Saturday, December 31, 2005

When the Shillelagh Meets the Hood: Part Three

Part Three: Shamrocks & Shenanigans

By the time LA's House of Pain entered the hip-hop fray in the 1990s, the idea of a white hip-hop group wasn't as much of an oxymoron as it would've been a decade before. Since then, the Beastie Boys and Third Bass, on the East Coast, had paved the way for this pasty crew of miscreants. On the West Coast, the multi-racial Cypress Hill had followed suit. And no, I'm not about to mention Vanilla Ice... (Whoops!) In any case, despite some surface similarities, none of these outfits were flying the orange and the green.

Enter Erik Schrody, better known as Everlast, who was born on Long Island in 1969. He would eventually end up in LA, where he attended Ice-Cube's alma mater, Taft High School. As influences, he has claimed the likes of Bill Withers, Tom Waits, and Run-DMC. His first official rap move came in 1986 when he joined Ice-T's crew at the age of 17. Four years later, he released his first full-length, Forever Everlasting, on Ice-T's Rhyme Syndicate imprint. It was even produced by the man himself. Few noticed. Shortly afterwards, Everlast formed the hiphop trio House of Pain with fellow Rhyme Syndicate member Daniel O'Connor, AKA Danny Boy, and a gentleman of Latvian extraction, Lior DiMant, AKA DJ Lethal. According to Everlast's website, "[Lethal] was expelled from Jersey City grade-school Yeshiva for flinging yarmulkes like Frisbees down the hallway." (In other words, like the Beasties and Third Bass before them, House of Pain were also part-Jewish.) Signed to Tommy Boy and featuring production assistance from Cypress Hill's Muggs, another Caucasian character, House of Pain released their self-titled debut in 1992. It quickly went platinum. Emblazened with the Guinness-inspired slogan, "Fine malt lyrics," it featured such Irish-centric song titles as "Shamrocks and Shenanigans" and "Top o' the Mornin' to Ya." But the album's biggest hit had little to do with its Irishness. Rather, it was simply the perfect song at the perfect time. Imagine a cross between Naughty by Nature's "O.P.P." and Kriss Kross's "Jump" and there you have it: "Jump Around." The song was even released--on green vinyl, naturally--as a Sub Pop single, featuring Butch Vig's grunge-a-rific "Shamrocks" remix on the flipside.

But let's return to the album's more overtly Irish tracks. It's on these selections where Everlast's lyrical skills come to the fore. So is he saying anything particularly profound about the Irish experience? Not really, but his wordplay is clever and funny, and hip-hop could always use a little humor. In "Top o' the Mornin' to Ya," for instance, he claims, "I may be Irish / But I'm not a leprechaun." I take this to mean, "I may be Irish, but I'm not a fuckin' cartoon." The song also features lines like, "These Irish eyes are smilin' / I'm buck wilin'," while "Danny Boy, Danny Boy" includes the couplet, "I'm clockin' my glock / And I've got my shillelagh." Later in "House and the Rising Sun," Everlast spells out his musical M.O. when he raps, "'Cause I'm a white Irish man with a funk soul." I take this to mean, "Don't let appearances fool you." (Fittingly, the name of the official House of Pain fan club was called Hoods and Hooligans.) As for the samples on their debut, House of Pain, like many of their contemporaries, may have had a whole lotta love for the funk, but it's hard to imagine these cats weren't also brought up on more Leadbelly than jam--just like Van the Man--as the album features an abundance of blues samples from "heads" like Willie Dixon, Albert King, and especially that Morrison favorite, John Lee Hooker.

During their three-album reign as the world's premiere Gaelic hip-hop group, House of Pain were criticized for any number of things. On the one hand, they were too Irish, i.e their Irishness was perceived as a mere gimmick or, as Ira Robbins puts it in his Trouser Press entry on the band, they engaged in "ethnic profiteering." Well, I won't deny that there's some truth to the claim, but at least they weren't extolling the virtues of such faux Irishness as, say, Lucky Charms, Irish Spring, or such masterpieces of Irish cinema as Darby O'Gill and the Little People, the Leprechaun horror series, or Finian's Rainbow, the catastrophic musical that almost destroyed Francis Ford Coppola's career before he'd even gotten started. On the other hand, House of Pain were also criticized for not being Irish enough, which is to say, they weren't political. But is this really a fair argument? I'm not so sure that it is. While Everlast may have a Sinn Fein tattoo on his chest, which makes it clear that he was at least as pro-IRA as his sartorial soul sister Sinead O'Connor (i.e. "I don't have dreads / I shave my head daily / You call me a skinhead / I call you a pinhead"), why can't a band of Irish "brothers" be a party band as much as a group of any other ethnicity? Because ultimately, that's what they were. Just like their pals in Cypress Hill, they were more about smokin' blunts and sippin' fortys than anything else.

I was never embarrassed by the way House of Pain wove Irishness into their sound. In fact, I thought it was pretty cool. Rather, it was their machismo, a different sort of Irish stereotype, that could be the real turn-off. There were those occasional lyrics, for instance, like "If your bitch steps up / I'm slappin' the ho" ("Jump Around") and "Excuse me señora / Are you a whore-a / Or are you a lady?" ("Shamrocks and Shenanigans"). There were also lyrics about gats, glocks, and the size of their equipment. And for better or for worse, House of Pain weren't, to quote the Cheap Trick, "all talk." They were real-life brawlers and got involved in plenty of scraps throughout their career of both the physical and verbal variety. There was also a weapons possession charge for Everlast in 1993 and a war of words with Eminem in the late-1990s.

In 1994, the group released Same As It ever Was, which went gold, but produced no hit singles, although I would argue that the sublime head-nodder "On Point" deserved better than it got and many fans claim it's their best record. Now it should be noted that there are many things for which the Irish are famous, such as Guinness, Jameson's, and Galway Bay oysters. They are not, however, known for their pizza, but that didn't stop House of Pain and their brawlin' Celtic buddy Mickey Rourke from trying to open up an LA joint called House of Pizza that same year. Alas, the venture was a non-starter as all had criminal records and their request for a liquor license was denied. (And Tupac thought he was a thug!) House of Pain's final full-length was 1996's Truth Crushed to Earth Shall Rise Again, which made little impact and the band soon called it quits.

That should have been the end of that, but Everlast--much like his name--would proceed to defy the truism of that great Irish-American scribe F. Scott Fitzgerald when his American life entered its second chapter. First he got started on a solo album, a process which was interrupted when he suffered a heart attack due to a previously undiagnosed defect. He was 29. Fortunately, he made a full recovery. Then in 1997, he took a step few Irish Catholics before him have made, when he converted to Islam (which makes it less surprising that Sinead O'Connor would follow his lead in converting to Rastafarianism a few years later). Everlast claims it was the rapper Divine Styler who turned him on to the religion and assured him that skin color was not a barrier for entry. The long-player he had been working on at the time, Whitey Ford Sing the Blues, was released in 1998 and went triple-platinum on the strength of the single, "What It's Like."

Everlast's other post-House of Pain recordings, which add folk, blues, and country tinges to his basic formula, include Eat At Whitey's (2000) and White Trash Beautiful (2004). I guess, or at least I hope, that Everlast has also read How the Irish Became White as he seems to have an obsession with the word "white." Maybe it comes from years of being described as a "white rapper" instead of, say, an "Irish-American rapper" or even just "a rapper." And the hits didn't end there for Everlast also appears on the mega-platinum Supernatural, for which he and Carlos Santana shared a Grammy Award ("Best Rock Performance by Duo/Group with Vocal") for the song "Put Your Lights On."

The bottom line? House of Pain didn't start a movement when they decided to Irish up hip-hop but, much like the Beastie Boys, they helped to provide a much-needed link between rock and rap and also proved that hip-hop, as a form, was a lot more elastic than anyone could have ever imagined. Consequently, they deserve much better than the "one-hit wonder" tag that has become their legacy. And while I'm at it, they even came up with a response to Vanilla Ice's oft-quoted, much-mocked, "Word to your mother!" It goes, "Yeah, I'm Irish / Word to the Motherland!"

Images from Amazon and

That Girl in a Cole Porter Song

That Girl in a Cole Porter Song and Other Gems From the Screenwriter's Pen

A work in progress, these are some of my favorite movie quotes. Where possible, I've tried to avoid the obvious. Consequently, you won't find "I coulda been a contender" or "You lookin' at me?" here (although I couldn't resist a quote from Taxi Driver). That said, I do love Budd Schulberg and Paul Schrader's iconic takes on wounded masculinity--especially in context. For those lines to really work their magic, you don't just need to conjure up the indelible images of Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro in your mind (or on the screen), you need to hear the rest of their dialogue in those famous scenes to really get what they're going on about. On the other hand, I've taken all of these quotes out of context, so if you're the least bit intrigued, I would encourage you to check out some of these fine films.


"The work of the police, like that of woman, is never done."
-- He Walked by Night (1948)

[I think this was spoken by Jack Webb.]

"Men aren't interested in a sheet of virgin-white paper. They want something with writing on it."
-- Careless Lady (1932)

[I think this was spoken by Joan Bennett.]

"Men! You say no to one, and they think you're a candidate for the funny farm."
--Tippi Hedren, Marnie (1964)

Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape."
-- Taylor (Charlton Heston), Planet of the Apes (1968)

"I always say the law was meant be interpreted in a lenient manner...Sometimes I lean to one side of it, sometimes I lean to the other."
-- Paul Newman, Hud (1963)

"I want that girl in a Cole Porter song. I wanna see Lena Horne at the Cotton Club--hear Billie Holiday sing fine and mellow--walk in that kind of rain that never washes perfume away. I wanna be in love with something. Anything. Just the idea. A dog, a cat. Anything. Just something."
-- Harry Stoner (Jack Lemmon), Save the Tiger (1973)

"One should become a person, like other people."
-- Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), Taxi Driver (1976)

"The critics? I hate the critics? I have nothing but compassion for them. How can I hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?"
-- Sir (Albert Finney), The Dresser (1983)

"Ordinary fuckin' people--I hate 'em."
-- Harry Dean Stanton, Repo Man (1984)

"If you toy with me, I'll burn you so bad, you'll wish you'd died as a child."
-- Sgt. Maj. "Dick" Dickerson (J.T. Walsh), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

"This is a complicated case, Maude. A lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous, a lot of strands to keep in my head, man. Lot of strands in old Duder's head."
-- The Dude (Jeff Bridges), The Big Lebowski (1998)

"Sooner or later, Mr. Fowler, one has to take sides."
-- Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen) to Michael Caine, The Quiet American (2002)

[Indecisive people get on my nerves.]

"Cats live in loneliness, then die like falling rain."
-- Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space (2002)

"I believe the killing of fluffy creatures is never justified."
-- Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

"'Fear Eats The Soul,' there's more truth in that title than most whole films."
-- Naomie Harris, Tristram Shandy (2006)

Quotes about the movies/movie life.

"I believe in suffering in abject luxury."
-- Laurence Harvey (1928-1973)

"American cinema is not the enemy. It always brings you surprises. Because it is cinema, it can't be the enemy. But it takes up too much space. It gets bigger and leaves less to others.''
-- Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (2002)

"Film is lies 24 times a second."
-- Errol Morris

[Morris goes Godard one better.]

"One tender moment's reprieve from loneliness can illuminate a life."
-- Stephen Holden on Brokeback Mountain (2005)

"I'm a good actor for me as a director because I do everything I tell myself to do."
-- Tommy Lee Jones on The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2006)

Images: BBC (Jack Lemmon, Rita Hayworth, and Robert Mitchum in 1956) and the official Errol Morris website (Morris and Deadwood's Ricky Jay). For my favorite general quotes--lit quips, et al--please click here. For my favorite "Black Irish" quotes, this space is the place. Wanna contribute a quote to my collection? You know what to do.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

List: Dap Dippin' With Sharon Jones and the Top 20

"If you can't feel the music on this album, then you must be a dead ass!"
-- Sharon Jones, "Soul Sister #1," on Naturally

Without any further ado, here are my top 20 albums for 2005. It should go without saying, but just in case it doesn't: down with major labels, down with over-production, down with music by committee! And while I'm at it, down with stylists! Any artist who can't dress themselves has no place on a list of mine. (No doubt Ms. Jones selected those five-inch glitter heels all by her lonesome--and more power to her!) So here's to the artists who write and perform their own material or, as in the case of the Detroit Cobras, music of their own choosing, performed in their own style. And that, for me, is the key word: Style. Some folks got it, some folks don't. These folks do.


Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - Naturally (Daptone)
2. MIA - Arular (XL Recordings)
3. The Dirtbombs - If You Don't Already Have a Look (In the Red)
4. Animal Collective - Feels (Fatcat)
5. The Ponys - Celebration Castle (In The Red)
6. The Kills - No Wow (Rough Trade)
7. Roky Erickson - I Have Always Been Here Before (Shout Factory) [Anthology]
8. The Deadly Snakes - Porcella (In the Red)
9. The Detroit Cobras - Baby (Bloodshot)
10. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan (V2)
11. Spoon - Gimme Fiction (Merge)
12. Fiery Furnaces - EP (Rough Trade)
13. Annie - Anniemal (Big Beat/Atlantic)
14. Scout Niblett - Kidnapped by Neptune (Too Pure/Beggar's Banquet)
15. Sons & Daughters - Repulsion Box (Domino)
16. Scritti Politti - Early (Rough Trade)
17. Danger Doom - The Mouse and the Mask (Epitaph)
18. Seu Jorge - Cru (Wrasse Records)
19. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema (Matador)
20. X-ray Spex - Germfree Adolescents (Castle/Sanctuary) [Reissue]

LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem (Death From Above), Benjamin Biolay - A L'Origine (EMI) [France], Keren Ann - Nolita (Metro Blue/Blue Note), Lady & Bird - S/T (EMI) [France], Nouvelle Vague - S/T (Luaka Bop), Various Artists - Nao Wave (Man Recordings) [Germany], the Slits - Cut (Island/Koch) [Reissue], The Brian Jonestown Massacre - We Are the Radio mini-album (TeePee), Shivaree - Who's Got Trouble (Rounder), Robyn Hitchcock - Spooked (Yep Roc), The Skygreen Leopards - Jehovah Surrender EP (JagJaguwar), Jack Nitzsche - Hearing is Believing (Ace) [Retrospective], Lady Sovereign - Vertically Challenged EP (Chocolate Industries), and Calexico - Convict Pool EP (Quarterstick/Touch & Go).

Here are my top 10s for the past two years:


1. The Black Keys - Rubber Factory (Fat Possum)
2. A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder (Matador)
3. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand (Domino)
4. Camera Obscura - Underachievers Please Try Harder (Elefant/Merge)
5. Clinic - Winchester Cathederal (Domino)
6. The Beta Band - Heroes to Zeroes (Astralwerks)
7. Keren Ann - Not Going Anywhere (Metro Blue/Blue Note)
8. Benjamin Biolay & Chiara Mastoianni - Home (Virgin) [France]
9. The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat (Rough Trade)
10. Gomez - Split the Difference (Virgin)


1. The Dirtbombs - Dangerous Magical Noise (In The Red)
2. The White Stripes - Elephant (V2)
3. Holly Golightly - Truly She Is No Other (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
4. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop)
5. Benjamin Biolay - Negatif (Virgin) [France]
6. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Pig Lib (Matador)
7. Broadcast - Ha Ha Sound (Warp)
8. Quasi - Hot Shit (Touch & Go)
9. Various Artists - City of God [original soundtrack] (Milan)
10. The Clientele - The Violet Hour (Merge)

Image from Daptone Records. Most links point to my Amazon reviews. Unfortunately, I'm unable to link to the reviews I wrote for Resonance, because they're not online, and Tabletbecause it's defunct.

Friday, December 09, 2005

When the Shillelagh Meets the Hood: Part Two

Part Two: I See Irish People 

Lately I've been working on a paper about the influence of Black culture on Irish music (and by extension, film). The following are a list of quotes I hope to integrate into the piece. If you know of any good ones you don't see here, please feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment. Also, if you can recommend any good reading materials, please give a shout. I'm just about to get started on Noel Ignatiev's How the Irish Became White, a recommendation from Eric Weisbard.  


“Before our merciful intervention, the Irish nation were a wretched, indolent, half starved tribe of savages, ages before Julius Caesar landed on this isle, and notwithstanding a gradual improvement upon the naked savagery, they have never approached the standard of [the] civilised world.”--The London Times (1847) 

"No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs."--Title of Johnny Rotten's autobiography (1994)

"No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs."--Title of Lord John Taylor's autobiography (2004) [Taylor is the first Black member of the House of Lords.] 

"The Irish are the Blacks of the UK, and Dubliners are the Blacks of Ireland. So say it once, lads, and say it loud, I'm Black and I'm proud." -- The Commitments (1991) [Thanks to Tom Keogh; I think Robert Arkins was the speaker.]  

Andy (Tim Robbins): "Red. Why they call you that?" Red (Morgan Freeman): "Maybe it's because I'm Irish."--The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

''I'm not Irish. I'm from the Brick City--Newark, New Jersey--and don't pinch me on the butt if I'm not wearing green.''--Shaquille O' Neal (2003) 

"It seems there are Irish people everywhere-- or at least people who want to be."--Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby (2004) [No wonder he won the Oscar!] 

"Despite the fact that many people resented the treaty he negotiated [the Anglo-Irish Treaty], the fact that Ireland is now the wealthiest country in the EU is testimony to his perseverance and belief in his cause... And if there's no Guinness in Heaven, then I don't see the point in going." -- Mick Collins on Michael Collins (2005)  

Image: official Dirtbombs site (Mick Collins). The piece I mention here is now on hold. Although I recently added a post about That Petrol Emotion, I haven't had time to write about Thin Lizzy and Sinead O'Connor. As for Lizzy, I think I'll wait until I've done more reading. I'm still looking for an affordable copy of Philomena Lynott's My Boy.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Here's the Beef: On Peter Spirer's Beef

DVD Review: Peter Spirer, Beef, QD3/Image Entertainment

Got a beef? Well, you've come to the right place! Somewhat misshapen, but inherently compelling, Beef could as easily have been titled The Battle

Released in 2003, the dramatic documentary offers a lively look at great rap battles throughout hip-hop history, starting with Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee and ending with 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule. Directed by Peter Spirer (Rhyme and Reason) and produced by Quincy Jones III (QD3), Beef is endorsed by his famous father, whose plea for peace concludes the film. Other participants include Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, Common, and Treach (Naughty by Nature).

The first third, which outlines the top battles, is the most dynamic. After that, the film spends too much time on some battles, not enough on others (the legendary "Roxanne" beef, for instance, is only mentioned in passing). Part of the problem may be that the early rappers, like KRS-One/Boogie Down Productions ("South Bronx") and LL Cool J ("To Da Break of Dawn"), are so charismatic, while many of the modern day battlers, like the members of Mobb Deep and Murder, Inc., featuring the knife-wielding Blackchild (who stabbed 50 Cent), have replaced weapons with words--possibly because their pens don't carry the same weight.

The turning point, naturally, is the battle between Ice Cube and NWA. It was followed, in short order, by the apocalyptic Tupac vs. Biggie battle, which involved some of the same personnel, like NWA's Dr. Dre, who went on to form Death Row Records with the (truly) criminal minded Suge Knight. And the fun that was part of the early battles was gone. As Busy notes, he and Moe Dee are still friends--in fact, they always were--even if the latter won that particular war of words. (The fun footage of Busy from Wild Style reminded me that I still really need to see that film.) Beef is narrated in an effectively low-key style by Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Don King: Only in America) and was followed by two sequels, which cover some of the infamous battles not included in the first, like Eminem vs. the Insane Clown Posse.

Postscript: Image from Amazon. Thanks to Gillian for passing this disc my way. While I'm at it, here's a list of the hip-hop reviews I've written for Amazon: Outkast - "B.O.B." / "Ms. Jackson" DVD single, Ruff Ryders with DMX, Eve, et al, Murda Muzik (a horrible home movie from the Mobb Deep crew), Cypress Hill - Smoke Out, Run-DMC - Greatest Hits, Suge Knight on the Real Death Row Records (an amateurish vanity project), Tupac Shakur: Thug Angel (also by Spirer), Tupac Resurrection (a surprise Oscar nominee for best documentary), Biggie and Tupac (a must-see Nick Broomfield documentary), Scratch (Doug Pray's DJ follow-up to Hype!), The Freshest Kids - A History of the B-Boy (these are the breaks!), Lyricist Lounge - Hip Hop Video Classics, Style Wars (Henry Chalfant's graffiti classic), Bomb the System (a fictional take on the graffiti life), Public Enemy - Live at the House of Blues and It Takes a Nation: The First London Invasion 1987 (a live precursor to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back), Def Poetry - Season One (hosted by Mos Def), Freestyle - The Art of Rhyme, Xzibit - Restless Exposed, Pimp My Ride - The Complete First Season (hosted by Xzibit), and "X to the Z" pal Eminem - Presents the Anger Management Tour. After reading through a few of these reviews, especially those written between 2001-2003, I'm embarrassed by a few of them, but I've gotten better at writing about hip-hop since--I've only had five years of practice.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

When the Shillelagh Meets the Hood: Part One

Part One: Green-Eyed Soul

A self-described "little guy" (1967's "The Story of Them"), Northern Irish singer/songwriter George Ivan "Van" Morrison was born in Belfast in 1945. His Scottish father was a dock worker who played music on the side, his Irish mother was a jazz singer, and their home was filled with blues recordings. As Morrison once quipped (Mark Prendergast, Isle of Noises, 1989), "Some people are brought up on jam, I was brought up on Leadbelly and heads like that." (He wasn't, incidentally, raised as a Catholic or a Protestant, but rather a Jehovah's Witness.) Morrison began his music career by playing in skiffle groups at the age of 11 and dropped out of school at 15 to join the Monarchs, a successful live act on the European circuit. After the Monarchs ran their course, he formed Them in 1963 with a revolving door of Irish musicians and the occasional British session player.

Them's first recording success was a cover of Mississippi bluesman Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go," released as a single in 1964. It hit the top 10 in the UK and remained on the charts for nine weeks. It is, in my opinion, one of the best blues covers you could ever hope to hear. And a lot of people got to hear it. According to John Tracy (Them Featuring Van Morrison, 1987), "Blighty's all-important television pop show Ready Steady Go adopted 'Baby' as its theme song." Spare, seductive, and completely groovy; it's got the feel of the blues and the spirit of the punk-rock yet to come (Morrison, by turns, makes love to his microphone and spits the lyrics into it). Two minutes and 46 seconds later, it's over. Not one wasted note or gesture. No drum solos, no gospel choirs--none of the excess that would turn blues-rock into a bloated mess, until the White Stripes, Mr. Airplane Man, the Black Keys and others reinvented the form, yet again, in the early-2000s. It would not, however, be Them's biggest single. That would be 1965's "Here Comes the Night," a top five hit in the UK. Interestingly, it was not written by Morrison--or any member of Them--but by American producer/songwriter Bert Berns (originally for Britain's Lulu, whose version stalled at #50).

Around the same time, UK groups like the Yardbirds, the Animals, the Pretty Things, and the Rolling Stones were playing the same kind of high-energy, blues-based rock. In fact, that's Jimmy Page behind the snake charmer guitar line for "Baby Please Don't Go" (according to Prendergast, Page is all over 1965's The Angry Young Them and 1966's Them Again). So Them wasn't doing something completely unique, but doing it in Northern Ireland certainly set them apart. Not that there weren't plenty of other "beat groups" in Ireland, like Bluesville (who had a top 10 hit in the US with "You Turn Me On"), but Them quickly broke away from the pack. Another quality that distinguished them from the rest of the mid-1960s blues-rockers, with the possible exception of the Spencer Davis Group's Steve Winwood, was Morrison's soulful voice, which garnered him frequent comparisons to Howlin' Wolf.

In their brief career, Them would go on to have other hits, like the immortal "Gloria," B-side to "Baby Please Don't Go," which would be covered by Patti Smith, Jimi Hendrix (who would also produce Irish group Eire Apparent's 1969 release Sunrise), and Van's "soul brother" Jim Morrison. In the Village Voice (Will Hermes, "Apocalypse Then," 11/21/05), on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Horses, Smith claimed she chose to cover the song, sometimes mistakenly credited to the Shadows of Knight (probably due to the fact that their version became a top 10 hit in the US), because, "I like simple, three-chord rhythms. And 'Gloria' is so universal. It's so beautifully chauvinistic, so I decided that I would do the ultimate chauvinistic version."

Van Morrison left Them in 1966, but the group wouldn't officially disband until 1971. As a solo artist, he would increasingly integrate traditional Irish influences into his work, which is to say, lyrics of a more literary bent and more folk-oriented instrumentation--but without completely abandoning his "black" roots. Morrison's first solo single, for instance, the top five hit "Brown Eyed Girl" (1967), was originally called "Brown Skinned Girl," while as Musician's Bill Flanagan has noted (The Bang Masters, 1991), "With 'Come Running' and 'Domino' he'd even work out a way to bring his beloved R&B back in style." Then there's 1993's Too Long in Exile, which consists entirely of soul and R&B covers. That said, the more "Irish" he became, the more Morrison's popularity grew. In 1984, he told Kristine McKenna (Book of Changes) that he abandoned blues-rock--and the rock scene in general--when he realized, "Maybe this isn't really me." And by 1968, the year he made his break, that may have been the case. But between 1964 when Them released "Baby Please Don't Go" and 1967 when he recorded his own unique blues epic, "T.B. Sheets," Van Morrison was as black as a white Irish man could get.

Image: Song Bar ("A youthful Van Morrison and Them in the mid-60s").

Thursday, December 01, 2005

December Reviews

Reviews for December

Here's a list of the reviews I worked on this month. More than usual, although most exclusively for Amazon.

Amazon: The Hives - Tussles in Brussels (concert film plus
short documentary, videos, and TV appearances), Rock Star - INXS: The DVD (musical performances from the reality TV series), Black Girl / Borom Sarret (feature plus short from Senegal's Ousmane Sembene; I also reviewed Mandabi and Xala), Sandra Bernhard - Without You I'm Nothing, The Cutting Edge - Going for the Gold (remake of the Moira Kelly/D.B. Sweeney ice skating opus), Their Eyes Were Watching God (Oprah-produced TV adaptation of the Zora Neale Hurston novel with Halle Berry), Franz Ferdinand - Live [two-disc set] (two gigs plus behind-the-scenes look and other extras), The Amazing Race - The Seventh Season [four-disc set] (I also reviewed the first season), Criss Angel - Mindfreak: The Complete Season One [two-disc set], Save the Tiger (Jack Lemmon in his Oscar-winning role; necessary viewing for fans of Glengarry Glen Ross), American Pie Presents: Band Camp (youch!), Empire of the Wolves (with a blond JeanReno; from the author of The Crimson Rivers), Saraband (Bergman's fine sequel to Scenes from a Marriage), The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder - Punk & New Wave (yay!), Hunter - The Complete Third Season [three-disc set], Nighty Night - The Complete Season One (pitch-black Britcom; makes The Office look like Touched by an Angel), and The World (old China meets new to tragic effect in Jia Zhangke's latest; first saw it at the 2004 LIFF).

Endnote: Black Girl / Borom Sarret cover image from
Amazon. Oh, and I'm in love with Howlin' Pelle Almqvist.

Search Me! In Which I Search for My Name

It's funny, but I've always hated that phrase: "Search me!" Maybe it's because I'm just too literal-minded—no doubt about it, actually, I know I am. So what would you find if you were to really search me? Well, I'll tell you.

Aside from the usual stuff (keys, checks, change, etc.), you'd find a tube of M.A.C. lip gloss in "Nico" (a nice iridescent mauve), a sample-sized vial of Jo Malone Honeysuckle and Jasmine cologne, and a tin of Altoids gum in (artificially flavored) cinnamon. And what does this tell you about me? Not much, I'm afraid, and that's what I've always hated most about the expression, i.e. Search me...and you won't find anything of consequence. (I'd like to think otherwise!)

So anyway, every few months I take a trip over to Google to see where my reviews are ending up. This month when I searched using my full name, I got 42,600 hits (when I searched using Kathy Fennessy, I got 16,900; I may go by Kathy, but rarely write using that name). As I've mentioned before, the vast majority are duplicate entries, although I have written hundreds of reviews over the past few years (but definitely not thousands).

Not counting purely commercial sites, here are some of the more interesting ones I came across this time around. Incidentally, they're all Amazon reviews. I swear I do write for other publications on occasion—just not as often as I'd like.
Amazon review of Who's the Boss

Clown Ministry:
Amazon review of The Incredible Mr. Limpet

Amazon review of Pete and Pete - Season One

Amazon reviews of the Slits - Cut and Spoon - Gimme Fiction

Mischa Barton News:
Amazon review of Frankie and Hazel

Movie Tome:
Amazon review of Something the Lord Made

[I find sister site, TV Tome, particularly helpful for research.]

National Society of Film Critics:
Amazon reviews of Happy Endings and Crónicas

[Ah, but I wish I qualified for membership!
There are only 55 writers in the NSFC.]

Poe News:
Amazon reviews of the third and
fourth seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm
Amazon reviews of Rebel Music - The Bob Marley Story
and Roots Rock Reggae - Inside the Jamaican Music Scene

[At Amazon, I'm the designated hitter when it comes to reggae reviews. This month, I reviewed Bob Marley and the Wailers - Live at the Rainbow, which is packaged with the estate-approved documentary Caribbean Nights. As with the Slits, I just can't get enough of Bob Marley. That said, Rebel Music is the more honest film as it deals head-on with his infidelities and other issues that the BBC doc elides.]

Wing Chun Archives:
Amazon reviews of House, M.D. and Veronica Mars

[This appears to be some kind of martial arts site.]

Image: Amazon (back cover of the Slits album Cut).  

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Review: Lady Sovereign, Vertically Challenged EP, Chocolate Industries

Comparisons to Sri Lankan-born MIA (Maya Arulpragasam) are unavoidable, but fellow tracksuit-sporting Londoner Lady Sovereign, aka "the cheeky midget," has her own thing going on. After all, the 19-year-old hoody fanatic, born Louise Harman, likes to "get random" and "wear her trousers baggy." (Sartorial soul brothers Madness would surely approve.) Like MIA, her music is often described as "grime" or even "back-pack." (The AMG adds the descriptors "2-step/British garage" and the rather misleading "electronica.") Well, there's nothing I hate more than trendy jargon, so please forgive me if I just call it hip-hop (even if, as Scotland's Sunday Herald notes, her studio is located on a "grimy block").

Granted, Sovereign's style lies somewhere between dancehall (or jungle) and hip-hop. Her flow is fast and feisty, as much a toast as a rap, but there isn't much worldbeat to her sound. You could say she has more in common with the UK's favorite "boy in da corner," Dizzee Rascal, but her voice sounds nothing like his--or the similarly pigment-challenged Mike Skinner (the Streets), i.e. like Skinner, she's white. (Sovereign has played with both; also Basement Jaxx, the Go! Team, LCD Soundsystem, Obie Trice, Public Enemy, and Run-DMC--the girl gets around.) There is, however, one US rapper who comes to mind, and that's MC Lyte. I have no idea whatever happened to her, but for a while there Lyte ("as a rock") was the go-to girl when it came to female-centric hip-hop, especially in the male-dominated late-1980s/early-1990s. Of course, there was also Queen Latifah (and a few short-lived lesser lights), but she was in a class by herself. Lyte was a scrappy young kid bursting with confidence. The poised, imposing, future Oscar-nominated Latifah was self-proclaimed royalty. No comparison.

I received Vertically Challenged, a two-disc EP, as the first eight-track disc only, which features four remixes, including one by the Beastie Boys' Ad Rock ("A little Bit of SHHH"). Other remixers include Cheque 1-2, Menta, and Ghislain Poirier, while guest rappers include Riko (Menta's "Random" remix) and Frost P., Zuz Rock, and Shystie ("The Battle"). According to the Amazon listing, the second disc features two tracks, one remix, and an "exclusive interview with live footage interlaced throughout." For my money, "Random" is the standout track with Sovereign's high-pitched "Make way for the S-O-V" chant sure to lodge its way into your grey matter right quick. The other cuts are good, too, and I look forward to hearing more from this "multi-talented munchkin" (Sovereign clocks in at five foot one).

Postscript: Lady Sovereign's full-length debut, Public Warning (or Straight Up Cheeky, according to Pitchfork), will be released on Island in the UK in February 2006. She is currently shopping for a US deal and recently took a meeting with Def Jam rapper-turned-mogul Jay-Z. Image from UK Flava.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Love vs. Love

Alone Again Or AndMoreAgain 

"AndMoreAgain" is, of course, the name of this blog. I've always thought of it as a sequel of sorts to "Alone Again Or." The latter isn't just another song off Love's third and finest recording, 1967's Forever Changesit's the song. Similarly, "Time of the Season" is the track that elevates the Zombies' strangely spelled Odessey and Oracle (1968) to classic status. If you remove it, you have a pretty terrific album on your hands, but is it still a masterpiece? Perhaps, but I think both records would be more likely to qualify as cult classics without these signature compositions. 

As for "AndMoreAgain," it's got the same weird syntax as "Alone  Again Or," but why are the title words separated in one song, run together in the other? Only God—or Arthur Lee—knows. Musically, they're also quite different, although both represent the softer side of Love. Neither is likely to be confused with such driving rockers as Love's "My Little Red Book" or Da Capo's "Seven and Seven Is" (Love also features "And More," the first song in the "And/Or" trilogy). Songwriters Lee and Bryan MacLean are in a more melancholy mood on these numbers. 

Oddly enough, however, Love's most recognizable voice doesn't sing lead on "Alone Again Or," but rather MacLean, its composer...sound-
ing a lot like Lee. As it turns out, there's a reason for that. As Mac-
Lean explained to Ben Edmonds in the Forever Changes liner notes: 

One thing about the Forever Changes album: Arthur wasn't confident in my singing. So the harmony is actually the melody you're hearing. You're not really hearing the song the way it was written. You're hearing the harmony part from Arthur, but I was singing lead. They mixed Arthur's harmony over my lead vocals. So what you hear, after it bleeds in on the mix, is actually Arthur's harmony, which is mistaken for the lead vocal...I understand why he did it, because I knew I wasn't that great of a singer at that point. I think it would bother me now, because now I can hit the notes. He probably did it out of necessity, and I probably knew that in my heart. 

Co-written by the two, "AndMoreAgain" sounds more like Lee. To Edmonds, it's "one of the loveliest melodies Arthur ever conceived." The vocal is Brit-inflected and over-enunciated--especially the "pum-pum" part ("Then you feel your heart beating, thrum-pum-pum-pum"). It's twee, yet totally affecting. "Alone Again Or" is more straight-
forward. It's less cutesy, more mystical, and downright spooky. (Come to think of it, Rod Argent's "Time of the Season" is pretty spooky, too.)

I first heard "Alone Again Or" while in college. It wasn't the original version of the song, but rather a cover. The band was the Damned, the album was Anything (1986). It's the sound of a once-great punk group in decline, which is to say it isn't punk at all. The Damned were more of a goth rock concern at this point, but their version of "Alone Again Or" doesn't creep the song out or send it scuttering towards the darkness of doom and gloom. It's actually quite lovely. Dave Vanian over-sings it a bit, perhaps, but you sense the band "gets it" and it doesn't hurt that the track was accompanied by a psychedelic Western of a video. All dust and sand and elongated images. It encouraged me to seek out the original. Naturally, I prefer it, but the Damned certainly deserves their propers, even if I'll always prefer their early material. 

Alone Again Or 

Yeah, said it’s all right I won’t forget All the times I’ve waited patiently for you And you’ll do just what you choose to do And I will be alone again tonight my dear Yeah, I heard a funny thing Somebody said to me You know that I could be in love with almost everyone I think that people are The greatest fun And I will be alone again tonight my dear 

I first picked up Forever Changes a few years later. After "Alone Again Or," "AndMoreAgain" quickly became my favorite track. So much so that I briefly took it as my air name when I started working at KNDD, "The End," in the early-1990s. Phonetically, the title resolves as "Ann Morgan." My program director, however, thought I should stick with my real name--even if no one can pronounce it correctly--so I let Ms. Morgan go. Nonetheless, I've adopted it as my pseudonym. 

The other thing I like about the song is that it's fun to sing. So why haven't more bands covered it, as they have "Alone Again Or"? After all, it's harder to do the latter justice, even if it's better known, which leads me to the second cover to catch my ear: Arizona-based band Calexico's 2004 version. I had been a fan of Giant Sand for several years before Joey Burns and John Convertino left to form their own combo. I've always liked their music, but felt they lacked a vocalist as distinctive as Howe Gelb, and didn't pick up one of their recordings until 2003's Feast of Wire. Not too surprisingly, the Love influence won me over. It's as if they had come up with the musical equivalent of that Damned video, i.e. "All dust and sand and elongated images." Plus, a healthy dose of mariachi to brighten the corners. So it made perfect sense when they issued their cover the following year on the Convict Pool EP (which includes a slowed-down version of the Minutemen's "Corona," AKA the Jackass theme). From the time I first heard it, I noticed that the vocal was stronger than usual, but it still sounded like Burns.


Not until I picked up a copy did I realize that Sweden's Nicolai Dunger and his band actually guests on the track. How could I have missed that? I have three of his recordings. Well, I think it's because, as with Bryan MacLean on the original, he's made an effort not to deviate too much from the group's primary vocalist. Or maybe it just came naturally to him. In any case, there's less of his patented Van Morrison-meets-Tim Hardin thing going on, which is to say, Dunger has taken things down a notch. It was a wise move. Arguably, his approach is too subtle, but that's preferable to overwhelming such a fragile composition with his usual, if highly appealing vocal gymnastics. 

The same week I picked up Convict Pool, I traded in my old copy of Forever Changes for the new remaster with bonus material. A few years before, I had done the same with Odessey and Oracle. Forever Changes has seven extra tracks to Odessey's 15 ("30th Anniversary Edition"), but they're more interesting, because they include previously-unreleased songs (not just alternate takes), as well as some feisty studio chatter, i.e. "You're playin' too hard on the're rushing guys should just relax a little." As an experiment, I played the albums back to back to see if I could pick a favorite. No dice, as Badfinger might say, even if Forever Changes does include the unfortunate line, "The snot has caked against my pants" ("Live and Let Live"). The two records couldn't be more alike and yet more different. They're from the same era, they're both often categorized as psychedelic or baroque, and yet they have less in common than I expected. Of course, one group was American (LA's multi-racial Love) and the other was British (St. Albans' Zombies), but Lee always sang like a Brit, so that tends to narrow the geographical gap. The main difference is simply that one is more rock (Love), the other is more pop (the Zombies). Some people, like Joe Carducci (Rock and the Pop Narcotic), have no problem throwing their lot in with one genre to the exclusion of the other. I'm not one of them. I love the two equally, so I call it a draw. 

 As for "Alone Again Or" vs. "AndMoreAgain," I gotta go with the obvious choice: "Alone Again Or." "AndMoreAgain" in its wistful whimsy speaks to me in a way the enigmatic "Alone Again Or" does not, but in the end it's all about quality and I think "Alone Again Or" is simply the better song. That said, when it came time to pick a name for this blog, "AndMoreAgain" was the first title that came to mind. For better or for worse, it's my song. 


And if you’ll see andmoreagain Then you will know andmoreagain For you can see you in her eyes Then you feel your heart beating Thrum-pum-pum-pum And when you’ve given all you had And everything still turns out Bad, and all your secrets are your own Then you feel your heart beating Thrum-pum-pum-pum And i’m Wrapped in my armor But my things are material And i’m Lost in confusions ’cause my things are material And you don’t know how much I love you Oh, oh, oh... And if you’ll see andmoreagain Then you might be andmoreagain For you just wish and you are here Then you feel your heart beating Thrum-pum-pum-pum


Note: Cover image from the AMG. Lyrics from lyricsfreak.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Reviews and Such
for November

Here are my reviews for the
month, along with some other
things I've been working on.

Amazon: Imogen Heap - Speak for Yourself (sopho-
more release from Frou Frou's lead singer), Remington Steele - Season Two [four-disc set] ("Before he was Bond, he was..."), Short Cut to Nirvana (documentary about India's spiritual event, the Kumbh Mela), Left of the Dial (HBO doc about the bumpy launch of Air America, the nation's first liberal radio network), 21 Jump Street - The Complete Fourth Season [four-disc set] (I also reviewed the third season; the fourth is the last to feature Johnny Depp), Duran Duran - Live From London [CD/DVD set] (I also re-
viewed Greatest - The DVD), Tales From Avonlea - The Complete First Season [three-disc set] (starring a pint-sized Sarah Polley),
George Harrison and Friends - The Concert for Bangladesh [two-
disc remaster]
(What friends! Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, Badfinger, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, etc.), Kelley Polar - Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens, Bob Marley and the Wailers - Live at the Rainbow [two-disc set], Mission Hill - The Complete Series [DVD boxed set] (underrated animated series), Beavis and Butt-Head - The Mike Judge Collection: Volume One [two-disc set], and The Kids in the Hall - Complete Season Three: 1991-1992 [four-disc set] (I also reviewed seasons one and two).

Siffblog: It was down from 10/26-11/15 (due to ISP problems), but now it's back, so I posted a notice about a couple of upcoming NWFF music documentaries, New York Doll (11/18-12/1) and Be Here to Love Me - A Film About Townes Van Zandt (12/2-14).

Random notes: And that's it so far. I pitched a story about Seu Jorge to a publication which will remain nameless at the moment,
as I don't know if things will work out. I've been enjoying Jorge's latest release, Cru, for the past several weeks, and recently placed
an order for his debut, Carolina. On November 22, Hollywood Re-
cords--the big time, baby!--will be releasing the logical follow-up
to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou soundtrack, which show-
cased Jorge's acoustic, Portuguese-language covers of early Bowie
tracks, called, naturally enough, The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions.

Ideally, I'd like to write about these four records plus City of God,
both the Oscar-nominated film, in which Jorge stars as the ill-fated
"Knockout Ned," and his contribution to the great soundtrack
("Convite Para Vida"). Its success even inspired a collection of re-
mixes. Oh, and something else to keep an eye out for if you share
my interest in Jorge--his video with Life Aquatic costars Willem
Dafoe and Bill Murray for Cru's "Tive Razao" ("I Was Right"). Mark
my words: Jim Jarmusch will be casting this guy any minute now.

Endnote: Image from Amazon.
Enomania, or 23 Years in Six Songs

Part Four: The Fat Lady of Limbourg

In late 2004, I went to see Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (which I liked much better than Vol. 1). Playing over the end credits was a song called "Goodnight Moon" by Shivaree. I hated the band's name--it's a variation on charivari, but sounds more like the ick-inducing "shivery"--but was enchanted by the track, which fits the film's bittersweet ending to a T, and was curious to hear more. That "little girl" thing doesn't usually do it for me, but Ambrosia Parsley (!) sexes the formula up without getting all sleazy about it. A few months later, I offered to review their CD, Who's Got Trouble, for Amazon. It's a winner. Turns out they are able to sustain that unlikely Betty Boop-meets-Tom Waits one-two punch for the course of an entire record, but what really seals the deal is their cover of "The Fat Lady of Limbourg." It's an unusual Eno song to take on and yet it sounds so right with a sweet female voice relating the surrealistic story. Shivaree's version isn't as creepy as Eno's, but it's strange enough and quite pretty as well.

The Fat Lady of Limbourg

Well, I rang up Pantucci,
Spoke to Lu-chi,
I gave them all
They needed to know.
If affairs are proceeding
As we're expecting,
Soon enough
the weak spots will show.
I assume you understand that we have options on your time,
And will ditch you in the harbour if we must:
But if it all works out nicely,
You'll get the bonus you deserve
From doctors we trust.

The Fat Lady of Limbourg
Looked at the samples that we sent
And furrowed her brow.
You would never believe that
She'd tasted royalty and fame
If you saw her now.
But her sense of taste is such that she'll distinguish with her tongue
The subtleties a spectrograph would miss,
And announce her decision,
While demanding her reward:
The jellyfish kiss.

Now we checked out this duck quack
Who laid a big egg, oh so black
It shone just like gold.
And the kids from the city,
Finding it pretty, took it home,
And there it was sold.
It was changing hands for weeks till someone left it by their fire
And it melted to a puddle on the floor:
For it was only a candle, a Roman scandal oh oh oh,
Now it's a pool.
That's what we're paid for
That's what we're paid for
That's what we're paid for here.

A year later, I went to a SIFF screening of Olivier Assayas' Clean. It isn't his best film (for my money, that would be Irma Vep), nor is it his worst (that would be demonlover, which still has its merits), but there was something about it that made me feel right at home. Of course: The soundtrack consists almost entirely of Eno songs from the 1970s, like "The Spider and I" (Before and After Science) and the title track from Taking Tiger Mountain. Assayas has always used music well in his films, like the Ali Farka Toure guitar work that permeates Late August, Early September. Clean is no exception. Here's Kent Jones on the use of Eno's music in the film ("Our Music: Clean," Cinema Scope #19):

I would say that if one knows the music of Brian Eno, and the particular place he’s occupied within the world of rock for almost 40 years (everyone’s favourite behind-the-scenes demiurge), then the abundance of his music in Clean and its integral presence within the action carries a special resonance. Eno is deep inside the world of recorded sound, and yet out on the “fringe” of rock, on the meeting ground with the avant-garde. Which is perfect for a film about a recovering drug addict. Yet if you have no prior knowledge of Eno’s music or his persona, the use of his music here still carries a very special force. Where his soundscapes have traditionally been utilized as a shortcut to mystery in the work of countless film students and more than a few professionals (they literally open up the world beyond the frame), here they provide the characters with a protective aura, a redemptive warmth. And when Emily’s walk through the Chinese restaurant kitchen is accompanied by Eno’s “Spider and I,” followed by Jay’s walk accompanied by “Taking Tiger Mountain,” Assayas is establishing a subtle linkage between mother and son, both in need of protection, before they’ve been reunited.

And that's the last time I had an unplanned encounter with Eno, although I'm sure to have many more in the future. At this point, covering an Eno song or throwing one on a soundtrack is no longer an original move. It hasn't been for awhile. Then again, I hope the trend continues, simply because I want to keep hearing his music, but I also hope more bands opt to cover different songs and that filmmakers, in turn, will do their version of the same (which is to say, they might want to retire "By This River" for the time being). In the end, I think Eno's vocal recordings, circa 1974-77, have turned out to be some of the most resonant--if not the most resonant--to emerge from the 1970s. They've been following me around for at least 23 years now. And in whatever context, they always make me feel welcome, no matter where I am or what I'm doing. It's like the music in my head--the music I can't make, because I don't have the means to do so and also because, well, Eno beat me to it. And he did it best. Brian Eno hasn't changed my life, but in small, incremental ways, he's made it better. And every time I listen to his music, I'm exactly where I want to be.

Thanks to the long-forgotten sorority sister, Brian Sullivan, Brian's mixtape-making friend, KCMU/KEXP, Mick Collins, Quentin Tarantino, Nanni Moretti, Alfonso Cuarón, Shivaree, and Olivier Assayas: For encouraging the cause of Enomania.

Note: Part four of four. Lyrics from enoweb, image from AMG.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Enomania, or 23 Years in Six Songs

Part Three: By This King's Lead River Hat

By overdoing the music thing for so many years--all music all the time--I ended up burning myself out. I needed a break and film, which has always meant a great deal to me, provided the artistic alternative I needed. Plus, I didn't like the more mainstream direction KCMU was moving in, while I was simply bored by KNDD which, like most commercial stations, left no room for spontaneity (the playlist was pre-programmed). I left The End in 1996 and Microsoft in 1998 (although I would continue to do freelance voice work for Microsoft for the next three years) and took a job at Amazon. My goal was to write editorial reviews, which I began to do in 2000. Before that, the only paid film writing I had ever done was for Microsoft's Cinemania, due to the kind auspices of my friend Jeff (I had also done some unpaid work for That was in 1996. By 1997, Cinemania was no more. In the meantime, I had been volunteering for the Seattle International Film Festival. Gradually, I started to miss writing about music, so I looked into contributing to the All Music Guide, as it was a resource I used often. I would write for the AMG from 2001 to 2003. So now, I was writing about music and film. Things were starting to come together. I had retired from radio, but was making plans to do the writing thing full-time.

In 2002, I went to see a couple of films which featured the same Eno track. I don't mean to make too much of the coincidence, just that it reminded me how much I love his music, which I hadn't been listening to for awhile. I was spending a lot of time in the cinema and reading a lot of books on the subject, but I wasn't buying music as often as I used to. I was, of course, still listening to the radio (KCMU had recovered from its early-1990s nadir). First, there was Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También, which I loved. A great soundtrack, including Eno's "By This River" (Before and After Science), didn't hurt, although I can no longer remember the context in which it was used.

[Four months after I wrote this piece, I watched Y Tu Mamá on DVD. The song materializes just after Luisa has told Julio and Tenoch how her first boyfriend died--killed in a car accident at 17. Shortly after it begins, the track sputters to an end. "Don't! This song rules!" Tenoch (Diego Luna) protests. "The batteries are dead," Julio (Gael García Bernal) sadly explains.]

Then there was Nanni Moretti's Palme d'Or winner, The Son's Room (La stanza del figlio), which I had seen just a few weeks before. In all honesty, it didn't knock my socks off, but it's a respectable effort that, at the very least, takes a more introspective approach than that year's other big "dead son" movie, In the Bedroom. There's a particularly memorable point in the film in which Moretti's grieving Giovanni walks into a record store and ends up holding a pair of headphones to his ears as "By This River" swirls around him. For a moment, he is comforted. According to Moretti ("Three Colours Italian," Sight and Sound, January 2002), "When I thought of the scene of myself giving my dead son a record as a present I immediately decided the song had to be Brian Eno's 'By This River,' and that it also had to be included in the last scene." It's a lovely song and a lovely sequence. One film was from Mexico, the other from Italy. Suddenly, Eno was everywhere. I could be wrong, but I swear I heard "By This River" in yet another film that year. Or maybe I'm just imagining it.

By This River

Here we are
Stuck by this river,
You and I
Underneath a sky that's ever falling down, down, down
Ever falling down.

Through the day
As if on an ocean
Waiting here,
Always failing to remember why we came, came, came:
I wonder why we came.

You talk to me as if from a distance
And I reply
With impressions chosen from another time, time, time,
From another time.

Let's move ahead a year. I'm listening to KEXP when an astonishing version of "King's Lead Hat" (Before and After Science) comes crashing out of my speakers. I'd never noticed this lyric before: "Four darkies in a big black car," but Mick Collins, the African American vocalist, clearly enunciates them as such. Caught my attention for sure. Did Eno really say "darkies"--or did he say "turkeys" (see below)? No one seems to know, but Collins had taken a stand on the issue. In any case, the song was from the new Dirtbombs CD, Dangerous Magical Noise, their third full-length. The Eno cover was a limited edition bonus track (along with Robyn Hitchcock's "Executioner of Love"), so I placed my order for the disc forthwith. I had heard of Collins before as I was a Gories fan from way back, but hadn't really followed his career since the Detroit trio split in the 1990s...right around the time I was exiting Cellophane Square and KCMU, and just wasn't keeping up with new music the way I used to (not counting that burn-out factor). Well, I loved the album so much it ended up as my favorite CD of the year. I would go on to add other Collins-related projects, like Blacktop's great I've Got a Baaad Feeling About This, to my collection. The Dirtbombs are now one of my all-time favorite bands. All because of Brian Eno. Unfortunately, that was the last time I heard their version of the song on KEXP.

King's Lead Hat

Dark alley (dark alley) black star
Four turkeys in a big black car
The road is shiny (bright shine) the wheels slide
Four turkeys going for a dangerous ride
The lacquer crackles (black tar) the engines roar
A ship was turning broadside to the shore
Splish splash,
I was raking in the cash
The biology of purpose keeps my nose above the surface (Ooh)
King's lead hat put the innocence inside her
It will come, it will come, it will surely come
King's lead hat was a mother to desire
It will come, it will come, it will surely come.

In New Delhi (smelly Delhi) and Hong Kong

They all know that it won't be long
I count my fingers (digit counter) as night falls
And draw bananas on the bathroom walls
The killer cycles (humdrum), the killer hurts
The passage of my life is measured out in shirts
Time and motion (motion carried) time and tide
All I know and all I have is time
And time and tide is on my side
King's lead hat put the poker in the fire
It will come, it will come, it will surely come
King's lead hat was a mother to desire
It will come, it will come, it will surely come.

The weapon's ready (ready Freddy) the guns purr
The satellite distorts his voice to a slur
He gives orders (finger pie) which no-one hears
The king's hat fits over their ears
He takes his mannequin (tram line) cold turpentine
He tries to dial out 999999999
He dials reception (moving finger): he's all alone
He's just a figment on the telephone!
King's lead hat made the Amazon much wider
It will come, it will come, it will surely come
King's lead hat was the poker in the fire
It will come, it will come, it will surely come
King's lead hat was a mother to desire
It will come, it will come, it will surely come
King's lead hat put the innocence inside her
It will come, it will come, it will surely come.

In 2004, Astralwerks began to issue remasters of all the Eno titles on Editions EG. Since then, I've been trading out my old discs . Along the way, I picked up 1975's Another Green World. It's always been my least favorite of the first four vocal recordings and I still the feel the same way. It's a fine album in and of itself, but it also marks the transition between the avant-rock stuff I love so much and the ambient stuff I don't. But the other three sound as fresh as ever. Also that year I interviewed Spoon's Jim Eno for Tablet (only my second musician interview, after Sondre Lerche, since leaving KCMU). And how did that Austin-based band get their name? Why, from the wondrous track of the same name off Can's Ege Bamyasi (1972). And what does any of this have to do with Brian Eno? Well, nothing really...except for that Eno part.

Note: Part three of four. Lyrics and cover image from enoweb.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Enomania, or 23 Years in Six Songs

Part Two: Third Uncle

Up through 1983's Under a Blood Red Sky, U2 were speaking to me in a way Brian Eno was not. U2 were bold and direct; Eno was subtle and elliptical. He could rock like a motherfucker, but everything was off-kilter. Nothing was straightforward. Incidentally, Boy (1980) was the first U2 album I ever heard. It was introduced to me by my much hipper radio show co-host, Missy, who had grown up on Bay Area college stations like KALX and KUSF. A fan was born. (Oddly enough, she would abandon radio before the year was through, while I kept at it for another couple of decades.)

From then on, I was on my own and the well-stocked, 100-watt KWCW ("Walla Walla's finest") was my oyster. Meanwhile, I kept getting better and better time slots. I was in my element and enjoying my show more than many of my classes, not counting creative writing and a particularly eye-opening seminar on Camus. So, why did I abandon U2? They released 1984's The Unforgettable Fire and I decided they'd taken the "anthemic" thing too far. (That said, I still sing along with "In the Name of Love" every time I hear it. It's like some kind of Pavlovian response.)

In 1985, I took a road trip from Seattle to San Francisco with my friend Brian. He brought along a mixtape another friend had made. He didn't know who many of the artists were, only that he liked them, and we played it through the night and into the next afternoon when we arrived in the city by the Bay. I never tired of it. The artists were all UK acts from the 1980s, except for one skinny little dude from the 1970s, who fit right in. The contemporary acts included OMD, Simple Minds, and Love & Rockets. The "skinny little dude" was, of course, Eno. I hadn't heard most of the selections before--at least not in that context (more on that later). The songs were: "Burning Airlines (Give You So Much More)," "The Fat Lady of Limbourg," "Third Uncle," "Put a Straw Under Baby," and "China My China." Turns out all were from 1974's Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy). Half the album, in fact. Years later, while reading Anchee Min's quasi-autobiographical Red Azalea, I found out where Eno got the title: From one of Madame Mao's revolutionary operas (in which Min performed alongside comrade Joan Chen). As for Brian, he gave me the tape at the end of our trip, though I saw him less and less as the years went by. We never lived in the same place at the same time. The last time we got together, it was to see Chen Kaige's epic tragedy Farewell, My Concubine (1993). "China My China" indeed.

Third Uncle

There are tins,
There was pork
There are legs,
There are sharks
There was John,
There are cliffs,
There was Mother,
There's a poker
There was you,
Then there was you

There are scenes,

There are blues
There are boots,
There are shoes
There are Turks,
There are fools
There are Rockers,
They're in schools
There was you,
Then there was you

Burn my fingers,

Burn my toes
Burn my uncle,
Burn his books
Burn his shoes,
Cook the leather,
Put it on me.
Does it fit me
Or you?
It looks tight on you.

Part of what drew me to the Strategy cycle is that I was already familiar with "Third Uncle" via Bauhaus's fantastically faithful rendition (1982's The Sky's Gone Out), and I was really getting into those arty goths. As usual, my timing was off; Bauhaus had recently broken up and splintered into Tones on Tail, Love & Rockets, and Dali's Car (a name swiped from Eno). In fact, I was convinced that "The Flat Field" ("I could get bored / I could get bored / In the flat field") was written just for those of us, like my Bauhaus-loving, Galoise-smoking pal Chris, who happened to be pursuing an art degree in the rather un-artistic flatlands of Walla Walla. Scion of a wealthy Wapato apple dynasty, Chris, who was friends with fellow Whitmanites Chris and Carla, from the Walkabouts, would go on to design the album cover for 1987's See Beautiful Rattlesnake Gardens. (He also dated Missy for awhile.)

But back to Eno-by-way-of-Bauhaus. I was thrilled to get to hear the original version of a song I didn't even realize was a cover. Not only did it rock just as hard as punk--it rocked harder. "Third Uncle" remains one of the fastest songs I've ever heard. But not too fast. No one would mistake it for speed metal and the bizarro lyrics are perfectly, intriguingly clear. Of course, I shouldn't have been surprised that "Third Uncle" wasn't a Bauhaus original. I knew that "Telegram Sam" (from their first 1980 Peel Session) and "Ziggy Stardust" (which can also be found on the 1979-1983 collection) were covers as I was already familiar with T. Rex and David Bowie, for whom Eno would produce the landmark Low/Heroes/Lodger trilogy (and only a few years later, I would wade further into the wide wonders of glam). They're all good covers and just make me regret all the more that I wasn't able to catch the Bauhaus reunion gig in Seattle last week--$35 was just a bit too rich for my blood--but at least I got to see Peter Murphy and Love and Rockets when I was living in London in 1986, between graduating from college and moving back to Alaska.

After a year of being "anchored down in Anchorage," in which I made a little progress--very little--in paying off my student loan (by working at KWHL, writing for The Anchorage Times, etc.), I moved to Seattle. (And I'm happy to say that that debt is many years behind me now). The year was 1988 and I got a job at Cellophane Square shortly after I arrived. The pay was shit, but it's what I wanted to do. I also started doing a radio show on KCMU and writing for The Wire and the short-lived Hype. Meanwhile, I began building up my music collection in earnest (while discovering more new bands by the minute). Three Eno CDs were part of the hoard I acquired during my four years in the music retail trade: Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain, and Before and After Science. Incidentally, as I'm writing this, I'm listening to the station KCMU morphed into, KEXP, and the DJ is playing "Head On" by the Jesus and Mary Chain. I hadn't noticed it before--until this very second--but they nick the stuttering guitar line from "Baby's on Fire." Who's the DJ? Why a fellow named Jack, who was in my class at Whitman. I didn't know him well, but he was friends was Andy, with whom I had gone to high school (and who lived next door to my friend, Katie, whose mother, Betty, was friends with my mom). In 1994, Jack contacted me, out of the blue, to ask my advice about getting into commercial radio. I had left KCMU in the early-1990s and was working full-time at Microsoft as a queue announcer and part-time at KNDD as a DJ. I suggested he look into volunteering at KCMU. Well, I never heard from him again, but not long afterwards, he was doing a radio show. Next thing I knew, he became the station's full-time production manager, a position he has held for over a decade now.

Note: Part one of four. Lyrics and cover image from enoweb.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Enomania, or 23 Years in Six Songs

Part One: Throw the Fiery Baby in the Backwater

I first made Brian Eno's musical acquaintance when I was a freshman in college. The song was "Baby's on Fire" (1974's Here Comes the Warm Jets). Long story short, a fellow student selected it as the background music for some dorm-related skit we were working on. (Okay, it was a sorority skit; please don't hold it against me.) I'll be damned if I can remember what the skit was about, but it involved blue hair and wrap-around shades. I'm guessing they chose that sneery ditty because it sounded so quintessentially "punk" (i.e. "Baby's on fire / Better throw her in the water"). It was 1982 and I didn't care if a song/album was from the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s--if it had that punk energy, I was there. The fact that it sounded like something off White Light, White Heat didn't hurt as I was just starting to get into the Velvet Underground. Well, whaddaya know, in Kristine McKenna's Book of Changes, Eno states, "When I first heard the Velvet Underground it had an immediate rightness for me." When she interviewed him four years later, in 1984, he went on to say, "I was talking to Lou Reed the other day and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years...that record was such an important one for so many people! I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band."

Baby's on Fire

Baby's on fire
Better throw her in the water
Look at her laughing
Like a heifer to the slaughter

Baby's on fire
And all the laughing boys are bitching
Waiting for photos
Oh the plot is so bewitching

Rescuers row row
Do your best to change the subject
Blow the wind blow blow
Lend some assistance to the object

Photographers snip snap
Take your time she's only burning
This kind of experience
Is necessary for her learning

If you'll be my flotsam
I could be half the man I used to
They said you were hot stuff
And that's what Baby's been reduced to...

Juanita and Juan
Very clever with maraccas
Making their fortunes
Selling second-hand tobaccoes

Juan dances at Chico's
And when the clients are evicted
He empties the ashtrays
And pockets all that he's collected

But Baby's on fire!
And all the instruments agree that
Her temperature's rising
But any idiot would know that.

I had just started doing a radio show after years of listening to commercial radio and thinking, "I could do that!" Along the way, I discovered 1977's Before and After Science, but I usually only played one song: "Backwater." The rest of that record was too "restful" for my college-era taste, with the exception of "King's Lead Hat" (but more on that later). I think I was attracted to "Backwater," an uncharacteristically jaunty tune, because of the maritime imagery it shared with Split Enz's "Six Months in a Leaky Boat," and I was a big Enz fan at the time. (I'm still fond of those crazy Kiwis; they're pretty underrated, as far as I'm concerned.) But I didn't dig deeper. I knew I liked Eno, but there were so many other artists yet to discover. Another big 1970s revelation, for instance, was Germany's Can. I loved them then and I love them now. And not just a little bit--I love Can dearly. They're what I'd call a "top five" band (along with the Beatles, Big Star, Kinks, and P-Funk). Well, guess what? Can's Jaki Liebezeit plays drums on "Backwater." I didn't realize until I checked the credits. Of course!


We're sailing at the edges of time
We're drifting at the water-line
Oh, we're floating in the coastal waters
You and me and the porter's daughters
Ooh, what to do?
Not a sausage to do.
And the shorter of the porter's daughters
Dips her hand in the deadly waters
Ooh, what to do in a tiny canoe?

Black water!
There were six of us but now we are five
We're all talking
To keep the conversation alive
There was a senator from Ecuador
Who talked about a meteor
That crashed on a hill in the south of Peru
And was found by a conquistador
Who took it to the Emperor
And he passed it on to a Turkish Guru...

His daughter
Was slated for becoming divine
He taught her,
He taught her how to split and define
But if you study the logistics
And heuristics of the mystics
You will find that their minds rarely move in a line
So it's much more realistic
To abandon such ballistics
And resign to be trapped on a leaf in the vine

Then there were the European punk/post-punk bands from the late-1970s/early-1980s that I was just getting to hear for the first time: the Sex Pistols, the Damned, the (early) Clash, Kleenex/LiLiPUT, and Gang of Four--who are finally getting the full acclaim they deserve. (And thanks to the seminal Rough Trade compilation Wanna Buy a Bridge for introducing me to some of these acts.) Of course, I'd heard of a few of these bands in high school, like the infamous Pistols, but I hadn't actually heard much of their music while growing up in Anchorage, AK, where they never came and never got played on the radio. On the other hand, I was already familiar with new wavers like the B-52s, the Police, and the Eno-produced Talking Heads (More Songs About Buildings and Food, etc.). They got airplay. Then there were all the records hitting KWCW's racks at the time. Every time I turned around, there was something new: U2's War! the Violent Femmes' debut! The English Beat's Special Beat Service! But for me, in the fall of 1982, it all came back to War. Every day for weeks, maybe even months, I would return to my dorm after lunch to play that damn thing. It helped to rev me up for the afternoon. Was it Bono's sweeping vocals? The timely anti-war lyrics? The martial sound of Larry Mullen, Jr.'s drums? The very "Irishness" of the entire enterprise? All of the above, I suppose. And, what do you know--U2 would go on to work with Eno (on later recordings like The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, by which point I was starting to lose interest). Although I couldn't have predicted it at the time. Eno seemed downright "delicate" compared to the anthemic U2.

Note: Part one of four. Lyrics and cover image from enoweb.