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!