Saturday, October 31, 2020

Alice Coltrane Early Years


I think the first time I heard Alice Coltrane went to Cass Tech was about 2005. A friend had told me the high school still has the harp that both Alice Coltrane (nee McLeod) and Dorothy Ashby studied on. With a desire just to see a picture of her from that time, I started going through old Cass Tech year books and was surprised to not only find no photos of her, but not even one mention of her name. Read the sources, emailed other jazz musicians from Cass at that time, and started to think she didn't actually go there. With the press clipping below from The Detroit Free Press, I was on the path, and a quick perusal through the 1955 Northeastern High School year book found the stunning pic below. And the equally as captivating group pic. Seems like Washington Post once correctly reported on her alma mater, but I'm still in the dark as to HOW this became accepted as fact for seemingly decades. Any insight?

Side note: Surely someone who won a spelling bee would change their name to Turiyasangitananda later in life.










Wednesday, September 30, 2020

I Had No Idea What I Was Doing: Tales of Rock and Roll Archiving in the Digital Age

 

Last year I had the privilege of speaking at Albion College's Schleg Memorial Lecture. I put on a collared shirt, tried not to swear too much and luckily, the A/V department filmed the whole thing for posterity. Enjoy.

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Stooges Live at Goose Lake

I've spoken more about this record more than ANY OTHER RECORD we've ever released. Even White Stripes records that have been out for more than twenty years. Shit, even records I've PLAYED on. That's saying something. Thanks to an extra effort from a boss Australian publicist, Dave Laing, along with the hard work from the usual Ken Weinstein in the States and I could not be happier with how this has been covered. Rock and roll.

The Detroit News

The Detroit Free Press

ABC Radio Australia

The Oakland Press

The I-94 Bar

Loud Magazine

Mixdown Mag

Gimme Zine

Rock and Roll Globe

RRR Radio

Sydney Morning Herald









Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Walking

So the one-year-old woke up at the crack of 6:15, ready to start shit while the rest of the fam was peacefully slumbering.
My wife spoke half awake “your turn” and for the purposes of keeping the peace, I grabbed Navy and just got the hell out of upstairs. Let them sleep.
Once downstairs, I just didn’t really feel like popping on Daniel Tiger for her while I lazily get updated on the day’s news on my phone. So gauche.
So I plopped her into the stroller and took off. No route, no plan, no TALKING. Just whichever direction strikes my fancy, one intersection at a time.
Walked past Swank’s old house. Past my old house. Past the house of the guy that set Gram Parson’s body on fire at Joshua Tree.
I noticed things that had escaped the view from my car window…a birdhouse thirty feet up on a tree, historical markers, garbage spilled out in back alleys.
We must’ve walked for ninety-minutes and I cherished every moment of it. Felt like a solid start to the day.
Come this morning, Navy is squealing again at 6:20 and it doesn’t take me two seconds to grab her, get downstairs, in the stroller and back out for our romp.
By the kid’s schools, past the destroyed houses, along the golf course, up and down significant hills. Not brave enough to try and explore the BMX course hidden in the woods with a kid in tow, but definitely ready to check it out on my lonesome.
All that being said…it just felt like a happy, beautiful, wonderfully invigorating way to start the day. Took a shower, gave the whole fam a kiss and made my way into the office 9am adjacent for the first time in three months.
The following day I took the two eldest in their two-seater stroller to the real destination. I had been too shy the previous day, but now I was ready to venture toward adventure. 
You see, the public Shelby Bottoms Golf Course, not a half mile from my house, has been closed to golfing since the tornado on March 3rd. But sometime since then, the Nashville parks department has put up signs around the perimeter saying that while golfing there is currently prohibited due to extensive damages to the cart paths and the irrigation system, the space is open for all OTHER park activities. Walking, jogging, picnics, BBQs...it literally lists no restrictions. 
Said revelation has been an absolute game-changer. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the family is there pretty much every other day. The breath-taking EXPANSE, this massive green tableau, and man, I can't explain to you...the place is EMPTY. NO ONE else is there. In the dozen or so visits we've made in the past two weeks, I've seen no more than a dozen other people in the vast acreage before us.
Even one step further, last week, with the rest of the family passed out early, I strolled out of the house around 9:30pm trying to see how quickly I could get there on foot. EIGHT MINUTES. And with the darkness inviting, I clambered across a former putting green and into the beautiful ink dark realm.
Standing there, in the middle of the park, frogs bellowing, a train off in the distancing roaring dull-ly, like distant thunder. Man, it's been a minute since I've felt so alive, so grateful for my natural surroundings. 
Rumor in the neighborhood is that the city is contemplating NEVER turning the park back over to golfing. Whether there's any validity to that or not, all I know is that I am deeply grateful for the time I've spent there recently. This legitimately feels like the first time since I moved from Detroit 11 years ago that I have a legitimate interest in my neighborhood. While it's slightly embarrassing it's taken that long to open my eyes, I am all the more receptive to what more I can look forward to discovering.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The White Stripes Live at Dionysus September 16th, 2000

We left Cincinnati later than we should have. A visit to Shake-It Records looms large in my memory and we definitely rolled straight to the club, Dionysus. On the campus of Oberlin College and apparently run by the students there, what could be an easy target to shit on is actually pretty damn cool. I mean, hell, the college I was enrolled in that semester wasn't booking Sleater-Kinney. 

The show itself still sticks out as one of the most transformative the White Stripes EVER played. Like if there was ever so clearly a "before" and "after" moment in the history of the White Stripes live shows, I'd push the pin firmly into the date September 16th, 2000.

I don't recall the crowds the previous two nights (Chicago and Newport, KY) necessarily "getting" the Stripes. Sure, the performances were solid, folks may have even picked up on it a little, but they were big rooms, law of averages probably explains it. But at Dionysus, man, it's a small room, maybe 400 capacity, and with a low stage, the space felt like a basement...hot and sweaty, probably not being utilized for its intended use and primarily populated with kids who've got NOTHING better to do. Receptors open, transmissions receiving...just give 'em something worthwhile and the response will be wild.

Watching from the merch table at the back of the room, you could feel the band take off. The show starts off interestingly enough (can't ever recall "Your Southern Can Is Mine" appearing so early in a set) and from around "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" onward, its as if afterburners are on full throttle, every move just of-the-moment and powerful and important and happening right in front of your face. 

After futzing around for months, the fuzz feedback mainline of "Dead Leaves" is finally firmly established in the way all would come to know and love it. "Death Letter" is the raucous rail-splitter while the placid verses of "Stop Breaking Down" achieve the song a tempered duality as leveraged by the absolute savage slide of the choruses, while the uncharacteristic off mic screaming in "One More Cup of Coffee" has you realize that mind-bending covers of Son House, Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan poured out one after the other in rapid succession, a most holy trinity of White Stripes heroes if there ever was one.

From "Astro" forward...there's so evidently a transcendent musical connection between the two entities on stage, of the same brain, taking action without thought, a Darwinian evolution that should crawl across millennia transpiring in matter of mere minutes. On a Saturday night. In Ohio.

Listening back now, nearly 20 years later, it STILL gives me goosebumps. The way "Jack the Ripper" (a song they'd goofed on a handful of times previously) melts into "Farmer John" (a song they'd NEVER previously goofed on) and straight into, hands-down, the best version of "St. James Infirmary" the band would ever perform and arguably epicenter of the aforementioned "before" and "after" designations.

To lay ears to the recording now is to hear "St. James" evolving in real time as an arrangement heretofore unknown, just exploratory explosive accents primally bashing away as entree to the song, unrecognizable from its released version, pummeling inauspiciously into the first verse, Jack's voice rich, full, expressive, like a vase holding ten thousand orchids hand-painted by O'Keeffe.  Then completely out of left-field, Jack offers the second verse double time, damn near jazzy or show tune(ful), humbly paying respect to the roots of this Cab Calloway composition. In my recollection of the evening, I feel like I was holding my breath at this moment. As if to ask, timidly, scared, fearful of failure or catastrophic collapse "can they do it?" And wildly, with abandon, Meg is RIGHT there with him, never missing a beat for the next TWO verses. Weeks, days, shit a half HOUR early this would have been impossible. The chops were not there, the telekinetic o-mind wavelength was, previously, nonexistent. And without ever telegraphing the move, out of nowhere, Jack calls verse four back to the explosive accents, half-time, reigning it in with a delightful smirk, at this point completely showing off how shit hot he and Meg are. Just making it up as they go at this point, verse five crosses back to double time, the intensity somehow amplified, improbably kicked up a few notches and culminating into one solitary, strong expositional statement, like a goddamned full-body statue of Teddy Roosevelt, arm outstretched, pointing, confidently, ready to decimate whatever gets in the way. And that, you little maniacs, is when the White Stripes first hit that apex, as if levitating, where they could do no wrong. Exquisite beauty. The reason we are all here today.

A few songs later and unexpectedly, Jack just starts making shit up off the top of his head. We've labeled it "Just Keep On Walking (improv)" here and that, again, you lucky freaks, is the first time the White Stripes ever just made something up in front of a crowd. Said approach would be responsible for some of my personal favorite moments from the band (including "Little Cream Soda" even though I wasn't even there to witness it in person) and straight into "Screwdriver." Jack teases, if only for a moment, the drawn out and confrontational manner of both the MC5's "I Just Don't Know" and the Gories "48 Hours" and yet somehow builds upon it. Goes further. Creates distance. Catches nirvana. 

Leaving the stage after said culmination, you can hear the crowd just losing it. Apeshit. The opening act, who almost certainly no one there even knew of prior to this evening. EVERYONE was urging them to return for an encore, including the members of Sleater-Kinney, who were all but pushing Jack and Meg back onstage. Really, truly, this never happens, it should never happen, yet witnesses to history and this tape prove, "Let's Build a Home" just smokes before the tape runs out in a brief moment of Basinski-esque disintegration.

I'm a bastard when it comes to hyperbole...I HATE when people blow shit out of proportion. I don't have time for it. But I honestly do not think the White Stripes ever played a more perfect show. Yeah Manaus '05 was bonkers, Tasmania '06 is electrifying, Mississippi '07 brings tears, Detroit Institute of Arts, Peel sessions...there's no shortage of GREAT shows with this band. But ones where everything clicks. Where the band is almost a visage in hyper-speed while their surroundings are but props calcified in amber, where it feels like the incalculable number of nerve endings of every last synapse of every living being in the world were all connected onstage that night...well, damn, Oberlin it is. Because while those other shows may carry more emotion, may explore further depths of the catalog, or engaged multiples of more fans...September 16th, 2000 was the catalyst that enabled all of them to ever happen.

So for that, I'm grateful.

Listen Here

Addendum - OR - Shit That Didn't Make Sense Publishing Anywhere Else But This Blog

- The previous night in Cincinnati we stayed with Patrick Keeler of the Greenhornes. One of the factors that caused us to have to drive straight to Dionysus was that Patrick was printing out a custom illustrated cover of Jack Lawrence to accompany the CD-r of the (at the time yet-to-be-released) Greenhornes self-titled album he had given to Jack White. Seriously, the color printout was taking FOREVER. Easily twenty minutes. And after it had completed, Meg was all "Well, I want one too." And we just couldn't wait, we had to say "next time" or something like that. I don't think she ever got her custom cover. There were cool as hell, Saturday morning cartoon-esque illustrations of all the Greenhornes as I remember but I don't think they ended up ever being used anywhere. Would love to see them again someday.

- At Shake-It I got a copy of the Queens of the Stone Age "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" 7-inch

- First band onstage this evening was C.O.C.O.

- Smoking was "suggested" prohibited at all of the shows on this tour because Corin of Sleater-Kinney was pregnant (though it was messaged in a way so as not to divulge the reasoning)

- An autographed pizza (or half pizza? a slice?) was sold at the merch table this evening

- Sleater-Kinney opened their set with a version of "Fortunate Son." I have a stone vivid memory of seeing a European-style CD single of S-K's "You're No Rock and Roll Fun" with "Fortunate Son" as the bonus track, at some record store over the river in Windsor, probably no more than a year after this gig. I didn't buy it and for YEARS I searched for another copy. Only since the robustness of Discogs has really become self-evident (the past four years?) have I realized that this CD legitimately does not exist. I have no idea what I actually saw in that Canadian record store and I think about it FAR too often.

- After the gig a gaggle of us made our way to a campus house party and were explicitly NOT let in. The whole "who invited you?" kinda attitude. Really, in all my years van touring with the Stripes, I don't recall ever even ATTEMPTING to go to a party after a gig. It was just...never on the agenda. So really, to me, it didn't seem like that big of a deal to not be allowed in. But Carrie of S-K thought it so hilarious that she actually told the story in her autobiography AND as part of an animated short film.

- After not getting into the party, we made way back to S-K's hotel, where Janet let me, Jack, and Meg crash in with her in her room. We watched "My Bodyguard" on tv. On tour with Pavement the year before they had given us their "day rooms" and I thought THAT was pretty generous, but Janet foregoing her once-every-three-nights solo room and even sharing a bed with Meg so that we could rest in relative comfort was such a selfless gesture that I am still amazed by it today. Tried to pass that same generosity on any time the Dirtbombs were lucky enough to be in hotels and an opening band on tour. If ever a rock and roll road tradition to further promulgate, my vote goes to this one.

- Next night was at Little Brother's in Columbus, another really good show. Sleater-Kinney did an unreleased song that night that they were just calling "Wipers" which, to me, sounded like "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult. Don't think that song ever turned into anything. Maybe a year or two later I remember seeing some tape trading page where someone claimed to have a recording of the Stripes. All I can remember is that their online handle was something along the lines of "Veganxterrorist" I've never been able to confirm they actually recorded the show, I have never found a copy of even been aware of anyone else who has ever heard it. These are the kinds of odd brain wrinkles that still keep me up at night and I'm afraid that I will die without ever getting a definitive answer on. Such is life.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Every Thought I Have Ever Had About the Melvins' "Lysol" Album


Writing late at night feels like the first time in forever, but with the Discogs livestream DJ set tomorrow, I need to be fully focused on that task at hand so knocking this one out with a doozy.

For nearly twenty-five years, the Melvins have consistently been one of the bands I have most enjoyed. Amongst a catalog that is just too vast to completely comprehend (let alone listen to or own) Lysol is without a doubt the record of theirs I have listened to more than any of their records.

The music, for starters, is sublimely perfect. Every note, every extended bout of feedback, every snare hit...there is nothing in the entire running time that is superfluous. Each action is essential in serving the larger statement.

Weirdly, when I first bought this record (roundabout July 1996 based on the Car City Records pricing sticker) I always listened to the sides in reverse order. So forever in my mind, the album starts with “Sacrifice.”

Seldom does a cover song surpass its original version. Never does it elevate to the level that the Melvins ascend to with their complete recontextualization of Flipper’s work.  Now don’t get me wrong, Flipper’s version of “Sacrifice” is really, really solid. One of their finer moments. But the Melvins….shiiiiiiiiiiiiit. At various moments of my life this song has fully encapsulated my reason for existing. It is, to this day, my go-to record whenever I’m setting up any new or reconfigured stereo equipment. I just know every last quiver the needle is supposed to make as it glides over this slab of wax, encoded into the dust that vibrates into strings that helix into the building blocks of my form. I may overuse this term (and for that I apologize) but I will absolutely fight to the death when I wholeheartedly exclaim that the Melvins’ version of “Sacrifice” is PERFECT.

The rounded bass tone, the dissonant squeal of the guitar feedback curdling into the song at the 36-second mark, the snare (triggered to a single snare hit sampled from Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker”) coupled with cannon-strength bass drum, room for those two stutter syncopated with all kinds of personal inflection and style, the whole thing really just being six notes repeated over and over and over for over six minutes, literally getting better and better the louder you play it, the lyrics blatantly anti-war and military industrial complex...I could live inside this song for days.

Follow that with a brief segue into “Second Coming” straight into cover of “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” (both originally by Alice Cooper) and the dusty, Western vibes feel almost anathema as to what I would’ve expected from the Melvins at 14 years old.  But man, it somehow flips the script and just works, bordering on Dust Bowl murder ballad vibes. I am only learning right now, at 1:36am, that Dwight Frye was an actor born at the turn of the century best known for playing maniacal characters in Universal horror films like Dracula and Frankenstein. Still, twenty years later, I am having trouble removing everything here from the Melvins, in my mind it all comes exclusively as their creation. 

Good moment for an aside...most copies of this record come with NO information other than the band name and band member first names. When I first sat with a copy freshman year of high school, I had NO way of determining anything about this music, what side to play first, who wrote the songs, just nothing. It was mysterious and alluring and gave me just enough entree to not be that concerned about the lack of context. Not until buying a CD copy of Lysol in 2008 did I realize that the album DIDN’T begin with “Sacrifice”, let alone that there was a song on it called “Roman Dog Bird.” Furthermore, the songs are mastered in a way that they all run right into each other, no telling where one ends or begins, so much so that on the CD it is just one 31-minute-long “megacomposition.” That shit is confusing! But oh so worth it.

The album ends on “With Teeth”, a song centered around a chord progression that I have trouble describing in any way other than optimistic, triumphant or positive. As a vibe that is NOT common from the band by any means, it showcases here well, with little effort it could be some weird half-tone or down-tuned demonic, but if anything, this album is full of odd pseudo contradictions.

Occasional Melvins drummer Coady Willis once said to me “I just can’t believe I get to play ‘With Teeth’ every night. That song is so important to me, meant so much to me when I was younger” and just little things like that, the insight into someone else’s perspective, gave me a wholly new perspective on a song like this. 

Circle round to the start of the album, “Hung Bunny” is an anti-song for nearly seven minutes, all wrung out power chords left to dissipate into the ether, drum accents barely punctuating anything, buried vocals that sound like disassembled chanting, avoiding annunciating any words, rather just honed in on differentiating vowel sounds. And THEN, around the 7:50 mark it kicks into an insistent, drum-propelled middle portion limbo, before settling on quintessential instrumental doom-inspiring Melvins 101. 

Quickly, without warning, it crash lands into “Roman Dog Bird” And not until now, 2am, twenty four years of listening to the album, do I know that the first damn lyric on the album is “Lysol to get me high”

I didn’t think I could love this album any more. But somehow, with revelations like this, I do.

Another good moment for an aside: the title Lysol caused this album to get tied up in all kinds of legal trouble. The term “Lysol” itself is trademarked, and the then-owners (Sterling Drug) actually sent an undercover operative to the Boner Records (greatest label name ever) warehouse, posing as a journalist. Right before the release, records ready to roll out the door,  Sterling drops the hammer, thousands of copies of the LP and CD need to have the offending words covered with black tape, crossed out with black marker, just completely asinine shit. Ben Swank recalls unwisely removing the tape from his copy as a youth. One of my prized Melvins-related possessions is an original copy without any signs of tape or marker, the title there in all it’s infringing glory. When Boner re-issued the album in 2015, they changed the title to Lice-All which is the perfect kind of clever. 

Additionally, I’m just finding out now, at 2:15am, that Lysol was marketed as a feminine hygiene product in the late 1920s and was even utilized to induce abortions for women who could not obtain them legally….giving me a whole new perspective on this album title, which previously I had just thought was a clever, snide response to Nirvana naming their debut album Bleach.

Whether you consider it the end of side 1 or side 2, all is transcendentally immortal. The cover is based on the sculpture Appeal to the Great Spirit, itself already depicted as the logo for the Beach Boys vanity label Brother Records and a Keef Hartley Band album cover...the image signals importance, something greater than us, a resignation of oneself to the higher power, all ideas I sincerely feel are embodied in this recording, while the center labels and printed inner sleeve match in a dizzying red/black/white flower pattern, hypnotic upon closer inspection and the feedback buzzing.

I can honestly say here, without any hyperbole or stretching of the truth, this album is one of the greatest rock and roll records ever made. Top five material. There is no overselling this one. Lysol is absolutely essential to any self-respecting record collection. No excuses. Everything about it is just exemplary. 

I just keep thinking back on what it must’ve felt like to have to tape and mark all those original copies of the record...how tedious, how demoralizing, what a set-up to give-up. But if anything, this record is only that much better because of the lore behind it. Getting busted does not stop greatness. Even if it’s 2:55am.