30 July 2008

Kate Bush Is 50!!!???!!!

20 Athene - Year 87 p.s.U.

Flippin' 'ell - is she really 50 today? It's also been 30 years since her first album, The Kick Inside, was released. I first heard her in the summer of 1985, when I heard Running Up That Hill on someone's car radio. Being more into The Police and Van Halen at the time--I didn't think much of it except I thought she had a unique voice (I was more used to Stevie Nicks' L.A. husky cocaine drawl and Madonna's plastic pop whine). Fast forward five years and I was able to take away a cassette copy of The Sensual World, her 1989 release, from a record store I was working at. There were a box of returned cassettes that had apparently been there for months and hadn't been sent back for credit, so I managed to convince the shop owner's son that if they weren't going to get credit for them anyway--they were better off in my grubby mitts. Most of them, admittedly, seemed pretty crap--but the Kate album definitely got a few spins.

Fast forward again to 1993 and I was working in another record store--this time when her first album since "The Sensual World", The Red Shoes, was released. By then, I was pretty much on my way to being a total Kate fanboy. The store received a promo copy, which I promptly snatched and listened to a lot...I mean a lot. I then started buying all of the earlier albums, from The Hounds Of Love and The Whole Story..back to Lionheart and "The Kick Inside". I listened to all of them quite a bit, but eventually my faves boiled down to The Dreaming and "Hounds", though I do have a soft spot for Never For Ever as well. In 1996, I found the This Woman's Work boxed set at a Record Show in Hartford. It set me back about $100 and it's the Japanese edition--so no reading the booklets for me. It contains all of the studio albums up to "The Sensual World" (aside from "The Whole Story")..plus two discs of B-sides and rarities and a groovy extra booklet of photos. In '93, there were rumours that she would tour for "The Red Shoes", but unfortunately, that's all they were. She hasn't played live since her English "Tour Of Life" in 1979 and she's only made a few appearances since then...at one of the Secret Policeman's Ball events and at the Q awards a few years ago.

She released a 'companion' film to "The Red Shoes", called The Line, The Cross & The Curve, in 1994. It starred herself, Miranda Richardson and Terence Stamp. She put in a decent (if somewhat wooden) performance, for someone with no formal acting training. After that...not much for a long, long time. In the meantime, a phalanx of younger singers clearly influenced by Kate, stepped up to try and steal her crown. Only Tori Amos got close with the Under The Pink album in '94, but she couldn't match Kate's striving creativity and for me, "The Hounds Of Love" will always be a benchmark of what can be accomplished with enough ingenuity and drive. Amos' "ready-for-MTV" records lacked the sheer weirdness and playfulness of Kate's finest recordings.

I was starting to think she had retired from music, especially when it was announced that her son Bertie was born in 1998. Then, in 2005--she was back with a double-album called Aerial. The tunes were divided up into parts. The first disc featured disparate tunes like Pi, about a mathematician's obsession and The Coral Room, about the passing of her mother. The second disc was a connected suite of songs about time passing over the course of a day. This set-up echoed "Hounds" 20 years before..one side of disjointed songs--the second side a conceptual suite about a woman who's a survivor of a shipwreck and what runs through her mind as she's drifting through the water.

So here we are...and Kate is 50 today. I'm still waiting for DVD versions of "The Line, The Cross.." and The Single File, a videocassette which collected all of her promotional films up to "The Dreaming"--there's also a collection (well, three videos) of her "Sensual World" clips, if you're lucky enough to find a copy (I've got one!). Oh yeah, nearly forgot the Live At Hammersmith VHS/CD pack, filmed during the "Tour Of Life". I wish EMI and CBS would get off their backsides and make this stuff available on DVD. Hopefully, she won't wait another twelve years to release another record. Here are some of my favourite Kate recorded moments:

Army Dreamers ("Never For Ever", 1980) - Her third full-length was a departure from the 'girl-and-her-piano' tone of the first two. She expanded the instrumentation beyond just keyboard and backing band--to encompass sitars, violins, mandolins...and the Fairlight CMI synthesizer. The Fairlight was a very lo-fi, primitive keyboard-based sampler, but Kate (as well as Peter Gabriel) utilised it to it's full capabilities. On "Army Dreamers", it provides a percussion instrument out of sampled rifle bolt clicks. The song itself seems to be about a mother's guilt over her son's death during manoeuvers. She thinks of other things he could have been...rock star, politician, father...but didn't seem to have the options available. "What a waste...of army dreamers", Kate coos while the tune plays in waltz-time. A very subtle anti-war song. In the early 80s, it was Northern Ireland and the Falklands..now it's Iraq and Afghanistan. What a waste of more army dreamers. "Never For Ever" also contains the superb anti-nuclear war song Breathing as it's closing track.

Pull Out The Pin ("The Dreaming", 1982) - "The Dreaming" is probably Kate's most defiantly artistic record. It showed her bucking all of the trends in the early 80s and sales be damned! Of course, EMI probably weren't so happy that one of their lucrative acts decided to create some strange, neo-psychedelic songs about Harry Houdini and bank robbers--but she stuck to her direction in the face of the bigwigs...a more "punk" move than what most of the Class Of '77 were doing at the time. "Pull Out The Pin" is a song about the Vietnam War, but from the Vietnamese perspective. As if that weren't radical enough, the point-of-view is from a female Viet Cong volunteer. She views the American soldiers as "big and pink and not like me" and "they see little light..see no reason for the fight" Pretty ballsy. Contrast that with Billy Joel's Goodnight Saigon, released the same year. I know "Goodnight.." isn't all 'rah-rah..'Nam was kick-ass", but it's sentimental chorus at the end renders it somewhat ineffective. Kate doesn't flinch from the violence, but doesn't glorify it either. It's a means to an end for the song's protagonist--screaming "I love life" as the song nears it's coda. David Gilmour (who 'discovered' Kate in 1974 and financed her first demo recordings), on the run from the rapidly dissolving Pink Floyd, provides a freaky guitar solo and some backing vocals. Top stuff!

The Ninth Wave (Side 2 of "Hounds Of Love", 1985) - Wha? "A whole album side (or...the second half of the CD for you young'uns)?" you ask. Yep...the whole friggin' thing...start to finish. This was where she perfected everything she had done up to that point...and to be honest, it seems to me that she still hasn't bested it. If you're still of the opinion that women can't create progressive rock music--I challenge you to play this suite and tell me that"is" still so. Sure, some of the production sounds a tiny bit dated now--but I don't care. She takes the listener through so many moods and moments and scenes and dreams though the course of "The Ninth Wave" (the name taken from a Tennyson poem), you'll feel like you've listened to a double album. That's how many ideas are packed into this 25 minutes of connected songs. Kate deserves every accolade heaped on her just for this suite alone. I'm not even going to say anymore--just get thyself to a CD player (or turntable) and listen...then listen again. Man, that's good......are you still here???!!!!

Love And Anger ("The Sensual World", 1989) - Admittedly, "T.S.W." seems a bit patchy...but after the triumphal "Hounds Of Love", how was she really going to top it? She shied away for a few years, releasing the "greatest hits" package "The Whole Story" with new single Experiment IV, about a secret military project that goes horribly wrong. "Love And Anger" is another of Kate's relationship songs, where she outwardly goes through her trepidations about the big "L" and being caught between it and her desire to be free. I like the melody of it and Kate's pleading vocal is one of the best on the album. Definitely a stand-out, with an uncharacteristic wailing guitar solo, courtesy her old buddy Dave Gilmour (on hiatus from the revived Floyd). Her laugh at the very end of the tune is a nice touch also.

Oh! England, My Lionheart ("Lionheart", 1979) - The title track to her second album might be a bit twee for your taste, with lines like "Peter Pan steals the kids in Kensington Park", but this sparse piano song features a heartfelt vocal by Kate. The song title plays on England's symbol and her own Sun Sign. The lyrics seem like a wistful look at post-war Blighty..with imagery about Spitfires and over-grown air-raid shelters. In some ways, it echoes Johnny Rotten's "England's dreaming!" battle-cry...but in others, it still celebrates the magic of the "green and pleasant land". It almost seems like the last gasp of 70s hippie reverie, before Thatcher and the conservative culture warriors swept in the 80s. A poignant and beautiful tune.

I could go on and list more - but then you wouldn't feel like reading anymore (if you've made it this far...). I'm just glad she's still on the planet--thanks for all of the music, Kate, and a very Happy Birthday!

26 July 2008

What a drag it is gettin' old...

23 Tamuz - Year 5768

Yep, it's official, Sir Michael Philip Jagger turns 65 today (..and I missed writing a "When I'm Sixty-Four" post for Sir Macca's birthday a couple of years ago..). Mick's a pensioner now..not that he actually needs it. I get a chuckle from picturing him standing in the queue for his bus pass.

I won't go into the whole cliched observation about "growing old gracefully in a rock band"...that's been done so often that the cliche itself doesn't seem graceful anymore. Still, it seems strange to think of the man who wrote Sympathy For The Devil and Brown Sugar being able to get a 'senior discount' at shops. Apparently, he's toned down his debauchery over the years....maybe. He is currently 'dating' a Yank model who's about 40 years younger than himself. What was that about cliches? Ah well, more power to him, I suppose. From counter-culture revolutionary to knighted-by-the-establishment in the span of 3 decades. The bloke's an icon and an example of the triumphs and failures of the baby-boomers--like Macca as well.

I concede that the Stones haven't made a solid record since Some Girls in 1978 (I do find some of Tattoo You bearable and can even point to a few decent tracks on Steel Wheels, especially the 'return to psychedelia' of Continental Drift) and Jagger's solo stuff..well...the less said, the better. He's out-lasted a lot of 'em, though--even Jerry Garcia. The tunes may be bland and hackneyed now, but the man can belt out the classics with gusto. I'm glad he's still around.

To celebrate ol' Mick's arrival into pensioner-hood, a list of some of my favourite Stones tracks:

Can't You Hear Me Knocking (Sticky Fingers album, 1971): I suppose this one's more of a guitar-fest than a showcase for Mick's vocals--what with Keef and Mick Taylor trading riffs in the coda jam. Jagger commands the first part of the song, though, especially when he snarls "Y'all got cocaine eyes/you got speed freak jive" and then pleads "Hear me baby, ain't no stranger" seconds later. My fave track on one of my favourite albums.

2,000 Light Years From Home (Their Satanic Majesties Request album, 1967): One of the almost-universally agreed-upon "good" tracks on of their most divisive records. Personally, I like "T.S.M.R."--if you can get by all of the "wannabe Sgt. Pepper" derision, it may reward you, with multiple listens. "2,000 Light Years..." seems to be in the same mold as Pink Floyd's Astronomy Domine--highlighting the fear and apprehension of space travel. Jagger's understated vocal and Brian Jones' queasy mellotron figures combine to create an atmosphere of unknowing dread. Leaving the planet can be exhilerating, but terrifying, too. Check out this groovy promo clip, filmed in 1967.

Jumpin' Jack Flash (single - released 1968 - also found on Hot Rocks 1964-1971 collection): This is not only one of my favourite Stones tunes..it's one of my all-time fave tunes. Seriously, there's not a single bum note or second in this entire song. From the initial acoustic guitar stabs (courtesy Keef) to the organ trills as it fades out, everything seems completely economical. No frills, just the chugging rhythm and Jagger's hard-as-nails lyrics and vocal delivery. "I was raised by a toothless bearded hag/I was schooled with a strap right across my back.." "Jumpin' Jack Flash" perfectly sums up the chaos and turmoil of 1968--possibly even more than The Fabs' Revolution. Jagger offers a sliver of hope with the "It's all right now, in fact it's a gas.." line--but sadly, for him and the rest of the Stones (and indeed, the counter-culture in general), things wouldn't be alright for a long long time. Some credit should go to the late Jimmy Miller for his excellent production. Here's a '68 promo clip for the song--featuring a slightly more menacing Stones..dig Charlie Watts' Egyptian eye make-up and Jagger's war-paint.

Rocks Off (Exile On Main Street album, 1972): As tax exiles living in France for most of 1972, our heroes holed up in a decrepit mansion...Keef's smack habit accelerating and Jagger nearly matching him for decadence. Eventually, they released a double album of woozy blooz/rock tunes, shot through with weariness and heartache. There were a couple of bright moments here and there (Sweet Black Angel, a shout-out to African-American activist Angela Davis...and Shine A Light, done all gospel-stylee)--but mostly it seemed like the Stones were watching age catch up with them and trying to take stock. "Rocks Off" is the lead-off track to Side 1 (in the old LP days) and it's a kicker! If they were trying to let folks know not to write them off just yet, they succeeded..with Sir Mick spitting out lines like "What's the matter with ya boy/She don't come 'round no more/Is she checking out for sure/She ain't gonna close the door on me.." The horn section is right on and I even like the weird, 'psychedelic' break in the middle--where Jagger's voice skitters across the speakers in a strange filtered echo. Top notch!

I'm Free (Out Of Our Heads album - also December's Children (And Everyone's) album, 1965): An earlier track now, back to 1965. I like the optimism of it...very mid-60s, when rock bands and rock audiences still thought they were going to change the world. Admittedly, the lyric seems pretty simple...but wedded to the near country-shuffle of the music--the whole becomes much greater than the parts. Cream would record a tune with a similar theme a year later, called I Feel Free, which appeared on their debut album. The Soup Dragons hit pretty big in 1990 with a cover version of the Stones song--but to me, still didn't improve on the original.

....and a bonus section of a few more obscure ones:

Memo From Turner (single release, 1970 and on the Performance soundtrack, 1970): This is billed as a Jagger solo tune..but it's pretty much Stones in all but name. Raunchy slide guitars and a very Charlie Watts beat skank along with Mick's very-un-PC lyrics about "faggy little leather boys" and "shorter bits of stick". It sounds like it could be an out-take from the Let It Bleed sessions (maybe it was).

When The Whip Comes Down (Some Girls album, 1978): Another Jagger 'provoke-'em-if-I-can' slice of life about an L.A. gay man who moves to New York City and gets involved in 'the scene' (I'm guessing the S&M scene--judging by the song title). The rest of the band get credit for the taut riffs and solid beats. Part of it does reek of trying to "out-punk the punks", but hey, if that's what motivated them out of their mid-70s stupor--it was well worth it.

Citadel (T.S.M.R. album, 1967): One from the psychedelic era that I really like as well--with a catchy, spiralling saxophone line and a chiming bell sound throughout. The lyrics have the usual hippie, "get out of the city, man" vibe--"Through the woods of steel and glass" and "In the streets are many walls". Keef's insistent guitar riff also propels the tune forward and keeps things focused. Jagger's vocal has the right amount of rock-n-roll snarl, balanced with acid daze, to make it one of his better performances on the album.

Factory Girl (Beggar's Banquet album, 1968): If you can forgive Jaggs the poor imitation of an American country drawl--this song will put a smile on your face every time--it does mine, anyway. The acoustic guitars are almost playing clipped ragas and apparently, Charlie Watts is playing tabla with drumsticks (!) for the beat. Ric Grech (in the band Family at the time) provides the keening fiddle runs. The lyrics are a completely middle-class view of poverty, but though they may seem cloying--they show a sense of devotion and even happiness amidst hardship. A bit of a rarity, as they never really recorded anything like this again (aside from Country Honk, the acoustic version of Honky Tonk Women, that appears on "Let It Bleed").

100 Years Ago (Goat's Head Soup album, 1973): This one's a bit of wistful, country-tinged ballad on an album that's sorta all over the shop. The Stones has started to believe in their own press and cranked out stuff like Dancing With Mr. D, just to freak out the squares. There's a definite Gram Parsons influence on "100 Years Ago" and it seems a bit out of place on "Goat's Head Soup" (compared with Angie--the other ballad on the record). Jagger hits all the right notes to convey the heartbreak and the band back him in classy fashion. Honourable mention also goes to Can You Hear The Music?, an early 70s version of psychedelia that I figured the Stones would never even attempt.

As the Ramones said to Montgomery Burns.."Happy birthday, you old bastid!" Raise a glass for Sir Mick, the O.A.P.

21 July 2008

Farewell To A Class Clown

18 Rajab - 1429 A.H.

The fourth episode of the Kaleidophonic Stroboscope is now live and ready for your listening pleasure. This one's a bit of a hommage to the late, great George Carlin. It starts out that way--then continues on in it's usual journey to some of the weirder parts of the musical landscape.

I hope to have a new feature for the next one...'till then, feast your ears and feed your head!

Episode 4 can be found here.

13 July 2008

You Don't Joke 'Bout The Pope

12 19 15 8 16 - 5 K'ib 19 Sek G5

The Pope, or as Rev. Ivan Stang refers to him, "that old queen in Rome", is visting Australia this week on his "Blessin' The Colonies" tour, or whatever. Apparently, the Australian government has passed a new law stating that anyone protesting at the World Youth Day event, being held in Sydney, can be levied with a 5,500 Australian dollar fine. I'm not making this up.

I don't know about you, but this seems more than a bit draconian to me. I don't know if Australia ever had a "Bill Of Rights" added into their constitution--I think they still allow free speech, however...well, maybe until now. I hadn't realised Oz may be some sort of dictatorship. There's probably a money trail somewhere here--as Sydney will host about 250,000 tourists attending the events. The local politicians are probably eager to hoover up all that foreign spending money. Mustn't "annoy" the faithful.

I suppose a T-shirt with the slogan "Pope Go Homo"could be annoying to a dogmatic Catholic--but still, is that really 5,500 dollars worth of annoying? O.K., maybe planning to hand out condoms to the young Catholics was the final straw and the lawmakers felt they had to act to protect those vulnerable lambs from the "evils" of birth control. It's not as if they've got their own minds or anything...

As a Pope in the Discordian church, I expect protests when I arrive somewhere, especially from other Discordian Popes looking to excommunicate me. I don't mind people wearing "Eris Liberation Front" T-shirts or even mono-theists brandishing their regalia. It's all good fun, really. Perhaps the Catholic Church might see it that way sometime. 'Till then, though, steer well clear of the Popemobile with your sense of humour...it might cost ya!

03 July 2008

I'd like to thank the members of the Academy..and my parents...and my wife...

29 Jumaada al-THaany - 1429 A.H.

Our good friend, Singing Bear, has deemed this blog worthy of an Arte Y Pico award. Cheers, Bear! He was part of this blog-team for a while, after also being part of my muso-blog, Pond Of Tunes. He's started up a few of his own solo blogs, the latest being the most cool Tiz Yer Tiz.

It's suggested that the receiver of the "Arte Y Pico" award present it to five other blogs. My list will be:

1) Cheek - My old friend Mark D. has been reporting from the heart of Minneapolis, Minn. for seven (count 'em, seven) years now. Like me, he was also part of the Triptych Cryptic collective for a time. The topics he touches on are wide-ranging and his writing seems top-notch to me. He also writes reviews for PopMatters and a few other sites. Do yourself a favour and head over to "Cheek"--I don't think you'll be disappointed.

2) Magick River Blog - I first met Antares M., who writes the "Magick River Blog", through cyber-space, when he found a post from my first solo blog, 21st Century Schizoid Man. The post was about Dr. Strangely Strange, the Irish psych-folk group. He e-mailed me and asked for a copy of some of their lyrics - which I provided (I was so excited that someone besides my really close friends were actually reading my blog!). In any case - we stayed in touch and Antares let me know about his blog when he fired it up. If you want to know what's really going on in Malaysia right now, politics and cultural-wise--this blog is the place to go. He also posts about a lot of other things..music, art, conspiracies...many many others. The content of his blog always seems excellent and Antares is a genuinely cool cat. Give him a visit, he deserves it.

3) Mr. Axl's Lovely Potato Farm - Axl (nee Paul Askew) and I used to work together in my short-ish tenure at the HMV in Oxford a couple of years ago.. He always made me laugh with his witty banter and turned me on to a number of great bands/artists that I would never have known. Sadly, I needed more cash and HMV's strange working regimens weren't really my bag, man--so I left. I still socialise a bit with Axl through Facebook and when I found out he had started a blog--I became a regular visitor. He posts a lot about music--usually ripping into some band that the NME has seen fit to idolise for a month or two, or some wanky crit-types who hype these bands. There's other stuff, too...his musings on his thoughts while bored at work, his "million-pound" ideas and loads of other funny commentary. One of Oxford's finest.

4) Only Maybe - Ths blog was created 3 years ago as an outlet for sombunall of the Maybe Logic Academy students. Over time the team has become a core of Bogus Magus and Bobby, with others contributing a piece here and there (including your humble blogger typing this). O.M. has now been incorporated into the main MLA on-line campus and it looked as if the blog was going to be left to drift into cyberspace, but some new posts have kept it alive...for now. The content..well, head over there a take a peek..some mind-blowing posts, for sure!

5) 10 Zen Monkeys - Another collective blog, to which the great R.U. Sirius sometimes posts. A lot of skewed pop-culture stories and some wry observations. I don't stop in there as often as I'd like, but when I do, I always find something interesting.

There's the round-up. I do like all of the other blogs in my blog-list and it was tough picking five out to nominate. Oh yeah, I'm supposed to link to the original site that hosted the award--you can find it here (it's a knitting site in Spanish...and I took French in high school..d'oh!). See you at the after-party!