Monthly Archives: September 2009

‘Solomon’ lame

Any interest I might have had in the long-pending film based on Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane stories just flew out the window. Actually, since my expectations were never that high to begin with, maybe I should say my interest dribbled down a sub-sub-basement storm drain. ‘Cause judging from this advance notice and this report from the Toronto International Film Festival, this flick has “Direct-to-DVD landfill leachate” written all over it.

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Considering the number of cross-dressing gags in old Warner Bros. cartoons, it was inevitable that somebody would do this kind of mash-up. So, ladies and gentlemen (and all possible combinations thereof), let me present Bugs Bunny in “Glen or Glenda.”

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Blue Monday

There are plenty of reasons to be sorry you missed this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, but high on the list would be the chance to hear guitarist Leo Nocentelli tear it up with the Meter Men, a power-funk trio that adds up to the Meters minus keyboardist Art Neville. That’s Zigaboo Modeliste on the drums, of course, and Nocentelli looks to be playing the Epiphone edition of the Gibson “Lucille” designed for B.B. King.

Here’s some more Nocentelli fretwork on “Cissy Strut,” one of the best-known Meters tunes:

There are loads of Meters anthologies out there, but for my money this two-disc set is the best.

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Waterfront verse

Next time I’m in or around Manhattan, I’m going to make some quality time for the Poets House, a library and literary center with spiffy new digs in Battery Park City. The grand opening is a two-day event, Friday and Saturday, with readings by various versifiers and music by Natalie Merchant.

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Friday finds

It’s Samuel Johnson’s 300th birthday! Go visit his house and have a slice of birthday cake! Drop a few of his memorable one-liners at a party! Check out his dictionary! Read an annotated version of “London: A Poem”! Check out his birthplace! Or track down the genius episode of Blackadder featuring Robbie Coltrane as the great lexicographer.

So you finally caught up with Roberto Bolano by reading The Savage Detectives and maybe even 2666. Turns out there’s a lot more where that came from.

Amish romance fiction? Who knew?

New Scientist asks some British science fiction writers to come up with flash fiction about the world a century from now. Guest editor Kim Stanley Robinson describes SF as the stories of now. I had no idea Virginia Woolf corresponded with Olaf Stapleton, or that she admired his novels Star Maker and Last and First Men.

How a Jersey Girl found herself by losing God.

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Bob Dylan and the art of the kiss-off

Wolfgang’s Vault has dumped a load of catnip at the feet of Bobcats by posting tracks from Bob Dylan’s 1974 stadium tour with The Band. That’s the same “comeback” tour recorded and released as Before the Flood, which over the decades has gone from being one of my most-played Dylan albums to a third-tier dust collector. And yet it remains a sentimental favorite, because one of the songs opened the way to my first Dylan album purchase, Blood on the Tracks, which in turn started me on what turned out to be a lifelong passion for the man’s music.

The song in question is “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine),” a kiss-off song from Blonde on Blonde that gets its definitive treatment on Before the Flood. Dylan’s bellowed delivery meshes perfectly with Levon Helm’s martial drumming and Robbie Robertson’s guitar, which snarls and twangs at the same time. As a young music freak going coming out of a pretty intense Sorrows of Young Werther period in the closing months of 1974, I was ready to hear that song, which played one fall afternoon on WPLJ, and for good measure the deejay (either Pat St. John or Tony Pigg, I don’t recall which) quoted part of the chorus:

I’m gonna let you pass
And I’ll go last
Then time will tell just who fell
And who’s been left behind

What a tonic those lines provided! What a morale booster! All of a sudden I realized that I needed to come to grips with this guy Dylan whose name was invoked so religiously in the pages of Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy. I was still trying to decide what album to start with when the January 1975 release of Blood on the Tracks and the ensuing uproar among critics made the choice pretty obvious. It proved to be a happy choice, needless to say.

I picked up Before the Flood not long after getting Blood on the Tracks, and I came to appreciate that Bob Dylan is the master of the kiss-off song. Along with “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” the album features “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,”  with its lethal closer:

I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

Add in “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and you’ve got a primer in how to write articulate, smart breakup songs. Instead of sobbing about broken hearts and tormented souls, Dylan backhands the past and moves on. Considering the nostalgia and comeback trappings of the 1974 tour — Dylan’s critical and commercial fortunes had taken a nosedive after the disastrous Self Portrait in 1970 — it’s interesting to see so many songs that all but spit on the idea of nostalgia or regret. The old songs get pretty aggressive makeovers, often to their detriment: the seduction song “Lay Lady Lay” becomes what Clinton Heylin aptly termed “a whorehouse holler,” and the version of “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35” is yet another reminder that some Dylan tunes need to be left alone for good. By contrast, The Band is content to shuffle through its deck of oldies yet again: the playing is as tight and professional as ever, but there’s no mistaking the lack of inspiration that set in after Stage Fright, and these days it’s deeply sad to hear Richard Manuel’s ravaged voice on “I Shall Be Released,” knowing what lay ahead for him.

An audience interested mainly in the past, a singer determined to grow beyond it, and a backup band unable to escape it. Before the Flood is one curious album, all right.

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The Wednesday Westie (Bed-In edition 2)


Aka, who-moved-my-bed-onto-the-porch edition.

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Objects of desire

Since I have a category on this site called “Guitar Porn,” it should come as no surprise to anybody that a glimpse of this new magazine Guitar Aficionado sent me lurching across the floor of Barnes and Noble like one of George Romero’s zombies. The cover image alone — Jimmy Page cradling a Gibson Les Paul Black Beauty, complete with Bigsby — is enough to have an otherwise rational human being thinking, “Sure, I can handle paying out five C-notes a month to own that baby.”

I suppose the purist attitude would be one of offense that something meant to be used and mastered — to be played — is being treated as a fashion and lifestyle accessory, but there’s no denying that a well-made guitar is a thing of beauty in its own right.

I’ve always thought that the tabulatures in guitar magazines serve the same purpose that quality fiction used to serve in Playboy and Penthouse — giving readers a way to pretend they’re interested in something more uplifting than just staring at beautiful pictures of curvy lust objects. So here at last is a magazine that dispenses with the tabs (or the John Updike stories) and amps up the photos of objects of desire.

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Blood and ink

Replacing storm windows may not sound like a big deal to you, but it managed to consume enough of my day to prevent any substantive blogging. There was also that lovely moment when I tried to push up a window sash by thumping it with the heel of my hand. The sash didn’t budge but the pane broke, creating a decorative swirl of glass spears that carved a neat little crater on the side of my left palm.

Note to self: If you want to slash your wrists, there are easier and more comfy ways to do it than breaking a window pane with your hand. Unless, of course, you want to make suicide look like a fatal accident.

But on a lighter note, here’s a nice writeup about the recent Jersey City Book Festival in which Yours Truly plays a part.

Blue Monday (Oz edition)

You want an isolated childhood? Try growing up in Perth in the Nineteen-Fifties, with nothing but the vast Indian Ocean to your west, the dessicated Australian Outback to your east, and not a whole lot else to your north and south. And yet a Muddy Waters album found its way to young Dave Hole’s ears, and after a false start or two Hole developed a powerful, idiosyncratic slide guitar technique.

Though a southpaw, Hole plays right-handed, keeping his fingers on top of the neck for slide passages. Apparently this is partly to compensate for a finger injury. It also reflects a certain scarcity of guitar teachers in Perth during Hole’s youth, which forced him to work a lot of things out on his own. I’d say the effort paid off.

After spending over two decades touring clubs and bars Down Under, Hole sent his self-produced album Short Fuse Blues to Guitar Player magazine, where comparisons with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King helped him land a deal with Alligator Records and a measure of international fame. I’ve never seen him live, but from all reports he’s a monster onstage, so I’ll have to fill in that gap at first opportunity.

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