Saturday, May 31, 2014

When Heroes Do Crazy Stuff

Over time, the musicians you revere can have their image changed in your eyes. Some of the touring underground bands that I admired during my 20s seemed, in retrospect, to have more in common with me and my music pursuits than I thought. The only real difference was they were in a bigger city and there was a label backing them up. Sometimes superstars turned out to be not so super. John Lennon, in all his infinite wisdom, might qualify for what some people would call a deadbeat dad. There was also at least one older musician I met that seemed to be more interested in making inane banter with young ladies than talking about music.

And some people are just batshit crazy.

Everyone's entitled to be batshit about some thing - the type of food they eat, the way a soundcheck should go. But upon reading yesterday that Exene Cervenka - the once and forever vocalist of X - went on at length saying that last week's shootings in Santa Barbara were a hoax, I started to wonder if the woman who helped alter my listening habits in 1980 (which really did change my life in the following years) is crazy in a bad way. I didn't realize there are people who had this mindframe. I thought the people that would deny history were the ones who didn't believe in the Holocaust, a belief based out of hatred.

Reading that really messed up my morning yesterday. It felt worse than realizing that Mr. Anti-Capitalism Jello Biafra had ripped off his ex band. Not bad enough that I'm ready to get rid of my X albums (the first four of which are autographed!). But enough to make you feel really odd.

But just now, I discovered that Exene had backed down from her original statement - sort of. Here's an quick article about it. Reading the post on X's Facebook page actually makes me feel a little more relieved. It also serves as a reminder that people might not always be as extreme as they're perceived.

But the thing that really bothers me is that anytime a musician speaks up about something like this, good or bad, there's always some idiot online who has to counter with, "they're just saying that because nobody knows who their band is, and they're just trying to get publicity/make money." I almost find it more offensive that people think that it always comes down to money. That's all we care about. All of us.

But I guess when you sit at home all day and do nothing but surf the web and comment on stories, it's easy to get in the mindframe. I'd stay and try to type more but I need to have breakfast and get ready for work.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Peter Tork Interview Part 2: Nobody Ever Lends Money to a Man With a Sense of Humor

Tonight is the Monkees show at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg, PA. I was hoping to have posted this, the rest of my chat with Peter Tork, over the last two days. But things – like weather which kept my internet connection down last night – prevented that. Here it is now. And for those Monkee fans who just discovered this blog over the past few days, you might want to check out an (email) interview I did with Michael Nesmith last year:

The conversation continues from the previous entry, where Tork talked about songwriting.

I owe a lot to my piano lessons. At one point I switched from playing Beethoven and Mozart to theory. And I learned how to spell chords, you know like, “what’s an F# minor chord?” and when I took up guitar I would say, “OK, what’s the next note in such-and-such a chord above the note on the string? How many frets do I have to get up to, to play a note that’s in the chord I want.” And I came up with some unusual formations too, like that add-4 chord I mentioned earlier.

I know you couldn’t have predicted that 40-plus years later the stuff that you did with Monkees would still be on the radio…

I couldn’t have predicted that I would live to be 40-plus myself!

Well I’m glad you did.  But at the time, what was the view [of the music and the band]? How did you guys think? “This is fleeting. It’s just going to last a couple years”? What did you think?

[Takes a breath] I did not think. I did not think past…I knew it was going to be big before it happened. I could just tell that it was lined up properly. It wasn’t surprised. But as to the longevity, I really hadn’t given it any thought. I still don’t much. Right now, the Monkees are on tour, or we will be starting tomorrow night. We’ll be doing this for about three weeks, I think, more or less. There is some talk amongst us of doing something else this fall together. But that’s as far ahead as I think.
Other than that, I like to sit at home and play piano and write stuff. I have a blues band. This coming January, I’m going to be going down to Lexington, Kentucky. I’m going to have them play a piece I wrote for piano and orchestra. It’s fairly brief. It’s seven minutes long. They’ll be doing some pop music, it’s a pops orchestra. But I’ll have them tackle this thing I wrote. It’s not easy.
So that the thing: what’s next on my agenda. I don’t pay too much attention to what goes on ahead of me. I have started to wonder if I’m going to outlive my money or not. That’s what you start to think about when you reach my age. But I ain’t dead yet, and I’m not taking drugs.

Well it is great that you still out there playing shows.

Oh yeah, man. It’s fabulous. I’m a very lucky guy. Extraordinarily lucky in many, many ways. Turns out that I have an extraordinary constitution. I get over being sick about twice as fast as anybody else with the same diseases and the same troubles. So I’ve gotta thank whatever source I’ve got. Say thank you, that’s all I can do.

When you and Mike and Micky got together for rehearsals, I think it was about a year and half ago since the first ones, what was that like, having the three of you all together again?

It was good. It was interesting. Michael sounds almost exactly the same as he did back then. Micky sounds hardly different, a little bit. But he’s still one of the best pop singers of all time. Michael’s voice is resonant and clear. It kind of swept me back to the day to hear Michael sing the songs that he sang, the way that he sang them. I found out I was a little more nostalgic for the old days than I would have guessed, if anybody had asked me beforehand.

In some of the shows that you’ve done, there’s been a tribute to Davy in it. As an audience member, I could see it being really emotional. And you guys are doing it night after night. Does that take something out of you? How does it feel?

No. An entertainer’s mindset is not very well understood by people who don’t do it. But you go to work every day, you do something almost every day. And day in and day out and day in and day out, you never go, “Oh my god, I did this yesterday!” You just do what you do. And entertainers really have to look at their work that way. Nobody, there are very, very few of them. Robin Williams did routines. He did most of the same show night after night. And he’s one of the fastest, cleverest, funniest people you’ve ever heard of. And he doesn’t do all brand new stuff every day. He does routines.
And you do them. The same thing doesn’t happen for us that happens for the audience. We do the tributes. And the audience goes, “Oh, my god, that’s right!” But we did the tribute last night as well.
You know: an actor doing the same show on Broadway, day after day, night after night. He better find a way to make it real every night. It better not be the same thing he did last night, or he’s going to be dead. It’s going to be a short run. There are skills that are involved with this business, and you have to learn them.
Mike, we have only a couple minutes left before I have to run away, I’m sorry to say. So if you have one more blockbuster question, now is the time!

I do! When you look back on the movie Head, what do you think of it?

I have…you’re going to have to listen to Torkelson’s Theory of Theatrical and Cinematic Criticism. If the point of art is to bring you forward, to carry you on, make life worth living, or at least to give you something to make you work towards, what happens to the protagonist represents the creator’s point of view. And when the protagonists start off lost in the water, and they end up lost in the water, there’s not a very good message in that. That message is: You don’t get out. The cycle just keeps on going, it’s not good and you’re always trapped.
From that point of view, I think Head is an inferior movie. Technically, of course, it was advanced. Columbia Pictures had never released a movie that avant-garde, at least not for a long time. What was the movie that they did, I think it was with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman in a psychological thriller. There was a sequence that Salvador Dali had a hand in creating. It was very strange, very far out. But other than that, I don’t know of anything in the movies that was as far out as the solarization techniques and so on. So you have to give it to Bob Rafelson for that side of things.
I think we get points — the Monkees, as an operation which includes the producers, directors and all that. I think we get points for taking the Monkees out of the tv series. We didn’t want to do another episode of the tv show. I think we win points on that respect.
But I think you’re supposed to make a movie that either says how awful it is to be caught in a loop or [says] you don’t have to be caught in a loop. That movie didn’t say that. All it said was, “You are caught in a loop.” And that’s not a message I need to give to my children. 

So our time has come to a close. Thank you for asking the big question. I’m sorry we can’t carry on. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Peter Tork - He's Not the Dummy. A Monkees Interview Part 1

Peter Tork's musical career is pretty well known: Former Greenwich Village folkie heads out to California where his friend Stephen Stills tells him about an audition for a television show about a band. (Stills had been rejected because of his hair and teeth.) The show turns out to be The Monkees which starts out like a made-up band, becomes huge and breaks beyond their studio-constructed identity to something where all four members gain creative control. Their albums begin as pretty good bubblegum pop and evolve into something more on the level with what Tork's pal Stills was doing with Buffalo Springfield. (Don't believe that comment? Reexamine Headquarters, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd. and the soundtrack to Head.)
The reunited Monkees - Tork, Micky Dolenz and..........TA-DAH! Mike Nesmith - are performing at the Palace Theater in Greensburg, PA this Wednesday, May 28. (8 p.m. $65-$95. Last Wednesday, I had a chance to talk to Tork, something I've wanted to do for years, knowing he was a lot sharper than the character he played on the show. We spoke for 15 minutes, which means we couldn't get into deep questions like specifics about the Head recording sessions or the fact that my uncle was on two episodes of the show and whether or not he remembered him. 
But I also avoided the usual questions about whether or not the Monkees were a real band. This is the first installment of the uncut interview. More will come in the next day or so. 
PS, while the title is obviously true it's also a reference to part of Head

Is music something you always wanted to do or was it something that you just stumbled into?

I can’t tell you for sure. I think I’ve always wanted to be an entertainer. And I always wanted to be a musician. But I’m an entertainer first and a musician second. I took piano for five years, and played banjo and guitar and bass and everything ever since. I love music, but I’m just not really sure that I’m as good as I ought to be if I’m gonna be, like, someone who you go to hear play music. But I am good enough that you should come and see me if you want to have a good evening with some good music stuff going on.
So I have to say music has been sort of a secondary thing to what I’ve always really wanted to do, which is to be an entertainer.

I can see how being on a tv show like The Monkees would factor into that. You get the best of both worlds.

It’s a good question: whether I became a Monkee because of my attitudes about this or whether being a Monkee postured or spurred. If I hadn’t been chosen for the Monkees, I probably would’ve been a folk singer for the rest of my life. Like a…I don’t know, I can’t even think of any guys that are like this. Tom Rush, who was a figure from my youth, very good folk singer – like that.

When you were in Greenwich Village…. A lot of people that I think of from that time, Phil Ochs or Dylan come to mind, seem a little more serious where the music or the message came first and entertainment might’ve been secondary.

Yeah something like that. It’s hard to tell. Phil, of course, is no longer with us. I have never heard from Bob Dylan, one way or another, on the point. Although he’s not a very good entertainer. [We both laugh.] I don’t know what he was up to. I think he was about… he wanted to be part of this, and he felt safest and best when it came to worthsmithing and writing lyrics. So that’s where he went.
I didn’t write much. I’ve written some good stuff here and there. But nobody thinks of me much as a songwriter, particularly. So each to his own. Phil Ochs, like Bob Dylan, got to thinking that the message was the important side of things. I think Phil was a little more musical than Bob was, or is. But you make your own choice. You follow your own proclivities.

I have to say a song like “For Pete’s Sake” still really packs a whallop all these years later.

Thanks very much. I’m really pleased that the stuff that I have written has been a little outside the mainstream. I once made the acquaintance of a young lady, a guitar player, and we got closer together and she finally said that guitar chord in “For Pete’s Sake,” — the chord on the word “Everything,” — which is a 7-add-4, which is a highly unusual chord. It sort of fell out of my hands on the guitar. We had been boyfriend and girlfriend for a while, she said that chord was what did it. [Laughs]
I wrote a set of chords once and thought, “Gosh, this is great.” I couldn’t think of anything to do with them. A couple years later I wrote “Can You Dig It,” to those chords. They were… let’s see: D-minor to B-flat major 7th to an E diminished 9th chord. That’s a really interesting way to set it up to the V chord. Or to look at it another way: we’re in A – Arab scale, which is – I don’t want to get too heavy. But it’s an unusual scale in Western music, in pop music. And it worked fine for me. I was just really glad. It just fell out of my hands again. It really felt good.
So I’m pleased that I’m not just writing “moon/june/spoon” songs in doggerel. My girlfriend says that if you can sing [your tune] to “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” it’s doggerel.


Look up the word: doggerel.

I forget exactly what it means, but I know it’s not good.

It’s cheap poetry, with no thought given whatsoever to rhyme or tension. Bad stuff. Completely thoughtless.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

"Now THAT'S the way you play guitar"

The title of this post comes from something I said to my friend Jennifer during Death of Samantha's set at Mr. Small's last week, when they opened for Guided by Voices (and nearly blew them out of the water in terms of delivery and finesse). Doug Gillard's guitar work was astouding: one handed guitar solos, fat power chords, picked open chords. The man has it down.

I was hoping to follow this praise with a link to a review of the whole show that I wrote for Blurt, but it's not up on the website yet. However, I hadn't posted my profile on Mr. Gillard and his latest release, so now you can check that out right here.

In other Shanley On Music news, I interviewed none other than Peter Tork of the Monkees on Wednesday. I didn't think it was going to come off, as past attempts to secure a Monkees interview eluded me. The band is coming to town (actually to Greensburg) next week, and I hope to have the whole interview transcribed and posted here within the next day or so. Keep looking. Teaser: I avoided typical Monkees questions, and Peter was a really great interview. Nice fella.

Beyond that, bad allergies knocked me down for a day this week. There's a crap ton of reviews I have to write by Tuesday. Gotta run.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Beauty of Original Pressings.

Right after John Lennon was shot in December 1980, I decided I needed to get a copy of his Walls and Bridges album. A neighbor had played it for me a few years earlier and I liked it (of course, at that pre-teen/teen-age, how could I not?). Plus it had a great cover: the front looked like a three-panel gatefold picture of a Lennon painting with the top missing. (I thought the top panel had been ripped off of my neighbor's copy, but it was made that way.)

Open it up, and there was a glasses-less John giving the raspberries to the camera. The back showed him with several pairs of specs on his face, presumably to make up for the lack of them inside.

If that care-free design wasn't enough, it came with a booklet that had lyrics to each song, with more drawings from John's youth, and instrumental credits for each song, on which the ever-cheeky songwriter employed pseudonyms like Rev. Thumbs Gherkin.

It was hard to find any Lennon albums except for maybe Double Fantasy (recently released) that month. But over Christmas break, my friends Dave and Mike took me with them to a record and comic book store I had never heard of called Eide's. It was on the North Side just over the bridge in a row of stores. Today there's a Roberto Clemente statue right around where the entrance once was. (Eide's moved downtown more than 20 years ago, has become something of an institution, and those buildings were leveled long before PNC Park came along.)

Eide's seemed to have everything an eighth-grade burgeoning record fanatic could want. Over the next few months I'd purchase Japanese reissues of George Harrison's mediocre solo albums Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound, thinking that I was actually purchasing the original copies. But on that December day, I found the object of my search - Walls and Bridges. Ha cha, I thought.

Only something was different. I figured it wasn't going to be on Apple Records, but I didn't mind the Capitol label. But not only did it lack the original gatefold sleeve, it didn't have any lyric book in it! The front was a non-opening reproduction of the original. The back included all the studio technical credits, but no mentions of who played what, no Rev. Thumbs, no mention of Julian Lennon's ragged but right drums on "Ya Ya."

I can't say for sure, but it might have been at that point when I started turning my nose up at reissued albums, preferring to search for the real thing, or at least getting more excited about an early pressing of an album I wouldn't otherwise care about. ("Wow - The Lonely Bull! Is it one of the early copies with a different A&M logo on it? ....Oh. Never mind.")

All of this occurred to me a couple weeks ago when I decided I needed to have an original copy of Thelonious Monk's Monk's Music on Riverside. Now, I do have a later pressing of the album already, I confess. But it doesn't have the original cover - of Monk sitting in a kid's wagon with a briefcase and sheet music, decked out in his cool shades. Plus the later copy is one of those "electronically rechanneled for stereo" abominations. So an original was in order.

A few years later, I traded in Walls and Bridges when I needed money. Then I picked up a copy at a yard sale - an original with all the trimmings. In retrospect, it's not a great album, aside from a few songs. I might've played it three times since it got it. I've thought about unloading it, but even if I don't, it's still fun to look at.

Friday, May 09, 2014

CD Review: Eric Revis - In Memory of Things Yet Seen

Eric Revis Quartet
In Memory of Things Yet Seen
(Clean Feed)

So far, two of the year's strongest albums have come from bassist-leaders. First there was Jason Roebke's High/Red/Center (Delmark) and now Eric Revis' adventurous In Memory of Things Yet Seen. Revis seems especially noteworthy because he maintains a spot in one of the most prestigious mainstream jazz bands (Branford Marsalis' quartet) while, on his own, he heads in a more avant-garde direction, full of adventure and exploration. (For the record, he also plays with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and is part of the cooperative group Tarbaby.)

On this album, he brings both worlds together, by having Marsalis join the quartet for two tracks - one of them being a free improvisation. The rest of the album features the bassist leading alto saxophonist Darius Jones (a wild player in his own right), tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry (who can either maintain solid ground or leave it, and does both here) and drummer Chad Taylor (an extremely inventive percussionist who has played with bands from Chicago and New York too numerous to mention).

Revis wrote the majority of the album's 13 tracks, but everyone in the quartet also gets a chance to contribute at least one composition. Three tracks come from different sections of the bassist's "The Tulpa Chronicles." Spread throughout the album, these brief segments create a tone poem with soothing, droning vibes, offer reedy counterpoint and riff over a bowed bass line, in that respective order. Jones might be expected to deliver one of the wilder pieces, outside of the group improvs, but "Hold My Snow Cone" sounds rather restrained, a steady beat on the snare framing an intriguing mood that sounds somewhere between a soul slow jam and indie rock.

Along with the originals, Revis makes some sharp choices for covers. Sunny Murray's "Somethin's Cookin'" is not as shambolic as might be expected, thought it swings freely with a some solid bass underpinning it. Sun Ra's "The Shadow World," on the other hand, gets really wild and free, with a fiery sense pushing it along. If only Branford joined them for this one.

Marsalis does blend right in with the quartet, though. "FreeB" the five-piece blast of spontaneity, lasts just over two-and-a-half minutes but doesn't waste any time. Methinks the guest is the one blowing long tones underneath the other horns. In some ways, its brevity makes it seem more like a warm-up, but that also keeps it in line with the other tracks, most of which last under four minutes. Marsalis' other appearance, ironically called "Unknown," almost sounds like hard bop initially, but the saxophone solos, especially Jones' fiercely melodic contribution, aren't tethered to changes and play loose with the rhythm section. The coda riff, which gives Taylor a brief chance to stretch out, sounds like the kind of groove that would get an audience screaming their approval.

Then again, that reaction could happen during nearly all of the tunes on this album.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Looking Back at the Weekend

It was a good weekend for music in Pittsburgh. Robert Pollard was in town for the opening of an exhibition of his art at the Irma Freeman Center on Friday. I didn't make it to that event, or any of the Unblurred/gallery crawl stuff because Ben Opie was premiering his composition Concert for Orkestra at the New Hazlett Theater that night. Those of you from out of town who aren't familiar with Ben can check out my preview article about it here. He's the same guy who helped bring Anthony Braxton to town in 2008, and recorded a double-CD with him.)

I've seen several shows at the Hazlett but this was the first time the whole space has been lit up and you could see the back of the hall. The loading dock door was visible in the back, as well as a catwalk running across it. With all that exposed, it really had to the look of an old factory, to the point where it seemed a huge industrial-sized fan was casting a shadow on the wall, in a cliched noir style.

The music was great. To prepare for my article, Ben gave me a CD of a practice run, which didn't have the full 15-piece band on it. So it really sounded like sketches or intros. At first, hearing it felt like it was going to spoil the surprise of the performance, but when it came time for the show it was more like certain figures came up and I thought, "Oh, I remember that," or "So that's how it's supposed to sound." Ben's style is really all over the place. He has a fondness for Mingus, Monk and Strayhorn, but he's also able to do Sun Ra and Anthony Braxton-style music convincingly. So it oversimplifies the concerto to say that he incorporates all of that into the piece, but at the same time he does. There were some pretty lush parts, that were really accessible. Tenor saxophonist Lou Stellute delivered one of the strongest solos of the evening in a mellow piece, though what he blew was not bound to any kind of straight ahead tradition. Opie, when he took a solo or a lead a section, straddled a rough and rugged tone with something that was more akin to '20s or '30s jazz, that kind of thick-toned execution.

The piece was divided into 10 movements, but after awhile I stopped trying to figure out if they were onto a new section or if there was just a tempo change within one. The group (which consisted largely of musicians that play in Opie's Sun Ra-inspired group Opek) had a conductor keeping everything together, which allowed the composer to concentrate on his playing.

Bringing my son to the show was a crap shoot. He's been to several Pittsburgh Symphony concerts lately, wearing his volume-cutting headphones, so I thought he might be into this. A couple weeks ago, when I was on my way to interview Opie, Donny said he wanted to come with me. So naturally figured this was a worthwhile chance.

Well, bassist Paul Thompson will be happy to know that the opening two-note bass riff got Donny's attention. He pulled off the headphones and listened intently to the minor third groove. He also dug one of the trombone solos that began with a loud, vocal splat. But that was about it. Fifteen minutes in, I gave him my phone to play with. He likes playing with the calculator and also likes a web game called First in Math. So that held him for the rest of the show. The only thing I really missed was getting to talk to folks after the show.

I could've followed that show with a trip to the Freeman Center to see Pollard. Or I could've driven all the way out to Mr. Small's to see Wye Oak. Instead my friend Toby and I went out for drinks and caught up with each other. He used to work with me and he's into a lot of the same jazz that I am. We sat at Kelly's comparing notes about new and old albums, shows that we've seen or wish we'd seen. Hanging out with him was obviously a rare thing, but just the idea of talking to somebody about all this music really seemed out of the ordinary. I feel like there's no one around who's wired into all this kind of avant garde stuff. Maybe that sounds cliched or perhaps a tad arrogant. Or maybe I'm exaggerating. Or maybe the few that I know are the types who talk about it in jaded, know-it-all ways. I know of at least one other cat that likes to talk good music shop, although he's not really up on the latest ECM releases or the Vision Fest schedule.

Anyhow, good times on Friday.

Saturday night my band the Love Letters played a show at Garfield Artworks. The space is a gallery/performance space that's been around for..........oh, over ten years I guess. The guy who runs it went to high school with me. A lot of people don't like him because he can be kind of nasty and self-righteous, to a degree that I think he's shot himself in the foot many times. But he can also be a good egg, and sometimes really funny.

The bill consisted of us, locals Scott Fry Experience and Miss Massive Snowflake, who hails from Portland. The Love Letters played first, and we're still a power trio, though we hope to fill the space vacated by our keyboardist. (Anyone who's curious should get in touch with me post haste, especially if you're a woman who can sing. The original person was.) Things were a little ragged but it was a good time, and the audience - largely people we didn't know, there to see the other bands - gave us a good response and some compliments.

When Miss Massive Snowflake - who, for the night, consisted only of guitarist Shane de Leon - was starting to roll, something hit me. This was the first show we've done in ages where all we had to do was promote the evening, show up and play. We didn't have to chase down opening acts, chase club bookers and hope they'd take us. We were on a bill with strangers who were all really cool and brought something new to the evening. It felt good but it also felt rare.

MMS's set was about 30 minutes and he came off a little closer to singer/songwriter than I expected (the flyer used the phrase "art pop") but it was fun. I ended up buying two records at the end of the night, an album and a split 10", the latter of which he only had two copies left.

The Scott Fry Experience played next and Manny, the Garf-Art guy mentioned above, told me they were sort of like GBV, which I kept in mind as they played. They were, but not in the dudes-getting-sloshed-as-they-play sort of way. It was unpretentious, unpolished rock that was fun. Things wobbled a little here and there, but the same could be said for us.

So it was disappointing that none of the people I invited came to see us. Not one. But my bandmates got people out, and like I said, some strangers liked us. Strangers in the 20s. At the end of the night, we made a teensy bit of $ but we weren't given a hard time about draw. Yesterday, I still went through the usual post-gig comedown ("depression" is an extreme word, though it's close), wondering what the future holds. But I also felt like we need to play out more often, trio or quartet, to get used to it and to avoid stumbling through changes in songs.