Saturday, November 29, 2008

Kit Ream: All That I Am

The old man that we called 'Lung Player (LP) Louie' deftly navigated his massive record collection, pulled out a well-worn album from one of the many stacks of vinyl slabs littering his two room 'studio apartment' (as he called it), and placed it on the turntable.  As he sat down with a weathered cough, he tossed the album cover onto my lap and laughed.  

"You think that last one was weird, Stevie?  Check this one out..."

- Kit Ream, All That I Am (Front), 1978 - Creative Records #MW001

"I have not said I'm better, and I have not said I'm worse - but I have an idea concerning the universe. The wheelchair general with his head on wrong - or the long haired singer with his wine and song.  To say that I love you with a bomb - or to sing that I hate you: that ain't wrong.  I know better than what you give.  All I ask is a chance to live; my way or your way it's all the same. 'Cause if no one's hurt, there's none to blame. No... I've not said I'm better, and I've not said I'm worse - but I do have an idea concerning the universe.  Always in hell, as I'm sure you can tell.  I see you are blind, so I'll take the time... to teach. You must keep in tune just as the moon, which is never too late or never too soon. Here, there, and everywhere you people be real.  We must congeal and strip the seal.  I'm not saying I'm better and I'm not saying I'm worse - but I have the idea concerning the universe.  I really do... now you hear it through."

- Introuniversal Jam

And so I was introduced to Kit Ream.  

In my previous post on Gary Wilson's 'You Think You Really Know Me', I mentioned a half-hearted comparison to Kit Ream's 'All That I Am' album.  
It might seem a stretch - considering the different types of subject matter that Wilson and Ream specialized in.  However, an underlying sense of paranoia, uneasiness, and individualism unites both.  

While Wilson's jazz-based work would veer into the avant-garde with a touch of early electronica, Ream's work has been described as 'cocktail-by-the-pool crazy'; a compelling mix of soft jazz and new-age hippy philosophy, spiced by a menacingly stoned lounge singer who may or may not have been heir to the Nabisco Cookie fortune.

And who, after the recording of this album, may or may not have murdered his best friend after experiencing a psychotic break.

- All That I Am (Back)

And surely that is the biggest difference between Ream and Wilson:  

Gary Wilson, I would like to think, doesn't actually talk to mannequins named Cindy and Linda during his spare time.  Sure... he is probably an odd duck - but aren't we all?  
The 'Gary Wilson' persona is a gimmick.  A good one, mind you - but still a gimmick.

Kit Ream?  Look at that face on the album cover again and tell me his was a put-on.  

All That I Am is far from a masterpiece.  

But if you subscribe to the theory that art must challenge the viewer - or in this case, the listener, then surely Kit Ream's opus is artistic.  

Let's catch Trout.  
Have a meal in our stomach and then we can bout.  
And laugh about.
Maybe with a friend.  Have a good old honest burp.  And then slurp some more down.  
Because we can't get what's really on our mind.  
And that's... 
Woman!  Woman!  Female!  Hey Hey, Say Hey... Woman! 

- Funk

Some choice cuts...

* 'Don't Be So Holy Poly Over My Souly'

After nominating Black Randy's 'Pass the Dust, I Think I'm Bowie' as the greatest album title of all time, I'm throwing in my vote for 'Don't Be So Holy Poly Over My Souly' as greatest song.
I mean... come on!  

John Lennon would have killed for a song title like that.  
And then turned around and sold 10 million units.

* The 8:44 long 'Wines'.  
The cut pretty much sums up All That Kit Ream Is: Dueling female scat singers for the duration, a hot jazz backing, and Ream drunkenly riffing on wino Jason Slash, the old rugged cross searching for a crown, and changing skins with... 
I don't have a clue, actually - but I'm sure Kit must have. 

* The refreshing, 'Cool Water' - a startlingly straight song in which the lovely Mina Judd handles vocal duties.  

* Track 7, the fantastic 'Funk', features some inspired playing by Ream's backing players.  Funky flutes?  Harry Connick Jr. could only hope to feature funky flutes.  
The vocals... well, let's just say we can guess what ol' Kit was doing during Miss Judd's session.   He was producing, alright.  Producing vials of differing substances, I'll bet.  

Listening to Kit slur his way through the speech-song, I am reminded of my equally plastered father's late-night diatribes.  Slipping from exuberance to despair to anger and then back again in the same sentence, I never quite knew which emotional vibe to hang on to.
After awhile, you deaden yourself and learn to just go for the ride.    

* The final cut, 'The End' is flat-out spooky.  And it is a great one. 
A droning synth chord backs Ream's disturbing ramble, until creeping toward an implosion of such new-age, Johnny Guru stickiness, the whole kit and kaboodle threatens to come down around it.

I continually come out of the deal feeling a bit dirty.  Much like I do after reading a Lovecraft ditty.      

Or watching reality television.

Links of Interest:

* All That I Am (@320 kbps)
* Waxidermy - An excellent article on Ream; a fantastic site - highly recommended!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band

Somebody's had too much to Think!

- Ashtray Heart

Speaking of
criminally underrated music acts ... 

Dominating my own personal K-Tel Records compilation is the one and only Captain Beefheart (born Don Vliet, January 15, 1941).

Don Van Vliet, circa 1969

Despite the fact that I am ashamed to admit I discovered the music of Don Van Vliet a couple of short years ago, I can honestly say that no one comes close.  

No one.

I am confident that had I heard (and properly digested) Beefheart's Dada Blues at a younger and more impressionable age, I would have done more to follow down that same path. 

At the very least, I would have stuck my fork in the socket and discovered the power of Electricity sooner.   

The Past Sure Is Tense!

It was hard to avoid hearing about Beefheart while cultivating my own music tastes (a process that continues almost daily), considering so many of my favorites would either name check the man in interviews - or end up lumped in with the good Captain by journalists and music scribes.  After all, Beefheart's influence on the punk and no/new wave movements of the 70s and 80s is simply too strong to ignore.

But I did manage to avoid listening to his music.  

In the end, I blame Frank Zappa.  

 - Frank Zappa & Captain Beefheart, 'Bongo Fury', 1975

It's not so much that I dislike Zappa (which I do).
The man is to be respected for such an impressive set of facial hair.  
And fifteen years after Zappa's death, his overall mastery of the zither remains unparalleled.

Not to mention those Frankie and Annette flicks.  Brilliant.

In generalized essence, one of my main beefs against Zappa, in relation to Captain Beefheart, is that you can read a nice cross-sample of articles on Frankie and never come across mention of Beefheart.  
On the other side of that coin, you would be hard pressed to read something on Beefheart without tripping across a Zappa reference (or ten).

'Childhood friends'.  
'Zappa produced Trout Mask'.
'Zappa Ate the Grunt People!'
'Bongo Fury kept the Captain sailing, dude'.
'When ya' workin' with Frank again?  When ya' workin' with Frank??'

In the minds of too many - and that includes my own inner circles of inspiration, Beefheart and His/The Magic Band were nothing more than a Zappa freak show put-on; ala Wild Man Fischer, the GTOs, and Burt Ward.  

That truly is Tragic.  

From 1967 until his retirement from the music business in 1982, Beefheart produced twelve 'official' albums, four fluid versions of The Magic Band, and enough myths to choke Joseph Campbell's dog.  On top of that, he influenced notable artists and personalities John Peel, The Residents, Tom Waits, John Lydon, The Minutemen, Matt Groening, and P J Harvey - just to name a select handful.  

Is that not enough evidence to support the notion that Van Vliet deserves more time out of Zappa's shadow?

Regardless, the debate matters little these days.

Captain Beefheart followed his Big Eyed Beans back to Venus long ago.

Down With Vegans - Up With Beef!

Links of Interest:

Safe As Milk - the Magic Band's first album, 1967
Trout Mask Replica - Considered by many to be Beefheart's Magnum Opus
The Spotlight Kid + Clear Spot Double Shot - Possibly Beefheart's finest hour.  Both albums released 1972
Ice Cream for Crow - The Swan Song, 1982
The Captain Beefheart Radar Station - An excellent site

... and after checking my email during the editing process, I would like to publicly state my apologies to not only the Zappa estate for the facial hair remark - but also to the estate of Anton Karas for the zither crack.  Funny... Annette Funicello didn't seem to mind.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Brenden Foster

After a nearly year-long battle with leukemia, Brenden Foster died this past Friday (November 21, 2008) at the age of eleven.

His story has been reported elsewhere, but it is worth repeating here (and everywhere):

Out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom.   

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Black Randy and The Metrosquad

"All my clothes are punky, man. But I will go to the laundromat and Jah will make them clean."

- 'Down At The Laundromat'

I'm sure that you've got several criminally underrated bands in your music catalogue; those that draw blank stares and mumbled, "I think I've heard of 'em" untruths whenever bringing them up. Right?

Most of us do in one form or another. Unless, of course, you are - like my wife - one of those that opine that Cyndi Lauper is criminally underrated.

In that case, we are on different wavelengths.

Black Randy & The Metrosquad - 'Pass The Dust, I Think I'm Bowie'

Shunned by the pseudo-intellectuals in New York and the fashion conscious in London, the early Los Angeles 'Masque era' scene (1977-79) produced some interesting talent. While X, The Go-Go's and The Germs are three of the more well-known groups to crawl out of that particular muck, a listing of artists on the three Dangerhouse compilations ('Volume One', 'Volume 2: Give Me a Little Pain' and 'Yes, L.A.') reveals some equally talented bands: The Bags, the Weirdos, the Randoms, the Dils, the Avengers, Rhino 39, the Alleycats, the Deadbeats...

...and Black Randy and the Metrosquad.

Fronted by the notoriously outrageous Jon Morris; aka Black Randy, the Metrosquad was a super-outfit of sorts - consisting of musical director Dave Brown (the Screamers and the Eyes), K.K. Barrett (the Screamers and the Randoms), Pat Garrett (the Randoms and the Dils), Bod Dead, and eventually Joe Nanini (Howard Werth Band, the Eyes and Wall of Voodoo).

Unlike the three chord and die blisters delivered by a lot of punk bands, the Metrosquad were an odd fusion of white-boy funk, drunken soul, and punk. Musically, they were completely alien not only to their own scene, but also to every scene afterwards.

Lyrically, they were one of the more satirically offensive bands you are ever likely to hear.

"I got a long black eel. And I know where to stick it. So I'll barefoot on the wicket picket."

- 'Barefootin' On The Wicket Picket'

Whether it was love songs to Idi Amin ("Everything is greater 'cause Idi is Dictator!") or fantasies about becoming a cop in order to bust all of the cool kids that ignored him ('I Wanna Be a Narc'), Black Randy's stage persona was that of Fred Sanford to Darby Crash's Grady Wilson.

A smutty and sneering blowhard who took great pleasure in pissing off as many people as possible, Randy's signature tune was a cover of the James Brown classic, 'Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)'.

Amazingly, not many people appreciated the irony of a pasty white thrift-store hippy singing such a well-regarded black pride anthem.

In typical punk rock D.I.Y. tradition, there were only four official releases by the band (all of them on their own Dangerhouse label) - not to mention a few compilation appearances.
And thanks to our faceless friends on the interweb, you, too, can check them out:

Trouble at the Cup 7" EP b/w 'Loner with a Boner' and 'Sperm Bank Baby', December 1977 (Dangerhouse #MO721)
Idi Amin 7" EP b/w 'I'm Black & Proud, parts 3 & 14' and 'I Wanna Be A Narc', April 1978 (Dangerhouse #IDI722)
I Slept In An Arcade 7" EP b/w 'Give It Up Or Turn It Loose', July 1979 (Dangerhouse #KY724)
Pass The Dust, I Think I'm Bowie LP, July 1979 (Dangerhouse #PCP725)

Dangerhouse, Volume One - featuring 'Trouble at the Cup', same cut as found on the EP of the same name
Dangerhouse Volume Two: Give Me a Little Pain - featuring 'Idi Amin' and 'I Slept In An Arcade', same cuts as found on the 'Pass the Dust' album
Yes L.A. (Dangerhouse #EW-79, Currently Way Out of Print) - featuring 'Down At The Laundrymat'

Updated link:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Mayfly: Colt 45's Revenge

In 1978 I remember driving along the streets of Cleveland with my father at the wheel.  Spray painted on the wall of some typically decrepit warehouse were the words, 'Sex Pistols'.  Neat.

"Hey, dad?  If you are shot by a sex pistol, do you change into a girl?"
"It said 'Sex Pistols' on that wall back there."
"Sex Pistols??"
"Yeah!  So I was wondering if you were shot by one..."
"The Sex Pistols are a bunch of filthy assholes!  Don't you ever mention them again."

Even though he was a hippy vampire feeding at the neck of Colt 45, Dad was a wise man.

Being an angry young dog, I would eventually gravitate towards punk.  Several years too late, perhaps - but what can you do?  

While most of my friends were listening to Def Leppard and Rush, I was listening to Talking Heads and Television.  When those same friends graduated to Anthrax and Slayer, I was listening to Public Image Limited and Dead Kennedys.  

Punk gave me focus in a foggy world.  In many ways, it shaped who I would become.

And it is all because of Chuck Arwood.

Chuck Arwood, a misfit's misfit, was a dear friend of mine.  In sixth grade he was a horn-rimmed butt of many a wise crack; scrawny, nervous... a bit spacey.  
He was the 'Weird Kid'.  

Paralleling my gradual descent from the social graces of the 'cool kids' during my junior high years, Chuck grew physically bigger than most of us - which, in turn, allowed him to grow bolder in his bizarre personality.  

He was the type that most people would love to have around them.  
For a week.  
Any longer than that and you were simply tempting the fates; there was no way to predict what the wild child Arwood would do one moment to the next.

Would he pull out his dick during a pick-up baseball game and rave to the world his superiority in all things girth?
Would he deposit Monopoly money into his parent's ATM account, then withdrawal hundreds of dollars for splurges at Parmatown Mall?

You just never knew.  And that's why I loved the guy.
While hanging out at his house one night, boredom set in.  

"Wouldn't it be nice if we had a car, Baker?"  He almost always called me by my last name.  "We could blow this place and have some real fun."
"I guess.  Where would you go if you had a car, Chuck?"
"Does it matter? Anywhere.  Everywhere."

Trying to impress the impressive, I thought back to a conversation I had had with a mutual friend that very day.  "Listen... Troy's car has no locks and can be started without a key.  Why don't we take it out for a spin?  He'll never know."

So we took it.  
Keep in mind that Troy McManus was a friend.  We had grown apart in the months previous, but he was a friend.

Like that mattered...

The joyride consisted of Chuck screaming down Pearl Road, a major thoroughfare cutting from Strongsville to Cleveland, narrowly avoiding a horrendous motorcycle accident cleanup at speeds topping out at 80 per.  It amazes me that we weren't popped right then and there.  
I'm sure that the cops and ambulance attendants were probably too stunned to do anything but gawk.  

I later found out that the motorcycle rider was D.O.A. at the scene.
Poor schmuck.      

At the end of our night, Chuck decided that turfing the lawn of Greenbriar Junior High was in order.  Who was I to argue?

On the last pass, Chuck lost control of the car, sending it directly into a swing set.  

Turfed lawn.  Check.
Toppled swingset.  Check.
Demolished car.  Oh, crap.

Lucky break #2, I suppose.  The entire passenger side of the vehicle was a mess.  
But I wasn't feeling too lucky.

Panic set in.  

It's not as if Troy would fail to notice that his prized piece of shit was totaled.  Right?   
What to do?  What to do??

"Let's burn it!"

I've made some bad decisions in my life, but 'Let's Burn It!' would rank as one of the worst.
Right up there with, 'Why don't we take it for a spin?  He'll never know!' 

One Grand Theft Auto and a side of Arson, please.  

In disgust, the old man spit in my face when he got me home from the police station.  It was a lot of fun.  We still laugh about it in between the 2-3 year cycle of lay offs from talking to each other.

And needless to say, after the smoke of near incarceration cleared, my old circle of friends rightfully turned their backs on me.  
Smart guys.  I deserved it.

Friendless (and grounded for six months), I transformed myself into as much of an outward freak as I could in order to reflect the inner chaos.  And, most importantly, to piss off my father with the one thing he hated above all else.

I became a punk.

Thanks, Chuck.
Sorry, Troy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gary Wilson: You Think You Really Know Me?

Ladies and Gentlemen... Gary Wilson & The Blind Dates!

A Band so bizarre, they flustered the CBGB punks to the point of confusion and disgust.  

The same crowd that grew to love Stiv Bators. 
Imagine that.

Gary Wilson's main claim to fame, recording-wise, 'You Think You Really Know Me' is one of the more disturbing (and interesting) albums I have had the pleasure of listening to.  And that is saying something, considering some of the 'outsider' acts in my library; The Shaggs, Luie Luie, Kit Ream, and The Monkees - just to name a few.

Sick Trips take the place of someone else's Blind Dates...

- When You Walk into My Dreams

Released in 1977, the best I can describe the music on You Think You Really Know Me would be 'Stalker Rock' - a bizarre mix of lounge lizard bleatings, 70s porn soundtracks, avant-garde angst and Steely Dan funk.  

In other words, an Americanized French Song era Davy Jones.  

... If Davy never got the girl.  
... And then sat in his parent's basement for the next twenty years action-figuring a way to get her back.

Frankly, there just isn't anything else quite like 'You Think You Really Know Me'.  At least nothing I have ever heard before.  

Heck, a great majority of Wilson's later work doesn't even come close.  

I took her to the dance last Friday night.  
I said, 'Just wait there. I'll be right back.' 
She said, 'Gary... that sounds fine.'  
When I came back, I told her I fell in love with her.
She said, 'Gary, falling in love ain't too cool.'

- Groovy Girls Make Love at the Beach

The closest comparison I could make would be Kit Ream's 'All That I Am' - although I would be hard pressed to define the exact similarities between the two albums.  
'They both kind of creep me out' will have to do.    

Sure... not many bands sound like The Shaggs, either.  
But why in the world would they want to?  

Links of Interest: 

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Prince Far I, The Voice of Thunder

Reading the news today, I stumbled across yet another story that struck a nerve.

3 paragraphs.  Done and gone.  
Thanks for playing child Allen.  
Good luck next time.

Yet the Cleveland Cavaliers get a tome in comparison.  

I, for one, am glad that has its priorities in order.

"Man has turned into a Dog.  Discipline is what the world needs today.  And etiquette, you know.
For one of the Noblest things a Man can do is to do the best he can, yeah..."

- Prince Far I, Heavy Manners

To quote the All Music Guide biography on the mighty Prince:

"... He certainly cannot be categorized as a singer, although at times -- especially during chanted passages -- there was definitely a singsong quality to his vocals, and in that respect the closest comparison was to Winston Rodney of Burning Spear.  However, that group actually wrote lyrics, while Prince Far I vocals were a stream of consciousness that belongs in the DJ realm.  But to call him a toaster is equally inaccurate.  His delivery was reminiscent of an Old Testament prophet, railing at the wicked, a seething outpouring of religiously inspired righteousness."

As far as I am concerned Michael Williams (c. 1944-1983); aka Prince Far-I was a prophet.  
Whereas Bob Marley's Godly message of Peace and Unity can be considered a sugar, Prince Far-I's thunderous declarations of Discipline and Livity* were the spice.  

* = Word used by Rastafarians, meaning 'Righteous Living'

Links of interest:  

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thanks, Bobby...

Up to this point, I have continually shunned blogging as a semi-literate ego trip for failed English majors and bored housewives/husbands. 
However, I've grown to appreciate the medium as a means of information exchange.  

Yeah, yeah... a few years late on that one, sparky.  

In large part, this revelation started when I stumbled across the CleSoul blog run by Bobby and Wedge.  Concentrating on the local Cleveland Soul Music scene, the CleSoul blog opened my eyes.  While I knew that the Cleveland area was a music hub during the 70s, I had no clue as to the extent.

Who knew it didn't begin and end with Michael Stanley??  

Hence the information exchange light bulb.

Check it out.