Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Evan Dando and the Lemonheads, Part One

Below is the first part of the Lemonheads/Evan Dando album guide I cowrote with Ken Sumka back in July for Jefitoblog.

Evan Dando and Ben Deily, upper-middle-class teenagers from the Boston suburbs, formed the Lemonheads with classmate Jesse Peretz in 1986 during their senior year of high school. In the beginning Dando and Deily would switch off on drums for each other's songs, with Peretz on bass. They started out emulating the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and Dinosaur Jr. and gradually added Gram Parsons and Hank Williams to their list of influences under the leadership of Dando, who took the reins in '89 and became the band's one constant member as other players drifted in and out.

You may only know the Lemonheads as camera-friendly dudes who had a hit covering "Mrs. Robinson" during the final months of George Bush Sr.'s presidency. Lucky for you—and them—there's much more to the story.

Hate Your Friends (1987)

Ken: While there are certainly plenty of debuts that knock the ball out of the park, most hint at what is yet to come. Hate Your Friends falls into the latter category: it displays a keen knack for concise punk-pop songs by both Dando and Deily, but it falls short of perfection. Deily wrote the arguably "punkier" stuff, including the gem "Second Chance," which hides a sweet, lovelorn/kiss-off lyric under a fuzzy guitar part and catchy chorus. Another great Deily cut, "Uhhh," treads similar ground—a crunchy riff over "relationship gone south" material. Dando's "Don't Tell Yourself" tries desperately to crawl out from a plodding drumbeat and almost succeeds, and "Nothing True" certainly winks at the Replacements but maintains Dando's own sensibilities. Also, the time-honored Lemonheads tradition of cheeky covers is born with a 90-second version of "Amazing Grace." Hate Your Friends contains some filler, but a good three-quarters of this debut hits the mark.

Robert: Taang!'s 1992 reissue added 7 tracks to the original album's 13, including songs from the band's 1986 EP, Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners, and outtakes that eventually appeared on their third album, Lick. But even with 20 songs, the album's over in about 35 minutes. (There's also Create Your Friends, a compilation that offers the Lemonheads' first two albums on one disc and whose title niftily predicts the MySpace era.) Dando's gift for incisive, memorable lyrics pops up for the first time on the title track ("You've got problems you can't solve / It's enough to make you start to hate your friends"), and Deily's nasally vocals are a good match for the band's snotty punk-lite songs.



Creator (1988)

Ken: Creator saw the welcome addition of John Strohm (Blake Babies, Antenna) on drums after Doug Trachten, who was behind the kit for half of Hate Your Friends, was let go. Deily contributes eight songs here (compared to three by Dando), including the spooky "Burial Ground" and tempo-shifting "Sunday." Dando's much-improved songwriting chops are on full display in "Die Right Now," with a twin-guitar intro that plunges headlong into a searing riff and solo that would make J Mascis proud. "Clang Bang Clang" introduces Dando's fascination with Charles Manson—the song "borrows" its title and a few lyrics from Charlie—and "Helter Skelter's" #1 fan pops up again via a cover of his song "Your Home Is Where You're Happy." Like the Replacements had done a few years earlier, Kiss gets covered, though the Lemonheads opt for 1977's "Plaster Caster."

Robert: Creator is the group's most disposable album, but Dando's rich baritone commands attention on the Manson cover; he's always been a gifted interpreter of other performers' songs, even those of serial killers. Deily works hard here, but his songwriting doesn't gain any traction. Following the album's release in the summer of '88, the Lemonheads disbanded after a performance in which Dando replaced his guitar solo in each song—even if one wasn't required—with the riff from Guns n' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine."

Lick (1989)

Ken: The core of Dando/Deily/ Peretz was still intact after what turned out to be only a temporary break-up, but John Strohm left once Creator was done to focus on Blake Babies, which featured Dando on bass during the Lemonheads' hiatus. With Strohm gone, Dando moved to drums, and Bullet LaVolta's Corey Loog Brennan was added on guitar. These days he's Dr. Brennan, Ph.D., Strohm's a lawyer in Alabama, Deily's in PR and advertising, and Peretz is a film director whose credits include The Chateau (2002) and The Ex (2007).

Lick gets under way with Dando's jangly "Mallo Cup," which at just two minutes and 11 seconds manages to distill everything great about the band: wistful lyrics ("Here I am outside your house at 3 AM / Trying to think you out of bed"), melodic verses, and a buzz-saw chorus. Deily contributes a few more of his great jilted-kid songs with "Anyway" and the terrific "Ever," which makes excellent use of his raspy voice. Things take an odd turn with the mostly-sung-in-Italian "Cazzo di Ferro," about Raymond Burr, of all people. The attention getter here—at least on college radio in '89—is a fairly straight reading of Suzanne Vega's earnest child-abuse hit "Luka" (recorded during the sessions for Creator). Nashville chestnut "Strange" (Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson) also gets a revved-up treatment. With favorable reviews and brisk sales, the tide was shifting, and major labels started beckoning.

Robert: When a summer tour of Europe was offered to them, the Lemonheads re-formed just a few months after breaking up. Taang! wanted them to record a new album before the tour, but Dando had writer's block and Deily was becoming more and more estranged from his bandmates, so Lick was filled out with the Hate Your Friends leftovers "Sad Girl" and "Ever," plus new versions of early songs like "Glad I Don't Know." (The 1992 reissue rescued "Mad," a Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners orphan, and "Strange" from the "Luka" seven-inch.) Despite its cut-and-paste nature, Lick somehow manages to hang together and rawk out in unexpected ways. During their tour, the band—minus Deily, who bowed out as soon as Lick was finished—made a stop in the Netherlands and played a few songs on VPRO, where Brennan posed as Dando for an interview with an unsuspecting Dutch DJ.



Favorite Spanish Dishes EP (1990)

Ken: Ah, the covers/odds-'n'-sods stopgap EP. What fun. Dando and co. kick it off with a sprightly cover of the Mike Nesmith-penned Stone Poneys/Linda Ronstadt cut "Different Drum," followed by a so-so Dando original ("Paint") and the acoustic "Ride With Me" (with a Manson sound clip thrown in for good measure). Homage/scorn is heaped upon fellow Bostonians NKOTB with a funny but accurate cover of the massive hit "Step by Step," and the record closes with the Misfits' "Skulls." There's nothing essential here, but it's still fun.

Robert: Originally released in Europe before Lovey, the Lemonheads' first album for Atlantic Records, the three-song EP was expanded to five tracks for American release in '91. Dando, a music geek from an early age, gives a brief tour of his record collection here, but his own "Paint" is also a winner, and many fans prefer the acoustic version of "Ride With Me" to Lovey's electric one.

Lovey (1990)

Ken: Signed to Atlantic by former A&R scout (and current Thrill Jockey Records owner) Bettina Richards, the band benefited greatly from a major-label budget. After a revolving cast of drummers that included Trachten, Strohm, Dando, Deily, and even a guy who performed under the name of Johnny Bravo, David Ryan was recruited for Lovey and was a quantum leap forward in the percussion department. Peretz stayed put on bass, and Brennan cowrote two songs and made contributions on guitar. With no-nonsense production from Paul Q. Kolderie, Ryan's solid drumming, and much-improved sound quality, Lovey finally presents the Lemonheads how they should sound.

The opener, "Ballarat," obliquely references Manson again (the Manson Family set up camp in Ballarat, California, for a while) but also asserts that this is a different band, one that rocks with a renewed vigor. "Half the Time" revisits the jangle of "Mallo Cup," and "Ride With Me" is the group's best ballad yet. "Li'l Seed" is a NORML rallying cry with some great guitar work from Brennan. "Stove" is the kind of song that became second nature to Dando, a simple story about an everyday happening—the replacement of a stove—but it's infused with small details that bring the song to life. "Left for Dead" is a slightly cleaner retread of "Clang Bang Clang" from Creator, and Dando shows his affection for Gram Parsons with a cover of "Brass Buttons." "(The) Door" hints at some of the metal that Dando and especially Brennan were listening to as youngsters, with some uncharacteristically heavy, but quite adroit, riffing. Only the closing "track," an answering-machine message from Polly Noonan, the "Gummi Bear girl" on the bus at the end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, could be considered filler. Lovey is a solid major-label debut and an essential Lemonheads record.

Robert: After Peretz and Ryan laid down their parts on songs like "Half the Time" and "Stove" (which are my favorites on Lovey), Dando went back into the studio while they were studying for final exams and rerecorded the bass and drums. This, combined with other frustrations, led them to quit the Lemonheads before Lovey was released. Their tour replacements, Byron Hoagland and Ben Daughtry, can be seen in the video for "Half the Time," but they never recorded as Lemonheads. In a 1991 interview with Melody Maker's Everett True, Dando joked that he didn't jell with the new rhythm section because Hoagland "had a beard, which was unacceptable."

In early '91, before an international tour and a stop in Australia that inspired Dando's most prolific period of writing, Peretz and Ryan rejoined the band. Peretz left for good at the end of the tour to concentrate on film school, but he returned the following year to direct videos for the Lemonheads' next album, It's a Shame About Ray.

Lovey sold 11,000 copies, less than half of what the independently released Lick was able to move. It was time for the Lemonheads to justify their existence on Atlantic's roster.

It's a Shame About Ray (1992)

Robert: The group's mainstream breakthrough built momentum quietly during the summer of '92. Clocking in at under half an hour, Ray wastes no time delivering its 12 tracks of perfect pop. On the surface Dando and the band (Ryan on drums again, Juliana Hatfield on bass and fairy-dust backing vocals) provide warm sunshine throughout: giddy love songs like "Alison's Starting to Happen" ("She's the puzzle piece behind the couch / That made the sky complete") are a welcome addition to any summer mix tape. But the subject matter often veers into darker areas: "Confetti" was inspired by Dando's parents' divorce ("He'd rather be alone than pretend"), the title track hints at suicide, and "Rudderless" makes you wonder if Dando's having second thoughts about some of his unhealthy habits ("Waiting for something to break … / Tired of getting high / Guess I don't wanna die").

There isn't a weak track on Ray, and for the first time the Lemonheads had created an album that's more than the sum of its parts, due in no small measure to the Robb Bros., who coproduced it with Dando, and new Australian friend Tom Morgan, who cowrote "Bit Part" and the title track and helped spark Dando's renewed sense of songcraft. Critics and college-radio listeners knew they'd come across something special, but it took a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson," recorded to help promote a 25th-anniversary edition of The Graduate on home video, to introduce the Lemonheads—with new bassist Nic Dalton, the songwriter behind Ray's "Kitchen" and leader of the Australian band Godstar—to the general public. After Atlantic released "Mrs. Robinson" as a single (against the band's wishes) and it became a minor hit that fall, the label rereleased Ray with the new song tacked onto the end of the album. Atlantic also changed the title of "My Drug Buddy" to simply "Buddy." Here's hoping Rhino's upcoming 15th-anniversary reissue of Ray will toss "Mrs. Robinson" onto the bonus disc and restore "My Drug Buddy's" full title.

Ken: During this era Dando became friendly with fellow heartthrob (and accomplished actor) Johnny Depp, who appeared in the video for "It's a Shame About Ray" and managed to work the album's title into the film Benny & Joon (1993) with the line "It's a shame about raisins." Released a few months prior to Ray was Juliana Hatfield's Hey Babe, which included contributions from Dando. The summer of '92 found me painting houses with a friend; I had Ray and Hey Babe on opposite sides of a cassette that didn't leave the tape deck for weeks. Ray is the Lemonheads' most tuneful, cohesive, and—not surprisingly—best album.

After six years and five albums, the Lemonheads were finally becoming stars. Unfortunately, that had more to do with "the alternative movement" in rock in the early '90s and Dando's male-model good looks than his heartfelt songwriting or terrific vocals. Next week: the inevitable backlash, Dando's six-year vacation, his return as a solo performer, and the rebirth of the Lemonheads (or, at the very least, the Lemonheads' name).


slow news day

There are slow news days, and then there are slow entertainment news days. Here are a few headlines I've liked in the past year:

Manning gets laughs as host of 'SNL'
Good for Peyton Manning! If he hadn't gotten laughs he would've been wiping away his tears with $100 bills for a long time to come.

Garner balances career with motherhood
Good for Jennifer Garner! She's doing what millions of other women in America do, only she's rich! (If this headline was actually referring to The Rockford Files' James Garner, then I apologize for the sarcasm.)

Beyonce enjoyed working on 'Dreamgirls'
Good for Beyoncé! Isn't it nice when people enjoy their jobs? I think so. Especially when you realize her job doesn't involve her having to send out e-mails every few weeks that say, "Just a quick reminder to everyone to STOP LEAVING YOUR DIRTY DISHES IN THE SINK. Seriously. I thought about trying to spin this as positively and cheerfully as I have before, but I can't anymore. This has really become a problem. When I walk into the kitchen these days I'm attacked by fruit flies. Then I see a half-eaten apple sitting in the sink that's probably been sitting there since the night before. What is wrong with you people?! Most of you make about $24,000 a year, so I know you don't have a maid at home. Do you live with your mother? Does she put up with this shit?

"I'm sorry to use language like that, I really am, but this is FUCKING RIDICULOUS.
ARE YOU WAITING FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO WASH THESE DISHES FOR YOU? (Yes, I know the caps lock is on.) Do you think it's the cleaning lady's job to do this for you? SHE'S NOT YOUR MAID. It's also not her job to THROW OUT THE FUCKING FOOD YOU ABANDON IN THE FUCKING REFRIGERATOR EVERY FUCKING WEEK. I'm sorry for the foul language—I really am—but this has gotten out of hand. WE'RE ADULTS. I can't believe I'm wasting a minute of my life even typing this shit.

"On a more positive note, my daughter, Madison, will be coming by the office tomorrow to take orders for Girl Scout cookies. Feel free to order as many boxes as you want.
"

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blythe Danner should've married David Gates.

In his review of Babyface's new album, which comes out today, AllMusic.com's Andy Kellman wrote, "Covers albums tend to be dashed off as a way to fulfill an artist's last remaining contractual obligation to his or her label. However, Playlist is Babyface's first release for Mercury, following 2005's Grown & Sexy, and he put a lot of heart and soul into the material, all of which connected with him as a youngster listening to '70s AM radio. Most of the sources are anything but cool: James Taylor, Jim Croce, Dan Fogelberg, Dave Loggins, and Bread. (Then again, Bread were sort of like the Coldplay of their day.)"

That's an intriguing statement. I wonder if Bread was really that big in the early '70s. Or maybe Kellman means that although Bread was extremely popular in their heyday, no one wanted to admit how much they liked them.

In my opinion you're not a pussy for liking soft rock—you're a pussy for hiding behind the protective glass of "guilty pleasures." There's no such thing. Surrender now and watch an episode of CSI: Miami with me. We'll even turn up the volume.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

change

I'm not a big fan of change, as you can probably tell by my addiction to nostalgia. Even in fourth grade I was already nostalgic for kindergarten. In 2003 I moved from Atlanta to Chicago, which was a huge change for someone like me, but it was one I knew I had to make. Two months after I moved here I got a job at the Chicago Reader, an alt-weekly newspaper. The Reader made a lot of its money through classified ads, allowing it to have more pages per week and more employees than it probably needed, but why not put out the best product you can. In 2004 Craigslist.org started cutting into the Reader's profits from classifieds, because if you can post your ad on Craigslist for free, there's no point paying for it at the Reader or any other newspaper.

Last year people started to leave the Reader for other jobs, but unlike before, they weren't replaced. Instead, those who remained picked up the slack. This wasn't too much of an inconvenience, at least not at first, because we often had a lot of downtime at work, but morale hasn't been very high the past two years, especially since the Christmas bonus, which was the equivalent of two full paychecks in '03 and '04, was cut in half in '05 and eliminated altogether in '06. We were told at the end of last year that layoffs were probably going to happen early in '07; in late February a few people in each department were laid off, but for the next few months everything was quiet. I can be an incredibly naive person sometimes—I started to believe the paper was doing better, partly because no company-wide meetings were announced during this time. But then certain people started quitting in June, and in late July it was announced that the Reader had been sold to Creative Loafing, an alt-weekly paper in Atlanta that also owns papers by the same name in Sarasota, Tampa, and Charlotte.

Yes, maybe it is time for new managerial blood at the Reader, but everyone knew there was going to be a lot of current blood spilled before the new management settled in. We learned on the day of the sale—through a business-news Web site, not the publisher of the Reader—that production of the paper would move to Creative Loafing's headquarters in Atlanta, and therefore the entire production department in Chicago would be laid off. This week we learned about layoffs in the editorial department. I was able to keep my job, but it's not much of a consolation prize since good, smart, dependable coworkers are leaving, including my favorite coworker, the person who makes work more than just "that place I go every day so I can pay my bills." She'll be leaving at the end of October, but others will be gone in two weeks. It's not a great time to be in the newspaper business.

It's not a great time to be in the music business either. Jason Hare linked to a great New York Times article two weeks ago, via his Facebook page, about Rick Rubin, the famous record producer (Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., the Dixie Chicks, Johnny Cash) who was hired by Columbia Records earlier this year to help run the company and figure out how to save the industry in his own unique way. As Lynn Hirschberg's article says, "Seemingly overnight, the entire industry is collapsing. Sales figures on top-selling CDs are about 30 percent lower than they were a year ago." And as Rubin says in the article, "Until very recently, there were a handful of channels in the music business that the gatekeepers controlled. They were radio, Tower Records, MTV, certain mainstream press like Rolling Stone. That's how people found out about new things. Every record company in the industry was built to work that model ... And that's how the music business functioned for over 50 years. Well, the world has changed. And the industry has not."

I read that Justin Timberlake (who's had songs produced by Rubin) accepted an award at last week's MTV Video Music Awards by challenging the cable network to actually play videos again. (I also read that multimillion-dollar videos like Timberlake's will soon become a thing of the past because of changing business models and possibly a lack of airtime on channels like MTV and VH1.) For a long long long time people have made the joke of "Remember when MTV used to play videos?" and I've pointed out that they do still play videos, just not during peak viewing hours. But now I'm not so sure—the last time I checked MTV's schedule, videos were banished to 3:30 in the morning. Maybe it's finally time for me to join in on that joke.

It is ironic that MTV mostly played white artists' videos when it debuted in 1981 and defended its choices by saying that it operated like a rock radio station: if black artists weren't making rock videos, too bad. Some black artists responded by asking, "When the hell did Hall & Oates become a rock band?" The irony now is that any time I see a video on MTV these days it's a rap or hip-hop video made by a black artist. Times have changed. And if MTV can't get advertisers interested in three-hour blocks of videos anymore except during graveyard-shift time slots, well then, times have changed in that area too, and MTV can't be blamed for trying to survive by making tons of low-budget reality shows, which seem to get decent ratings ... or maybe not, but since the shows are low-budget to begin with, who cares?

But while I'm acknowledging that times have changed and MTV doesn't show videos that often anymore, I have to ask: shouldn't MTV stop producing an awards show for videos every year? The ratings have fallen the last couple of years, possibly because people tuning in have no idea what videos have been nominated and therefore have nothing to root for. Okay, so the ratings did go up this year, but I'm guessing that's mostly because of MTV and Britney Spears's joint venture in sad exploitation. Everybody loves to rubberneck.

As for Tower Records, all of its stores closed last December, although it lives on as a Web site. I looked forward to my visits to Tower, especially in high school and college, just as I loved visits to its competitor, Virgin Megastore, which was conveniently located close to the Reader's offices. Tower and Virgin were the closest you could get as an adult to a childhood trip to the toy store, especially if you loved music and, in the pre-Internet age, couldn't find everything you were looking for at your local record stores. My only complaint about the Tower store in downtown Chicago, which I only visited once, was that it had an escalator that went up to the second and third floors yet there was no down escalator. Wishful thinking, Tower.

The Virgin Megastore on Michigan Ave. in Chicago closed on July 14 due to some of the same problems that killed Tower, e.g. the new era of digital downloads, legal or otherwise. Tower and Virgin's prices were way too high in most cases, especially once file sharing became possible, but if you bought an album the week it came out, you could usually get it for $10 or $12. I don't mind ordering CDs from Amazon.com, but there's nothing like instant gratification. Now there aren't any record stores close to work, and the one that's a mile away has an inconsistent selection; for example, the only two Todd Rundgren albums they currently carry are Nearly Human and 2nd Wind, which no one is clamoring to buy. (I like Nearly Human, but I stand by my original statement.)

Back in March I went to Virgin to look for a copy of Premiere magazine after hearing that it was ceasing publication after nearly 20 years. I wanted to see what was in the final issue, especially Libby Gelman-Waxner's last column. I first bought an issue of Premiere in 1989, when I was 13. My parents gave me a subscription for Christmas the following year and renewed it every year for the next seven. I was in love with movies in middle school and high school, and Premiere was the best movie magazine around as far as I was concerned. (England's Empire was also good, but its import cost and the fact that I could only find it at book stores in Atlanta while I lived in Macon and Athens prevented me from buying it often.) My mom recently asked me if I was going to throw out the old issues I still have in a drawer in my parents' house in Macon. They're moving to North Carolina next year (more changes ahead) and don't want to be burdened with my tangible nostalgia when they start packing. I told her I'd ship the magazines to Chicago when I come home for Christmas. I can't just throw them out. It's ridiculous to think that I'll look through all of them again, but it's comforting just to know they're still there.

My friend Jeremy continued to subscribe to Premiere until the very end, but readers like him weren't informed that the magazine would be going away; he found out from me after I found out on IMDB's news page. What he wanted to know was whether or not he'd get a refund for the issues he'd already paid for. According to Wikipedia, "In late April subscribers were mailed postcards advising them of the magazine's demise and telling them the balance of their subscriptions would be fulfilled with issues of the tabloid-like Us Weekly. Negative response to the offer immediately was posted to the magazine website's forum pages by unhappy subscribers, and it was announced a cash refund would be available for those who preferred one."

Like I said, I wanted to buy the final issue of Premiere, mostly out of nostalgia and an 18-year commitment to the humor of Libby Gelman-Waxner (a.k.a. Paul Rudnick), so I went to Virgin in March and saw that copies of an issue with Will Ferrell were on the magazine racks. Nothing was mentioned in that issue about it being the last one, so I figured the next issue would be the last one.

Wrong. Just like a long-running TV show with low ratings that gets canceled before the writers have a chance to come up with a series finale, Premiere's final issue was just another issue, with no goodbyes or "It's been a great 20 years" or anything of the sort. I'm guessing the editors didn't see the end coming in time to prepare anything special. I wonder if they were first told that the June issue would be the last, which would've brought Premiere's long run to exactly 20 years; instead it fell a few months short. Like Tower Records, Premiere continues to exist in the U.S. as a Web site, but from what I can tell, Libby Gelman-Waxner's column isn't on it, which is a shame.

Here's one comment I found on a message board back in March when the news broke, written by a casual Premiere reader:

That is too bad. I love this magazine. Everytime I go to Barnes $ Noble this is the one I carry when I meet girls. My last 2 girlfriends started conversations with me about something from the magazine. (I tell you this is a chic-magnet) I dumped them both after a year, but that's another story. I confess I hardly bought it, except for special issues with Star Wars characters; and when it came with 4 different covers.

This guy accomplished the whole "woman-hating, insecure but bragging, sci-fi nerd" hat trick in one fell swoop! I didn't include the end of his comment, where he asked people to guess who was on the cover of the first issue of Premiere and gave three easy clues about Harrison Ford. The only problem with his question is that Ford wasn't on the cover of the first Premiere; Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd were, promoting Dragnet. Another commenter corrected the "chic-magnet" reader on this point. I doubt he responded.

A more drastic change that affected my infotainment life came last Thursday, September 6, when Jefitoblog.com was suddenly shut down due to its hosting site, Jatol.com, being shut down. Apparently Jatol's owner hadn't been paying his bills for a while and was legally forced to switch off his servers, which Jefitoblog used to run his site. Or something like that. All I know is that Jefitoblog has been dark for over a week now and may not come back, which is a huge blow to all of his readers and for people like myself who Jeff Giles, the site's workaholic mastermind, encouraged to write about music (because even great workaholic music writers like Jeff need some time off). I thought Jefitoblog would be around for years to come, and if it never returns, then I'll know there is no God ... of pop culture, anyway.

Look, I realize change is necessary, and change can be a wonderful thing—the birth of my two nieces, for instance, and the positive effects of my time in Chicago on my mental health. And it's great when a bad change can lead to something new: earlier this week I woke up to an NPR report about a new record store in Sacramento owned by Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records, who I later learned was forced out of a leadership role at Tower during its last few years of operation. I was only half-conscious as the report ended, but I heard enough key words to search for more information later. The store is called R5 Records/Video and is located in the same building that Tower vacated in December—Tower's very first store, in fact, opened in 1960—which must give Solomon, who's 81 years old, some sort of satisfaction. The store's logo even resembles Tower's. The NPR report featured a few sound bites from customers, one of whom said that it was simply nice to be able to shop for CDs in a big record store staffed by music lovers once again.

After I got up that morning and searched for information on Solomon's new record store on Google, one of the first items I came across about this new beacon of hope for those of us who still enjoy purchasing tangible memories (those of us who live in Sacramento, at least) was a blog entry by a former Sacramento resident and jazz musician who'd recently been to R5 Records for the first time. The date of his entry was July 14, the same day Virgin Megastore closed in Chicago.

That reminded me of a saying people often use when comforting friends or loved ones who are experiencing unwelcome setbacks in their lives: when one door closes, another door opens. Sometimes it's the door to an actual record store whose name isn't iTunes or Amazon, and sometimes it's the door to a new chapter in life, one that ends up being better than what you'd grown accustomed to. You never know. I don't like not knowing, but there's already so much I don't know, adding one more thing can't hurt.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Telly pours it on.

I've gotten too YouTube-happy here lately, but while searching for a two-disc Bread compilation called Retrospective earlier today, I ran across an intriguing customer comment: Telly Savalas's cover of Bread's "If" was a number-one hit in the UK in 1975.

Whaaaaaaaa?! As a soft-rock fan and Me TV nut (more on that later), not to mention an admirer of William Shatner's spoken-word covers of songs like "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," I have to hear this version!


Or see it. The video below demonstrates that if you're going to sleaze up lyrics like "And when my love for life is running dry / You come and pour yourself on me," it helps to pause after the word "come." And it doesn't hurt if you're sporting an open shirt and gold chains and smoking a cigarette while staring at a vacant female face.

Sorry, Telly, but you're too macho to ever be a real soft rocker. You're accustomed to taking what you want, whereas soft rockers are generally polite creatures who timidly ask women if they can take what they want; if they're lucky, their request is granted, but usually for one night only.


Still, I hope I'll come across a Kojak rerun on Me TV that shows the title detective relaxing at home while listening to a 45 of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain." Who loves ya, Carly? A David Gates-quoting Telly Savalas, that's who.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

He's not so bad after all.

From the Associated Press:

Kanye West
blames MTV for Britney Spears' less than stellar performance at the Video Music Awards. "Man, they were just trying to get ratings, and they knew she wasn't ready and they exploited her," the 29-year-old rapper said Tuesday on Sirius Satellite Radio's "The Morning Mash Up."

I think it's great that West is standing up for a fellow performer. He knows what a tough racket the music business can be and how MTV tends to eat its young after milking popular artists for all they're worth. I used to think you were a typical conceited, insecure rapper, Kanye, but now I see there's much more to I'm sorry, did I interrupt you? Please continue ...

The network made a "bad move" by having the troubled pop star open Sunday's event in Las Vegas, said West, who feels he should have kicked off the show with "Stronger," the first single from his new album, "Graduation."

Oh.

Never mind.

Monday, September 10, 2007

pulpy

As revealed by actor Shia LaBeouf on the MTV Video Music Awards last night, the title of the fourth Indiana Jones movie, set for release on May 22 next year, is ...

Uh ... hmm ... alright ... I mean, I guess.

Pretty long title
—nine words, 42 letters. And three K sounds in there. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But Ks are supposed to be funny, not ... adventurous. Ah, what the hellI bet Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom sounded pretty goofy and bloated when it was announced sometime in 1983. But I was eight at the time, so it sounded just fine to me.

I'm sure I'll quickly get used to the new Indy movie's title the way I got used to Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace back in 1999. It seems like George Lucas, the creator of both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, is getting more and more pulpy with his titles as he gets older. Or maybe it's the fact that I'm much older than I was when the first batch of films in these franchises came out in the '70s and '80s. Therefore a title like Attack of the Clones makes me laugh now, whereas if I was still a child I'd be saying "ooh" and "ahh" in anticipation of big-screen action and spin-off merchandise that could cast a spell on me all summer long.

But not letting a title like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull keep me up at night is a good thing. It's a very good thing. I wouldn't want to be like a former coworker of mine who refused to see Star Wars: Episode II
—Attack of the Clones in 2002 because he felt so cheated by The Phantom Menace. I didn't have the courage to tell him that he shouldn't have expected to get the same kind of thrill from a new Star Wars movie in his late twenties that he did when he was six. This guy's childhood had ended a long time ago, and it wasn't going to be George Lucas's fault if his years of prepubescence didn't make a late-inning comeback. Just enjoy the ride, and if that doesn't work, have some kids of your own so you can get a buzz off their reaction to Industrial Light & Magic's bag of tricks.

To be fair to my former coworker, though, The Phantom Menace was a sorry follow-up to the original trilogy, but I wasn't expecting a repeat of the first three films, which admittedly lost some of their luster once I reached college and realized how atrocious the acting and dialogue is in certain spots. That being said, director Irvin Kershner deserves praise for pulling solid performances out of all the leads in The Empire Strikes Back, and Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan's dialogue for that film is an improvement over the ham-fisted declarations Lucas seems to prefer in his space operas. As Harrison Ford said to Lucas on the set of Star Wars in 1976, "You can type this shit, George, but you sure can't say it." Ford played Han Solo in the original trilogy and added a great deal of humor to the series. The prequels didn't have a Solo-like character, which is one of the main reasons why they weren't nearly as entertaining to me. But if I were 25 years younger, I'm sure I would've eaten them up. (No sale on Jar Jar Binks, though. I wasn't that dumb as a kid.)

Ford also had terrific comic timing as Indiana Jones in the first three films of that series, so I'm looking forward to seeing him in Indiana Jones and the Blah Blah Blah next May. However, I'm not sure what to think about Lucas's next project, Even More American Graffiti: Journey to the 50-Year Reunion of Lost Souls.

shiny

While I take my sweet time finishing longer posts, here's a fake movie trailer that my friend Mary introduced me to sometime in '05 or '06. It's an expertly edited parody-slash-"remix" that still makes me laugh.