Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mason Proffit - Wanted

I should probably pick some newer music, but I just haven't felt like it, I guess.  I'm not saying I've been on a Mason Proffit binge or anything, but I have been listening to some old stuff that's made me think of things to say on here.  Maybe that's just because I'm more familiar with it?  I don't know, and I don't really care.  I just noticed I have this album the other day, and I remember buying it not all that long ago.  I bought it because it wasn't like thirty dollars, and I remembered that at a lot of shows long, long ago this was a pretty sought after record in the Cleveland area.  I remember the first time I heard about it, too.  Not the first time I heard it, the first time I heard about it.  There's a big difference.

I've mentioned before that when I was younger (like a teenager) I wanted to be serious about music.  I didn't want to just listen and bop my head and yell, "Crank it!  This is jammin'!"  I wanted to know why it was "jammin'" and I wanted to talk to other people and see if they agreed why I thought it was "jammin'" or not. That conversation really generally degenerates into something like "You just don't know what's good" pretty quickly (my favorite retort was always, "Maybe not, but I know what's bad!").  Every now and then I could find some oddball music nerd like myself that would gladly spend an entire party ignoring all their friends so they could pontificate about what was good and right about music, and what was wrong and inherently evil about the music industry with someone that hadn't heard every one of their theories until they wanted to strangle said music nerd.  Hey, I always knew how he felt, my friends were pretty sick of me, too!

Now Mason Proffit's Wanted isn't a particularly rare and sought after album, but in the late 70's, very early 80's it was out of print and so when you heard someone going on about how Two Hangmen was one of the most powerful statements of the human condition ever, and it was also one of the first songs that blended the not lame parts of Country with all the goodness Rock music had to offer.  The fact that it was kind of obscure and that when you did find a copy it was kind of beat and/or expensive kind of assured certain fanboys of being able to hold the album a little bit above your head.  Anyone that stayed up all night around this part of the world would eventually hear Two Hangmen, and you'd generally have to admit, it was a mostly cool song.  Not quite what some record nerds would have had you believe, but it's pretty good.

The funny thing to me is that while it's fun to talk about some supposed masterpiece that someone else hasn't heard, when that someone finally hears it, they often wish they could get right back into that conversation and say, "Hey!  That record is only about a half hour long, and there's a lot of slow, hippie peace bullshit to wade through!"  Now, don't get me wrong.  I like hippie peace bullshit as much as the next guy, but I wouldn't doubt that even though these guys were on a tiny label called Happy Tiger, I bet they had some other influences adding strings and fucking up their drum sound.  Drum sound is important to me, and the problem here is that it sounds like someone stuffed a pillow in the kick drum.  I hate that.  It just makes it thud.  A lot like the thud of hitting a pillow instead of a drum.  But the strings that get added just remind me of how Damnation of Adam Blessing often had the "hard" part of their Hard Rock sound softened by some label guy that thought the kids didn't like the really hard stuff, and that if a little violin worked for Mozart, it would work for Rock bands, too.  It doesn't.  It just gets in the way.

So getting back to not hearing what other Rock Nerd is talking about, these days you can just pull it up on your phone and try calling the guy out with your shitty 1/8" speakers.  Which isn't fair, but I'm sure it's done. In the case of Mason Proffit, I had to wait a long, long time to find the record inexpensively enough for me to be interested since I had heard Two Hangmen and wasn't sure if I remembered thinking it was totally amazing at 4:00 AM back when I was 22.  As it turns out, I'm probably much more patient with this record these days that I ever would have been back then, but I'd love to get back into that conversation and ask the guy what he thought of Sweet Lady Love, which has a pretty nice, slippery guitar and I think a little smaller pillow in the kick drum.  I think it's much better than Two Hangmen, and it's easily my favorite song on the album.

You know, it's funny the bits of conversations I can remember from decades ago.  These days I think I still take music more seriously than most people, especially because I mostly listen to music made for fun.  I mean, seriously, when's the last time you analyzed a roller coaster ride or a backyard picnic?  You probably don't. They're just fun.  Some are more fun than others and that's all you think about.  But me, I have to sit and remember some conversation I had at a backyard picnic thirty years ago and wish I could sit down with this record nerd I was talking to and see if he still thinks Wanted is a great lost classic, or just rightfully kind of lost.  Hey!  Dude that was talking to me!  Read my blog, maan!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Roxy Music - Viva!

I seem to be stuck in an old part of my record collection right about now.  Maybe because I ordered some stuff and it hasn't come in and I'm trying to make sure I have the funds for it when it gets here (if you order records at your record store and don't pick them up for weeks or months, then you're a dick and they should make you prepay, and if you still don't get them in 30 days, they should put your records out in the sale bin). I guess that listening to old stuff kind of gives me more ammo for these posts, though.  Because they've been a part of me for so long, I might actually have something to say about them, whereas a new record I tend to kind of review it, and lord knows I suck at that!  Viva! Roxy Music is one of those records I've had since I was in Jr, High.  So I should be able to think of something to say about it.

I remember reading about Roxy Music, and I think I had heard Love is the Drug a million times (it was a big hit here on Cleveland FM radio), and I liked how they were described as Art Rock.  I figured back then that anything with that kind of label meant that the music was more mature, and I was more likely to be able to pick someone's brain who knew way more about Rock music than me if I knew something like this.  I had no idea what to expect when I bought this (it was the first Roxy album I ever bought), but the cover looked like modern art and Rock 'N Roll to me, and I loved how the back cover says Viva! Roxy Music - The Live Roxy Music Album.  It seemed serious to me, and I wanted to listen to serious music.  I don't know why I wanted to listen to serious music, in the bicentennial parade in our town I helped a friend tape a big smoke bomb to his bike seat, and we lit it right before the part of the parade where the most people would get blasted with that awful smoke while we rode our bikes around the float our families had made.  Parents were pissed, but they had to admit, it was pretty funny to see kids in Tricorn hats riding in this giant plume of stinky, yellowish smoke.  So I wasn't taking anything else seriously, but I wanted people to know that I took my responsibilities as a Rock Fan seriously, no matter the appearance of frivolity my life actually consisted of.

The best thing about this album is how loud it sounds.  It always sounds loud, even if you're listening quietly.  It sounds loud because the audience is loud.  It sounds loud because when you turn it up to make it easier to hear the quiet parts, the loud parts come in really loud, the way Rock 'N Roll shows should be.  I was never afraid of the Art Rock label again after hearing this record, because I figured it meant killer guitar solo's, pounding drums and weird, wild electric violins.  I was all in (and I still am).  I love the beginning of this record.  The crowd is chanting in unison (I've never been to a show where that happened), and then the crack of that snare drum and it's so obvious that this band means business as it launches into Out of the Blue. Then that crazy finale with the electric violin - you have no idea how many nights I spent playing this record over and over.  I had no idea that this was  actually a somewhat less adventurous (or arty) band than they had been.  All I knew is that this was one of my favorite records, and it still is.

I think the two things that I always thought were as much art as rock were Both Ends Burning and In Every Dream Home a Heartache (did you know that's about an inflatable doll?  do you know what pervs do with those things?).  Now I don't think my parents ever quite caught on to the adult subject matter of the former (because they just tuned it out, not because they were 14 like me), but I know they heard my little GE stereo blasting Phil Manzanera's epic solo after the line, but you blew my mind... I played that all the time, and it just had to be loud for that Maximum Rock Effect.  In fact, my old record (which has been replaced due to abuse) was easy to find where that part of the song was, because I often just played that if I was in a hurry.  Swimming took up a lot of my time, and I hated that I couldn't listen to music while I swam up and down the pool!

Both Ends Burning always just slays me when the girls come in and just shred their vocal cords.  The juxtaposition against Bryan Ferry's always in control voice is perfect.  I knew that that had to be the part that was art.  I know now that just because it's music makes it art, but hey, cut me a break.

I'm still kind of proud of myself for starting my Roxy Music journey here.  There's none of the FM staple songs on this album.  It's a really weird song selection, and it's a pretty short album so you'd think they could have squeezed Love is the Drug on it if they had wanted to.  But those were different times, and I think that Roxy felt (rightly) that these were great performances in their own right, and that people should listen to the record as a whole and get to know a different side of them.  Obviously, no one would ever do that these days!  I mean, how many 14 year olds even listen to anything but a song or two by any artist?  And how fucked up is that?  That means that a 14 year old today is missing out on the hairs standing up on the back of their necks when the girls shred Both Ends Burning.  That kid never learns to love the absolutely epic, weirdly kind of Country meets Progressive Rock 10 minutes of pure delight that's If There is Something.  I feel bad for those kids, and I know with my kids I spent a lot of time trying to explain why it's important to listen to an album.  Not to just play songs.  Because listening to an album is where one day, you find out that the quiet, moody Chance Meeting is one of the songs that has burned into your psyche.  It would be such a shame to not have that happen to you.  It's like trampling through a field of tulips in Holland so you can see a dandelion.

Well, that's enough of that old man shit.  My record is exactly the same as my old one was, except it's playable and sounds terrific.  I think I replaced it in the mid 80's, and I'm pretty sure mine is an original pressing.  It's got the yellow ATCO label like my old one did, and even the cover is in great shape.  I seem to remember wishing there was more stuff written on that cover for me to read while I listened, though!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Linda Ronstadt - Mad Love

I know that if there's an artist from the 70's that has a line of demarcation between good music and who cares, a strong case can be made for Linda Ronstadt.  A lot of people would draw that line right before this album got released, too.  Not me, though.  I love this album.  Maybe it's because I was 18 when it came out and I liked the fact that Linda covered Elvis Costello and pretty much introduced the world to The Cretones (and no one noticed, but it was still a cool gesture), and as mainstream as Linda was, she was saying, "Hey! This new music the kids are into is pretty fucking great!"  So while she ends up missing some of the more visceral aspects of the music that I really go for, she hits the mark more than she misses it, and anything that has a guitar solo as good as Danny Kortchmar's solo on Hurts So Bad has got to have a lot going for it if you give it a chance.  That song wasn't Linda exactly taking chances (she pretty successfully resurrected plenty of old songs her whole career), but Hurts So Bad and Can't Let Go were the only two real "oldies" on the album.  What's great is that Linda lets her band step up and be themselves throughout the album.  I think it's Rosemary Butler with the great backing vocals on Can't Let Go, and there's just a lot of moments on this album where it's impossible not to just love the band she used.  The guys were great.

I think the Elvis Costello songs get the most shit from the cool kids, but I always appreciated the fact that Linda got a lot of my friends to listen to Elvis Costello songs, when I had tried and often failed to get them interested.  Sure, Girls Talk is pretty hostile in Elvis' hands, but Linda adds an outsider feel to it that actually makes it sad.  The other Elvis songs, Party Girl and Talking in the Dark generally work, but for completely different reasons that they work for Elvis (like Girls Talk, I suppose).  Talking in the Dark ends the record on a happy note and Party Girl takes on a whole new persona with Linda taking the role of the Party Girl.  The other songs aren't as good as these five, but they're better than a lot of other choices Linda has made on other albums.  They work for me, anyway.

I went and saw Linda on the Mad Love Tour.  I'm not sure who her band was for that, because I sat on the lawn at Blossom Music Center and it was a long time ago.  I remember I went with a friend, and he drove. He had a cool car, a 67 Fairlane, I think.  It was nice, too.  We stopped at K Mart and bought a big thermos because you could take that kind of stuff, and then we bought a real big bottle of shitty gin and some Vernor's Ginger Ale (still my favorite by a mile) and we just killed that sucker.  Now my friend that drove, he had one of those nights and he got way more of the booze than me.  So towards the end of the show, he looks at me and says, "I'm going down to the front,"  I just knew he'd never get five feet into the pavilion, so I stood there and watched him eyeing the security guys, the drooping velvet rope, and the ramp down to the front of the pavilion.  I could see he was ready to make his move, and I could see three security guards all knew he was coming.

What was great was that they kind of held back, to see what he'd do.  Well, he took off, and hit top speed quickly.  He timed his leap over the velvet rope perfectly, and it was really a thing of beauty.  For a split second, I thought he might make it.  But then his trailing foot caught the velvet rope, which was an impossibly high 18" off the ground, and my friend went face first right into the concrete ramp.  The three security guards and me immediately started laughing, and they actually just helped him up, brushed him off, and gave him back to me.  They didn't even say to keep an eye on him or anything.  Probably because they were still laughing so hard, but then again, it could have been because those guards and me, we developed a special bond at that moment.  There's more stories from the drive home, but I'll just leave you with that one.

My record is nice and flat and sounds great.  I even bought it on cd, but I don't know why.  I saw a copy of this in a used record store for two bucks, and I almost bought it because it looked completely perfect, but as I flipped through I saw another one maybe even nicer for two bucks.  So I figure mine's just fine and I'll save my two bucks, but if you ever find this shopping in a used store, I bet you can get at least the price of this record off your entire purchase if you buy a few things.  So for free, this would be one of the best albums you ever got!