I'm not really into tribute bands, but thanks to my friend Paul, I had the good fortune to see Chuck Prophet & Chris Von Sneidern's Spanish Bombs run through The Clash's London Calling in its entirety Saturday night. Opening for them? SF's own Titan Ups playing The Specials' first album.
How this all came about, I have no idea – Prophet and Von Sneidern are certainly better known for their own material than performing covers – but in the end, any questions or reservations I had were immaterial: The event sold out the Great American Music Hall and both sets were nothing short of brilliant. Kids who weren't even born when the original albums were released bounced around like they were inside a pinball machine, and even the greying fans had a hard time keeping still. When I left, my ears were ringing and I was drenched in sweat, marveling at what I'd just witnessed...
This has been out there for a couple weeks now, but it's still pretty cool: A comprehensive key to Marvel's X-Men family of comics. I find most of the X-Men titles unreadable these days, but once upon the time, Uncanny X-Men was my absolute favorite comic, so... Yeah. Pretty cool.
I can't imagine what it's like to be the child of one of someone famous, let alone one of the most famous people in the world. Sean Lennon lives and breathes that life every day, though, and despite the frequent raising of eyebrows at what most perceive as a life of wealth and privilege, he seems to be remarkably normal.
He's also a musician in his own right and along with girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl, he's currently one half of The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger. I caught them at Cafe du Nord here in San Francisco Tuesday night, going on the invitation of a friend without really knowing what to expect, and I was kind of blown away. They played a short, laid back set, augmented only by a trumpeter, and despite repeated calls for Beatles song from a strangely greying crowd, Lennon was both charming and humble. I think there were a lot of people there to see "John Lennon's son," but what I experienced was a gifted songwriter with an ear for timeless melodies and a partner in crime who appears to be as talented as she is beautiful...
Lucky Soul have a new single on the way, the fourth and final one from their excellent, excellent, excellent second album, A Coming of Age: "Upon Hilly Fields." If you have the album, you know this song and love it. If you don't have the album, then you need to rectify that situation post haste. If it's not at your local shop (or if, sadder still, you don't have a local shop), it's on iTunes and it's on Amazon, and barring that, you can hit up the band's own Website. Seriously, you have no excuse not to own this record.
That said, if they'd come to me and asked which song I felt would make a good final single for this album, I'm not sure I would have picked this particular track. Listening to it now, though, "Upon Hilly Fields" seems the perfect choice. Why the change of heart? Well, when someone pulls on your heart strings enough, it has to be moved, right?
The thing is, Andrew Laidlaw is one hell of a songwriter. Not only is his knowledge of classic pop and soul hooks something close to encyclopedic, but he's one of those lyricists with the knack for effortlessly turning heartbreak into popular song. Case in point: "If you asked me now, if I would do it all again, I would love to," may be one of the most succinct and honest summaries of what it's like on the swings and roundabouts of love I've heard in quite some while. I mean, we've all been there, right? But don't worry, this track has a melody that will turn your bitter into sweet, in a big way.
Plus, there's a fantastic video for this fine tune, and If you haven't seen it yet, you can make with the clicky now:
A different Duffy in another room. Judging by the YouTube comments, many a troglodyte disapproves of Aimée Ann's cover of this mid-'90s classic by Paul Weller, but I think it's perfectly lovely. Would love to see the two of them actually collaborate at some point.
Listening to Stephen Duffy's Music in Colours – his 1993 collaboration with violinist Nigel Kennedy – this morning. On its initial release, music critics scoffed at the very notion of a collaboration between Duffy and Kennedy. When it was reissued in 2004, they claimed it was Duffy's "lost" masterpiece. Lost in plain sight, I suppose. Strange that it's nearly 20 years old at this point, but it remains a staggering work of almost heart-rending beauty nevertheless.
Duffy's relative obscurity has always confused me. A founding member of Duran Duran who left before they hit it big, he enjoyed a massive hit in the mid-'80s with "Kiss Me" and appeared set for international pop stardom. Instead, he switched gears entirely and formed The Lilac Time with his brother Nick. Between 1988-91, they recorded four albums – The Lilac Time, Paradise Circus, And Love for All, Astronauts – to critical acclaim, but general indifference. The solo Music in Colours came next, and then as the Britpop party was frothing over in the mid-'90s, he released the hook-laden one-two punch of Duffy and I Love My Friends. (Oh, and there was Me Me Me, his collaboration with Blur's Alex James and Elastica's Justin Welch, which somehow yielded his biggest chart hit since "Kiss Me" via their one-and-only single "Hanging Around.")
As the '90s drew to a close, the brothers Duffy reconvened as The Lilac Time, and they've released another four albums to date – Looking for a Day in the Night, lilac6, Keep Moving, Runout Groove – once again to sparkling reviews and grey sales. Along the way, he wrote an album with Robbie Williams (including the 2004 chart topper, "Radio") and even resumed his partnership with fellow Duran founder Nick Rhodes to record some of their earliest songs as The Devils for 2002's Dark Circles. A 2009 compilation, Memory & Desire - 30 Years in the Wilderness with Stephen Duffy & The Lilac Time, brought the various strands of his career together under one roof for the first time, but despite the usual plaudits, he and his have continued their artistic journey more or less undisturbed by public interest.
And again, it's confusing. That so great a talent could languish unnoticed by the world at large is a mystery at best. Do people really have to die before their brilliance is finally understood?
I give up, I give up
It will never be enough
Have you met memory and desire
I never felt like I belonged
I made another life in song
This is my memory and desire
I married young at 48
I was trying to escape
Dad and Mom, memory and desire
Mom and Dad, memory and deisre
This is the story of my life
There's no plot, but now a wife
Meet the wife, memory and desire
Wedding bells, memory and desire
It sounded just like rock and roll
As they put me in the hole
Rock and roll, memory and desire
Dust to dust, memory and desire
He came from Hailey, Idaho
With a face for radio
Ezra Pound, memory and desire
Rest in peace, memory and desire
Memory & Desire is also a film, although in the years since its completion it has yet to make it onto DVD, despite a number of screenings in and around Duffy's native Britain.
Keith Olbermann has been ousted at MSNBC, due in no small part to the recent merger between Comcast and NBC. So much for our anti-trust laws, so much for freedom of the press and now more than ever, so much for the ridiculous Right-wing notion that our media is controlled by the Liberal Left. True journalism is all but dead in the country, and Keith Olbermann spoke the truth as regularly as charlatans like Glenn Beck twisted it.
Curiously, the nattering, uniformed fools who make up the Tea Party movement whinge on regularly about fascism and loss of freedom, whilst simultaneously criticizing journalists like Olbermann for speaking out. What they somehow fail to realize is that it's the responsibility of the media to voice their dissent, not just against the government, but against anyone who has less than the American people's best interests at heart. Silencing voices like Olbermann's, so that the dominoes of free speech and open dissent continue to fall beneath the boot heel of corporate expansionism and Right-wing ideology only insures the demise of the "freedoms" these ninnies claim to cherish so much.
If you're a Morrissey fan, here's a book I can't recommend more: Mozipedia, The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths. Written by Simon Goddard, who also wrote The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life, Mozipedia indexes all the various aspects of his life – the people, the places, the songs and their myriad influences and allusions – in an attempt to gain at least some understanding of the self-perpetuated enigma that is Steven Patrick Morrissey. At 500 pages, some are describing it as "obsessive," but I've found it to be great fun. It's not the sort of book you want to just sit down and read from cover, but rather the kind of thing you can leave on your nightstand or coffee table and flip through when the mood strikes, flitting from entry to entry as they compete for your attention. There are a few gaffes – for instance, Goddard claims the riff in The Smiths' "Accept Yourself" was based on a Four Tops track, when in fact it's a fairly blatant lift from The Supremes' "Love is Like an Itching in Your Heart" – but this tome of lovingly compiled information is probably the the best book on its subject yet.
I saw The Style Council live a grand total of once, in Ludwigshafen, (West) Germany in October '85, on the European leg of their "Internationalists" tour. The concert itself was incredible, but somehow the thing that stuck most vividly in mind from that entire day was stopping into a local record with this sign in the window. Even though these signs were likely sent out en mass to promote the Council's second album, that was the only time I ever saw one. Until I found this one on ebay, of course. Not particularly complicated – one side says "open," the other says "closed" – but still one of my favorite pieces of TSC ephemera.
More crappy iPhone pictures of neon signs: This time it's Johnie's Coffee Shop on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax in Los Angeles. I took these when I was down there for the premiere of The Walking Dead back in October, and I'm not sure why I didn't post them immediately after. The restaurant itself is closed now and they only use it for film work (it's in the opening of Miracle Mile, for instance), but it's been around since 1955 when it was called Romeo's.
I used to live about two blocks from Johnie's at one point and always thought it was a shame it had shut down. It's such a great place, so representative of the time it was built, very mid-century modern, but somehow looking forward to a space age that never was. I think renovating places like this, especially these lovely old neon signs that just aren't made anymore, would be a fantastic job. Places like this should be preserved and cherished instead of brushed aside in the mad dash toward whatever's next...
Two Golden Globes for Boardwalk Empire? Not bad, not bad at all.
While there's no doubt that I'm huge fan of Mad Men, and I certainly enjoyed the first season of The Walking Dead, I felt HBO's Prohibition Era drama was far and away the best thing on TV during 2010. It almost seemed a foregone conclusion it would come ahead. And dressed to the nines in all 12 episodes, Steve Buscemi pretty much had Jon Hamm beat on the wardrobe front, too.
Which is interesting, actually, because one of the things that struck me about Boardwalk Empire was how similar it actually is to Mad Men:Both are period dramas set against a backdrop of social change. Both feature charismatic, yet deeply conflicted leading men with dark pasts, both of whom are in positions of power. There are ambitious women in both show, each climbing the cultural ladder in different ways, at different times. There is an abundance of smoking, drinking and sex. And the attention to detail, both in terms of the set design and the costuming, is impeccable in both. (I'm going to post the opening credits to the show here in a bit, and just look at those shoes!)
The dapper Steve Buscemi is obviously the show's main attraction, and he is really is brilliant, but the entire cast is magnificent, especially Kelly MacDonald and Michael Shannon. In fact, Michael Shannon is so amazing in his role, that he'd been on the show two episodes before I realized he was the actor who played Kim Fowely in The Runaways. The writing is top notch, too, which is to be expected given that creator Terence Winter is a Sopranos alum, and it is beautifully, beautifully shot. The pilot was apparently the most expensive in television history and it's easy to see why: There's nothing on this show that doesn't look amazing.
The awards for best television drama and best actor in a television drama notwithstanding, Boardwalk Empire is television at its finest. If you haven't seen this show yet, make it a point to do so.
Nice six-part interview with Paul Weller and Mick Talbot from 1986. The '80s really were a different time, weren't they? I don't think this type of mumbling and meandering affair would make it onto television today, either in Britain or the States, but it's all perfectly charming in its own way...
Some images from the first TSC tour program, all dating back to 1983 when the group first formed.
I think the significance of these photos may be lost on anyone who wasn't around at the time, but given that Paul Weller had only just played his final shows with The Jam in December 1982, the photos of The Style Council than began to appear a mere three months later signaled a very real shift in both tone and style. The Jam were the quintessential English pop group (or as some Americans described them, "too British"), so Weller was eager to give the Council more of a European flair. Promotional photos were taken in Boulogne and then Paris, showing up in everything from adverts in the music press to record sleeves, establishing what, for many fans, became the band's defining look.
As always, the design is by Simon Halfon; the photographs are by Peter Anderson.
Postcards for TSC singles "Money-Go-Round" and "My Ever Changing Moods." I'm not sure if cards were created for all the singles, but these two are great. Designer Simon Halfon has such a distinctive style, and even though he continues to work with Paul Weller to this day, the sleeves and promotional artwork he did for The Style Council are still amongst my favorites...
Check this out: A determined young woman named Heather Cummings runs a great blog called The San Francisco Bar Experiment. It basically chronicles her journey through the diverse neighborhoods of San Francisco as she attempts to have a drink at every single one of the city's bars. Of which there are around 500.
Cummings started the blog at the beginning of 2010 and visited 81 bars over the course of the year. Now she's putting together an account of her experiences in the bars of the Tenderloin in the aptly named Tenderloin Bar Experiment Book.
She's raising money to self-publish the book through Kickstarter.
Six singles by The Redskins. Not sure who did the design on these or if they're even the work of the same designer, but they all look terrific.
The Redskins were even more political that The Style Council. Founding members Chris Dean (who sometimes wrote for New Musical Express as X. Moore) and Martin Hewes were members of Britain's Socialist Workers Party and they viewed the likes of left-leaning stars like Paul Weller and Billy Bragg as hod carriers for Neil Kinnock's Labour Party. When Weller and Bragg got involved with Labour's Red Wedge, Dean was as loudly dismissive of their efforts as their critics on the right. The music? A mix of punk, soul and rockabilly that served the emotional quality of the songs incredibly well.
The Redskins weren't together long – their entire career spanned only a handful of singles and a single LP between 1982-85 – and I didn't even discover them until just before they split up, but they made a huge impact on me nevertheless. Their 1986 album, Neither Washington Nor Moscow, was my first exposure to their sound, and I loved it so much I immediately went off in search of the singles. There were great b-sides on all of them (many of which are still only available on the original vinyl releases), alternate (and often harder-hitting) versions of the album tracks, and best of all, the magnificently designed sleeves...
Andy Partridge's Ape House Records released a double vinyl reissue of XTC's classic Skylarking toward the end of 2010, remastered from the original tapes and correcting problems with the sound. (The sound polarity was reversed on all previous versions of the album and resulting in sound that was very thin. It sounds like something's missing, but you can't quite put your finger on what it is.) The album now sounds better than ever, so much so that it's practically like hearing it for the first time.
This was an unexpected treat, though: Once they were finished sorting out the sound, they decided to repackage the album in the sleeve intended for its original release in 1986, before it was banned by Virgin. While I can understand why this sleeve was pulled (record chains flatly refused to stock it, due to its "graphic" nature), this is definitely a more striking piece of art than the bland illustration more widely associated with the record...