Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Audio Journal 2004 (An Audio Tip Of The Glass to 2004)

Cool. You're reading this. And by now you've had a chance to listen to the latest CD I gave you over the Holidays.
Below is the track listing. It's a random little mix of some of the stuff I've been digging over this past year. It's all over the place including new stuff from The Deathray Davies, portastatic, Tommy Stinson, U2, De la Soul, some killer old Blues freshly converted to digital from old 78 lps, Los #3 Dinners, my Tiki Room Garage Band ditties, a bit of found audio from my stumbles around the globe and even some of my favorite NPR stories among other little audio gems. As always, please feel free to comment and if there's anything you think I need to hear - please pass it along! If you don't find what you're looking for, in terms of track info, please let me know via the comments button at the bottom of this here Blog.

Throw this in the next time you're in the mood for a little NPR/College Radio/What the Hell was that?/I Can't believe these guys are not winning Grammys! type stuff. Gonna be in the car for a while? This is a perfect Trip to Austin CD (via 281 from San Antonio) or better yet, the drive to Big Bend. Oh, and if this makes it to your iPod, try and keep the sequence of these 31 audio events for at least the first few listens. Not to say that this was an exercise in linear story telling, but in this instance the placement of each track was thoughtfully considered and purely a conscious effort. And by the way, leaving a comment assures your name on the list for the next installment due out early February, 2005. Yeah, it's like that.

If you could possibly manage the time, please, let me know if you've found anything on the disc that did anything to move your soul or at least get your toes tappin' or perhaps, maybe, at some point during your first few listens you found yourself suddenly singing along to a song that pretty much nobody else in the world (or your age group) has ever even heard of.

So...Turn it up there Captain!

1) Apollo Chatter Intro: 0:15 Space Transitions ©TBR Segue
2) Ice Cold Lemonade 1:39 Lost EP Death By Chocolate
3) NYKRIS Leicester Square Gentlemans Room 0:45 NYKRIS pPod
4) Drinkin Shine 3:11 78s Elder Curry
5) The Tarpon Inn 2:45 http://music.download.com/tikibongo Tiki Bongo
6) Down In SA 2:42 Live From KSYM Los #3 Dinners
7) Paris Welcome 0:25 Paris Fun Facts NYT.com
8) In Spain 5:11 From The Back Of Eric's Trunk Buttercup
9) Autumn Got Dark 2:48 Autumn Was A Lark Portastatic
10) Bit Torrents 3:33 Paul Ford NPR
11) Open House 3:32 The Horrible Truth About Moped Moped
12) Letter To God 3:00 New 2004 The Deathray Davies
13) All Because Of You 3:39 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb U2
14) Hey You 5:23 Village Gorilla Head Tommy Stinson
15) Apollo Chatter Hey John: 0:15 Space Transitions ©TBR Segue
16) Plan To Stay Awake 2:03 New 2004 The Deathray Davies
17) Harry Potter 2:09 Harry Potter Harry Potter
18) Early 4:12 H. Michael Karshis's Album H. Michael Karshis
19) Butts Outa Bed 0:06 My Darling Wife 2B Audio Sketch Book HMK
20) Necessito 2:54 Some Girls Some Girls
21) Don't Fuck With My Friends 3:55 New 2004 The Deathray Davies
22) Nice Airport 10/4/04 2:17 PM 0:38 Found Sound HMK
23) Up 'n' Down 2 1:48 H. Michael Karshis's Album H. Michael Karshis
24) Cutting Daisies 5:19 From The Back Of Eric's Trunk Buttercup
25) Paris Metro 1:32 Paris Fun Facts NYT
26) Vertigo 3:14 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb U2
27) Paris Shopping 1:37 Paris Fun Facts NYT.com
28) Shoppin' Bags 3:57 The Grind Date De la Soul
29) Rockin & Rollin 1:03 78s Lil Son Jackson
30) Tiki Review 001 1:07 Bill, Bud & Ed's Excellent Adventure Found Sound HMK
31) What About Mine? 3:43 Folker Paul Westerberg
32) Apollo Chatter Cards & Letters: 0:15 Space Transitions ©TBR Segue

Peace My Friends,


Let your heart be light
From now on our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yule-tide gay
From now on our troubles will be miles away
Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
Through the years
We all will be together
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself
A merry little Christmas now
- Written by Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane, 1943

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of
all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the
lessons that they teach."
- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Satellite Radio's Northern Exposure

JAX, Ontario

Rob MacArthur, a part-time music promoter, has a cardboard box full of nearly 60 CD's at his bar in this town half an hour east of Toronto, sent to him by independent Canadian musicians hoping for a shot at getting their songs on the radio.

For many of these artists the odds are slim, admits Mr. MacArthur, who is a guitarist in country bands himself. The music is good, but there isn't enough space on the radio for everyone, said the 43-year-old, who with his long gray hair and ready smile has the look of an aging country musician.

"It's constrictive," he said. "If you're a new artist trying to break in, you're having a hell of a time."

But those artists may be getting more exposure if satellite radio, with its hundreds of channels, is approved in Canada, as many here expect it to be early next year.

And in the process, the more than three million subscribers to XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio in the United States may find a slightly more Canadian flavor on the radio: more Canadian music, more Canadian news and more Canadian comedy.

That is because to win approval here, satellite radio must become a little more Canadian.

Though XM and Sirius signals reach Canada, and some Canadians furtively own receivers, the equipment is not yet legal. The hitch is a decades-old Canadian broadcasting policy meant to guarantee that the content on Canadian airwaves is sufficiently Canadian (about 35 percent for the typical music radio station) and not overwhelmed by a flood of American pop culture.

These rules remain important for Canada, said Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. "There needs to be cultural policy put into place that helps level the playing field and allow Canadian content to be made," he said.

Canadian Satellite Radio and Sirius Canada, the two companies pitching the service to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, Canada's version of the F.C.C., are Canadian-owned but close partners of the American satellite radio services.

Each has promised to offer five all-Canadian channels across North America (including two in French), and potentially eight if there are enough Canadian subscribers. The companies have promised various other incentives to promote Canadian talent and woo the commission, considered by many to be the guardian of Canadian culture.

"This is the first time we will be exporting channels into the U.S.," said Kevin Shea, the president of Sirius Canada, a consortium made up of Sirius Radio, Standard Radio and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada's national public broadcaster. The company has promised to offer four CBC stations and one station produced by Standard Radio, a large privately owned Canadian broadcast company.

Over the course of the license, which typically lasts about seven years, it would also spend about $18.5 million to support Canadian talent, including money for travel to Sirius headquarters in New York for live performances and to promote tours, Mr. Shea said.

Canadian Satellite Radio, in partnership with XM Satellite Radio, plans to offer a similar mix of news and music stations, as well as a Canadian comedy channel.

It plans to create a position in Washington for an "ambassador" who would promote new Canadian acts among XM Radio programmers and arrange live shows featuring Canadian artists at XM's studios, Stewart Lyons, the company's vice president, said in a phone interview. In addition, it will build sound studios in Montreal and Toronto to help independent artists and spend $23.5 million developing Canadian talent.

There is some concern about squeezing Canadian channels into the mix, given satellite radio's limited bandwidth, which for Sirius stands at about 120 channels and for XM at about 130, officials at both Canadian companies said. But there is also a lot of confidence in the appetite for Canadian programming in the United States, they argued.

"CBC News I think could do phenomenally well in the U.S., outside of the fact that there are a lot of Canadians at various times of the year in the United States," Mr. Shea said.

"We knew that going in, the bandwidth is limited," Mr. Lyons said. "When we say we offer five channels, that's five channels that will have to give way on the XM system."

Canadian channels will not force American programming off the air; rather, the expansion is in step with efforts to carry a wide variety of programming, said Chance Patterson, XM's vice president for corporate affairs.

"There's going to be a good number who find the programming attractive, just by the sheer numbers" of subscribers, Mr. Patterson said. The comedy channel, for example, would be popular given the tradition of talent in Canada, he said.

One comedian eager to see the technology expand here is Ben Miner, who for the last year has been traveling around eastern Canada honing his standup comedy routine in small clubs and sharing motel rooms with other comedians to save money.

Satellite radio technology would help comedians reach an American audience, help develop the Canadian market and open a lot of doors, Mr. Miner said. "There are three of us in a two-bedroom hotel room with a cot off to the side," he said, when reached by phone at a hotel in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, where he is on tour. "We've been using the Foreman grill making sandwiches. That's why I want satellite radio, so I can eat out instead of making grilled cheese."

Mr. Miner is passionate enough about the technology that he appeared in November at the radio commission's hearings, decked out in his only suit - a three-piece pinstripe - and a gold tie, gold shirt, and gold pocket square, to speak in favor of allowing satellite radio in Canada.

"We need to be able to export things aside from maple syrup," he joked.

Both services stand a good chance of winning approval, Mr. Geist said. Faced with new border-defying technologies like satellite and the Internet, the commission is having to reconsider and adapt its approach to Canadian content laws, he said.

"What we're going to see is increasingly a shift toward policy that encourages the creation of Canadian content, as opposed to policies focused on creating barriers to disseminating foreign content in Canada."

Still, the emerging gray market for satellite-radio equipment in Canada - the Canadian satellite-radio applicants estimate the current number of users here at 50,000 - may also hasten action by the commission.

Mr. MacArthur, for example, often plays satellite radio at his bar using equipment he borrows from a regular customer, a long-haul trucker. On a reporter's visit, the system was tuned to the 50's Channel on XM, and the crystal-clear sound of Peggy Lee echoed through the bar.

Some Canadian music industry groups oppose satellite radio, arguing that it still does not meet Canadian content laws; they argue that there is a risk of lost royalties with new products that allow users to record satellite radio. At the November hearing, commission members also expressed some skepticism about the proposals and the limited amount of Canadian content.

The service in Canada will be virtually identical to that offered across the United States, although the commission may order some channels disabled to meet local standards.

Sirius and XM can tailor programming to target specific markets, but in the United States they have been forced under pressure from the broadcast industry, particularly the National Association of Broadcasters, to offer all of their channels everywhere and not compete with local services, said Bob Richards, a partner with Skywaves Research, an independent satellite radio research company.

More and more channels have been turned over to local weather and traffic by both Sirius and XM, but by law are all carried nationally, instead of just the relevant markets, Mr. Richards added.

Canadian commission approval is not a sure thing. But the opportunities for most Canadian musicians to be heard are much higher with satellite radio than without, Mr. MacArthur said.

"Satellite radio is about giving Canadians a chance to get aired," he says. "We don't want satellite radio to get U.S. music here. It's already here."


Sunday, November 28, 2004

Gigantic Steps

It took money troubles to get the celebrated Pixies back together. But no one could have predicted the large and passionate crowds that have greeted the band on its first tour in more than a decade.

It began, like so many life changes, with a joke. Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis, born Charles Michael Kittredge Thompson IV, was asked by a radio host if there was any chance his former band, the Pixies, would ever play together again. It was the summer of 2003, and Black – newly divorced, homeless, crossing Europe in a rental car trying to stretch a two-week solo promotional tour into six for lack of anything better to do – made a crack, inspired by a stunt George Harrison used to pull on journalists.

He announced on the radio that the foursome regularly gathered at his house for impromptu jams.

Within hours the Internet was flooded with rumors of a Pixies reunion. The next day Page Six of the New York Post printed an item about the Pixies' secret sessions. Industry insiders began phoning band members to ask if the stories were true.

“I was like, 'Oh, well. OK. Maybe we should,' ” says Black, chatting recently in the lobby of the W Hotel in Chicago, where the Pixies were in the middle of a five-night run at the Aragon Ballroom that sold out in one day. “Maybe that ridiculous joke, and everybody knew it was ridiculous, was a way to get my feet wet with the idea.”

The idea required no small amount of getting used to. For those unversed in alternative rock lore, a brief history: The Pixies formed in 1986 in Boston when UMass-Amherst dropouts Charles Thompson and Joey Santiago placed a now-legendary ad in the Boston Phoenix soliciting a bass player in. uenced by Husker Du and Peter, Paul, & Mary.

That turned out to be Kim Deal, who recruited her friend David Lovering, a drummer and electronic engineering student at the Wentworth Institute of Technology. Six years and five records later, in one very quiet, very hostile gesture, the Pixies imploded via Black's fax machine.

In between they changed the sound of rock music.

''Reagan was president. Somebody like Michael Jackson was number one. Everyone in Boston, including me, was playing jangly pop," says Gary Smith, owner of Fort Apache studios. Smith attended one of the Pixies' first live shows, at the Rat in Kendall Square, and soon after produced ''Come On Pilgrim," the Pixies' debut EP, released in 1987.

''Here was this kid screaming at the top of his lungs, then bringing it down to something very calm. There was something almost shamanistic about him. It was totally new, and I thought they were it."

So did Kurt Cobain, who routinely claimed that the loud-soft dynamics of Nirvana's breakthrough hit ''Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a blatant Pixies rip-off. Radiohead's Thom Yorke, another grateful fan, agreed to headline last spring's Coachella Festival, he said, because the Pixies would be there.

The band's cryptic, artful mash of pop hooks and jagged noise never broke through to the mainstream, at least not in the United States. It took five years for the group's most successful album, 1989's ''Doolittle," to go gold.

But hindsight confirms that the Pixies, who perform on Tuesday at the Mullins Center in Amherst and the following two nights at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, were creating a sonic blueprint for the alt-rock explosion that followed. And the rapturous affection with which the Pixies reunion is being greeted -- audiences in many cities are 10 times bigger than they were the first time around, and they're overflowing with a new generation of fans -- is testament to the interest and regard that's grown steadily in the band's absence.

''In every group of friends there's one guy who's cool about music, who's the font of knowledge, and Pixies are one of the bands he talks about," explains Steve Albini, the indie-rock studio guru who produced the Pixies' 1988 full-length debut, ''Surfer Rosa."

''It's a kind of received wisdom, and you tell your friends when you go off to college, and leave your records to your little brother and sister. That's how they developed a momentum and enthusiasm among a fan base who'd never seen them and weren't even conscious of them the first time around."

And yet the Pixies' story is more convoluted than a simple case of a seminal act finally getting its due. It's a modern fable with a happy middle that fuses rock 'n' roll mythology with the far-less-glamorous reality of adulthood.

Older, wiser, and on a crash course with middle age, all four members of the band, who are in their late 30s and early 40s, unabashedly acknowledge (this band is nothing if not unabashed) the financial lure -- especially as the offers ballooned with every passing concert season.

Still, despite interest from record companies who want to put out a new Pixies album, there are no plans beyond this tour.

''There's a lot of potential for this to go wrong if we continue," Black admits.

Harmonious orbit at the Aragon Ballroom, where Spanish pillars and spilled beer combine to create this city's premiere concert ambience, the only plans for the future involve tonight's concert.

Santiago, who gets nervous before shows, is enjoying an impromptu massage from the production designer's wife.

Black (looking very much the expectant father he is in a button-down shirt and Brooks Brothers sweater vest) and Deal (who proudly displays a set of pillowcases she's embroidering for her twin sister, Kelley) sing scales in the stairwell.

Lovering, who's made his living as a professional magician for the past six years, kicks back on the sofa with a new deck of playing cards.

The musicians move in a detached but harmonious orbit. They hardly ever hang out. Neither do they butt heads. The chemistry is almost exclusively musical.

As the tour manager hands out set lists and fruit platters sit embalmed in plastic, a documentary film crew -- which recently recruited Kelley Deal for her unparalleled access -- pans the calm scene, hoping to capture a defining moment.

What the filmmakers get is one more dressing room nondrama. Seven months in, the Pixies' 2004 US tour is not only an unqualified success in the foundering touring industry, it's a model of gentility, a testament to family values, and, most critically, gainful employment.

''Why not be honest? It started to get pretty crappy for me, being freelance in LA," says Santiago, who grew up in Longmeadow and formed a band, the Martinis, with his wife, Linda Mallari, following the Pixies' split. Santiago has spent the last few years trying to break into film and TV composing; Mallari recently gave birth to the couple's second child.

''This tour has its perks for college funds," Santiago says. ''I can breathe."

Likewise for Lovering, a Burlington native who hung up his drumsticks to pursue magic full-time. He says he ''jumped into the air" when he got the call from Santiago, a North Hollywood neighbor with whom he'd remained close.

''I was in one of the worst times of my life," says Lovering. ''The timing couldn't have been better. If you think being a musician is tough. . . . This was like a lost love coming back."

There was never any love to lose between Black and Deal, whose strained relationship was at the root of the Pixies' split. Creative conflicts, ego entanglements, and tight quarters (this time around Deal has forsaken the tour bus for her own RV) were exacerbated by plenty of booze and drugs.

By the end of the Pixies' final tour, opening for U2, Thompson and Deal weren't speaking. Of the fax he sent to the band's manager on New Year's Day 1992, Black explains, ''It was very brief, very nonemotional. It said something like 'I leave.' I did it in a very evasive, super-nonconfrontational way and it probably could have been perceived as a little cold."

Black went on to release a string of modest-selling records with his band the Catholics. Deal has stayed busy if not exactly flush with the Breeders, the quirky rock band she formed in 1989 as a creative outlet outside of the Pixies. The two had no contact for the next 11 years.

Back with Black
When Deal, who lives in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, received the heads up from Santiago, ''I was mystified," she says over coffee in her hotel room. ''But Joe said it was important to him, a life-changing thing for him. So I said I'd do it.

''I called Charles and said, 'I heard we might be getting the gang back together.' And he said, 'Yeah.' And I said, 'The first thing we'll do is get in a room and practice and if it feels stupid we'll say, ''OK. We tried." ' "

Deal smiles beatifically throughout the entire set at the Aragon, even when she's singing. Her signature bizarre duets with Black -- he screams, she coos -- reach a ghostly peak on ''Debaser," one of the Pixies' most gleefully demented singles, where Black fumes mightily and Deal just throws her head back and glows.

At her request, the Pixies tour is dry, and everyone agrees that a little sobriety goes a long way toward keeping both the peace and the music intact.

And it's impossible to overestimate the restorative benefits that come with the simple passing of time.

''If you want to enjoy it and do a good job you have to kind of grow up," says Black. ''Ms. Deal and I had one little heartfelt conversation in her car and another out by the railroad tracks behind the rehearsal space. You start to use your imagination and fill in the blanks when there are a lot of blanks, and I think both assumed that the other one was angrier than we really were.

''We had to bury a little hatchet," he says, pinching his finger and thumb together. ''About this big."

Black recently relocated from LA to Eugene, Ore., to live with his girlfriend, an art history graduate student, and her two young children. These days his life revolves around ballet-class carpool and bedtime enforcement. Surging crowds of young fans may revel in the second coming of Kurt Cobain's teachers. But from his vantage point, with a baby on the way, Black's take on the Pixies reunion is remarkably uncluttered.

''We've had this chip in our back pocket for a long time, and it keeps going up in value," Black explains. ''We're cashing it in this year."

Thanks to Joan Anderman at The Boston Globe: anderman@globe.com

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Goal Is Soul

U2: The Catharsis in the Cathedral

DUBLIN -- THROUGH the windows of Hanover Quay, the rehearsal and recording studio that U2 has called HQ for the last two decades, streetlights made rippling patterns on the Liffey, the river that runs through Dublin, matching the shimmering overtones coming from the Edge's guitars as the band ran through songs from its new album, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" (Interscope).

Gearing up for a year of promotion and touring to follow the release of the album on Nov. 23, U2 was methodically at work, translating multilayered studio creations into songs that would allow four musicians to rock arenas again. U2 is to play a handful of small-scale shows this month, including an appearance Nov. 20 on "Saturday Night Live," and will start a world tour of arenas and stadiums on March 1 in Miami.

The Edge had two dozen guitars at his feet, and an assistant noted which guitar, which effect and which setting would be used for each section of each song. Larry Mullen on drums and Adam Clayton on bass were scrutinizing rhythm tracks, trying to strip away clutter without losing swing.

As the band plunged into "Vertigo" and "All Because of You," the sound of early U2 - the Who's power chords blasted into U2's own domain of spaciousness and yearning - was merged with an added 25 years of experience, experiments and world-beating success. Standing with one leg forward and one behind him, Bono rocked back and forth and belted, "I'm at a place called Vertigo/It's everything I wish I didn't know/Except you give me something I can feel."

Tensions between intellect and passion, and between pragmatism and faith, drive the songs on "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb"; so do burly guitar riffs, galvanizing crescendos and fearlessly emotional vocals. The album easily stands alongside the best work of U2's career - "Boy," "War," "The Joshua Tree" and "Achtung Baby" - and, song for song, it's more consistent than any of them.

U2 is almost alone now among rock bands in its determination to merge lofty ambition and pop impact. With songs that determinedly blur divine and earthly love, seeking grace as often as romance, the band doesn't pander to vulgar impulses. Yet U2 has no interest in being a hipsters' cult band; it has always aimed for audiences that can fill arenas, where its music is most at home. "At our very best, at anyone's very best, the great rock bands could always make a pop 45," Bono insisted.

Since the release of "Boy" in 1980, U2 has gone through musical phases that coincided with the decades. The group arrived with a wide-open, pealing sound that immediately separated itself from punk rock and metal, and has been imitated ever since. Next came an infatuation with American blues and country. Then, in the 1990's, U2 swerved from rootsy to futuristic, deliberately setting aside its old sound to toy with distortion, funk and electronics. Each metamorphosis produced at least one superb album.

"It's really more my fault than Edge's, the putting on of blinkers and going in a different direction," Bono said. "I felt that the spirit of the group was so strong that you could destroy it, that you could burn the flesh of it and still know who it was, and that's what we did through the 1990's."

In 2000, with "All That You Can't Leave Behind," U2 decided to stop fleeing its past and let its music ring more clearly. The four songs that start the album became anthems of hope and determination, particularly after Sept. 11, but the rest was anticlimactic. "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" also embraces the open chords and resonant spaces of early U2, but it has more punch, more abandon, some genuine grandeur and some glimmers of humor.

While the Edge's tremolo-picked sustained notes and arpeggios are familiar, the music is by no means a retreat to the chiming marches of early U2; instead, it encompasses grunge pugnacity, glam-rock stomps and the sudden benevolent fanfares of "Abbey Road"-era Beatles. The music scales dynamic peaks and dives into abysses and whirlpools, only to resolve into the next chorus. Every song is memorable.

As usual, the songs don't bother with petty topics: Bono sings about mortality, the meaning of life, social justice, fame, science and the heroic intimacy of love. For much of the album, particularly the slow-building ballads "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own" and "One Step Closer," the lyrics reflect on Bono's admiring and contentious relationship with his father, who died in 2001.

Many of the songs ponder faith. The album's finale, "Yahweh," is nothing less than a prayer. When Bono was singing nonsense words to come up with a melody for the song, he found himself singing "Yahweh," a Hebrew name of God.

"There's cathedrals and the alleyway in our music," Bono said. "I think the alleyway is usually on the way to the cathedral, where you can hear your own footsteps and you're slightly nervous and looking over your shoulder and wondering if there's somebody following you. And then you get there and you realize there was somebody following you: It's God."

Bono's mother was a Protestant and his father a Catholic, and when he was a schoolboy he was severely beaten up when walking through a Catholic neighborhood in the uniform of his Protestant school. Speaking just days after the American presidential election, which might have hinged on the votes of evangelical Christians, Bono said: "I don't talk about my faith very much, because the people you might want to talk with, you don't want to hang out with.

"To have faith in a time of religious fervor is a worry. And, you know, I do have faith, and I'm worried about even the subject because of the sort of fanaticism that is the next-door neighbor of faith. The trick in the next few years will be not to decry the religious instinct, but to accept that this is a hugely important part of people's lives. And at the same time to be very wary of people who believe that theirs is the only way. Unilateralism before God is dangerous."

"Religion is ceremony and symbolism," he added. "Writers live off symbolism, and performers live off ceremony. We're made for religion! And yet you see this country, Ireland, ripped over religion, and you see the Middle East. Right now, unless tolerance comes with fervor, you'll see it in the United States."

That night, Bono was off to his other job, as freelance do-gooder. "Saving the world is now a daily chore," he joked. He was going to Madrid to appear at a fashion show for Edun, a company he and his wife own; the clothes are made in Africa from textiles manufactured in developing countries, a practical symbol of Bono's conviction that poor countries need trade as much as aid. He was wearing a pair of Edun jeans along with his ubiquitous sunglasses, a black sports jacket and a dark blue shirt, unbuttoned to reveal a wooden cross around his neck.

While the album was being made, Bono was juggling his political missions - among them debt relief for poor countries and getting AIDS drugs to Africa - with his duties in U2, which has always written its songs cooperatively. That left the Edge more time to work up structures and arrangements to await Bono's melodies and lyrics. "It turns out I'm much better in small doses," Bono said. "I don't need to be around for the mining," he added. "They put on these helmets with lights on them and they go into very dark places, and they're crawling around looking for a break in the plumbing or fixing wires. I have to go to a dark place also, but it isn't, ah, technical. It's a place of honesty. Call it soul, call it spirit, but it's the place where you're really living."

The other band members say they don't mind Bono's comings and goings. "I wouldn't trade my place with him for a billion dollars, not in a million years," Mr. Mullen said. "I make music, that's why I joined a band."

"When Bono's away there is a different chemistry," Mr. Clayton said. There's much more contact and interaction between the three of us than perhaps when Bono's there, because he has certain needs and demands. It can be like a benevolent dictatorship. But he works so hard on the band's behalf, and just because he's not in the room it doesn't mean he's having a better time."

While Bono was meeting with world leaders, the Edge was stockpiling aggressive guitar parts. "The album started off with a throwdown from Edge," Bono said. " 'O.K., you want rock 'n' roll? This is rock 'n' roll.' He had a whole bunch of guitar riffs up his sleeve, and believe me, that is not always the way. Him turning up with rifferama is just, 'Hello! Stop press!' "

U2 started working with the producer Chris Thomas, who had made albums with the Sex Pistols and Roxy Music, but the results didn't satisfy the band. "We wanted that directness, but in the end it felt too one-dimensional," Bono said. Early this year, U2 turned to Steve Lillywhite, who produced the band's first albums. "He understands how we improvise," Bono said, "and we went back to the playpen." As the album deadline neared, U2 also brought in some of its other past producers - Flood, Daniel Lanois, Nellee Hooper - and hooked up with a young keyboard programmer, Jacknife Lee.

Although it took a long time to work out structures for the songs, many of the performances were recorded quickly. "The paint is fresh, even though it took a while," Bono said. "It's just that there's a lot of mixing the ink." The vocal for "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own," a song Bono had struggled with for years, was recorded in a single take during a visit to the studio from Jimmy Iovine, the chairman of Interscope Records.

A conversation with Bono inevitably takes broad leaps from personal memories to economic theories to music, the state of U2 and the state of the world. More as citations than as name-dropping, Bono mentioned his discussions with, among others, Ethiopia's prime minister; Wim Wenders's cinematographer; Beyoncé Knowles; Johnny Cash; and Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple Computer. Apple is manufacturing a black-and-red U2 iPod with the album stored on it, and later this month its iTunes Music Store is releasing "The Complete U2," a digital album of 400 songs, including 25 previously unreleased. To inaugurate the band's partnership with Apple, U2 and its song "Vertigo" appear in an iPod commercial for which, Bono said, the band was not paid.

"My idea of selling out is when you do naff things for money," he said, going on to define "naff" as very embarrassing. "That's subjective, but I think it's quite clear: don't embarrass your fans, they've given you a good life. Our audience are thrilled about the Apple thing. They can't believe their band has its own iPod.

"I have a very strong sense of survival," he added, "and I know that 'Vertigo' is not the biggest pop song in the world. I know that riff has to be hammered home to become a pop song. With the commercial, we had a rock video coming on during the baseball playoffs in a way a record company could not afford.'"

U2's other response to the age of downloading is to offer a collectors' item for fans who want something more than a CD: a special edition of the album with a bonus DVD and a hardcover book including paintings by Mr. Mullen, photographs by Mr. Clayton, odd Internet finds from the Edge and handwritten lyrics and manifestos by Bono. One explains how to dismantle an atomic bomb: "Don't build a bomb!"

Before heading to the airport, Bono eased the band into "Original of the Species," a love song that also observes, "Some things you shouldn't get too good at/Like smiling, crying and celebrity." With a chuckle, he said: "I might try a little guitar - don't get upset. There's a very good reason why I'm the singer." He didn't disgrace himself, though, and after he took his leave, a visitor noted the neat lettering on the pickguard of his vintage Gretsch guitar: "The Goal Is Soul," it read.

Thanks to Jon Pareles NYT

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Maseo What Goes On?

Release Date: October 2, 2004
Originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

All you De La fans seeking the final installment of the AOI series, are just going to have to wait. The good news is, The Grind Date, the 7th release from America's most underated hip-hop boy wonders, drops October 2, 2004 - that's right, my birthday - yo thanks Mase!

Since leaving Tommy Boy Records, and going independent for their first time ever, the group decided that they had experienced too much and changed to follow the concept. The third Art Official Intelligence installment, which is supposed to be dedicated to the art of DJing, is yet to be recorded.

According to DJ Maseo, "We do still plan on doing [The AOI Volume 3] record, [but with The Grind Date,] we just had to focus on putting a record together that was gonna kind of put us back in today's Hip-Hop. [Volume 3] was a record that would kind of just involve me and my fellow DJs, which is more of just a novelty De La record. I think going after the MTV and BET viewers, is not the record.

Previously, Maseo said that De La Soul's third installment of the AOI series will be released independently through his own Bear Mountain Entertainment label.

As for The Grind Date, Maseo says "The album is just the existence of what we been dealing with since breaking off that relationship with Tommy Boy, being 30 plus years old." 

This album, like the last, uses outside production from Dave West, Jake One, Madlib, and collaborations with Ghostface Killah and others.

The way I see it, knowing waht Mase is capable of, when AOI V3 is ready it'll be well worth the wait. Until then, Bring on The Grind Date. Happy birthday to me!



Thursday, September 16, 2004


Originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

Johnny Ramone, has died at age 55. He was the lead guitarist with The Ramones, the American band that was the chief influence on the development of punk rock.

The importance of the group to punk was that they were the first to reduce music to its bare necessities of four chords, pointless lyrics and, above all, energy. What counted was attitude, not skill, although unlike the movement in Britain, theirs was a gesture principally to the disposability of pop rather than a call to arms.

They first attracted attention in 1974 when playing at a dive on the Lower East Side of New York, CBGB, that would become the centre of America's art-punk scene and the proving ground for bands such as Blondie and Talking Heads.

Outfits such as The New York Dolls had paved the way for the stripped-down sound of The Ramones, but none had played at such a speeded-up tempo before, and their gigs - at which they crashed through 20 songs in half an hour - caused a considerable sensation in the music world and landed them a contract with Sire, so becoming the first punk band to sign with a record label.

Their debut LP, The Ramones (1976), recorded in two days, enjoyed very limited success in America, where radio was then dominated by disco and progressive rock bands such as Yes, against whom the Ramones were reacting. Accordingly Sire dispatched them to London, where at the Roundhouse on Bicentennial Day, July 4 1976, they made their reputation in Britain.

Dressed in denim and biker gear, they introduced each of their songs with a simple "1-2-3-4" and proceeded to pound them out with an almost cartoon-like intensity. Watching in the audience was an entranced Sid Vicious, and thereafter The Ramones exerted a disproportionate influence on their British peers, particularly The Sex Pistols.

None of The Ramones originally bore that name. Johnny Ramone was born John Cummings, the only child of a construction worker of Irish descent, on Long Island on October 8 1948. He grew up in the Forest Hills section of Queens, New York, and soon made friends with the boy across the street, Douglas Colvin.

The pair liked the same sort of music - Elvis Presley and the Beatles and later the Velvet Underground and the MC5 - and bought their first instruments together, Cummings's being the Mosrite guitar that became his signature.

In 1974, they formed a band with what Colvin called "the obvious creeps of the neighbourhood", Jeffrey Hyman and Tom Erdelyi, and adopted the surname Ramone. Colvin - Dee Dee Ramone - was the original vocalist, but soon ceded this role to Hyman - Joey Ramone - and concentrated on writing songs and playing the bass. Erdelyi, who began as their manager, became their drummer.

Their stock was always higher in Britain than in America, where they never had a hit single or a gold album. By contrast, their LPs Ramones Leave Home (1977), Rocket to Russia (1977) and Road to Ruin (1978) all sold moderately well on the other side of the Atlantic, and they twice entered the pop charts with Sheena Is A Punk Rocker (1977) and their cover of The Ronettes' Baby I Love You, which reached No 8 in 1980.

That single was taken from the album End of the Century, produced - curiously - by Phil Spector, which marked the end of the band's glory days. Although they continued to tour for another 15 years, eventually playing more than 2,000 gigs, they had long since begun to fall out with each other.

Some of the band had problems with addictions - Joey with alcohol and Dee Dee with drugs - and members started to come and go. Johnny Ramone remained one of the few constants, although he and Joey never resolved their argument over a girlfriend dating back to 1982.

They continued to release new albums occasionally, retained a solid fan base, and were an acknowledged influence on a later generation of hardcore bands such as Blink 182 and Green Day.

In 1996, they called it a day, and Johnny Ramone moved to Los Angeles. In recent years, he had found that his income had started to increase substantially as Ramones tracks were used in television advertisements, and he had built up a collection of more than 4,000 films (The Bride of Frankenstein was his favourite).

He had always been somewhat out of step with the other members of the band, partly because he looked after his health, and partly because he was a card-carrying Republican supporter. He was a great admirer of President Reagan and in the 1980s had tried to stop Dee Dee Ramone from writing the song Bonzo Goes to Bitburg, a satire on a presidential visit to Germany.

Johnny Ramone revealed his political affiliation, somewhat unexpectedly, in 2002 when the group was being inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.

"God bless President Bush," he announced to a startled audience, "and God bless America." His conservative leanings brought him the friendship of, among others, Charlton Heston.

He was the third of the band to die in recent years. In 2001, Joey Ramone died from lymphatic cancer, while the following year Dee Dee Ramone was killed by a drug overdose. Johnny Ramone had been suffering from prostate cancer for five years, and he died in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

He is survived by his wife, Linda.

Meeting Johnny Ramone back in 1979 was one of my first real rock and roll encounters. I met him before their show at Randy's Rodeo in San Antonio after spotting him at the bar during the opening band, Holly & The Italians. He was super cool and signed a beer coaster for me. Ten years (and 8 more Ramone shows) later, I was lucky enough to hang with them for about an hour before a show at Citi in Boston. At this point Dee Dee was too strung out to do anything and this was the first tour with CJ - a perfect fit as he was an equally sound and down to earth dude. They were all really very normal and truly nice people. We spent an hour playing one game of pool eating greasy Pizza from Kenmore Square and drinking YooHoo Chocolate soda. (They had, like, a $500.00 pre gig food allowance and ordered pizza! These guys were the real deal.) I remember Joey had a bum foot at the time, was quiet and quick with a smile. Johnny was still the nice guy I met years earlier but the worst pool player of our little bunch. They signed some stuff, we wished each other luck and faster than you can say 1-2-3-4 they were on stage rocking as usual. That was the last time I saw them. They were truly amazing live and I consider myself lucky to have seen one of the greatest rock and roll bands at their peak. It's a sad day for rock and roll.

RIP Johnny, Dee Dee and Joey.


Sunday, September 12, 2004

Smile Again

Brian Wilson
Originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

Rebuilding Brian Wilson's 'Smile'

THIRTY-SEVEN years ago, Brian Wilson nearly completed what he hoped would be his masterwork, an album called "Smile" that he described as "a teenage symphony to God." This year, in a way, he finished it.

Mr. Wilson, the mastermind of the Beach Boys, had envisioned an album that would merge pop hooks and elaborately composed interludes, with allusive lyrics by Van Dyke Parks that encompassed romance, American history and the alchemical elements.

"Smile" was to be even more ambitious than Mr. Wilson's "Pet Sounds," the intricately orchestrated, structurally far-reaching 1966 album that the Beatles tried to top with "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." More than 400,000 "Smile" album covers were printed.

But "Smile" turned into a nightmare for Mr. Wilson, who was spiraling toward a nervous breakdown and struggling with drugs and with personal demons that would envelop him for decades. The other members of the Beach Boys had grown dubious about the commercial prospects of the increasingly complex music and lyrics. There was rancor from Mr. Wilson's father, Murry, a frustrated musician who had beaten him during his childhood, and there were legal battles with the Beach Boys' label, Capitol Records. Mr. Wilson had grown reclusive and increasingly bizarre: he ordered eight truckloads of beach sand dumped around his piano at home so he could wiggle his toes in it for inspiration.

After 85 recording sessions, including more than two dozen for the song "Heroes and Villains" alone, Mr. Wilson abandoned "Smile," and it turned into the most famous unheard album in pop history. "I thought it was too weird, I thought it was too druggie influenced, I thought the audience wouldn't get it," Mr. Wilson said in an interview.

What remains of the original "Smile" are songs that appeared in different versions on subsequent Beach Boys albums, among them "Good Vibrations," "Heroes and Villains," "Surf's Up," "Cabinessence" and "Wind Chimes", and fragments of session tapes. But after reworking "Pet Sounds" for a triumphant concert tour in 2000, Mr. Wilson decided to return to "Smile."

This year, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Parks, a 10-piece band and additional strings and horns resurrected the album from shards and memories. After performing a live version in concert in Europe, they returned to the studio to make an entirely new recording of "Smile": 17 intricate, multifaceted, enigmatic songs, grouped into three suites, sometimes linked by recurring themes. The album will be released by Nonesuch on Sept. 28, and Mr. Wilson will perform a concert version of "Smile" on a monthlong American tour that begins on Sept. 30 in Minneapolis and reaches Carnegie Hall on Oct. 12 and 13.

The European reviews were rapturous. "The music echoed everything from Philip Glass to Kurt Weill to Chuck Berry," a reviewer wrote in The Daily Telegraph when "Smile" was performed in London. "Leonard Bernstein said Brian Wilson was one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. He was not wrong." A critic for the Guardian referred to "the groundbreaking complexity and sophistication" of "Smile," saying that the concert "made it seem like the grandest of American symphonies."

Mr. Wilson's fragility was clear at the concerts, he sometimes needs help getting on and off the stage and it is evident in conversations with him. He is 62, and the years of mental illness and drugs have left him shaky at times, a tall, hefty man with sad, hollow eyes. Sitting upright and tense in the library of his home in a gated community atop Beverly Hills, or talking on the telephone, Mr. Wilson often speaks in terse sentences and monosyllables. His speech is occasionally slurred; he sometimes seems lost in his own world. At other times, he speaks strongly and comfortably.

"I love life," he said. "The odds were against me, of course."

Mr. Wilson has said that he wanted to release "Smile" as a legacy before he died, to close the most painful chapter in his troubled life.

"It was finally ready to be finished, ready to be accepted," he said. "We thought it was too advanced for people at that time. We think people are now ready to understand where it was coming from. Back then, no one was ready for it."

Echoing Mr. Wilson, his friend and collaborator, Mr. Parks, said: "There are intimations of mortality here, intimations about the end of his performing cycle. With these intimations, decisions become profoundly more difficult.

"I get the impression that Brian knew he was running out of time and if he was going to present the work he'd have to make a decision to do it and no longer be embarrassed that he had followed his own madness as a 24-year-old composer. This is inexorably a highly personal move and a musical move."

Mr. Wilson, whose personal life was a shambles from the 1960's to the 1980's, said that his wife of nine years, Melinda Ledbetter, had given him a serenity that had long eluded him. "She's inspired me," he said. "She's inspired me to write music. My children inspire me."

Mr. Wilson and Ms. Ledbetter live quietly in Beverly Hills with three young adopted children, on whom he dotes. (Mr. Wilson also has two grown daughters from his first marriage, Carnie and Wendy Wilson, who sing in the group Wilson Phillips.)

Ms. Ledbetter, a one-time auto saleswoman, met Mr. Wilson in 1986 when she sold him a Cadillac, what she calls "a really ugly brown Seville," in a showroom in Santa Monica. They dated sporadically and married in 1995. A friendly, straightforward woman, Ms. Ledbetter said her husband's severe emotional problems dated to his childhood and his abusive father. Mr. Wilson is deaf in one ear, which may be the result of childhood beatings.

"He was a very mean man; he'd beat me physically, but mostly mentally he beat me," Mr. Wilson said of his father, who died in 1973. "He was our manager when we started but was so hard to live with that we fired him."

Ms. Ledbetter said: "Brian is mentally ill. He suffers from depression and he was never treated and when somebody is mentally ill from that early on and it goes untreated, then it makes it more difficult." It was only after doctors at the University of California, Los Angeles, prescribed antidepressants that Mr. Wilson began to improve.

In the 70's Mr. Wilson's first wife, Marilyn, hired a Hollywood psychologist, Eugene Landy, to help him. Dr. Landy lived with Mr. Wilson 24 hours a day and took over his life, including business and music decisions; he even became the beneficiary of Mr. Wilson's will. Band members and relatives eventually filed suit. Dr. Landy lost his license to practice psychology in California for at least two years in 1989. In 1991, a judge put Mr. Wilson's affairs under a court-appointed conservator.

Ms. Ledbetter described Mr. Wilson's career now as "one step at a time."

Musicians have never stopped praising and echoing Mr. Wilson's ambitious songs from the 1960's, even after he withdrew from performing. But in the 1990's, Mr. Wilson began overcoming his longtime stage fright. In 2000 he and his new band performed "Pet Sounds," which had included several of the Beach Boys' biggest hit singles "Sloop John B," "God Only Knows" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" alongside Mr. Wilson's more convoluted and introspective songs.

Mr. Wilson seems fully aware that his musical achievements are widely appreciated. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has described him as "one of the few undisputed geniuses in popular music" and said that the Beach Boys were "responsible for some of the most perfect harmonies and gorgeous melodies in rock and roll history."

The group was founded in 1961 by Brian and his brothers, Dennis and Carl Wilson, along with Mike Love, a cousin, and Al Jardine, a friend. Although the Beach Boys' earliest hits, in 1962 and 1963 "Surfin' Safari," "Surfin' U.S.A," "Surfer Girl" celebrated Southern California teenage boys' obsessions with the beach and hot rods and pretty blond girls, even back then Mr. Wilson was hardly a beach boy. He didn't surf and disliked the beach.

By 1966, the Beach Boys had racked up nearly two dozen Top 40 hits, including three No. 1 songs: "I Get Around," "Help Me Rhonda" and "Good Vibrations," all produced by Mr. Wilson. By the 1970's he had already begun his steep decline into drugs, after suffering a nervous breakdown. Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983 while swimming off his boat in Marina del Ray. Carl Wilson died of lung cancer in 1998. Mike Love currently leads a touring Beach Boys group unaffiliated with Mr. Wilson.

Earlier this year, Mr. Wilson released an album of new songs, "Gettin' In Over My Head," with guest appearances from Paul McCartney, Elton John and Eric Clapton; it received mixed reviews. He says he plans to tour Australia in December with "Smile" and then start working on a new rock and roll album.

"I'm 62 but I feel like I'm 42," he said. "I wanted to retire but I changed my mind. I can't help but make music for people. I love to make people happy. I'm happier now than I've ever been. I got standing ovations wherever I went in Europe. I feel young. I feel happy. Isn't that something?"

That's the Big Something Brian. Thanks again for signing my Pet Sounds album!



Monday, August 16, 2004

22nd Annual Love Song Of The Year Award

The 2004 winner of the 22nd Annual Love Song Of The Year Award goes to The Deathray Davies for the song THE GIRL WHO STOLE THE EIFFEL TOWER. It's 3 deep from 2003's amazingly moody MIDNIGHT AT THE BLACK NAIL POLISH FACTORY. Congratulations to John, Jason and that crew of freaks that are DRD.

Hey freaky girl can I take you home? I'm under the impression you shouldn't be all alone. Under the stars I wished for you + now here you are. I've got an opinion on everything. You'll fall in love with me unless you hear me sing down at the Barley on a Sunday. I think I'm a star. Don't go to the bar. I've been strange for seven days. Don't go to the bar, you'll find out quick it's not just a phase. Hey freaky girl can I take you home? Your purple hair looks good but I wanna comb out all the knots, take off your clothes- connect the dots. It's funny how everything falls in place. Nothing made sense until I saw your face. Under the stars I wished for you and now here you are.


I'll have the archive of past winners up soon. HMK

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Rolling Stones drummer battles throat cancer

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- The Rolling Stones' 63-year-old drummer Charlie Watts is suffering from throat cancer but should recover after radiotherapy, a band spokesman said Saturday.

Watts was diagnosed in June after a minor operation and is now reaching the end of his treatment at a London hospital, the spokesman said in a statement to British media.

"He's expected to make a full recovery and start work with the rest of the band later in the year," he added.

Watts, who has a reputation as the quietest member of the legendary British band, gave up smoking decades ago.

"He's very positive because he's been told he has every chance of being completely cured," a family friend was quoted as saying in The Mail Sunday newspaper.

"The last thing he wants is everyone calling and making a fuss, thinking he's going to die."

The spokesman said Watt's treatment had not interfered with any of the Stones' tour or recording plans.

The rest of the group were "relaxing between work commitments," he said.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Deathray Davies Are Coming!

deathray davies
Originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

Sat. 8/28 San Antonio @ Wiggle Room w/ Buttercup

Underground Garage

Underground Garage
Originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

Little Steven's Big Crusade

To hear Steven Van Zandt tell it, he had no choice. He had simply wanted to do a two-hour radio show, no big deal, on which he could play some of the garage rock he loves and have some fun. But when he pitched the idea to syndicators, what they told him forced him to turn his hobby into a crusade.

"They said, 'Stevie, baby, we love you,' " he said, his eyes wide in mock disbelief, "but we cannot get rock 'n' roll on the radio anymore.' "

Big pause.

"And it was like, aaarrrggghh," he said, his voice suddenly booming, his body shifting stiffly like a big machine making a 180-degree turn. "You just said that to the wrong guy at the wrong time. You telling me my whole life is a" - Mr. Van Zandt used an expletive then - "lie? That the 30 years that rock 'n' roll has informed our society was just a big" - he used the expletive again - "waste of time? Is that what you're telling me?"

It was a sudden coming together of the various personae who reside inside Mr. Van Zandt: the head-wrapped rock star known as Little Steven who plays with Bruce Springsteen; the political activist who spent much of the 80's campaigning against apartheid and for human rights around the world; and Silvio Dante, the gangster Mr. Van Zandt plays on "The Sopranos" on HBO, who, lovable though he might be, is no one you want to see angry.

"That was the beginning of the war," he said in an interview in his office near the Javits Center in Manhattan. "The revolution began that day."

For more than two years now Mr. Van Zandt has been waging his garage-rock war. He began with his radio show, "Little Steven's Underground Garage," for which he is host and programmer. When syndicators showed no interest, Mr. Van Zandt decided to distribute it himself; he employs a small staff for the purpose, and the show, which had its premiere on April 7, 2002, now plays on 136 stations around the country. He is also is the executive producer of three channels on Sirius satellite radio, including a garage rock channel.

Mr. Van Zandt's self-styled crusade moves to a new level this weekend with a full-blown outdoor rock festival that is an unexpected highlight of the concert season. On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Randalls Island, more than 40 bands will blast and grunt and groove their way across the stage, playing various interpretations of garage rock - loud and uncomplicated musings expressed with the help of guitars, drums and little else - in a spectacle that will mix the godfathers of the genre with the very latest descendants.

Called Little Steven's International Underground Garage Festival, it will feature Iggy and the Stooges, the Strokes, the New York Dolls, Bo Diddley, Big Star, the Pretty Things, the Raveonettes, the Dictators, the Electric Prunes, the Mooney Suzuki, the Woggles, the Lyres, the Star Spangles, the Gore Gore Girls, Nancy Sinatra, the Creation and many others. The headliners will play full sets, but most bands will play just a few songs. For Mr. Van Zandt, who at 53 still wears the loose, brightly colored garb that earned him the nickname Miami Steve, the radio show and the festival - which he hopes to make an annual event - represent a revival of rough, honest, beautiful garage rock as a musical form and a redemption from restrictive radio formats that rely on familiarity and market testing.

"How could our culture have gotten to the point where we have a format for everything except rock 'n' roll?" he asked, hunched over a purple desk in his studio, in front of an enormous mantle painted in psychedelic colors. Around him on all sides were ceiling-high shelves of CD's and books.

"The classic rock stations are eliminating a lot of the 60's stuff - you don't hear many album cuts from the first seven Rolling Stones albums, or first five Beatles albums, or the first three Who albums, or the Kinks," he said, speaking in a slow, measured, almost scholarly tone. "That's what I call the renaissance."

What's more, he said, when he began to plan the radio show, there was a worthwhile movement of new music that was not getting enough attention from radio and from record labels. "Everyone was ignoring this contemporary garage-rock movement, which was to my ears a possible rebirth of rock 'n' roll, nothing less. So why weren't any record labels signing it?"

But since then, the labels have begun to sign it. In the past few years a wave of new bands has come along with obvious ties to classic garage rock: the Strokes, the Hives, the White Stripes, the Mooney Suzuki, the Raveonettes, the Datsuns and others play stripped-down rock 'n' roll with a passion that has attracted huge audiences.

Mr. Van Zandt is not modest in claiming some responsibility for this revival, but he cannot claim it all. The genre of garage rock has been in near-constant state of revival and reinvention almost since it began; the style was codified in the 1972 compilation album "Nuggets," and throughout the 70's, 80's and 90's various rock movements from punk to new wave to riot grrrl have updated and toyed with the form. As it will be seen at Saturday's concert, there is little to unify the many bands other than loud, short songs.

The Mooney Suzuki, formed in New York in 1997, has worked to expand its sound beyond the usual narrow parameters of garage rock. Its new album, "Alive and Amplified," to be released on Columbia on Aug. 24, was made with the pop production team the Matrix. Sammy James Jr., the band's singer, said the genre's long history makes a clear definition impossible.

"When people say garage rock revival, it's, like, the 80's had a garage rock revival, are you talking about that?" Mr. James said. "The 90's had a garage rock revival, are you talking about that? There's a whole generation now that is likely to identify garage music just with a certain kind of haircut."

Phil May, the singer of the Pretty Things, who in 1968 recorded the album "S.F. Sorrow," which is generally considered to be the first rock opera, preferred to think of it merely as a sound or a method.

"I don't think it is a style," he said in a telephone interview from London. "It's somebody playing guitar - not great, but it is a guitar sound, and it is not generated by digital software. It's people onstage, and there's a whole bunch of people who don't really know that experience."

Mr. James said, "Garage simply means amateur music."

In New York, Mr. Van Zandt's radio show is heard Sunday nights at 10 on the classic rock station WAXQ (104.3 FM), which was one of the first stations to run it. Bob Buchmann, the station's program director, said that at first he did not think it was the best idea.

"Steven told me he wanted to break the mold by doing a two-hour weekly radio show devoted to garage rock," he said. "And even I said, 'Are you sure you really wouldn't want to do only an hour?' "

But considering Mr. Van Zandt's following in New York and New Jersey, Mr. Buchmann signed on for the show and said that since it began, the station's Sunday night ratings have doubled.

Not all stations have been such an easy sell, and Mr. Van Zandt said he had traveled around the country to meet with radio executives and advertisers. Mr. Van Zandt's office sells national advertising time for the show, to sponsors like Dunkin' Donuts and Pepsi; local stations add their own commercials. In addition to the radio show Dunkin' Donuts has sponsored this weekend's festival and a nationwide battle of the bands, which in its finals at Irving Plaza in Manhattan last month contributed two acts to the festival lineup, Muck and the Mires, from Worcester, Mass., and the Blackouts, from Champaign, Ill. (They tied.)

But Mr. Van Zandt said that even with corporate underwriting, he supports the show himself and has never broken even with it. It is simply a cause that he cannot give up.

"Maybe it's a sense of injustice," he said. "That was certainly a motivating factor in the 80's when I was engaged in politics. It bothered me that nobody was talking about South Africa. Why isn't anybody talking about this? Why can't I go to the library and find anything about it?"

He added: "Why isn't there any rock 'n' roll radio? That doesn't seem right. It's a gap. Let me fill that gap."

Thank you Steven.

Monday, August 09, 2004

The Pixies Get Their Act Together

Exclusive to NYT & NLM


MIDWAY through one of their four instantly sold-out concerts in June at the Brixton Academy in London, the reunited Pixies charged into "Monkey Gone to Heaven," a song about apocalypse and faith. The audience — some who had seen the Pixies between 1986 and 1992, and an equal contingent of younger fans getting their first glimpse — all knew what to do as Frank Black started to sing the song's reverse countdown: "If man is five/ Then the devil is six/ And if the devil is six/ Then God is seven."

At 39, he looked less like a rock star than ever: bald, portly, dressed in a shapeless T-shirt. He barely glanced at Kim Deal, 43, the band's bassist and occasional singer. Yet as he worked his way from a strangled, nasal whine to a shriek, the whole room sang along, and thousands of hands shot into the air with fingers raised on cue: five, six, seven. The crowd couldn't have been more enthusiastic if the song, released in 1989, were in the current Top 10.

The Pixies have been rapturously received since they started touring in April, and have been one of the few unqualified successes in a summer filled with foundering tours. Reunions are a staple in the concert business, as acts from Simon and Garfunkel to the Eagles to Duran Duran to the Sex Pistols periodically reappear. Affection for the oldies is one draw; so is the possibility that every reunion is the last chance to see a group. Nostalgia seems to peak after two decades, and lately the postpunk bands of the 1980's have been regrouping — among them, Mission of Burma, which sold out a club tour last year and went on to make a new album.

But the response to the Pixies reunion has been greater by orders of magnitude. It wasn't just the shows in smaller venues that sold so briskly; more than 50,000 tickets were snapped up for the Pixies' day at the Coachella festival, and theaters around the United States have quickly sold out for multiple dates. The Pixies were to perform at the New York stop of the Lollapalooza Festival this month, which had already sold 11,000 tickets when the entire tour was canceled. Instead, they will have New York dates on Dec. 12 and 13 at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Meanwhile, the company DiscLive has been offering instant live recordings of every concert by the reunited group. Those CD's, in numbered limited editions of 1,000 or 2,000, are selling out, too, and turning into instant collectors' items available for handsome mark-up on eBay.

Charles Michael Kittredge Thompson IV, a k a Frank Black, who called himself Black Francis on the Pixies' recordings, claimed to be unimpressed. Pixies audiences were enthusiastic for most of the group's initial career, he said. Now, he added, there are more curiosity-seekers. "I'm wondering if there's a large section of the audience that kind of isn't really getting it," he said. "That's good. It gives us an opportunity to preach to the still-not-converted."

It's an arty underdog's attitude that seems to be a holdover from the band's first time around. The Pixies, who got started in Boston in 1986, became hit-makers in England and Europe. Yet in the United States, they never quite broke out of the collegiate rock circuit, even after they were signed to a major label, Elektra. Those who discovered the Pixies have cherished their catalog ever since. When the band played Coachella on May 1, one visitor's license plate read, "DEBASR," for "Debaser," the Pixies song about (among other things) the Surrealist film "Un Chien Andalou."

Black Francis's songs for the Pixies were terse but wild-eyed. As he sang about the Bible, science fiction, incest or immigration, the music could sound like punk or country, surf-rock or metal. Joey Santiago's lead guitar laced the music with twangy little hooks or solos that threatened to skid right out of the song; Ms. Deal answered Black Francis's hopped-up vocals with calm, airy responses, and David Lovering's drums paced the music from brisk to quasi-Latin to booming. Quiet verses suddenly gave way to howling, stomping choruses — a tactic that would be commandeered by the Pixies' most influential and grateful fan, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

The songs are full of musical and verbal non sequiturs, but skewed as they were, a decade and a half later they sound like irrepressible pop. And at a time when rock has grown sodden with earnestness and self-pity, the Pixies' songs sound like a corrective; they're smart, lightheaded, profound and comic, and they rock with a vengeance.

That was the idea from the beginning. "I got exposed to some Surrealist films of the 1920's and 30's and 40's or whatever in college, read a couple of articles, attended a couple of lectures," Mr. Thompson said in an interview between shows in London. "And I applied all of that in a really fumbly kind of way to having a rock band. It was going to be quirky but in a really simple, brief, swift fashion. It was like, `Oh yeah, I'm going to add something or I'm going to take something away so that it's a little bit lopsided or whatever.' Because when it's just a foursquare thing, it at least stands a 50-50 chance of being boring, cliché-ridden, heard-it-before. When you lop off one corner of it, well, I don't know if it's boring or not. But it's definitely something that you've not heard before.

"Now people pursue rock music, and they go, `I have something important to say, and here's what it is, and ooh, I'm singing it from my heart, too.' And it's all too serious. And people totally miss out. They totally miss the fun, Jabberwocky, fun-with-language, fun-with-poetry."

From the beginning, the Pixies were diligent. They practiced five hours a day, four days a week, in Mr. Lovering's garage. "We wouldn't be able to play if we didn't figure out what we were going to play," Ms. Deal recalled. "We could not jam. I still can't jam."

They invested $1,500 to make a demo tape that eventually yielded songs for the band's punk-flavored 1987 debut EP, "Come On Pilgrim." With the producer Gil Norton polishing their dynamics, the Pixies went on to make two indelible albums, "Surfer Rosa" (1988) and "Doolittle" (1989), and two solid ones, "Bossanova" (1990) and "Trompe le Monde" (1991). And they toured steadily for five years, from hole-in-the-wall punk clubs to European rock festivals.

The grind of traveling gradually frayed the band. "It's intense being on tour," Mr. Thompson said. "You're cooped up in a bus with a bunch of different personalities — people you know, people you don't know. You're on a weird time schedule. Sometimes there's a lot of drinking and drugs and all, sleep deprivation. It's kind of a weird situation."

By the end of a final tour, opening for U2 and facing audiences that barely knew them, Mr. Thompson was no longer speaking to Ms. Deal. In 1992, he dissolved the Pixies via faxes sent from his manager's office. "If I would have called a meeting or something, then it would have just kind of devolved into this big discussion," he said " `Oh, come on, Charles. Don't do this right now.' And I just wasn't up for that. I was just, like, I'm done. I'm done. Goodbye. There's no discussion, you know what I mean?"

Ms. Deal went on to start the Breeders, who had a million-selling album in 1993 with "Last Splash" but struggled to follow through. Mr. Thompson renamed himself Frank Black and started writing more straightforward songs than his Pixies material; Mr. Santiago worked on and off with Frank Black's bands and started a band called the Martinis with Mr. Lovering in the mid-90's. More recently, Mr. Lovering gave up drums and was scraping out a living as a magician until the call came to rejoin the Pixies. He still keeps a deck of cards close at hand and has sometimes been the Pixies' opening act. "I love the Pixies," he tells crowds who may not recognize his name. "I've been to every one of their shows."

The Pixies reunion, Mr. Thompson said, started as a joke. Or maybe it wasn't exactly a joke, but some combination of wish and strategy. He isn't about to say. But last July, while on tour with his own band, he was doing an interview on a London radio station when he was asked the question he had been asked in every interview he had given for the last 12 years: Would the Pixies ever reunite? And for the first time, he allowed that there just might be the possibility of a reunion.

The news zipped across the Internet to fans who had been waiting since the Pixies ended their six-year career in 1992, and anticipation started to build. Mr. Thompson had joked with the interviewer that the Pixies were still jamming and working on new songs, but he also said that any time he envisioned a Pixies reunion, it was like the classic anxiety dream of being unprepared in public. Still, in August he quietly held some strategy meetings with his manager and booking agent. He called Mr. Santiago, who called Ms. Deal. "I just went, `Oh really?' " Ms. Deal said. "But Joe was telling me, `This could be a change of school district for me. This is important to me.' And because of that I said I'd do it."

The band members, now in their 30's and 40's, are temperate on tour these days. Over dinner, Mr. Thompson and Ms. Deal drank nonalcoholic beer. In London, Mr. Santiago was joined by his pregnant wife, Linda, and his year-old daughter; Mr. Lovering played host to his parents.

The Pixies have recorded a new song together, written by Ms. Deal, called "Bam Thwok," which was originally written for the soundtrack to "Shrek 2." But the movie company chose a song by Counting Crows instead, and "Bam Thwok" ended up helping to inaugurate the European version of iTunes.

Marc Geiger of the William Morris Agency, the band's longtime agent, says he is hoping the Pixies will record a new album early next year. "I have thought of that concept, yes," Mr. Black said. "I wouldn't mind asking Tom Waits to produce us. Why not? I like the way his records sound."

But the band members are resolutely not looking ahead. They have kept the tour as familiar as possible; not just the songs but their business associates, lighting director and sound man are the same as they were the first time around. In Brixton, even the backstage caterer was the same as on the Pixies' last visit to the same theater in 1991.

"There's surprisingly little déjà vu on this tour," Mr. Thompson said. "It's more like just a continuation. It's like there's a bunch of songs. We played them to death in the late 80's and early 90's for a period of about five years. So, a bit of a long sabbatical. Now we're playing them again. And there really isn't any mystery."  

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

New Tiki Bongo Single

Tiki Bongo Art
Originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

Hey y'all my first full-on cd is one step closer to being DUN. Check out the new single "The Tarpon Inn". It's a little intrumental tribute to my favorite little bungalow hotel down in Port Aransas, Texas. Let me know what you think!

Click Here!

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Stinson Goes Solo

Tommy Stinson

Once a Replacement, always a Replacement.
Sure, Tommy Stinson has spent nearly a decade collecting cheques from Axl Rose in his role as GNR bassist. But the world-weary ballads, choppy rockers and gnarly post-punk bursts on Stinson's casually engaging solo set Village Gorilla Head confirm he still owes a far greater musical debt to old bandmate Paul Westerberg (and predecessors like Dylan and the Stones).
Now that we've crossed that bridge, Tommy, how about you and Paul set up that reunion tour?

Or at least Bash & Pop. HMK

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