for this song and they throw it in my face.

Does this sort of thing happen to anyone else? What sort of vibe to I project that requires this level of disrespect?

"Well, Bill, come on, take it easy. Your parents' friends requested it. We told them you wouldn't want it."

"So why did you play it?" I asked.

"They really wanted to hear it. We didn't think you'd mind"

"How much did they pay you?"

I'll never know. But I am still pissed about it to this day. I shoulda kicked their collective Caper ass and sent them to the curb without their fee.

Bob f-in' Seeger. Like a rock, my ass.

I'll Get By mp3

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New T-Shirt Link

New T-Shirt Link (for now)

Tom Gross is the guy handling these. I don't know details about orders, sizes, etc. so please hold your emails.

Thanks -- Bill