Category Archives: I Read The News Today Oh Boy

St. Vincent and the Business-side of “Birth In Reverse”

St. Vincent’s new single is out, and boy is it great. It fills me with optimism regarding the singer/songwriter/weirdo’s forthcoming album ST. VINCENT.  Even though this will be the singer’s fourth album, much fuss was made in the media regarding the fact that ST. VINCENT will be her first major label album.  Why is this a big deal? I personally don’t care what sort of label is releasing her album, but after I read a few news articles online I noticed that all of them went out of their way to mention that this new record would be her first on a major label.

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None of these articles came out and said so, but what I inferred was that this new record is going to be St. Vincent’s first real album.  Like somehow being on a Universal imprint label (that’s right, folks, the album is going to be put out on a smaller record label owned by a conglomerate) legitimizes her as an artist.  Though can that really be the case?  Maybe I’m reading into this incorrectly…the only other thing I could think is that perhaps people view this as St. Vincent selling out.  Ugh, I hate the business side of the music business.

I don’t think that the freaky-lady who recorded one of the best albums of 2012 with David Byrne is only now a legitimate force in the music world because Universal is going to foot the bill to put out her next record.  I also don’t think anyone capable of releasing such a bizarre, interesting record with David Byrne is capable of selling out.

Anyway, St. Vincent’s new single “Birth in Reverse” is as funky and weird as one would hope from the lanky songstress.  That said, one definitely gets the sense that she’s learned a thing or two from hanging out with pop-freak Byrne.  “Birth in Reverse” maybe strange, but it’s also catchy and has a rad fuzzy-guitar riff.  Say what you will about The Talking Heads, but the band always put out catchy but off-kilter songs.  So, if Ms. Clark is going to take musical cues from David Byrne, I’ll forgive her for going to Christina Aguilera hairstylist.

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“Melt The Guns” by XTC

Once again tragedy, a preventable tragedy in my opinion, has struck the United States.  Every time this happens I wonder how much longer we’ll allow the madness that is our gun laws to continue.

Anyway, this is a music blog, so I’m just gonna let XTC do all my talking for me, they had the right idea way back in 1982:

 

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About That Paul McCartney/Nirvana Song

Last night a pretty incredible benefit concert was held at Madison Square Garden to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.  This so-called “12/12/12” concert was jam-packed with tons of talent: The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, and The Who were there just to name a few.  Of course today all anyone can talk about is Sir Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana. Apparently Nirvana and McCartney got together and recorded a song for a documentary Dave Grohl put together called SOUND CITY.

The song’s called “Cut Me Some Slack” and it’s surprisingly not the horrible train-wreck you’d expect from a Paul McCartney-fronted Nirvana.  Not that there’s anything wrong with either Paul or Nirvana, it’s just not two things I’d expect to go together very well.  Sure, Cobain worshipped The Beatles and infused his own music with their unique pop-sensibilities (although he made them heavier) but when I think of Nirvana I don’t think of The Beatles.  Whereas The Beatles were very much a peace and love band, Nirvana was angry and moody.  Plus, McCartney is really getting up their in years and I’ve always associated Nirvana with youth.  Destructive, unbridled, youth.

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I guess maybe that’s why “Cut Me Some Slack” works so well: this isn’t a young version of Nirvana.  Hell, this isn’t even really Nirvana.  Yes, I went there.  I realize that there are bands that can exist without their lead singer, but Nirvana sure ain’t one. Don’t get me wrong, it was really cool to see all those guys playing together again. It was especially nice seeing bassist Krist Novoselic on stage again, as he’s mostly dropped out of the music world, opting to direct films and study law.

Had the song sucked we could have blamed McCartney for being too old and for mucking about where he didn’t belong.  Thankfully the song is good enough, and their performance was energetic.  I was reluctant to write anything about this because I’m starting to feel weird writing so much about all these old dinosaurs of rock. I was looking over my Top 10 Albums of 2012 and I feel kinda strange about having so many classic rock artists on it.  Rock has always been about the here and now AND young people.  I’m not saying that old people can’t contribute to rock music or that rock artists should shut up (or be killed LOGANS RUN-style when they get to old) but the previous generation’s shadow is stifling this generations artists.

As if to drive this fact home, I got an email from Live Nation that really turned my stomach.  Take a glance at the upcoming concerts in my area:

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Memories of Elvis? An Allman Brothers Tribute?Dark Star Orchestra (which is a Grateful Dead tribute)?  Not only are these older acts not going away, when they do (usually only when death intercedes) we are then given tribute bands to fill their places.  Why in the hell aren’t we just going to see new bands? I’m just as guilty as anyone.  In fact, the next concert I’m attending is a Pink Floyd tribute. Just like the film industry won’t let old franchies go, the music industry won’t let old brands die.  And make no mistake, The Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd are nothing but brands at this point.  Three tribute bands/acts in a long list of upcoming concerts isn’t so bad, I guess.  And this is a Live Nation email, which is designed to goad aging hipsters into hiring a babysitter and having a night out.  I get that.  I also get that every night in this city there are awesome, young bands playing their hearts out.  I just wish the Nirvanas and the McCartney’s of the world would bow out gracefully and let them into the limelight.

Ah, don’t listen to me…I’m just an aging rock fan.

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The GnR Poster Too Risqué For Las Vegas

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has yanked down a city-wide ad for the historic (sorta) Guns ‘N Roses concerts taking place in Las Vegas this month after a bunch of anger/complaints from the citizens of Las Vegas.  The poster, which incorporates artwork from painter Robert Williams* bizarre sci-fi painting titled “Appetite for Destruction,” has a lecherous robot in a compromising position with a defenseless, splayed woman.  Oh, and her shirt is ripped open and her panties are around her ankles.  You know, typical Disney stuff.

This is not the first time that the band’s use of this painting has caused controversy.  Back in 1987, retailers refused to stock GNR’s debut album APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION because Axl & Company wanted to use it as the cover art.  In the end, the band fell to label pressure and alternate artwork was used.  The painting is more batshit-stupid than rocking.  At least, that’s my opinion.  I don’t understand GNR’s continued insistence on using it to represent themselves, to be honest.

I’m astounded that the bean counters over at the Hard Rock actually agreed to run the ads.  What better way to convince people that your brand is fun for the whole family than a leering, rape-y robot?  To be clear, I hate this painting and I wish GNR/Axl would get over their massive hard-on for it...however Las Vegas is known the world-over as “Sin City.”  We’re not talking about Orlando, Florida or Branson, Missouri.  We’re talking about the smutty-ist, gambling capital of the country. A place where shady looking dudes hand out flyers of chicks you can legally pay to know (like in the Biblical sense).

I can’t imagine the ad was the most misogynistic thing the fanny-pack wearing masses of Las Vegas are being subjected to in a city where selling women is mostly legal.  I was recently in Times Square and that place was stuffed to the gills with super-porny clothing ads.  I know it’s not the same because none of the Gap ads were violent, but as we all know sex sells and this shit is everywhere these days.  Again, I’m not saying I think this ad should be plastered at the airport, welcoming families to Las Vegas (which it was), but I think Las Vegas needs to check itself.  I mean, this is Las Vegas we’re talking about.  And this poster is a drawing.  It doesn’t depict actual human beings, unlike the prostitute ads.

In the end, I can’t help but think that this is just a publicity stunt.  This controversy was not only foreseen  but wanted, I suppose to generate interest in the concerts and get us all talking–in which case: mission accomplished. Las Vegas should take a long look in the mirror and GNR should put “Appetite for Destruction” (the painting) to rest.

Lovely.

*Not that Robert Williams

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Axl Rose On Jimmy Kimmel: My (Delayed) Reaction

I understand that this is now old news at this point, but I’ve been unable to write about Axl Rose’s recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel.  Part of the reason was that I was horribly stranded in New York City during the recent super-storm/clusterfuck.  But another part was my brain’s slowed reaction to the appearance.

Axl was appropriate for the entire interview, except for his stupid hat.

On one hand, I found Axl’s first major TV interview to be a colossal disappointment and a great relief.  It was disappointing because Axl looks like someone’s bloated dad.  Look, I’m a fat, nerdy music writer so I can say it:  Axl used to be a rock adonis, and now he’s pudgy old guy.  The hat was also stupid.  I know it’s not cool to be balding or whatever is going on under that hat…but for crying out loud Axl, that hat makes you look insane.  It’s easy for me to say own your baldness when I still have a head full of hair, but I think it’s pretty vain when rock stars refuse to take off their hats/headbands.  You know who my all-time rockstar hair hero is? James Taylor.  James Taylor went bald and took it like a man. He didn’t bother with any coverup or conspiracy, he was like “this is what my head looks like.”  Kids today might not think it ballsy but there was a time when James Taylor was known for his giant mane of hair.  He wasn’t a hair-metal guy by any stretch, but he did have nice hair.

Enjoy all that sexy hair, 1970’s James Taylor, cos it won’t last…

But I digress. This post is not about hair.

So Axl’s gotten old, I can deal with that.  The bigger disappointment was also the thing that gave me tremendous relief: Axl Rose wasn’t insane or weird (hat not withstanding).  He was plainspoken, friendly, and engaged in talking with Jimmy Kimmel.  Kimmel even made a point of saying how surprised he was that Axl was talking to him during the interview.  The pictures of Axl’s Halloween Tree and his story about how he likes to see kids freak out when they see it was cool.  Some might say that the critical and commercial failure of CHINESE DEMOCRACY has humbled Rose, and that’s why the man we see is so down-to-earth and normal.  But I don’t see it that way.  The way I see it, Axl without all the bullshit is just a normal dude like you or me.

I’m sad that he wasn’t bizarre and we didn’t get some crazy sound bytes out of the appearance–but mostly I’m glad to see that Axl isn’t the douchebag the media have portrayed him to be.  On a side side note, I was glad to see The Whigs perform later on in the episode (I’ve seen them live a few times and they’re awesome) but I was REALLY REALLY sad that Guns ‘N Roses didn’t play a song instead.  How awesome would that have been?

Lastly, the reason we got this odd bit of Axl publicity: the Vegas shows.  Had I not just spent all my money and remaining vacation time stranded in NYC, I think I’d actually go out and catch one of the GNR Vegas shows.  In a perfect world, the last show of the band’s month-long stand would be televised or streamed online AND we’d get a Live Album released next year.  But the reality is: after these shows, the US probably won’t see Axl or Guns ‘N Roses for a while.  Maybe I’m wrong, I hope I am.

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Neil Young Is More Bummed Out By Kurt Cobain’s Death Than You

Rock ‘n Roll icon Neil Young just released an autobiography called Waging Heavy Peace and some of the book’s more choice nuggets are becoming 30 second sounds bytes on the 24-hour news shows.   One such story found in the book (which I haven’t read yet) is about Young’s involvement in the final days (and death) of Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain.   Cobain’s suicide note famously quoted Young’s 1979 song “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”  Specifically the lyrics, “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”  The song was written for RUST NEVER SLEEPS and is about John Lyndon of The Sex Pistols abandoning his “Johnny Rotten” stage-persona.

Basically, a sad, sick kid heard Young’s song, which I’ve always interpreted as about creative death and rebirth, and took it more on face value.  That said, I can totally understand why Neil Young is still to this day shaken up by that.  What I didn’t know (until it came out in Young’s book) is that Young was actively reaching out to Cobain in the days leading up to his death.  Neil Young was recently interviewed by Classic Rock Magazine and reveled that “When he died and left that note, it struck a deep chord inside of me. It fucked with me.  I, coincidentally, had been trying to reach him. I wanted to talk to him. Tell him only to play when he felt like it.”

Neil Young: Rust never sleeps.

Interestingly, Cobain is not the only dead rock star to have interpreted Young’s song on a more literal level.  In 1980, John Lennon told Playboy “I hate it[“Hey Hey, My My “] It’s better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out.”  Lennon, ever the provocative bastard who was always willing to say what most people might only think, went on to add: “If Neil Young admires that sentiment so much, why doesn’t he do it? Because he sure as hell faded away and came back many times, like all of us. No, thank you. I’ll take the living and the healthy.”

First off all, I think “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” is a fucking amazing song.  I can see how various people, at various stages of life (and metal status) might interpret it in different ways…but in general I think it’s a fantastic work of art that is pretty self-evident.  But if a person is in the wrong mindset (or worse looking for a more sinister reading of the song) can certainly find some really dark shit in Young’s tune.

That said, I personally think that  Young is right, in a creative sense it is better to burn out than fade away.  Lennon’s band The Beatles are a classic example of a group that burned out rather than fade away.  Their albums progressed and their sound evolved to such an astonishingly degree it can scarcely be believed (thankfully we have the records to prove it).   There were other factors at play, but I think part of the reason they broke up was over creative differences.

But I digress.  I know my opinion doesn’t matter, but I don’t think Neil Young should beat himself up too much about Cobain’s death, because it certainly wasn’t his fault.  I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have someone quote you in their suicide note.  All of this just puts Neil Young, and his work as an artist, into perspective and makes me really want to read Waging Heavy Peace.    

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Will Owsley is Dead.

Man this bums me out.  Will Owsley is dead.  I found out about it yesterday, third-hand. I was listening to a really cool podcast, Michael Butler’s Rock and Roll Geek Show, and it was mentioned casually.  Apparently he killed himself back in 2010.  I wish that I was able to write something like “Will Owsley is dead, you might not know who he was, but no doubt you know his music…”  But I can’t write that because you most certainly didn’t know his music.

And I think that on some level, that might be why he’s no longer with us.

But I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know the reason I man I never met killed himself.  I think it would be a waste of time to trot out the old cliche of the tortured artist who kills himself.  We all toil in obscurity, to some degree, so why should that matter?  Besides, it’s ghoulish to romanticize the suicide of a 44-year-old father of two (his children are so young, the oldest being around 14).  I can’t tell you why Will Owlsey killed himself, but I can tell you why I think he was special.

Will Owsley was a guitarist, first and foremost.  He moved to Nashville and became a side-man in some semi-impressive B-level country acts.  His biggest claim to fame was his stint as a member of Amy Grant’s live band during the early 1990’s.  From there he landed a gig playing for Shania Twain.  It was this modest tour work that allowed Owsley to pay for the recording of his own music, and in 1999 he released his first solo album OWSLEY. Despite coming from a largely country background, OWSELY was a “power pop” album.  Influenced by The Beatles and The Cars, Owsely’s first album was met with critical praise…but little commercial success. Despite the fact that the album was nominated for a Grammy for it’s production.

This is a great fucking record.

OWSLEY is a great record. The songs are all super-catchy.  I would compare OWSLEY to a mid-period Weezer album performed entirely by Ben Folds.  As I re-listen to some of the songs, I notice there is a lot of bitterness mixed in the catchy, sugary lyrics . Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe I’m projecting my knowledge of his death onto a simple pop artifact.  That’s a good word to describe OWSLEY, “artifact.”

I remember the first time I heard it in 2004, I felt like an archeologist who’d just unearthed a long lost treasure.  When the punk-y album opener “Oh No The Radio” blastedg out of my car’s stereo I was in heaven.  Top-to-bottom I was impressed with the record, and when it was finished I hit ‘play’ again.  It was that good.

I was soon excited to learn that Owsley had recorded and released a follow-up album a few months before I’d initially stumbled upon him.  So as soon as I’d  sufficiently absorbed OWSLEY I went and bought THE HARD WAY.  I can still remember the first time I played THE HARD WAY and was floored at how…different Owsley’s voice sounded.  I still can’t put my finger on it, but it was different.  Deeper and less playful. Once I got over the slight difference in the vocals (I blame auto-tuneing), I was once again impressed with the songwriting.  THE HARD WAY was more rock and less-pop, but good nonetheless.  Of course, it was a sophmore album, so there were a few clunkers (like “Dude” which is too serious to feature such prominent use of the word dude).

I was always on the look-out for Owsley, determined to see him live.  But if there was a tour for THE HARD WAY it never came to city near me. The songs were all good, but not what was being played on the radio.  No one I ever met seemed to have heard of him.  Indie online label Not Lame Records were big supporters online, and his records are highly rated on serious music websites, like AllMusic.  Bit he never got much attention elsewhere.    I’ve been a fan of small, independent bands for a long time, so I knew the drill–a really good band/songwriter puts out a killer album, it gets overlooked and he/she/it/they are never heard from again.  The fact that Owsley got to put out a second record meant that he’d had SOME measure of success, but not the kind that makes you famous.

I never forgot about Owsley, but I did move on.  Apparently he put out a digital-only double single in 2005 “Psycho” and “Upside Down” but I’ve never heard them.  Owsley spent the last five years of his life backing super-lame, but more successful Disney-brand artists like The Jonas Brothers and Miley “The Virus” Cyrus. It makes me sick because they weren’t even in his league, not by a mile.  But that’s the “business” part of show business, I guess.

Anyway, I guess I’m done eulogizing someone I never met.  Instead, let me turn you onto some awesome songs. Let me introduce to Owsley:

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