Monday, December 21, 2009

My Favorite Christmas Things

In no particular order:

*Listening to Roger Waters' "Amused to Death" in the dark, Christmas night, 1992.


In the olden days, my father would bring us to his aunt and uncle's house in Melrose for Christmas dinner, and give us our Christmas gifts when we got home. Melrose was probably an hour away, and we'd usually stay late, so we wouldn't get home until 10 or 11 o'clock at night. In 1992, my dad gave me "Amused to Death" the new solo record from Pink Floyd's Roger Waters. I'd asked for it having seen a magazine ad for the album's cover, a monkey watching a TV set. I had never heard any of the songs, nor had I heard any Pink Floyd (although my friend Jesse would lend me a copy of 'The Wall' about a week before Christmas), but something about that album cover really grabbed me, so when I opened it up Christmas night, I went down into my dad's unheated basement to listen to it (that's where the stereo was--it had speaker hook-ups throughout the house, but my sisters were asleep) and I sat in the cold dark as monkeys screeched and little boys talked about war, and scared the shit out of myself.


*Reading "Arkham Asylum" by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, Christmas night 1989, 10pm-11:45 pmI don't think I've ever been so excited by a Christmas gift that ended up horrifying me so much. Released following the successful Batman movie, Arkham Asylum by Morrison and McKean is probably the most disturbing thing I'll ever read. Because when you are 10 years old, there are fewer disturbing things than reading a book on Christmas night about Batman stabbing himself in the hand with a shard of glass.


*Listening to "Fairytale of New York" on repeat at the Rockpile, Christmas Eve 2001

I used to work at a great used record store in my hometown, and I used to work Christmas Eve morning before my boss came in and the place basically turned into a Christmas Eve party for all his friends. I put this song on, probably the only song that reminds me of Christmas that is actually about Christmas, albeit a Christmas between a drunk and verbally abusive couple.

* Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge from the Simpson Christmas episode, Christmas 1995

The Simpsons have done several Christmas episodes, but this is my favorite. Bart really wants a particular videogame called "Bloodstorm" and after several attempts to earn the money, he instead shoplifts the game. It's actually a pretty heart-rending episode, as Marge discovers his larceny and feels like she doesn't even know her own son anymore. And while it does have a pretty sappy climax (Bart takes the money he's saved and has his portrait taken for her) the ending is maybe my favorite Christmas ending of all time. Marge gives Bart his gift--shaped like a video cartridge--and he opens it expecting Bloodstorm. Instead it is 'Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge'--Marge informs him that Bloodstorm was sold out. This kind of reminds me of me and my mom.

* Pretending "The Road to Ensenada" by Lyle Lovett was country music, Christmas season, 1998


I was involved with this girl who really loved country music (I remember she had a Garth Brooks boxset) and I was really, really, really trying to learn to like it, as almost a Christmas present to her. Lyle Lovett was about as far as I could go.

*"Sin City" by Frank Miller, Christmas night, 1992


I remember telling my father's older cousin asking me what I had asked for for Christmas, and when I told him a few CDs and a few comics, he asked me if they were those kind of comics with naked ladies in them. I said no, but when I finally got a chance to go home that night and read the first Sin City collection, which my father had gotten me for Christmas, well, Frank Miller made a liar out of me. That's a comic with a lot of naked ladies in it. And I think reading about a guy sawing off somebody's limbs and feeding to the dogs on Christmas night would have disturbed me more if I hadn't already read Arkham Asylum. I was growing up.
* The "Madonna" episode of MacGyver, Christmas, 1989

I loved MacGyver when I was like 9 or 10, and this Christmas episode, in which a statue of the Virgin Mary disappears, and the Boys and Girls club that MacGyver's friend works at is going to be closed, except they put on some kind of talent show that saves the club and oh, yeah, it turns out the Mary statue didn't disappear, it just turned into a bag lady who made MacGyver finally deal with the death of his mother, and you may say that I don't love Christmas, but I love this.

*The Fourfignewtons Shirt, Amherst MA, Christmas 1997

My friend Jess' birthday is about a week before Christmas, and I went to visit her in Amherst one year for it. She's a lover of really bad jokes, and I found this t-shirt with four fig newtons dancing in a chorus line, with the tag "fourfignewton" (play on the Volkswagon farfegnugen catchphrase) and then we went Christmas shopping in Northhampton, and I bought the really weird Joni Mitchell album where she included random recordings of people singing happy birthday to Charles Mingus and listened to it the whole long and cold ride back home.

*Watching Bob Dylan Unplugged, Christmas Eve 1994


Surprisingly, I don't think I had ever heard "Like A Rolling Stone" before, and this is the version I hear whenever I think of the song. My favorite bit, however, is Dylan's realization a few bars in that the band's instruments are out of tune. This raises the interesting question: If Bob Dylan can tell when things are out of tune, why has he been singing like that for forty years?

*Reading "Jack Kirby's Fourth World", Christmas 2008

For those who are unfamiliar with Jack Kirby, he created the Fantastic Four, Captain America, the Hulk, and the X-Men, as well as literally hundreds of other characters. But none of his work gives me as much joy as the Fourth World, a series of comics he did for DC in the early 70s. I had black and white reprints of most of them, but last Christmas crazily splurged and purchased all four hardcover collections of the work in color and in the proper order. There's really nothing Christmas-y about gods who look like Black olympic skiers and who collect the spirits of the recently dead. Or maybe there is?

*Watching "True Stories" on DVD, Christmas Eve 2000

I'd seen this movie back in the winter of 1992, and I probably could've included it then, but 1992 is pretty jammed packed. I got my first DVD player in 2000, and this was the first DVD I got to watch in it. It's the movie where David Byrne from Talking Heads puts on a bolo tie and makes fun of people from Texas for an hour and a half.
There's a part at the end of the movie, where Byrne as narrator talks about how he likes forgetting. Leaving a place, and you forget all the things and people and places, and so when you go back there you get to rediscover them all again. This is probably one of the central tenets of my life, and why I can listen to Bob Dylan flub the intro to 'Like A Rolling Stone' or reread a drugged-up Batman kicking a supervillian in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs, or listen to Roger Waters talk about how God wants TV and cash contributions, because during the year I forget all these things, which allows me to come back to them and rediscover them like I was 10, or 13, or 20, all over again.

That having been said, this year will be the first year my wife-to-be and I will be spending Christmas together, so I imagine in a few years, a list of my favorite Christmas things might look entirely different.

Monday, December 7, 2009

LISTENING PARTY: The Wall


I don't know what it is about the early winter months that makes me nostalgic for overblown, bombastic, and pretentious rock albums. I figured I'd take a break from all that and listen to one of the least overblown, bombastic, and pretentious rock albums of all time. Pink Floyd's The Wall.

I have to admit that I had no idea who Pink Floyd was in the early days of December 1992, when my friend and bandmate Jesse let me borrow his copy of the wall, taped off of his father's vinyl. I subsequently dubbed a copy of that tape, which meant that for the first four years of listening to this album, it was on a twice-dubbed cassette copy of a 12-year old vinyl record. Meaning that, while 13-year Ryan listened to this album for the first time with the lights off in his bedroom, freaked out by all the strange noises and weird screaming that accompanied this album--due to the poor quality of the tape he had, there was still so much strange noise and weird screaming he couldn't hear.

"In the Flesh?"-So, if you're making an overly pretentious and overblown concept album, the first thing you need to do is record a piece of spoken dialogue and then split it in half and play the second half at the start of the record and the first half at the end, so that it creates a loop. I think Britney Spears did this same trick on "Oops, I Did It Again"

I have since read many books on Pink Floyd, a band that I have been fascinated with since that fateful December night 17 years ago when I first heard singer/composer Roger Waters barking out orders to the lighting crew before airplanes zoomed by and crashed. So I know a lot of the backstory behind the creation of this album: Waters' loss of his father in WWII, the slow descent into madness of Floyd's first singer, Syd Barrett, the increasing dehumanization of rock n' roll tours. But I knew none of that when I first heard this album. Instead, I thought I was going fricking crazy.

"The Thin Ice"- Yoko Ono's biggest solo hit was a song called "Walking on Thin Ice." I mention this because Roger Waters sings a little bit like Yoko Ono on this track. Which is to say not at all.

"Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1"- This album was also my introduction to songs that had parts to them. In my youth, a song was a song, and then you'd just hear another one. But then Roger Waters came along and decided that songs were never finished, just replayed again later with slightly different lyrics and even more headache inducing vocals. This song ends with a long guitar coda overdubbed with sounds of children playing. This scared the shit out of me when I was 13 for some reason.

"The Happiest Days of Our Lives"- This song starts with a helicopter. I don't really know why. I also don't know why that this was its own song and not just the beginning to "Another Brick in the Wall, part 2" It's all about how teachers are mean to kids. Which means your seventh grade brother wrote it.

"Another Brick in the Wall part 2"-Somewhere, someone has written a 40-page dissertation on the way this song blends disco beats with the refrain "we don't need no education" but I don't want to read it, and neither should you. And the person who wrote it should be ashamed of themselves. This song is famous for its use of a children's choir on the second verse. Those kids were all paid for their services with a copy of the album. Roger Waters used the money he made off this record to buy a private island. I don't know what that means, except that while Roger Waters has gone to write and record several more rock operas and one for real opera, none of these school kids ever went on to record their own rock opera. So while we'll never know who was the real musical genius behind the Wall--Roger Waters or a group of 20 eight year olds--I think we can make an educated guess. What?

"Mother"-After hearing this song, I was terrible to my own mother for about five years. So I think Pink Floyd owes my mother an apology.



"Goodbye, Blue Sky"-This is a really beautiful song about a cat eating a bird. And then about some zombies.

Then there are two flowers raping each other.


"Young Lust"-I think this song reveals the brilliance of the collaboration between Roger Waters and guitarist David Gilmour. So this song is supposed to be about a young boy's grappling with his nascent sexuality in the grip of a controlling mother.
I feel like Gilmour took one look at the song title and said "'Young Lust'? My guitar knows how to do that." and turned Roger Waters lonely song about masturbation into one that was 100% about cock. That's magic, folks.

"One of My Turns"-This song starts with the mother from Leave it to Beaver playing an operator trying to reach Pink Floyd's wife. And some man answers, which leads Pink Floyd to bring a groupie back to his hotel room. And then the groupie talks about all the cool stuff that it's in the room. This lasts for about forty-five minutes. Then the song starts. Over a really 1979-esque synthesizer, Pink talks about feeling cold as a razorblade and tight as a tourniquet and dry as a funeral drum, and then the drums and guitars kick in, supposedly representing his freak-out. He asks the groupie if she's like to see his favorite ax. When I was 13, I didn't know that people referred to guitars as axes, and thus thought he had turned into a serial killer. Or a lumberjack.

"Don't Leave Me Now"-During this song he doesn't mention anything about trees or logs or how cold it is, so I'm thinking he's not a lumberjack.

"Another Brick in the Wall part 3"-I had to convince my mother to let me rent "Pink Floyd The Wall" the movie from our local video store because it was rated R. I'm pretty sure I saw it before Christmas, which was only about two weeks after Jesse lent me the album, but it seemed the longest two weeks of my life. I was desperate to see the film the band made about the album, and when I finally saw it, it was torturous. It felt like two whole weeks while I was watching it. I thought that maybe everything just felt like it took forever when I was 13, but last year I tried to watch 'The Wall' movie again, and after about four hours I stopped, unable to take anymore. And that only got me to the second roar of the MGM lion.

"Goodbye Cruel World"-This is the end of the first disc of the double album, and I wonder what someone would've thought if they bought this from like a used record store and it only came with the first disc. I'd ask them, but they probably have killed themselves due to extreme depression.
The stage show for this record involved a giant wall being built across the stage with this song being the one where Waters inserted the final brick. I actually think this is one of the coolest conceits for a rock n' roll show I've ever heard of, although I don't know how I'd feel as an audience member if the band I went to see didn't want to see me so much they built a wall in front of me.

"Hey You"- I remember I went with this girl named Jenny to a homeless shelter to volunteer, and when her mom was driving us, this song came on the radio, and Jenny said "Oh, Mom, I love this song! Turn it up!" and I decided this meant that she and I needed to get married. She went on to become a Patriots' cheerleader and I write about albums I listen to on a blog that nobody reads, so you can see how that turned out.


"Is there Anybody Out There?"-This is a mostly solo acoustic guitar piece. I'm sure if I went to the Wall show, this is where Floyd started throwing rotten fruit at the audience from over the wall.

"Nobody Home"-This is one of the most affecting songs on the album. And really, if you wanted to know what Roger Waters felt about the rock n' roll lifestyle, this song would do the trick. He talks about having the obligatory Hendrix perm, which someday, when I'm not too busy writing on this blog that nobody reads and wondering what Jenny is up to, I might go into a barber shop asking for the obligatory Hendrix perm just to see what might happen.


"Vera Lynn"/"Bring the Boys Back Home"- These two songs are really one song, which is all about WWII. Roger Waters is meant to connect rock n' rollers going out onto tour with young men going off to battle the Nazis. One group saved Europe from self-destruction. The other made it cool to wave around lighters and dayglo sticks in the air and yell out "Freebird." I'm not one to pass judgment.

"Comfortably Numb"- This is probably the most famous song from this album, and is probably tied with "Money" to be the most famous Pink Floyd song of all time. Which is funny, because it's all about getting a hyper-cortisone shot before going onto stage to perform in a giant stadium rock show. That really boils down the universality of the Wall to its core, doesn't it?


This performance is from 2005, the final performance of Pink Floyd ever, and the first time the original (well non-Syd Barrett original) members played together in 25 years. I mention this because for all the fun I'm poking at this record, seeing this band reunite after so many years was a big deal to me, even though I was an adult. It was a great moment. Even though David Gilmour looks a little bit like Skeletor.

"The Show Must Go On"- You wouldn't know it from the liner notes (the liner notes don't even mention the band's drummer,Nick Mason, so I'd hardly call them comprehensive) but this song features background vocals from Toni Tennille, from the Captain & Tennille. Which might be the scariest thing about the whole record.



"In the Flesh"- A reprise of the album's opening track, this time without the question mark, and with added racial slurs. There's some business when you watch the film that Pink Floyd (the character, not the band) has turned in a fascist. Which I guess is cool. I mean, I'd guess I'd rather have a rock star pretend to be a fascist then pretend to be a socialist, like when John Lennon tells us to imagine no possessions when he's playing an ivory grand piano in his mansion.

"Run Like Hell"- At this point in the record/movie/Roger Water's life, things are so bleak I applaud all of us for keeping on.

"Is there anybody weak in the audience?" We're all weak, Roger.

"Waiting for the Worms"-There's actually an interesting point to be made with the central metaphor of this song, about how isolating ourselves from the world makes us vunerable to the decay of self-doubt. The problem is if you weren't isolated from the world before you listened to this record, you probably would be by the time you got to this song. Although I suppose it's better than another Captain and Tennille song, I suppose.


"The Trial"- I can't even imagine being a Pink Floyd fan during this time, having grown up with the band since the late 60s. Getting stoned and listening to Ummagumma or Set the Control for the Heart of the Sun getting to the end of this record and hearing them performing a Gilbert & Sullivan number about dueling toothed vaginas.
And giant balls.

Somewhere there is a cassette tape featuring the band I was in when I was 13 performing a cover of this song. This alone will prevent me from ever running for public office.

"Outside the Wall"-At this point in the show, the giant wall would be torn down, showering lightweight cardboard bricks on the audience, followed by this quiet melodica-driven song. On the tape I had, the sound quality was bad, I don't think I even heard this song at all the first few times I listened to the album. I was still thinking about the raping flowers, and giant toothed vaginas, and how rock music turned you into a nazi, and I just pulled the covers over my head.

Monday, November 23, 2009

LISTENING PARTY: Bat Out Of Hell III


Francis Ford Coppola decided, after almost two decades, to return to the Godfather movies. The first two were and are among the most critical acclaimed movies in American history, so who could argue with a Godfather part III? FFC wrote a script, signed all the principals (Al Pacino, Diane Keaton) and hired the talented Winona Ryder to play the key role of Mary, Michael Corleone's daughter. But weeks before shooting was to start, Ryder got sick and dropped out of the picture, and FFC replaced her with his young, inexperienced daughter.

I mention this because Meatloaf also decided to make his Bat out of Hell series a trilogy, and when his collaborator and songwriter Jim Steinman quit the project, Meat was forced to hire Francis Ford Coppola's daughter to fill in. Well, not quite, but Bat Out of Hell III is a weird hybrid creature; Meatloaf found a few older Steinman songs lying around (including a few from an unproduced Batman musical, and one from a Celine Dion record) and then filled them in with songs that sound like they were only written because Winona Ryder got sick.


"The Monster's Loose"- This song is written by Nikki Six and John 5. I think that first guy is from Motley Crue, and that second guy is the robot from Short Circuit. Which would explain the fact that the music sounds like heavy metal-lite music, with lyrics that seem like its author was taught human emotion from Steve Guttenburg.

This song also serves as the album's subtitle. Any album that needs a subtitle is definitely in trouble. It would've been like if Bat II was subtitled "The Wrath of Khan."

"Blind as a Bat"- This song is also not written by Jim Steinman. It was written by Desmond Child, who co-wrote "Living On A Prayer" with Bon Jovi. However, unlike that song, Blind as A Bat doesn't make me want to rollerskate around Skatetown. It doesn't even make me want to be blind as a bat so much as it makes me want to be deaf as Marlee Matlin. I do want to give Meatloaf credit for singing his heart out on this song. I give him credit for really committing to it, like award-winning actor Raul Julia did when he appeared in 'Street Fighter' with Jean Claude Van Damme.

"It's All Coming Back To Me Now"- Ah, the first of the Steinman scraps. This came from a Celine Dion album. His duet partner, Marion Raven, is not, as I imagined when I first listened to it, the girl from 'That's So Raven', which ruins whatever tiny enjoyment I got from the song. I do remember one of the few bits of pre-publicity buzz this album got was due to the fact that Meat had apparently asked Scarlett Johansen to sing this with him and she turned him down. She went on to record an album of Tom Waits' songs. Winner? Nobody.

"Bad for Good"- Our second Steinman scraps, and dear god, I thank you that this album exists just for this one song. I believe it comes from Steinman's solo album, when Jim Steinman, the she-male who wrote all of Bat Out of Hell decided he didn't need Meatloaf's voice and charisma to make his overblown and creepy songs less overblown and creepy. He just embraced their overblown and creepiness. The best part of this song? Well, that's like asking which atom of the sun makes you the warmest, but the thing that I love particularly about this song at this moment is that they recruited Brian May from Queen to record lead guitar on this song. Combining Meatloaf and Queen is almost too much to handle. If Phil Spector had produced it, this song would've been so rock n' roll decadence that it would've crushed the earth and all life on it. But the combination of Meatloaf's voice, May's guitar, and Steinman's "You think that I'll be bad for just a little while, I know that I'll be bad for good" chorus hook, is enough awesome to make my bones ache. This is the one song on the album that feels 'Bat Out of Hell'-ish even a little bit. Part of the reason for that is this song is copyright 1979, before being a sexless freak had completely embittered Jim Steinman. That's actually probably the only reason, now that I think about it.

"Cry Over Me"-Having run out of Steinman scraps for the time being, Meat turns to songwriter Diane Warren, who also wrote 'I Don't Want to Miss A Thing' for Aerosmith. This might be the moment where you look around and think "Meatloaf's here, the album's called 'Bat Out of Hell', there's a bad painting of a guy on a motorcycle with a sword fighting a giant bat....why does it all feel so wrong?" and the answer, again, is that THIS SONG IS BY THE WOMAN WHO WROTE THE THEME SONG TO ARMAGEDDON. If an asteroid smashed into my house right now while I'm listening to this song, I'm afraid I'd deserve it.

"In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King"- STEINMAN! STEINMAN! STEINMAN! Oh, thank you Jim Steinman, for not only writing an unproduced Batman musical, but for also leaving the sheet music laying around for Meatloaf to find. So I think this song is written from the Joker's point of view, or something. You'd think the combination of Jim Steinman and Batman would be as awesome as the Steinman/Queen combo, but I guess Prince's "Batdance" has ruined me forever.

"Monstro"- What? No. Instrumentals? I feel like they made this in the hope they could get Jim Steinman to come in and do his creepy spoken word thing, about I'm a big whale and I'm going to swallow you and then you'll have to light a fire inside me and I'll sneeze you out, but, like, sexually. And then Jim didn't show up.

"Alive"- It does segue way into the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Oh, wait, no, still Meatloaf. Is this song also written by Johnny 5? ("Johnny Five...alive!") No. This song is written by four people, which outside of a band situation, just strikes me as too many people. If it takes four people to write a song this generic, maybe it means that the idea for the song wasn't that good to begin with. I hate that I can't direct my disappointment toward Jim Steinman. I could have so much fun picking on him for looking like Cloris Leachman when she first wakes up in the morning, but now I have a bit of begrudging respect for him deciding not to take part in this deal. And I don't want to blame Meatloaf. I'm so conflicted.

"If God Could Talk"- He'd say, 'Stop making Bat Out of Hell III.'

"If It Ain't Broke, Break It"- Oh, Steinman, I'm sorry for how much I picked on you during Bats I & II. It doesn't mean I want to hang out with you or anything. This song is also from your unproduced Batman musical, and while it isn't objectively good in any way, I love it still because it's YOURS.

I mean, it's total shit, but it's YOURS.

"What About Love"-Ah, the last non-Steinman song. It's also written by four people. Steinman must sit around listening to his complementary copy of this album, brushing his long, white hair and just laughing that it takes four people to even try and write a Bat Out of Hell song. And then he takes out his Batman action figures and starts using them to perform his Batman musical.

"Robin, quickly! To the Tony Awards!"



"Seize the Night"-Another Batman musical number. Since I've kind of made a truce with Jim Steinman, I'll just include some scenes I'd like to see in the Batman musical if it ever comes to pass.


"The Future Just Ain't What it Used to Be"-

"Cry to Heaven"- Here I am. I've nearly completed my look at the Bat Out of Hell trilogy. I don't know if there will ever be a Bat Out of Hell IV (although my guess is that if Meatloaf invested his 'Bat' money in the stock market, the answer is yes) but if not I'm disappointed that the whole thing ended without the giant bat getting his comeuppance. You can't just go and grab big-breasted women in chain-mail and make guys ride enchanted motorcycles to get them back too many times before you get your comeuppance. So if I could implore Meatloaf and Steinman to reunite one last time to write and record one more song in which the motorcycle guy finally defeats the giant bat. Steinman, you can probably just use that song from the 'Beowulf' musical I'm sure you've got kicking around somewhere. Just don't let it end here. That motherlovin' bat's got it coming.

To be continued....?

Friday, November 20, 2009

LISTENING PARTY: Bat Out Of Hell II



So you're watching the Meatloaf "Behind the Music" and you've just watched the part where, following several commercial flops in the United States, Meat is forced to play small bars in Poland to make ends meet. And then the narrator says, "But the winds were about the change for Meatloaf" and then they show clips from the music video from "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" and you find yourself wondering: if things were turning around for Meatloaf, why does he look like a Morlock?

"I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)"- True story: this song made its premiere when I was a freshmen in high school, and they played it at the first couple of school dances that year. They still also played Paradise by the Dashboard Light, meaning that there was only enough time left to play three other songs before it was 11pm and time to go home, but there you go. But there was a student teacher there who was really trying to be hip with all the kids, so he asked me when this song started playing, "What is it that Meatloaf won't do for love?" and I answered "Oral sex" and then he stopped trying to be my friend, and then started grading my papers for Geography really hard. I wish I could tell you that the intervening 16 years have given me greater insight into this song, but despite the fact that it is over 12 minutes long, most of the song is just Meatloaf repeating the title over and over again. So yeah, I guess I'm going to go with oral sex.

"Life is A Lemon (And I Want My Money Back)"-One way that I know that the reunited Steinman/Meatloaf team is completely self-unaware: they start out the second song on this album with background singers chanting "I want my money back", almost like they were echoing the millions of people who bought this album because they loved the first Bat Out of Hell. It just seems like a dangerous idea to implant the idea of refunds because merchandise (life in the song, the album in real life) has not delivered what it promised. This album promised me fun, bombastic rock n'roll songs about not getting laid. And apparently a guy on a floating motorcycle punching a giant bat. You've still got nine chances, Meat. Don't let me down.

"Rock N'Roll Dreams Come Through"- I think there're few things I hate more than songs about the transformative power of rock n'roll songs. Because honestly, music clearly is something that is very important to me. But I don't believe that "Cat Scratch Fever" ever really saved anybody's life. In this song, rock n'roll dreams help you get through the fires of hell. But then there's a soprano sax solo. So I'm just getting conflicted messages all over the place from this song. And since it is longer than Das Boot, they're just going to keep on coming. If only I had a good rock n'roll song to listen to that would change my life.

Yeah, sorry Meatloaf, this song is definitely not doing it. The only Rock N'Roll Dream I have now is that this song were six minutes shorter.

"It Just Won't Quit"- If you're talking about this album, then, yeah, no shit.

"Out of the Frying Pan (Into the Fire)"- WHAT.THE.HELL.IS.WITH.ALL.THE.PARENTHESIS. ON.THIS.ALBUM. Also, Jim-fucking-Steinman, give your audience some credit. If the song is called "Out of the Frying Pan", anybody who is older than seven will understand that you leave the frying pan and end up in the fire. You don't need to spell it out for them. Or do you? You seem like a guy who needs help with the obvious. For example, things I thought were self-evident that you seemingly don't get: rock songs really shouldn't go much beyond six minutes, and that's only if you've written Kashmir. So your need to write songs longer than a Republican filibuster every time is really starting to piss everybody off.

"Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are"-I wrote about this last week while I was listening to Pearl Jam, so I don't have too much to say about it, other than it's really damn long, and while the title is pretty apt, having Meatloaf repeat it eleventy-zillion times kind of robs it of a lot of its poignancy. Also robbing the song of its poignancy? The image of the girl you're having sex with in the backseat of your car "rising up like an angel rising out of a tomb." I mean I guess the word 'angel' is nice, but man, there are few words that are bigger boner killers than 'tomb.'

"Wasted Youth"- Jim Steinman loves his spoken word intros. On Bat I, he was a werewolf or something. So here, because excess is the keyword of the day, he doesn't do a spoken word introduction, he has his own spoken word track. (Which I think might've been something Meatloaf pushed for so that way people could just skip over it.) So he's not a werewolf here, but I guy who gets some kind of magically enchanted guitar that "moaned like a horny angel" and "howled in heat" and instead of using it to become a famous rock n'roll star, which I feel is the plot of at least two Corey Haim movies, he decides instead to go around and kill people with it. At one point he violently screams about smashing the guitar against the body of a varsity cheerleader, which makes me sad, because in 1993 Jim Steinman was probably close to fifty years old, and he's still angry that girls from high school wouldn't sleep with him, even though he looks like Jessica Tandy. The first Bat album was full of the kind of braggadocio of a guy who had never gotten laid (Remember that scene in the 40-year Old Virgin where Steve Carrell talks about how breasts feel like bags of sand? Every song about sex written by Jim Steinman sounds like that) but this second one just has some kind of angry sadness to it. This spoken word song starts with Steinman growling, "I remember everything" and I just want to tell him that maybe that's his problem. Also? Still no giant bat punching. F-minus.

"Everything Louder Than Everything Else"-This is my favorite Meatloaf song, hands down. When I was taking AP Calculus in high school, I used to put this song on repeat when I was taking practice tests, much to the consternation of my classmates. But this song is the perfect song to get you pumped up to spend three hours taking integrals. I'm not sure that's the effect that Jim Steinman was going for, but at this point in the album he's probably getting arraigned for beating cheerleaders to death with his guitar, and I hope they throw the book at him.

"Good Girls Go to Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)"-Do you know how annoying your need to use parenthesis on every title to spell out everything to your audience is?(Very annoying.) This song is probably the closest in spirit to those from the first Bat album. The tone isn't angry, like many of the other songs on this album, but instead doing that bragging thing about how awesome loose women are that only shows that you've never actually been within six feet of real lady parts. At some point, Meat sings about getting erotically burned, and while I'm not going to pretend that I'm some kind of sex expert, I think one thing that the phrase "erotically burned" denotes is that you have no idea what sex is like. That this song also contains a bass solo denotes that you have no idea what good music is like, either.

"Back Into Hell"-This is a synthesizer instrumental. I'm guessing this is where the giant bat gets punched.

"Lost Boys and Golden Girls"- I would literally sell my soul for this song to be about Estelle Getty and Bea Arthur. But it's not. If the first Bat Out of Hell record was meant to capture the anticipation of sex, then maybe this one represents first consummation: long, awkward, and totally disappointing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

LISTENING PARTY: Bat Out Of Hell




There's one week a year, usually in late October-mid November, that we call "Stoked for the Loaf" week at Stately Tressel Manor. It's the week where, inexplicably, I become enamored with the recorded ouvre of Marvin Lee Aday, known the world over as Meatloaf. To most youngsters, Meat is just that guy with the man boobs in Fight Club, but he also has probably the most impressive trilogy in recording history with his Bat Out Of Hell series. I know what you're saying; There aren't that many trilogies in recording history, and while it's true that nobody was clamoring for "Use Your Illusion III", we shouldn't let Axl Rose's shortcomings overshadow the 'Loaf's achievement.
Now I've resisted doing Meatloaf for several reasons. 1)I'm never really sure if Meatloaf is taking himself all that seriously, which means making jokes at his expense are really jokes at my expense. And I hate anything that makes me look bad. That kind of funnels into reason two. 2) I don't know how openly I should flaunt my love of Meatloaf. Because when I do these livebloggings, I only do them for albums that I have genuine affection for. I wouldn't pick on an album I didn't think was good somehow. So, by the very nature of doing a Meatloaf album, I'm admitting that I think Meatloaf albums are somehow good. Which is only partially true. The truth is that I think Meatloaf albums are totally awesome. 3) Since the songs are so frigging long, I worry that I might run out of things to say in the twelve minutes it takes Meat to finish singing "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." But here we go: I figure if Meat can sustain enough energy to perform two hours worth of these songs being two hundred pounds overweight, I should certainly be able write about some of them for forty-four minutes being twenty pounds overweight.

"Bat Out Of Hell"- Oh god, we're only four measures into this song and I'm already tired. I think you can pick up on Jim Steinman and Meatloaf's theatre background in the way the song opens with an overture. By the time we're forty seconds into this album we've already heard six hundred different musical ideas, all of which are about sexual braggadocio. Which is pretty funny when you consider the album was written by Jim Steinman:

And produced by Todd Rundgren:


two of the most lady-looking dudes I've ever seen. I mean, really Jim Steinman looks like he just came from wherever that place is that old ladies go to have sex with old bikers. And I mean that he's the old lady. Because he looks like an old lady. Meatloaf also had long hair at the time, but he's sensibly realized that old hair on men doesn't look that great. I guess luckily for Jim Steinman he's really an old woman.
And looking at Todd Rundgren reminds me of a story from when the band Hanson first appeared on the scene: we were all tooling on Hanson, and then our bass player said, "Yeah, but the lead singer is pretty hot," not realizing that the lead singer of Hanson was in fact a boy. I mention this because I have to admit that looking at Todd Rundgren turns me on. Because he looks like a girl.

So the point is that I can see the combination of two guys who looked like girls and a guy who looks like he ate a middle linebacker needing to prove their manliness. So they do it with the maybe the gayest sounding rock n'roll songs about men getting it on with ladies of all time.

"You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)" I hate songs that have parenthesis in their titles. There's no place for parenthesis in rock n' roll, unless you're doing a Works Cited page. So what's the point of the parenthesis in this case? What was so important to Jim Steinman about it being a hot summer night that it needed to be added to the title? My other favorite thing about this song is Jim Steinman's spoken word introduction: because if there's anything that rock songs need less than parenthesis, it's spoken word introductions. But Steinman loves them, so he starts this song with something about werewolves, and virgins offering him shit under the full moon light, like her throat. I don't know. It grosses me out to think about it, especially because I think this is how Jim Steinman talks to girls all the time. So you couple that with the fact that he looks like Karen Black in Children of the Corn IV, you can imagine that he doesn't get a lot of ladies. Which would explain why in the songs he writes it sounds like he's never heard a woman talk before, because it's clear he never has.


"Heaven Can Wait"-This is ballad about Warren Beatty. I think. Or about not getting laid.

"All Revved Up and No Place to Go"- Wait, another song about not getting laid. This is really making me reconsider what exactly they mean by "Bat Out of Hell." For the record, I think that Meatloaf, even being overweight, got revved up but then got to go places. Sexually. The man has an animal charisma. I think he did okay with the ladies. Probably because he wasn't always approaching women with tortured metaphors about I'm a werewolf and my penis is a motorcycle.

"Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" -I love this song. I love it despite the fact that Steinman has Meat tell a girl that he's crying icicles instead of tears. I love it despite the fact that the verses seem to indicate that the girl isn't in love with our protagonist, but the chorus makes it seem that the guy is all about hooking up but doesn't want to commit. (I want you, I need you, I'm never going to love you, so two out of three ain't bad.) I love it even though in almost any endeavor except baseball , two out of three is kind of bad. It's a 66.67%, which is not enough to transfer it to a four year accredited college. (Okay, by the second go around, the chorus starts out by explaining that the girl is telling him that she's never going to love him, which makes more lyrical sense--as much lyrical sense as one can find on a Meatloaf album.)

"Paradise by the Dashboard Light"- When I was in high school, they played this song at every high school dance. There was this really beautiful girl named Santina, and she and I would command the dance floor every time the DJ threw it on. The dance basically consisted of Santina busting out some really sweet moves, while I stood about three feet away from her doing my best middle-aged Dan Ackroyd impression. You know, just swinging my arms and snapping my fingers, occasionally moving my feet. And by the end I would be exhausted.

By the Phil Razzutto part, where he makes the not even slightly obscured sexual references, I'd basically be laying on the floor, gasping for breath, while Santina strutted around my winded corpse. We performed this at every dance throughout high school, but she never wanted to go out on a date with me. Looking back now, the fact that I was as in-shape as a 55-year old Dan Ackroyd who didn't have the stamina to make it through an entire Meatloaf song might have had something to do with it. But luckily for everybody involved, I realized that, and didn't do anything crazy, like write an overblown rock opera about it and then entice my overweight friend into performing it.

"For Crying Out Loud"- I kind of forgot how short albums that originally appeared on vinyl are. Limited by the format, they usually top out at 40 minutes. So now we're almost to the end of Bat Out of Hell, and you get the sense that if only they had a full 72 minutes that compact discs offer, Steinman and Meat could really explore the depths of the guys who don't get laid phenomenon. But as they were hampered in by only forty minutes, they decide to end the album with this solo piano piece that really encapsulates, rather succinctly--oh, shit here comes the Philharmonic Orchestra. This isn't going to be over anytime soon. Well, hopefully, they will use it tastefully and subtly--oh wait, Meat just asked the girl if she can see his Levi's busting apart. And now here comes the glockenspiel. We're none of us escaping with our dignity intact with this one. I just checked the liner notes, and this song is performed by BOTH the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Because if there's one thing a song about blue balls needs, it's TWO fricking orchestras playing at the same time. And I think that might be the ultimate metaphor to describe Bat Out of Hell.

And it gets worse with the sequel.

Friday, November 13, 2009

LISTENING PARTY: Radio KAOS



I think that what the world needs more of is sci-fi concept albums. I know that we all have our favorites: Kilroy was Here by Styx, 2112 by Rush, Psychoderelict by Pete Townsend, that album that Isaac Asimov recorded with Rage Against the Machine. But my favorite, by far, is Roger Waters' Radio KAOS. And it's not because it's the story of a paraplegic boy interfacing with the world's computer systems to threaten the world with nuclear annihilation. It's not because Roger Waters believes in the power of a radio DJ to save humankind. It's because he believes that the soundtrack of the future is white English guy funk.

"Radio Waves"- There are some concept albums that have a loose concept that you really can only glean from reading the liner notes and interviews with the artist (e.g. any album Tori Amos has ever released)and there are some that act like a soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist, with the concept hinted at with interstitial material between the songs (The Wall, before The Wall movie existed) and then there's "Radio Waves", where Roger Waters just tells us about Billy in his wheel chair, picking up radio waves through the computer system that allows him to communicate. This isn't really enough to fill up an entire four minutes, so Waters just spends the rest of the time naming US cities. Highlight: when he sings "Oklahoma City" and then lets out a 'Yeah!' after it.

"Who Needs Information?" So we get our first snippet of dialogue before this song, where DJ Jim Ladd plays DJ Jim Ladd who takes a call from Billy. Billy tells him he's from the Valley, and when Ladd thinks he means San Fernando, Billy calls him a schmuck and tells him that he meant Wales. Isn't that kind of a ridiculous thing to expect a DJ in L.A. to guess? It would be like I told you I spent the day in the city, and you, knowing I live in Southeastern Massachusetts, guess that I meant Boston, and I was all like, "No, The Emerald City of Oz! Jesus, you douche!" Okay, the song's about halfway over and I still haven't even started talking about it yet. Waters gives us a snippet of information about the plot of Radio KAOS, which somehow involves Billy watching his brother throw a cinderblock or something off an overpass. That's like two lines in the whole song, the rest of which is just typical Roger Waters-I hate everybody especially everybody else from Pink Floyd that isn't me. And it segues, rather unconvincingly from R&B background vocals, and a lite funk horn part into a Welsh choir. Because I always put those two things together. Just like I put together the plot from 'My Left Foot' with 'War Games.'

"Me or Him"- Let's slow things down here guys. Let's enter ballad territory and explain a little bit more about where everybody's coming from. So, apparently, after throwing a cinder block off an overpass, Billy's brother gets sent to jail. I don't know what he was expecting. Like, I've heard of people spitting off an overpass, but a cinderblock is just a whole other level of douchery. So Billy, all sad that his cinderblock throwing brother is in jail, decides to start calling into radio shows, and apparently he becomes so popular that people all over the world tune in to listen to him. Which seems about as likely as someone from Wales starting WWIII, so you can see that the window of disbelief is closing rapidly. This doesn't really work very well as a concept album because so much shit is happening, so much backstory needs explaining. That's why the best concept albums have such simple concepts. You know when your mother sees a really complicated movie, and she starts trying to explain it to you, and it doesn't make any sense because she just tells you snippets and forgets to fill you in on the most important parts. Now imagine if she wasn't your mother, but instead was the former bass player of Pink Floyd. And imagine while she's telling you about it, a competent but lifeless band played lite funk tunes behind her. There, I just saved you $8.99.

"The Powers That Be"-So three songs into his eight-song masterpiece, Roger Waters has decided to abandon the storyline he's been building so compellingly to throw in a song about how the world is run by a powerful cabal of leaders and businessmen who don't care about the common man, common men who can communicate with complex computer systems with their brains. And then he's decided that Mike & the Mechanics isn't going to steal his thunder, so he invites Paul Carrack to sing much of the lead vocal on this track. I wouldn't be surprised if that makes this the most successful song of Roger Waters solo career, because Carrack also sang lead on Squeeze's biggest hit, "Tempted." Which I think was about packing toothbrushes and combs and also about Cold War politics. I THINK.

"Sunset Strip"- I can't believe this song is written by the same guy who wrote "Animals." Because it sounds like mid-80s Don Henley. Except instead of the smooth California vocal stylings of the Eagles, it's sung by someone who sounds like one of the weird angry Muppets who used to appear on early Saturday Night Live.


"Home"-Okay, we've only got three songs left, and the plot hasn't really moved in two songs, and Waters includes a long DJ bit about different kinds of fish. I've struggled to tie it in as a metaphor for what's happening on the album, but it seems more like a private joke between Roger Waters and Jim Ladd. Although that seems unlikely, since can you picture Roger Waters being part of an private joke? This guy has only laughed once, and that was only the scary maniacal laugh at the end of "The Dark Side of the Moon." Also, we just passed my favorite part of the whole album, when Waters sings "Cowboys and Arabs" and he double tracks it, because it needs to be highlighted. I'm assuming Cowboys are the U.S. and Arabs are well, Arabs. This song also has nothing to do with the over-plot dealing with Billy's plan to annihilate the world because he's...bored? Pissed his brother was incarcerated for throwing a cinderblock off an overpass? Maybe he just hates the radio programming on radio KAOS. And since it seems to only play really lame lite-funk tunes by Roger Waters, maybe Billy's got a point. My second favorite of the whole album just passed by, too, where Waters sings "could be a baker, could a Laker, could be Kareem Abdul Jabar" which is the first time I've thought about Kareem since I was seven years old.

"Four Minutes"-Okay, right after "Home", Billy tells Jim Ladd that he's pressed the button, and Ladd laughs and hangs up on him. And then, for some reason, Ladd seems to really take it seriously, and starts to make announcements about the end of the world coming. A woman, it might be Clara Torres-who was the lady who orgasmed all over 'The Great Gig in the Sky' on Dark Side, is now orgasming all over this track, which is called four minutes to represent the four minutes I guess Waters thought we would have from when the Ruskies pushed the button and actual nuclear annihilation. I think a really good Twilight Zone episode would be if the button were actually pressed and then somebody sat down to listen to 'Four Minutes' and then halfway through just looked over at his wife or someone and said "Shit, it's really taking its time, huh?" Waters is really throwing out all the stops here, including using the sequencer part from 'On the Run' (again from Dark Side) as well as snippets of Margaret Thatcher speeches, and then it all builds to a crescendo: "Goodbye Billy," Jim Ladd says. And you think maybe the album is over. But you didn't count on one thing: Bob Geldof.

"The Tide is Turning (After Live Aid)"- Okay, as far as I can tell, Roger Waters was so moved by Live Aid, the big all day concert Bob Geldof put together to battle famine in Africa, that he wrote this song. And I guess I'm supposed to guess that Billy also saw Live Aid and then decided not to destroy the world after all. I have another hypothesis, though. Billy did destroy the world, and the afterlife is this song, over and over again. That's right, for our sins, we've all gone to Hell. This is probably the catchiest song Roger Waters has ever written, and I remember feeling moved when I watched his concert from the Berlin Wall, where he played the whole of "The Wall" one of my favorite albums of all time, and then closed out with this song, because after the fall of the Berlin Wall, maybe it did feel like the Tide was Turning, more so than Freddie Mercury rocking the crowd at Wembley Stadium with "Another One Bites the Dust" or something. Okay, so the song is winding down, and Roger Waters sings 'The Tide is turning' over and over again, and near the end, he says 'The Tide is turning, Billy', which of course is a reference to the main character of his thirty-seven minute epic (who has only like four lines, and isn't even mentioned in half the songs) but then, the very last line is "The tide is turning, sylvester." WHO THE HELL IS SYLVESTER? I have no idea. Is it the cat from those cartoons? Then who is Tweety? Who is the Old Lady? I think maybe I've missed Disc 1 of this album. This can't be it. But at the same time, I thank God that it is. Because I made it about thirteen minutes into this before I wanted to destroy the world. And scarily, it's actually an album I like. Especially since it includes this guy:


Who represents....maybe American imperialism? Or mutually-insured destruction? Or just cats with lisps?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

LISTENING PARTY: Vs.


The first time I remember hearing Pearl Jam was at Kim Volner's 13th birthday party.

It was a pool party, but I don't remember if I knew that, and so I wore a pair of jeans instead of swim trunks. Apparently at jerk school they teach you that that is a secret code that you want to be thrown in the pool, which I was--by some jerks-- and after being fished out of the water by a 13-year old girl, I wandered around in my sopping wet jeans until I sat down on a towel in Kim's basement. And I saw the video for "Jeremy" for the first time. Needless to say, I related.

But I've never really been able to relate to Pearl Jam since then. I can see why people like them, I certainly admire them for the decisions they've made as a band (I remember their valiant fight against Ticketmaster, which meant they played at out-of-the-way venues, like Lobster Hut) but I have never really been able to like them. But late in 1993, when they were releasing their second album, I felt they were such a part of zeitgeist that I needed to have it. But I hedged my bets. Because while I did pick up "Vs." (although my copy was one of the early pressings with no title, because PJ hadn't decided on one--oh, you iconoclasts!)I also picked up the new Squeeze album "Some Fantastic Place." I wanted to be cool, be on top of what was popular (and back then PJ was popular--at the time "Vs." broke the record for most albums sold in a single week) I was still the kid who wore jeans to a pool party, the kind of kid who was more excited about the new Squeeze album.

"Go"- Pearl Jam seemed at the time to favor one word song titles. Later on this very album they made "rearviewmirror" all one word, so I thought it was like a rule they had. How wrong I was. By the way, this song sounds like you'd expect a Pearl Jam song called 'Go' to go, which is totally different than how an R.Kelly song called 'Go' would go.

"Animal"- The chorus to this song is "I'd rather be with an animal" which is a pretty harsh thing to say to a person, unless you're Trent Reznor. Because he wants to fornicate with you like you were an animal. I say, let's just leave the animals out of this, shall we?


"Daughter"- This is the only Pearl Jam song your mom knows. It is also the only Pearl Jam likely to be heard at any Bat Mitzvahs.

"Glorified G"- Eddie Vedder's lyrics on this song are about as subtle as the most unsubtle thing you can think of. I'm very much pro-gun control, and I think if Veds and I ever sat down to talk politics, we'd get along very well. So would me and Noam Chomsky, but I wouldn't want to buy his album.

"Dissident"- So this is the story about a lady who keeps a dissident in her house for the night, but then turns him in when the authorities come. I knew cats who wrote songs about stuff like this. We used to pick them up and throw them in the pool.

"W.M.A."- Okay, I also agree with Eddie Vedder that institutionalized racism exists in the US. I agree that there is plenty of race-based police brutality. But the only thing getting beaten in this song is my head, and the thing that's doing the beating is Eddie Vedder's righteous indignation.

"Blood"-In the early 90s, Pearl Jam inspired approximately 1200 high school bands and every last one of them had a song called 'Blood'. Near the end of the track, you can almost hear Stone Gossard's dad wander down in the basement to tell them to keep the noise down because Aunt Carol is coming over.

"rearviewmirror"-I remember hearing this song and thinking it was the first Pearl Jam song that sounded like a song, and not just a collection of riffs with Eddie Vedder screaming about NAFTA. rearviewmirror has a lot of things that other songs have, like verses, and prechoruses, and choruses, a coda! It's like somebody got the band a book of musical terms for Christmas. Unfortunately, Meatloaf did this song so much better (and longer) with "Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are" which just makes me wish I was listening to Bat Out of Hell II instead. Or Squeeze. Shit, I've made so many wrong decisions today.

"Rats"- I've never done this before, but I'm thinking about quitting. I don't think I can make it through the rest of this record. Because this song would be a million times more enjoyable if I could even get the sense that Eddie Vedder wasn't talking about metaphorical rats. Like, if he was singing a song about real rats, just filling you in on facts about rats. Did you know that rats can fit through a hole the size of a quarter? And any rat can jump as high as your face? I would enjoy a song like that a million times more, which is to say I wouldn't enjoy it all, since zero times a million is still zero, and that's how much enjoyment I'm currently deriving from this song: zero.

"Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town"- This is the other song from this record, along with "Daughter," that you are likely to still hear played on the radio today. I hate when this song shows up on the radio, not because the song is terrible (although it does sound like Pearl Jam straight up stole an outtake from R.E.M.'s 'Automatic for the People') but because it invites the DJ to make a comment about how long the song title is. Which just reminds me how much I hate DJ patter. Almost as much as I hate elderly women.

I'm sorry, I don't think I can bring myself to listen to the last two songs on this record. I thought this would be kind of fun, but it's been torturous. So instead I will listen to that Meatloaf song I mentioned earlier and one of the songs from the Squeeze album 'Some Fantastic Place'.


I love the idea that young Meat knew a kid who died while flying a bi-plane.


Oh, Squeeze, you make it all alright.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

LISTENING PARTY: Magic & Loss



The same day I purchased Mighty Like A Rose by Elvis Costello, I also picked up Lou Reed's Magic & Loss. God love the cut-out bin. This is Lou Reed's concept album about the deaths of the legendary songwriter Doc Pomus and an unnamed friend, both from cancer, both within a year of one another. This might be the hardest "Listening Party" for me to do because the subject matter of these songs is so deeply personal, so deeply heartfelt, and so deeply, deeply earnest. But then again, this is the haircut Lou was sporting at the time:

Somebody wants you to know this is a Getty image, apparently

"Dorita"- This is a serious album for serious people. Do you know how I know that? Because Lou starts it was an instrumental 'overture' or as he labels it "an invocation of the human spirit in music." Really, Lou? Because you know that wankcase who goes into Guitar Center just to play all the guitars with no intention of ever buying any of them? "Dorita" sounds a lot like his wanky guitar noodlings. The guys behind the counter at Guitar Center aren't impressed, and neither are we, Lou.


"What's Good"- Another reason I know this is meant to be a serious album for serious people is that each song has a subtitle. This one is called 'The Thesis.' I learned in ninth grade English class that you never tell your audience what your thesis is. But I never went to grad school, and I'm pretty sure Lou Reed did, and maybe that's what they tell you to do there. This is my favorite song on the album. The other day I mentioned a few quotes from Mighty Like A Rose that were contenders for my senior yearbook quote, and this song has one too: "Life's like sanskrit read to a pony; life's good, but not fair at all." It's probably the truest thing Lou Reed has ever written. Or at least tied with that bit in Walk on the Wild Side about that guy going down on other guys while dressed as a girl. Or all the songs about guys getting stabbed that he's written. But this is the most adult, thoughtful thing he's ever written, and he put it at the beginning of his thoughtful and adult album. It's all downhill from here.


"Power and the Glory Part I"- Reason number 3 why this is a serious album for serious adults is that it features songs broken up into parts. Like a classical piece of music. Or the Star Wars movies. Speaking of Star Wars, this song features the vocal stylings of jazz legend Little Jimmy Scott. I don't really know why he's here, other than Lou Reed thought he'd have Little Jimmy Scott sing on his record, and when you're making serious music for serious people you can totally just do whatever the hell you want. Also, if making pretentious music were some kind of video game, Lou Reed would've just gotten a dozen new lives for name-dropping 'Leda and the Swan' halfway through this song.

"Magician"- There's not a whole lot to say about this song, and I better save what little I do have to say because it's one of about six songs on this record that has practically identical music on it. I think you can get away with that when you're doing a concept album. For example, on Pink Floyd's 'The Final Cut' record, Roger Water sings the whole album on one note.


"Sword of Damocles"-So I was 15 when I heard this record for the first time and I bet Lou Reed thought that naming a song 'Sword of Damocles' would send a kid like me running to an encyclopedia (remember those?) to find out what he was referring to. Unfortunately for him, Mr. Burns made a reference--with visuals!!--to the Sword of Damocles, like, two years earlier. If the Simpsons had made me aware of the prevalence of using methamphetamine among cross-dressers, I don't think I would've needed Lou Reed at all. This song is probably the most tuneful on the record, and Lou Reed almost sounds like he's actually singing a few times.


"Goodby Mass"- Okay, so this is just Magician again, with different words. And a misspelled title. Who spells it 'Goodby'? I think one would pronounce that "gud-be" and maybe that's what Lou Reed wants us to do. The subtitle to this song is 'In A Chapel Bodily Termination.' Say what? Apparently when you're the legendary Lou Reed you don't need correct spelling or correct grammar. Oh my god this song did that thing where you totally thought it was over and then another verse started. It's probably not a surprise that a concept album about death would make me want to kill myself, but the surprise is how much it makes me want to kill myself.

"Cremation"- The subtitle to this one is 'Ashes to Ashes' which seems like maybe the typography guy switched the two of them up. This song is really pretty good. Lou probably should've just put out this song with 'What's Good' and 'Sword' and called it an EP. Or filled the B-side with feedback. I think I'll mention that Lou engaged the services of the great Rob Wasserman on bass for this album. Lou has usually had pretty good taste in bass players, which is good, because most Lou Reed songs only have two chords in them, so it's up to the bass players to make them sound different from each other.


"Dreamin'" Oh, Lou. No one will ever take you seriously if you start dropping g's off your words!

"No Chance"-This song is different than most of the other songs on this album. A few weeks later, I picked up Lou Reed's 'New York' album, and basically "No Chance" sounds like every song off of that album. So if you listen to song, you can basically skip 'New York'. And if you've ever heard 'Sweet Jane' and 'Perfect Day' you've basically heard every Lou Reed song ever written.

"Warrior King"- I've made it two and a half minutes into this song without having typed anything. I seem to remember liking this song a lot when I was 15. So I think I've spent the last two and a half minutes trying to figure out what was wrong with me when I was 15.

"Harry's Circumcision"- This is Lou Reed's song about a mohel.

"Gassed and Stoked"- This song's chorus is an operator telling you that this is no longer a working number, which I think was, in the early 90s, supposed to represent the finality of death: the person you are trying to call is dead, and that is why the number no longer works. But listening to it today, it just sounds like Lou's friend didn't pay his cell phone bill.

"Power and Glory Part II"- Do you know how sometimes you really like a movie, and then they make a sequel and it's terrible? Or how sometimes you really don't like a movie, and then they make a sequel anyways, and you can't believe anybody would want to see it, and then one night you flip past it on cable and it's unbelievably terrible? Guess in which way 'Power and Glory Part II' is terrible.

"Magic & Loss" aka 'The Summation.' This song is six minutes and thirty nine seconds long. I think, if you just listened to 'What's Good', 'Sword of Damocles' and 'Cremation' it would take you less time. So that might be my recommendation. Although I do like the last minute or so of this song, where I'm guessing somebody in the control booth signaled to Lou that maybe his concept album needed a big finish, so he dialed it up to '4'. Yes, this is a pretty low key album, and to be honest, I probably prefer the seven times he plays the song Magician with different lyrics to the other numbers where he tries unconvincingly to rock.
I read an interview with Lou about this record, where he said that it was supposed to be instructive, it was supposed to tell people how to deal with death. He hoped, in 1992, that other musicians would follow in his footsteps. He even made a suggestion: MC Hammer should do a concept album about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. If only Hammer had listened to ole Lou, we might have been spared 'Addams Family Groove.' After all, there are fates worse than death.

Monday, November 2, 2009

LISTENING PARTY: Mighty Like A Rose


(Note: There are no Youtube videos for any of these songs, and trying to embed links to napster didn't work, so if you're curious what any of these songs sound like, you can listen to the entire album free here )
I've been thinking about Elvis Costello's Mighty Like A Rose a lot the past few days, for two reasons. I've recently moved into my grandmother's old house, and I purchased MLAR on an October afternoon 15 years ago with my father before visiting my grandparents. The second reason is that my beard is itching like crazy. This reason is relevant because sometime between the 1989 release of his album "Spike", which at the time was his biggest US hit ever, and 1991 when MLAR was released, Elvis grew probably the grossest beard of all time. He had a habit of following up big commercial success with something really offputting: for example, after his huge song Oliver's Army made the album "Armed Forces" a sales juggernaut, he got drunk in a bar, made racist comments about Ray Charles, and then got beat up by a girl. That he was able to claw his way back from that, primarily on the back of his single Veronica is astonishing. And then he grew the beard:


Anyway, this is the album he made. I have a deep affection for it, although it tends to be one of his more maligned albums. It has a nasty streak, but if EC's beard was half as itchy as mine is, I understand.

"The Other Side of Summer"-My favorite part of this song is that it has a verse dedicated to talking about how stupid "Imagine" by John Lennon is. I thought I was the only one who felt this way. My other favorite part is that it has, and I checked the liner notes, three different bass parts. Everything on this album is so thick sounding, the musical equivalent of split pea soup. And nothing says split pea soup like three different bass players. (The liner notes by EC also revealed that most of this song was cut live, meaning that all three bass players were playing at the same time. This is many people's versions of hell~ especially anybody who lives below someone listening to this song on a stereo system with a subwoofer.)

"Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)"- Do you need anymore evidence of the beard's misanthropic effects than the title of this song? Any song that wishes for nuclear annihilation that isn't written by Randy Newman is bound to be pretty severe. This song only features one bass player, the great Nick Lowe, which suggests to me that all the rest were killed by radiation from the nuclear fallout.

"How to Be Dumb"- This song only features one bass player, too, but it's written about a bass player, so that counts, right? This song is allegedly (like OJ killed his wife allegedly) about former Attractions bass player Bruce Thomas, who wrote a book about life on the road with EC. This might be the most vituperative song ever written. And if you don't know what vituperative means, Elvis is going to write a song about you, too. All that having been said, this is the most "classic" EC song on the record, and if he didn't call Bruce Thomas "the funniest f**ker in the world" very clearly enunciated, it might've been the single. At one point my senior year, I considered using the song's last lyrics as my yearbook quote: "Scratch your own head, stupid, count up to three, roll over on your back, repeat after me: don't you know how to be dumb?" Luckily wiser heads prevailed.

"All Grown Up"- I question the appropriateness of a man who just wrote a song called 'How to Be Dumb' writing a song about being all grown up. This is the song where Elvis first works with a string section. Perhaps coincidentally, this is also the song where many people stopped liking Elvis Costello.

"Invasion Hit Parade"- Damn that beard must be itching him like hell. Because this song makes him sound miserable. It features only one bass player, but it does feature two Elvises, as he credits himself twice, once as "DPA MacManus" (his given name) and as "E.C." Although in fairness, I surmise that the reason he uses his surname is because his father is credited with playing trumpet on the track. So maybe he just wanted to highlight his dad's involvement. Or maybe, since he credits himself as playing an instrument called "Radio Hail, Hail Freedonia Breakthrough" (which sounds like he's scatting into the blades of a small office fan) it's also possible every decision he made on this album was made just for perversity's sake.

"Harpies Bizarre"-On this song, there is only one bass, but it is hung upside down. I'm not kidding, the credits read "hung upside down Rickenbacker tremelo bass." So my question, given EC's penchant for verbally eviscerating bass players, is the bass player himself also hung upside down? This song also features a bassoon, meaning it is the favorite EC song of my friend Jess, who used to be a concert bassoonist, even though she's never heard it. Bassoonists are a loyal breed. Well, at least I assume so, since if they weren't, I'm sure Elvis would've written a song about it.

"After the Fall"- Elvis writes in the liner notes that this was the last album he recorded where he still thought in the two-sided vinyl format, meaning that he meant for this song to be the last song on side A. And since this song is probably the most depressing and tuneless song I've ever heard, my guess is that he didn't really want you to listen to the seven songs on side B. In all likelihood because you'd either hung yourself halfway through this song, or because you'd smashed the record into pieces.

"Georgie and Her Rival"-I've seen Elvis over a dozen times in concert, but I've never heard him play this song. I bet he's forgotten it even exists. But it's not terrible, and paying attention to the lyrics for the first time ever, it's a pretty clever little story song. Elvis even sounds like he used a ton of hair conditioner in his beard, because he doesn't sound like he wants to kill you musically.

"So Like Candy"- This song was co-written with Paul McCartney. From the Beatles (I know, I know, I bet you thought it was the guy from Wings.) Bass player count: two. I think it's the only song from this album that he still plays live, and it's pretty clear he likes it. There's a great line at the end about "Candy" taping a note to a record sleeve, which is one of those terrific images that seems so real. Things that seem less real? That anybody in the latter half of the 20th century is named Candy.

"Interlude: Couldn't Call it Unexpected No.2"- Who called for an interlude? Even if it did feature the Dirty Dozen Brass Band? And what kind of guy calls in the Dirty Dozen Brass band and has them play for 21 seconds? Same guy who thought this was a good look:

"Playboy to a Man"- Also co-written by Paul McCartney, except this time it's the guy from Wings. According to the liner notes, Elvis sang this song through a long rusty lead pipe. There's no joke that goes along with that. I just wonder who went to the junkyard to fetch the long rusty lead pipe? I will bet all the money in my pockets versus all the money in your pockets it was the bass player.

"Sweet Pear"- Where is Elvis meeting all these girls with the weird names?

"Broken"- This song was written by Elvis's then wife, Cait O'Riordan. When I was a teenager, I used to imagine getting married to somebody with as Irish a sounding name as Cait O'Riordan, but I would skip the part where she wrote songs that I recorded on my albums. I also skipped the part where she was a 14-year old boy, because that is who these lyrics sound like they were written by.

"Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4"- Don't bother looking for number 3. It's like that prank where kids release 3 goats into a school and paint 1, 2, and 4 on the sides so that everybody's looking for "goat number 3" all day. The final lines of this song were also contenders for yearbook quotes: "I can't believe I'll never believe in anything again." There's a truth bomb, right there. He sounds almost happy on this song. Know why? No bass player. Just a tuba. And how many bands do you think would be improved by replacing their bassists with tuba players? If you answered all of them, you would be correct. I've seen Elvis sing this song several times, and each time he shuts off his mike and sings out into the hall un-amplified. It's a show-boaty thing to do, no doubt, but he's smiling when he does it, as if to say "Holy shit was that beard itchy."