Friday, May 27, 2011

CoTW 104 -- Deacon Blues

I struggle with Steely Dan. When I was a kid on Long Island in the 1970s, suburban New York was awash with the mellow, edgeless sounds of Steely Dan coming down the powerful FM airwaves ("no static at all"). Not that I could articulate it at the time, but they represented a sort-of grown-up, studied jazzy pop that had little to do with the stuff that had immediate appeal like the the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Jackson Five, and later punk rock and post-punk/new wave influences. In fact, Steely Dan stood in stark contrast in the late '70s to music coming from even mainstream acts like Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, the Allman Brothers, and Patti Smith. Grown-up smooth stuff did not appeal. "Clinical" was the term often used to describe their meticulously recorded, perfectionist sounds.

But I can't say I hated most of it. It was like aural wall paper. I mean, there were some SD songs that I absolutely hated, like that one about Dr. Wu. But then there were some pop songs like "Reeling in the Years," "Peg," "Hey Nineteen" and my real fave of theirs, "My Old School." That's just a blast of early '70s R&B. Nothing to dislike there. And I have this funny home video of my 12 y.o. daughter singing to "Any major Dude,' which her masochistic substitute music/chorus teacher subjected on a bunch of fifth graders last year.

"Deacon Blues." That's just a head-scratcher to me. I think there were times in my life that I actively disliked this song. I don't think it was around the time it came out and was all over the radio. I think the dislike came later, in the '80s, when I started to get further away from the mainstream in my musical tastes (or the mainstream moved from me). By that time I was playing guitar. I was never a finesse player, knew only basic chords and scales, and suffered from both a lack of ambition and a lack of desire to learn more than was necessary to play Clash, Neil Young, and Stones songs. And "Deacon Blues" is just too damned smooth sometimes. Crazy-assed chords.

Many who follow this blog and related social networking sites of mine are already up-to-date with my ongoing struggles with the Dan. But a funny thing happened: I started listening and paying attention to this song that had been omnipresent in my life. I feel like I have come 180 degrees on this song. In fact, it has been an obsession for the past year. The lyric is genius. The protagonist ranks up there with distrustful and delusional suburban narrators of post-war AmLit. like Frank Bascombe, Harry Angstrom and the like. The humor is biting and ironic: "I crawl like a viper through these suburban streets/Make love to these women, languid and bittersweet." And of course, the famous refrain (which probably went by my 1000 times before I really paid attention). "They got a name for the winners in the world/I want a name when I lose/They call Alabama the Crimson Tide/Call Me Deacon Blues." But there is also real pathos there to match the gorgeous chord progression (someone called it "Ellingtonian," I believe) and the absolutely sublime melody. "I cried when I wrote this song/Sue me if I play too long/This brother is free/I'll be what I want to be."

Those lines were echoed in other songs later on, such as Prince's "I was dreaming when I wrote this, so sue me if I go to fast." And maybe it is Prince, or Ron Isley who inspired my falsetto here. Honestly, I raised the key because the original is too high for me to sing in the same octave as Fagan, so by raising it, I thought my low ocatve would be high enough. I realized after I recorded the guitars that this was not so. Rather than scrap the track, I tried falsetto, which I ended up liking a lot.

Eager to hear comments about other songs in people's lives that they have changed their minds about, or anything in art/life for that matter. As we grow, we mature, maybe the mind even opens up some more. I am also eager to hear interpretations of this song's lyric.

Deacon Blues mp3.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Almost Famous

From my latest on BostonMagazine.com:

I just got home late Saturday night from the last of the Buffalo Tom touring for 2011. (Because, really, why would a rock band want to play on a Saturday night and come home instead on a Sunday?) It had been an especially intense little run of five West Coast shows in four cities, three states, and four days — flying each leg from Boston to San Fran, to LA, to Portland, then driving overnight to Seattle for a daytime lunch performance, which was broadcasted live on the excellent KEXP, and then a late-night club performance the same night. Flying home the next day, you would excuse me for sleeping the whole flight.

Back at Logan, I rounded up my guitars (always the last bit of luggage to arrive at baggage claim), and bid adieu to the band and two-man crew until the next time. I loaded up the cart and went up to meet my taxi driver, an enormous individual who did not leave his seat as I loaded the stuff into the trunk.

Making small talk, in between labored breaths, he proceeded to list all the classic rock knowledge he had accumulated, with a particular slant towards local rock history, such as the warehouse in Waltham where Aerosmith once rehearsed and recorded. Sadly, limits of his expertise betrayed him before he could come up with the name of the lead singer for the J. Geils Band.

“Peter Wolf,” I volunteered.

“What’s dat? Oh yeah, Petah Wolf. Right,” he affirmed. “So, are you famous?”

“Well,” I wearily started to explain, “Not really. We had our day in the 1990s, but never hit it really big like all of those guys.”

He paused in pensive silence for half a minute. “I can tell you’re not famous because you’re carrying your own equipment.”

You noticed that, eh, I thought. While you were sitting there watching me load my guitars into your cab, for which I will nevertheless tip you 20 percent for some stupid reason?

And that’s about how it goes. No respect for trying to keep a dream alive in one’s 40s. We must suffer the indignities of a cab driver pointing out that he can tell we’re not famous.

Rest of post here


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Giant Kings Scare Me

Last week, after a middling Wednesday of trying to sell and market real estate with mixed results, instead of throwing in the towel and wrapping myself in a Snuggie to watch the Celtics get eliminated, I did the only thing that made sense at the time: shook myself a small, ice-cold martini.

It was just enough to perk me up and make me want to listen to some music. I checked Facebook and was reminded that the greatest band in Boston, The Giant Kings, were playing that night, the second-to-last of a residency at the beloved subterranean Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. These gigs are relatively rare, and seeing as though I am leaving town for a short Buffalo Tom West Coast tour and would miss the final night, I sent out the Bat Signal and managed to round up a foursome to go down and listen to some great music. When you are in your mid-40s, the enormity of this accomplishment on a Wednesday night cannot be overstated. I must also point out that I had already gone out the previous Monday night to see the legendary Echo and the Bunnymen, my 80’s heroes, at the Paradise. Two nights in one week during the busy spring real estate market makes me feel even more boastful. Combine this with the fact that I have been spending more than my usual allotment of nights in rock clubs these past few months while touring with Buff Tom, well, yes, I am beating my chest! (I made it a trifecta with the Feelies at the Middle East on Saturday.) And those bags under my eyes? They are a a badge of honor....

More here at a post I wrote about the incredible Giant Kings


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, May 8, 2011

CoTW 103 -- Girls Talk

We come from a land east of here, a land also quite northerly, where the winters hit almost as hard as they do here. We have travled many miles, from one frozen land to another, on a flying machine, to play here in your city, in your land. And we have one question for you: What have you done with all your womenfolk?

Though this particular prevarication was not verbalized as such until we reached Minneapolis, the question had started passing through my mind weeks prior, as Buffalo Tom was a few shows into our first tour of 2001, in the Benelux and UK countries (with a quick stop in Köln). Scanning the ever-decreasing audiences we pull into our shows at this stage in our career, we started to notice: very few women are left.

Don't get me wrong; I am quite happy for the passionate, paunchy, balding, middle-aged mirrors of ourselves that take the time and make the effort to be there late at night in some club that they have likely been coming to, perhaps with less frequency, for the past 20-odd years. I know that feeling of getting myself off a couch after dinner, on a week night, tired from work and the kids, perhaps it is cold out, and going to stand in sticky dried beer as my back starts to give out and my ears ring. But when I am looking forward to seeing a band whose records I love, the result is more often offers transcendence above that mundane stuff. It is like exercise -- the last thing you want to do, but it makes you feel so much better when you have done it.

But my own wife now attends maybe one or two shows a year (not just Buff Tom -- I mean all shows). Someone has to be responsible and care for the children. And I imagine this is what has happened to many of the BT fan womenfolk. And, to be quite honest, we were very grateful for that brief moment in the sun, when the lovely light of having "Late At Night" featured so prominently in a pivotal episode of the beloved-by-chicks show, My So Called Life. And that light shed down its rays on us, pierced the darkness of big-necked dudes in white "COCKS" baseball caps, who in the early-1990s parted their hulking flannel-shirted shoulders to all of a sudden let a parade of young women in to see Buffalo Tom!

Alas! Like the sun, the light was here and then it was gone. And we are left to ponder the dark and dank smell of dude, as if in a cave with a council of hunter-gatherers. Or something.

So, for all you women who DO still come (yes, I see you! I am so happy to see you!), thank you for coming!

But I still don't pretend to fully understand you. Hence this week's cover, a perfect pop song that completely summed up my adolescent gropings -- physical and mental -- when I was a teenager. A song which, in its effervescent pop shimmer and clever wordplay, actually lent a tinge of romantic erudition to my lost wanderings through vacant high school hallways. And Costello wrote quite a few of those.

I adhere closer to Dave Edmunds' hit version here. Sorta. Edmunds' version owes more than a bit to the Everly Brothers in feel and arrangement. And of course I stole the sentiment and half the title for my own solo song, "Girls Club"


Girls Talk mp3