Thursday, October 31, 2019

Jonathan Fire*Eater "Tremble Under Boom Lights"

Despite it being the damn namesake of the blog, I still have not exhausted talking about this album. I doubt I ever will.

“Tremble Under Boom Lights” is one of my favorite releases of all time and the fact that Third Man is able to reissue it still gives me pause.

No matter how much I say or write about this album, I still don’t feel like I’m done. I still feel like “there’s more work to do.”

More people need to know about this album, more need to appreciate it, more need to be influenced by it.

The opening song “The Search For Cherry Red” is burned into the enzymes of my soul. I can recite the lyrics at will. Any time I was bold enough to grab the mic in the Dirtbombs, there was a 50% chance I would sing this song.

“Give Me Daughters”, coupled with the gender and genetic make-up of the Shaggs, was the soothing salve I needed as I progressed into fatherhood of three daughters.

“The Public Hanging of a Movie Star” was included on a mixtape making the rounds in the Dirtrbombs tour van circa 2001, and EVERY time it played, I had to ask what it was as I was unaware. So primitive, so beguiling…those howls still unlike anything else I’ve heard anywhere else.

And the swan song, “In the Head” the last song the band would ever record together, just a head swirl of emotions for me. I have no idea what the lyrics “the ice cream truck goes cluck” mean, but goddamn if I don’t think about it weekly. When the instruments kick in all together like the force of a thousand volcanoes erupting at once, all joining in the breath of air, a hiccup almost, at the 2:41 mark, still, observant, vertiginous, as if the entirety of your life is presented before you and it does not feel overwhelming, just optimistically perfect.

It cannot be over-communicated…I still don’t really believe that Third Man was able to release this record. Cut primarily from the original master tapes. With the full support of the band members and estates and original label. I’ve had moments on the project where I’ve just had to stop and take stock of it all. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably continue saying it…I’m really just a fan here.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Final Thoughts on the White Stripes' Final Show

I can’t even tell you how much it means for me to be here tonight…so I’m not even gonna bother
-Jack White, July 31st, 2007

Not long after I walked offstage as the hired-gun drummer for opening act Dan Sartain, an assortment of crew and musicians and friends gathered together and took part in a celebratory, raise-the-glass toast, all led by Jack White to mark the end of the run of nine shows in the previous ten days.

As the crowd thinned, Meg White and I were the last ones left standing there. Apropos of nothing, cups in hand, not even in a conversation at that point, Meg said to me, “I think this is the last White Stripes show.” Confused, I responded “Well, yeah, last show of this leg of the tour.” She replied “No…I think this is the last White Stripes show ever” and slowly walked away.

I was dumbfounded. I had no idea what she was talking about. I had no idea what she meant. I had no idea what to do. I looked around to see if anyone else heard what Meg had said, but I was all alone.
Within minutes, the band was onstage.

What would YOU do if half of your favorite band told you (and ONLY you) it would be their last show immediately prior to taking the stage?

Shocked and having no better ideas, I went and grabbed two pieces of paper. One of them a perfunctory, public-facing schedule posted backstage. The other, more-detailed, sharing much of the same info and privately posted inside the band’s tour bus.

Just typing that makes me self-consciously feel like an ass...more preoccupied with the artifact and ephemera than focusing on the actual feeling of (and living in) the moment. Also, I should’ve at least made the effort to grab a damn camera.

I decamped to my usual side-stage perch and dutifully hand-wrote the scattershot songs that spilled out of Jack and Meg that evening. The White Stripes had never played Mississippi prior to this performance and it's clear the deep musical heritage of the state loomed large in Jack’s mind as he attacked the performance setlist-free.


“Stop Breaking Down” was an unexpected opening song. Despite being released in 1999, it had only opened a set once before, just three weeks earlier. The inspiration behind that first opening performance was the band headlining the Ottawa Bluesfest, being met with newspaper headlines that asked “Are the White Stripes bluesy enough to headline Bluesfest?” Seems as Jack’s intention of starting both these shows with the Robert Johnson classic was to leave no doubt to a skeptical homegrown audience of armchair connoisseurs or a lazy Canadian newspaper editor that the band was well-within their powers conveying the blues to the masses. All that was only further buoyed by Jack later throwing in an unexpected tease of another Robert Johnson song “Phonograph Blues” to assuredly placate the ghosts of the Mississippi Delta.

Inspired, one-of-a-kind takes on both “As Ugly As I Seem” and “Astro” now jump out to me as beautiful…each song's last hurrah from the band that birthed them. Exploratory adventures the both of them, proving that no piece was ever finished or finalized or etched into stone. Rather, they were all living, creative works, changing and adapting over the years and begging to be recorded and shared and analyzed by all of you reading this right now.

Jack began the encore by himself, pouring every last drop of feeling and emotive vocal quiver into a solo offering of “300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues” that was achingly bare. The raw force behind it feels beyond naked...as if Jack had pulled back his own skin to reveal his truest, innermost thoughts, particularly when he changed the lyrics on the fly and sang...

"See there’s three women in my mind that know they have the answer, but they’re not letting go…
What else is new? I’m the only one that seems to care where I should go”

After re-listening to this show for the first time in ages, I feel like only now have I fully absorbed the enormity of that line. Frankly, it just hit me like a freight train to the chest. I was caught entirely off-guard. I couldn’t help but be moved to tears.

Moments like that make me feel this show is the audio manifestation of opposing, equally-powered forces clawing for control of my brain in an id-versus-ego battle of monumental proportions. On one end I’m mourning, absolutely fucking hurt that this huge presence in my life, my occasional reason for being, my family both by blood and by choice…just ceased to be. And yet at the other end, I am so goddamned lucky that the White Stripes ever existed at all...that people even paid attention, that the band was able to make a lucrative career out of their passion, out of art and that I had a side-stage seat to the entirety of their existence.

These are feelings that have never reconciled themselves. I doubt they ever will.

After the completion of a bombastic, career-defining version of “Death Letter”, Jack poignantly says “Son House, thank you for finally letting me come home.” House was a passive participant in this matter, having died in the band’s hometown of Detroit in 1988. But Jack’s comment has seemingly little to do with any physical structure...what he is saying is that Son House (and to a larger extent, blues music in general) provided both he and Meg with an avenue to pursue their artistic vision. In this sense, home is not spoken in the predominant, noun usage of the word to describe where one lives, but rather in a more colloquial, adverbial sense meaning ‘deep, to the heart.’

In short, the blues is home. The blues provides comfort, the blues provides center, the blues provides foundation. It provides a manner to express one’s feelings, both a connection to the past and a path through the future.

Ending the set with Leadbelly’s “Boll Weevil” and the singalong chorus repeating “he’s looking for a home” only further drives this point, well...home. The White Stripes were only able to become THE WHITE STRIPES because of the blues. Able to find their voices, to spread the word in a way that was seeming antithetical to two white kids born in Detroit in the 1970’s. Blues was the language, not chosen, but seemingly divined, to best communicate themselves, to express, to converse, to paint this masterpiece.

In that same way...we are all always looking for a home. For where we belong. Where we can be ourselves. Where we are free to do what we need to do. For a way to be. For a conduit to something bigger.

Upon the completion of the set, with a backdrop of Who-like synth arpeggiations singing out into the night, Jack sincerely says the following...

“I can’t believe how long it has taken us to get here. Thanks for waiting. Thanks for coming. Thanks for buying our records. Thanks for buying a ticket. We love you very much. Thank you. God bless you Son House. God bless you Robert Johnson. Thank you so much.”

I can think of no better epilogue for Jack to punctuate the White Stripes last-ever live performance. Each thought a simple sentence that, upon closer inspection, opens up to a wider meaning...not just spoken to these folks in suburban Memphis on a Tuesday night. Rather, they speak to all their fans across the world. About the journey. About patience. About action. About appreciation. About presence. About gratitude. And ultimately, about the blues. Which is, arguably, all it was ever about.

In the intervening twelve years I’ve had countless conversations with Meg White. And I have never once, not for a moment, even considered asking her what was going through her head that night in Mississippi. To me, she has found her home and that is all that matters.


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Tantus Studios...Is It a Hot Master You’re After?


An underrated and unheralded Detroit recording studio if there ever was one. Word is they had a custom-made synthesizer in-house that was part of the magic sauce. Oh to just have been a fly on the wall.

List of Tantus Recordings

Sunday, June 30, 2019

How Newly Tweaked eBay Searches Are Blowing It...

     So I've noticed a kink in the results that eBay spits out for its searches and it is pissing me off. 

     For example, I search the term "detroit" under the category "records" probably every other day for the past ten years. I know that titles spit out as if they are ingrained into my soul. This specific search is, by all means, my shit.

     Within the past week or so, searches started being populated with TONS of releases on the Motown label (founded and run from Detroit for most of its existence) all previously unseen by me and none of which have the word Detroit in their title or description.

     Additionally, I use the "vintage Detroit t-shirt" search regularly. Again, I have come to know what to expect with this query. I rock vintage Detroit shirts regularly. 

     But in this same week or so, that search is absolutely littered with Detroit sports jerseys of all stripes and vintage, NONE of which are actually t-shirts or even have the term t-shirt in their title or description.  

     Had acquaintances relay stories of searching for blues records and their searches being filled with blue colored vinyl pressings, now, or searching for a rare 78 of Lewis Black "Corn Liquor Blues" and instead turning up tons of albums by the comedian of the same name. 

     I feel like this is bullshit and it is only further pushing me towards Discogs and Etsy to get my vinyl and vintage shirt fix. I hope the relevant sellers follow suit.

Friday, May 31, 2019

My Favorite Part of Danny Goldberg's Book About Kurt Cobain...


If you'd have told twelve-year-old me literally WALKING to buy my copy of the bootleg "Roma" CD from the neighborhood head shop (wonderfully named The Groove Shoppe) that someday my fandom of Nirvana would lead to a significant mention in a book written about Kurt Cobain by the band's manager...well, I probably would've shit myself.






Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Remembering Gordy Newton...

I only ever met Gordy once. As I remember it, I popped-in unannounced at Brian Muldoon's upholstery shop one afternoon probably 2003 or so. This was not uncommon as he and I were playing in a band together at that time (invariably known as the Science Farm, Night Latch, or the Thread Counts based, depending on when you asked us) and as I was attending classes at Wayne State just down the street, I was often in the neighborhood.

We made small talk and he made an explicit point to introduce me to Gordy (despite all the scholarly professional mentions of him as "Gordon" I never heard anyone actually call him by that name). Shy, embarrassed, bothered...almost as if he was struggling to just be polite is how I remember him. We shook hands, he kept his head down, I thought nothing much of it.

Gordy left while I was still there and Brian said "If I would not have introduced you, he would've ignored you and not said a word." Which would've been awkward...as we were the only three people standing there in Brian's backyard.

Later that year Brian and his wife gifted me a copy of Gordy's book and my appreciation has only ever grown from there. Gordy did the cover art for the second Tin Knocker single that I released...something like 7 or 8 layers of polyurethane coated on a single sheet of paper and the edges all disintegrated and demolished and unlike any single artwork I have ever seen (I selfishly kept the gnarliest, most destroyed looking copies for myself...some of them literally had holes in them).

Gordy also did the cover art for the second single by the Upholsterers. An art project if there ever was one, "Your Furniture Was Always Dead, We Were Just Afraid to Tell You" was limited to 100 copies, all secretly hidden in furniture that Brian Muldoon had reupholstered and believed by many to be a hoax until we actually shared the cover art a few years back. At last count I had word that three copies had been found, but none of those people wanted to share any more details than that.

When I was recording my solo album in 2009, I put together a song that was nothing but guitar feedback and an original Bleep Labs Thingamagoop. In hindsight, I would probably go back and remove the Thingamagoop, but that's besides the point. Once I'd recorded the track, the only appropriate title I could think of was "Gordon Newton, 1970." The feeling I got from listening to the feedback was the same feeling when I looked at images of Gordy's early 1970's works of black lithographic crayon on white paper. I also thought, of all the people in Detroit in 1970, Gordy was the one I would most have liked to hang out with at that time.

An example of such works, described as "conveying the sense of motion of the artist's arm and body as he worked...free-floating notations of the speed with which he made them" is the embedded graphic in the Soundcloud player below. Also, that description above is probably my favorite written description of visual art I've ever encountered.

Gordy passed away a few weeks ago and it hurts. I have one of his "Heads" hanging proudly in my living room and since I heard of his passing, I can't stop looking at it. I feel downright lucky to have barely even crossed paths with him. A quote from Marsha Miro, longtime Detroit Free Press art critic and a founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) called Gordy the "best artist Detroit has ever produced" and in his passing, Miro reaffirmed that by saying "To this day he's still one of the most important artists who lived and worked in Detroit."

After a brief contemplation on Tyree Guyton, I had to agree. I can't think of a solid counterargument to Miro's statement. The entirety of his oeuvre, as vast and wide-ranging as it is (though best known for painting and sculpture) just seems so intertwined with how my brain understands the city of Detroit. Something about the way he OVER applied color, to the point of it turning to dust, and the specific manner he cross-hatched lines, every time I see it...just speaks to me.

It all may sound a bit trite, but that's how I feel. And deep down inside, art that makes you feel is life-affirming.