Sunday, November 27, 2011

#20YRSAGO: NIRVANA - NEVERMIND (+ boxset review!)

A lot of incredible albums came out in 1991 (hence my series of "#20yrsago" posts), but none had the game changing impact of Nirvana's Nevermind.

I remember hearing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time.  I was driving my car on the Meadowbrook Parkway in Long Island while I was in college.  I ejected whatever cassette I was listening to, and my radio was set to 92.7 FM (it was either WLIR or WDRE).  I heard the guitar first. Why are they playing a band as heavy as Metallica?  Of course, when I heard the singer, he sounded nothing like Metallica or anyone else. Who was this?  I soon found out.

I got Nevermind when it first came out. Obviously it is a classic album.  I loved "Lounge Act," I thought it sounded like The Smithereens (I later read that they were, in fact, an influence). At some point, I found Kurt Cobain a bit too precious and annoying (wearing a "corporate magazines still suck" shirt while doing a corporate magazine cover was cute, but complaining about Pearl Jam bugged me), and I stopped listening to them for a bit. That was dumb of me.  They are one of the greatest bands ever, and Nevermind is an incredible album.  I'm sure Dylan said some things about other artists that I like, it would never make me stop listening to his music.

There's lots of stories about Nirvana's concrete impact (the oft-told stories of hair metal bands hearing Nirvana and realizing that their day was done) and how they didn't care about their new-found status (famously turning down opening slots on tours by U2 and Guns N Roses/Metallica). My story is this:  I was DJing at a great rock and roll bar called Fezziwigs, owned by two great guys, ex-hippies who performed at the bar as an acoustic duo.  Almost all of their repertoire was '60s and '70s songs, but they threw in Dire Straits and Traveling Wilburys songs as well. They didn't always "get" the music I played, but Nirvana was the only band they ever paid me to NOT play. $5 extra per night, just as long as they didn't have to hear "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Sometimes I would have to sacrifice the extra fiver, other nights I played "Lounge Act" instead.

Anyway. I've been listening to the super-deluxe box set lately, and I'm stunned by how great it is.  Why did I buy the super deluxe version, instead of the just the deluxe one?  Well, one reason is that it comes with a live concert recording from the era, and a DVD of the same concert.  You could buy that DVD/CD package separately.  There are tons of B-sides and bonus tracks, many of which come with the deluxe version.  I was kind of attracted to the super-delxue by the idea of the Butch Vig's original mixes.  Butch Vig, of course, produced Nevermind, and went on to be a famous producer, as well as the drummer of the band Garbage. But this was one of his first big major label projects, and I guess the label didn't like his mixes, so they hired Andy Wallace to mix it instead.  So, it's cool to hear Butch's original vision for the album. Also included are "boombox demos": literally, the band performing and recording themselves on a cassette deck on a boombox.  It's interesting to hear them in that raw of a format, but I don't think I'll listen to that too often.  Finally, there are some early demos of the songs that pre-date Dave Grohl joining the band: they feature Chad Channing on drums.

Nevermind is an album that I have a complicated relationship with, but it's certainly one of the greatest and most important albums released in my lifetime, and I'm grateful for it.  It helped to wipe out a lot of crap bands (of course, it inspired a movement of those crap bands pretending to be Nirvana, instead of pretending to be Van Halen). It also sort of brought a system of ethics to bands who come from the underground and end up in the mainstream.  Stone Gossard basically admitted as much in Pearl Jam 20.  The idea of Kurt Cobain giving a public beatdown over something that smells like a sell-out helped to keep the band on their best behavior.  For a time, it felt like most of pop music felt the same way. Maybe a lot of us (including some of Kurt's bandmates, friends and fans) have outgrown that rigid ethic, but you know that people are probably influenced by Kurt's personality as much as they are by his songs.


I finally caught the Ozzy Osbourne documentary, God Bless Ozzy Osbourne. I imagine some people would be skeptical about how deep this doc would go, given that it is "presented" by Jack Osbourne, who is one of the producers (and Sharon Osbourne is the executive producer).

I think they did a good job: this isn't a fluff piece or a marketing tool.  Jack, his siblings and his half siblings have lots of justified issues with their rock star dad, and they all vent quite a bit (even Aimee, who famously declined to have any involvement with The Osbournes show on MTV).  While the film makes no bones about his incredible musical impact, it also doesn't flinch from his tragic flaws, and there are many. It was difficult to watch Sharon discuss some of their more violent moments (and there are pictures of her with the bruises to prove it).  It was heartbreaking to watch Jack and Ozzy (separately) discuss an argument that became a turning point for Ozzy.  Ozzy yelled at Jack, saying he's given him everything he ever asked for, and Jack countered with the point that he wanted a father. There are stories from the other children detailing the forgotten birthdays (in one scene, Ozzy struggles to remember what year his first child was born in), the drug and alcohol abuses and more. The story seems to end well: according to the narrative, Ozzy has been clean and sober for five years at the time of the filming. I really hope that that is true.  I can say that when I saw Ozzy in concert a year ago, he seemed to be in great shape and he sounded better than he had the last time I'd seen him, nearly a decade earlier.  As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I'd love to see him when he tours with Black Sabbath in 2012.

I thought that a more well-rounded story would have included more of Sharon's involvement.  I realize that the story is about Ozzy, but like her or not, he most likely would not have had a solo career without her.  Her love, determination and toughness probably has as much to do with his post-Sabbath success as anything he's done.   Even the part where Ozzy talks about Ozzfest (which Sharon started when Lollapalooza wouldn't book Ozzy) is just a bonus feature. On the other hand, The Osbournes seems to be referred to as something that happened to the family, not something executive produced by Sharon. If the show gave a negative impression of Ozzy, or exploited his illnesses or weaknesses for laughs... well, there's no acknowledgement that maybe they shouldn't have been doing it.

The doc spends a bit of time on the story of Sabbath and on Ozzy's first guitarist, the late Randy Rhoads. Henry Rollins, Metallica's Robert Trujilio (Ozzy's former bassist) and even Sir Paul McCartney weigh in on Sabbath and Ozzy's impact.   Geezer Butler, Bill Ward and Tony Iommi are all interviewed.  I think that a lot of the footage here could be re-used for a full-on Black Sabbath documentary, which could tell their story and show their impact.  Sort of like a combination of The Beatles Anthology and Rush Beyond The Lighted Stage. I realize that there are legal and emotional issues there, but what a great story that would be.

Friday, November 25, 2011


When I heard that Dave Stewart had put together a "supergroup" with Mick Jagger, Damian Marley, Joss Stone and A.R. Rahman, I was intrigued. Of course, it could be a trainwreck, but it could be cool.  Stewart, of course, has worked on some good records, both as a member of The Eurythmics, but also producing other artists like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers ("Don't Come Around Here No More"), Mick Jagger ("Old Habits Die Hard") and Stevie Nicks ("Secret Love").

But Superheavy doesn't really work for me, although it does have it's moments.  I know that the idea was to have all of these cultures coming together, but in many places it comes off as very mainstream rock with tinges of reggae and Indian music. I would have been curious to hear it if A.R. Rahman produced more of the songs.  It sounds like he sort of just added some touches to the songs, but he is an Oscar winning musician who is one of the hugest stars in India.  I would rather have heard an album co-produced by Stewart and Rahman.

Still, if they ever do another album I would check it out, the record shows lots of potential.

#20YRSAGO: U2 - ACHTUNG BABY (+ boxset review!)

The first post in my #20yrsago series -- celebrating some classic albums that came out in (or around) 1991 - was Chris Whitley's debut Living With The Law. Now, I'm going to write about an LP that is a little more well known (but both albums have involvement from Daniel Lanois, so there is a common thread).

I don't know that my mind has ever been as blown as it was when I first turned on U2's Achtung Baby. Yeah, I've been knocked out by many artists the first time I heard them... but by an artist who I had been following for years?  I have never been so surprised by a group's "new direction" as I was when I put Achtung Baby into my CD player.

This was, of course, before the web, and I don't think that I knew too much about what U2's "new direction" would be like.  In the years since, The Edge has often talked about performing encores on U2's last '80s tour with opener B.B. King and then going back to his dressing room and listening to KMFDM. But I didn't know about any of that at the time.

There were hints.  On the 12" of Rattle and Hum's "When Love Comes To Town," their collab with B.B. (a song which marked the peak of their explorations into American roots music), the B-side was a cover of Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" as if to remind us of their post punk roots.

But the next new release by the band was a cover of Cole Porter's "Night and Day," from the Red Hot & Blue collection, the first CD compiled by the Red Hot organization.  I saw the video on MTV.  U2 still looked like their Joshua Tree selves - Bono with no shades, no makeup, long hair, The Edge with long hair and the doo-rag.  But they didn't really sound like U2.  It was darker, funkier, and synth-ier.  It reminded me a bit of Depeche Mode.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Gitmo, meet your new soundtrack!

I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way (other than the fact that I'm against torture).  But Lou Reed's unlikely double album collaboration with Metallica, Lulu, is one of the most abrasive albums I've ever heard, and one of the most difficult to sit through. I really admire the totally uncompromising spirit of the album: it is about as uncommercial as anything I've heard from a major artist in recent memory.

There's something admirable about a band like Metallica doing something so totally challenging to themselves and their audience (and Metallica must know that fans wouldn't like the idea of them collaborating with Lou Reed, and they'd like it less after hearing it).

That said, I don't really think I'll listen to this album too much. If I could go five years back in time and play Lulu for someone, they'd probably think that it was a Saturday Night Live skit making fun of what would happen if Lou Reed and Metallica did an album together.

In the years since Lou's classic 1989 LP New York, he's adopted a sort of atonal talking style of doing his vocals, and that's what he does here.  I'm a huge fan of his music, and I even like some of his post-New York stuff.  I liked his collaboration with his Velvet Underground bandmate, John Cale, Songs for 'Drella. Magic & Loss is an incredible album, but only if you're in a certain mood. But New York is the last Lou album that I just reach for because I want to listen to it again. Of course, he has a lot of great albums, and all the Velvet Underground LPs are incredible.  A lot of Lou's influences are avant-garde, outsider music.  But he's also influenced by doo-wop and Dion.  I'd love to see him to something you can sort of sing along to, and I thought this album might be that chance. But I again, I respect that he doesn't care what I, or anyone else, wanted with this album.

Metallica definitely do a solid job, but there's only so much they can do with this material.  I like the opener, "Brandenburg Gate," and also "Iced Honey," but that's kind of it.  I wouldn't mind seeing them do those songs in concert, with or without Lou.

I find myself wondering why Metallica agreed to this.  They definitely worked surprisingly well with Lou at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25 anniversary concert in New York a few years back, they did a great version of "Sweet Jane." They must have been surprised to have been asked by Lou to do a record, and I'm sure it appealed to Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett (although James Hetfield is a fan of dark outsider music by the likes of Nick Cave and Tom Waits so it makes sense that Lou's music would appeal to him as well).  Still, Lulu makes St. Anger sound like "The Black Album," and they have to have realized that this would probably be the lowest selling album in their catalog.  But I guess they wanted to do something different and challenge themselves, and that's admirable.

I imagine that their next album will be much tighter, shorter and accessible.  In fact, I've heard that they will play "The Black Album" in its entirety at a European festival this summer. Well, if this album sends them in a more song-oriented direction, I'll be grateful for Lulu.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Allow me to add some personal context to this post. I had a bad day, to quote the R.E.M. song.  I heard that a dear friend of mine passed away after a long battle with cancer.  I was leaving the office early anyway, to go to yet another follow up appointment with a doctor (some readers know that I barely posted in September due to a hospital stay - I'm better now).

The CD playing in my car was Neil Young & Crazy Horse's classic Ragged Glory. It blew my mind when it came out in 1990, I love it to this day, but it wasn't hitting the spot. And my late friend hated to curse, so I wasn't in the mood for "Fuckin' Up." This is rare for me, but I just shut off the stereo and listened to the sounds of my car. Most of what I had on me - Fugazi, Bad Brains, Soundgarden, the I'm Not There soundtrack, Raekwon - wasn't appealing to me at that moment.

I started humming something, and I realized it was one of the new R.E.M. songs.  One of their final ones, "We All Go Back To Where We Belong." I couldn't really remember the words, other than the chorus.  I wanted R.E.M.   So, I stopped at a big box retailer and picked up the new R.E.M. best of, Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: 1982-2011,  because I needed that music NOW.  It was a pretty old school moment. Go to the (record) store to pick up the music you need to hear at that moment.

Most fans would prefer disc 1, as the collection is in chronological order and disc 1 features their earliest material from their I.R.S. Records era.  But I needed disc 2, the Automatic For The People/ New Adventures In Hi-Fi stuff. However, I started right with track 18, "We All Go Back To Where We Belong."  The horns that sound like they were arranged by Bacharach. Michael Stipe's lyrics, unusually clear.  The song sounds like it is about the end of a relationship with a lover, but you can't help but to feel that it's about the band. Looked at from a wider point of view, it's about something that's ending.  Sometimes you can fight it. Sometimes you just have to accept it. It doesn't exactly fit the situation, but it comes close enough.

The other two new songs are pretty good, and of course the rest of the two CD is filled with classics (mostly). But I'm glad they were able to add one last classic to their long list of them. I'm grateful that they gave me the experience of hearing the right song at the right time and making me feel just a little bit better.


Tomorrow on SiriusXM OutQ's The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick I'm bringing in some of my favorite albums of 2011, but the theme is that all of these records feature lead vocals by women.

Gillian Welch's The Harrow and The Harvest is definitely one of my favorites of the year. I'm not the only one who feels that way: Mojo magazine gave it a five out of five star rating. Whenever I listen to it, I find it odd that it's just her name on the cover: it seems that her and her partner David Rawlings are equally vital to the music.

Florence + The Machine's Ceremonials is an "epic" album.  That word gets overused these days, but everything -- the songs, the performances, the arrangements -- it's a work of art.

Imelda May's Mayhem came out in Europe last year, but in the U.S. this year. She is really talented: a great singer, very charismatic, great sense of style, and she writes great songs.   You may have heard her singing on Jeff Beck's recent albums Emotion & Commotion and Rock & Roll Party. In fact, if *I* wanted to have a rock and roll party, I'd never be able to afford Jeff Beck, but one day if I'm pretty successful, I might call on Imelda May and her great band to rock my party!

Other records I hope we'll get to: Shelby Lynne's Revelation Road, Allison Moorer's Crows (which actually came out last year), Joss Stone's LP4 and The Tedeschi Trucks Band's Revelator. (That band features married couple Derek Trucks of The Allman Brothers Band and singer-songwriter Susan Tedeschi.) And maybe I'll give another shout out to The Make Out, who have one of my favorite songs of 2011, "I Don't Want Anyone Who Wants Me."


Imelda May is a singer who deserves your attention. I first became aware of her via her collaborations with Jeff Beck. They performed together at the 2010 Grammy Awards.  I thought that people may have thought that she wasn't singing live - I believe she was singing over a track of her own voice.  That wasn't because she can't sing "live": they were paying tribute to Les Paul and Mary Ford.  Les pioneered multi-track recording, and would double track Mary's singing on their records. Imelda's performance was a reference to that, which may have gone over people's heads.

Anyway, Imelda is a really good singer, totally influenced by early rockabilly and blues. With that combo and her cool voice and presence, you almost can't go wrong.

I think she's popular in her native Ireland.  Interesting that Ireland has such a great appreciation for these incredible American styles of music (remember The Commitments?). I think Americans may find her a bit too similar to Gwen Stefani, which would be a shame. There definitely are things the ladies have in common, but where I think Gwen sees everything through a '80s new wave lens (no disrespect) Imelda probably goes straight to the source (that said, she does a killer rockabilly cover of "Tainted Love").

Her album is kind of stylized, in the way a White Stripes or Mighty Mighty Bosstones or Stray Cats album is. The instrumentation kind of defines the music (her excellent backing band consists of guitar, upright bass, drums and trumpet).  But like the aforementioned groups, it's not a novelty: the album is good because the songs and the performances are. I don't know that there's a smash single there - and I think a band like this needs one to "break" in America - but I think if enough people are exposed to this record, they'll dig it.   There are a lot of different tones, she's good at rockers ("Mayhem"), mid-tempo tunes ("Bury My Troubles") and ballads ("Kentish Town Waltz").

If I was a music exec at HBO (I think I'd be a good choice for a gig like that!) I'd be figuring out ways to get Imelda and her kick-ass band performing on Boardwalk Empire, True Blood, hell, even Bill Maher's show. Maybe every other show too (other than Game of Thrones).  But don't wait for anyone else to push her music on you: pick up a song or two on iTunes, I think you'll thank me for it!


Other than Adele's 21 and Kanye West + Jay-Z's Watch The Throne, I can't think of any album that's been as eagerly anticipated by the 25 and over audience as Florence + The Machine's Ceremonials.  And I can't imagine that anyone is disappointed by it.  My only "problem" with the album is that when I listen to it on my iPod (yes, I listen to full albums on my iPod, it's not all about the mixes) is that when I get to "What The Water Gave Me" I keep hitting repeat.  I'm not a musician, but I feel jealous of the guy playing bass on the track (Mark Saunders, he's not a member of the band).  Actually it sounds like it would be a blast to be doing anything on this song.  Tom Monger, the Machine's harp player is always probably having a great time. The song is like a perfect combination of PJ Harvey's mystique and U2's swinging for the fences. That may not be the most creative way of putting it - I know they have been compared to both artists.

But Florence sings like a feral force of nature.  If Storm from The X-Men was a British singer, I imagine she'd sound something like Florence Welch. I have actually been around Ms. Welch twice (I was one of the camera people on this video, shot just days after their incredible performance on the MTV VMAs) and it is hard to imagine her wanting to headline arenas.  On the other hand, she has a great sense of high drama that plays so well to the bleachers. And, like Adele, she may not have a choice: Florence + The Machine may get so popular off of this album, they may have to start hitting the bigger venues.

I can't think of many singers since Annie Lennox who have been able to mix "art rock" (for lack of a better term) with soul music.  Florence was great when she sang as a part of a tribute to Aretha Franklin at the Grammys last year, and on songs like "Lover, Lover" and "No Light, No Light" show that she is as soulful as anyone.

Other than U2 and PJ Harvey, the other artist who the band (and it *is* a band) reminds me of is Arcade Fire. I don't know of that many bands that swing for the fences and raise the roof, with such interesting and not-typical rock arrangements as these two bands.  I happen to think Florence + The Machine write catchier songs though.

I don't spend too much time on No Expiration writing about and recommending really new artists.  Consider this an occasional exception to that.  This is worth your time.  Check Ceremonials out.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Dear Bono:

First off, let me get this out of the way.  I'm not a hater or a U2 detractor.  In fact, I have every U2 album. I went to see you guys on the Unforgettable Fire tour in April of 1985 and it blew my mind.  I've seen every tour since. I've stuck with you and also the band through everything. Lemons on the Popmart tour.  The Million Dollar Hotel. Spider-Man. Your well intended collaboration with Jay-Z and Rihanna. Everything.  Your music has always meant so much to me.

I've always respected the fact that you and the band have try to use your position to make the world a better place. Your reach may exceed your grasp, but still you try, and I love that. I don't mind that you have no problems with enjoying the spoils of your success, either. And I don't think that it makes you a hypocrite when you talk about working to eliminate extreme poverty. I've always been interested to hear what you have to say. I've always read interviews with you, and have been honored to interview U2 twice.

But some of the stuff you've been saying lately is ridiculous and insulting, and I'm calling you on it right now.

Apparently you told The Sun that "We've been on the verge of irrelevance for the last 20 years, dodged, ducked, dived, made some great work, I hope, along the way – and the occasional faux pas."  I'll argue the point that a lot of the music you've made in the past 20 years holds up to your first ten.  "Dirty Day," "Numb," "The Wanderer," "If God Will Send His Angels," "Gone," "Please," "Wake Up Dead Man," "Your Blue Room," "Staring at The Sun," "Beautiful Day," "In A Little While," "Stuck In A Moment," "Walk On," "Electrical Storm," "Vertigo," "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," "All Because Of You."  You created a second classic version of "One" with Mary J. Blige and brought "The Saints Are Coming" to a huge audience via your powerful collaboration with Green Day. U2's past 20 years have been more relevant than most bands at their peak.

This quote stings: "Whether we can play music for small speakers of the radio or clubs or where people are living right now, remains to be seen, we have to go to that place again if we are to survive." Yeah, I know you want to be played on the radio. What terrestrial radio channels play new music from a band that's been around for more than 20 years? Terrestrial radio is completely ageist. And of the bands they support, how many are actually good? Bono, what do you mean by "clubs and places where people are living right now?"  Are people who don't go to clubs anymore not "living"? Are they worth writing songs for? Your fans who went to see you on the Unforgettable Fire tour, the Joshua Tree tour, the Achtung Baby tour... and even the Popmart tour.  They're not "living right now?" They're working, and raising families and trying to make their way in the world. Are they really less important than people who pay tons of money to hear David Guetta or Deadmau5 spin records? (I'm not done - click below to see the whole letter.)


Like everyone else who loves hip-hop, I was sad to hear that Heavy D passed away earlier this week. By now, lots of tributes been written (and Tweeted) about the man. Here's my take.

Like LL Cool J, Heavy was one of the first hip-hop acts to be able to adapt with the times.  When tastes and styles changed, he rolled with it. Actually, I would argue that once the New Jack Swing thing started happening, that's when Heavy really came into his own. When R&B and hip-hop blended, and it was cool to rap about love and talk about the ladies, that's where "The Overweight Lover" really found his sweet spot  (this is my take, a hip-hop historian may disagree).

I'm sure his biggest hit was "Now That We Found Love." So take a look at that song: more than a sample, it was a hip-hop update of a soul classic by The O'Jays. Reggae group Third World also had a hit cover of the song, and Heavy brought a little of that flavor as well: his super fast style was definitely influenced by Jamaican music, and I'm sure he would agree.  So: a reggae-influenced hip-hop/R&B track... and he combines that with house music.  Not many artists could combine house with hip-hop... it a ballsy move, and he was man enough to try it. This combination could have been gimmicky in the hands of a lesser artist, but Heavy D & The Boyz (and producer Teddy Riley) came up with a huge pop hit.  Twenty years later, that song can pack a dance floor in ten seconds or less. It's a timeless classic, period. And P.S. it probably introduced a few kids to The O'Jays and Third World. Heavy always had a good sense of music history.

I don't want to make it seem like he's just about one big hit, though.  And it's important to point out that although he did a lot of records about love, it didn't make him "soft."  As if to remind people of that, around the time of 1991's Peaceful Journey (the album that featured "Now That We Found Love") he put out the single "You Can't See What I Can See," which sampled Flavor Flav at a time when Public Enemy was the most feared band in the land. It's an underrated classic: if you thought he was soft, that record smacked the taste out of your mouth.

Peaceful Journey also included the mind-blowing MC showcase "Don't Curse."  Produced by Pete Rock,  (and featuring one of the funkiest samples ever: Booker T & The MGs' "Hip-Hug Her")  it featured Heavy D along with Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Grand Puba, C.L. Smooth and a very young Q-Tip. Heavy led some of the best MCs of that era in a curse-free classic that never got preachy or corny.

Lots of hip-hop heads cite The Notorious B.I.G. as one of the greatest MCs of all time.  Heavy paved the way for him.  Yes, as a large man in hip-hop, but beyond that, Biggie was definitely influenced by his style ("It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! magazine/Salt N Pepa and Heavy D all up in the limousine!" was the first line from one of his early hits, "Juicy").  And beyond that, Heavy is the guy who put Sean Combs on the hip-hop map. The mogul himself recently tweeted: "Heavy D is the person who gave me my 1st chance in the music industry. He got me my internship at Uptown. He Believed when no one else did." Say what you want about Diddy, but he's the guy who gave Biggie his first chance, so think about the implications of that...

It takes a guy confident in his masculinity to be able to do things that aren't macho, especially in a genre like hip-hop (and I'd say the same about metal and punk rock).  Rapping about love, using R&B singers and incorporating house music were definitely not par for the course back in '91.  Heavy D broke down boundaries in music and left a great catalog of songs (besides the ones that I mentioned, "Nuttin' But Love," "Mr. Big Stuff," "Is It Good To You," and by the way, he must be one of the only MCs to work with both Michael ("Jam") and Janet Jackson ("Alright [remix]"). He's gone too soon, but he'll not be forgotten. Rest in peace Heavy D.

Friday, November 11, 2011


As everyone knows by now, Black Sabbath announced that they're putting out their first new studio album with the original lineup - Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward - since 1978's Never Say Die!  The album is going to be produced by Rick Rubin, who has been trying to get the band back together forever, and of course they are going to tour also.

Over the summer, I wrote about my thoughts on the rumors of a Sabbath reunion that were circulating at the time. I recalled something Geezer said in an interview I did with him for the liner notes of The Black Box.  He wasn't sure at that time if they'd ever work together again.  But he was happy that they reunited, that they'd done some incredible reunion shows, and most of all that they were friends again. He hoped that they'd work together again, but if they didn't, he was happy with the way things were ending. However, they did do a few more tours after that.   Then when Tony and Geezer reunited with the second version of Sabbath - with Ronnie James Dio and Vinnie Appice - and called themselves Heaven & Hell, Ozzy went back to his solo career. But I was with Geezer: I was happy that Sabbath had reunited with their original lineup, done some great shows, and it seemed like the world acknowledged their influence.  They were all together at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (even though they didn't perform) and I thought that that was a great way to end the story.

The last time I saw Sabbath was on the Ozzfest in 2001, and it wasn't that great.  Tony, Geezer and Bill were awesome, but Ozzy's voice was dying before the first song was over. It bummed me out, and I didn't  go to see Sabbath or Ozzy after that for a long time.  But last year, I got tickets to an Ozzy concert (on his 62nd birthday!) and he was great, and his voice sounded powerful.  I have to say, I'm excited at the prospect of (maybe) seeing the band one more time.  I have to have faith here: if the band are rehearsing and they feel that they're good enough to live up to their legacy, I'm willing to check them out.  Also, I've been hearing that they may headline a tour that would include Judas Priest and Motorhead as well. Rob Halford always sounds great, and Lemmy is like the Willie Nelson of metal, Motorhead is always on the road, and never let anyone down.   I thought the early Ozzfests were cool, where they paired Ozzy or Sabbath with much younger bands - but right now, I think Sabbath/Priest/Motorhead is the right tour for all involved.

As for the record: I know Rick Rubin has tried to reunite Sabbath in the studio in the past, and I think he's also attempted to produce an Ozzy record as well, and it hasn't worked out.  Well, here's hoping it works out well this time.  I don't expect the band to make a classic on the level of Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master Of Reality, Vol. 4, Sabotage or Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.  But hopefully they'll come up with some stuff as cool as Technical Ecstasy or (especially) Never Say Die.

Friday, November 4, 2011


I feel really fortunate to have had the chance to interview Joe Strummer. In the spring of 2002, I had been working at VH1 for just a few months. I was hired as a “music expert” kind of guy. Which was odd, as it was a period where the channel was really moving away from music. My boss at the time saw which way the wind was blowing, so to speak, and while he appreciated my passion for music, he was more worried about ratings, and rightfully so. Yet he did hire me – and happily for me, while working there I learned a ton about video production.

I remember seeing the listing in The Village Voice for Strummer's multi-night stand at Brooklyn’s Arts At St. Ann’s, and thinking "Man, it would be cool to cover that." And then thinking, "Not happening." Joe Strummer – iconic leader of punk rock legends The Clash, defunct since the ‘80s?  Exactly the type of thing I’d often pitched, only to be turned down. I really liked his 1999 comeback album, Rock Art & The X-Ray Style, and his then-current album, Global A-Go-Go, but I knew that a mainstream organization couldn’t or wouldn't really support it too much (this issue is central to a documentary about Strummer’s last tour, Let’s Rock Again).

Anyway, I was shocked and grateful when the boss asked me to cover one of the shows. I remember before the interview, shooting b-roll of the huge lights that were shining where the Twin Towers used to be. It was a weird time.  Standing in the haunting glow of that shrine to an event which changed the world – there was definitely an electricity in the air.

By this time, I had done lots of interviews, but Joe Strummer was one of the few artists who I both (a) really wanted to speak with and (b) had to admit I felt a bit intimidated by. You just always got the sense that he didn't suffer fools lightly. But my attitude as an interviewer was, if anyone can do this, I can. Anyway, Joe was really, really cool. Kind of humble in a way. Super passionate about music. He loved his backing band, The Mescaleros. He felt they deserved more credit.  Off camera, he told me he wished he could pay the band more, because they were so great. I was surprised that he offered that info (and I hope that he's not mad that I'm writing about it).  I told him that they were all in his band because they wanted to be there, and because it was an honor to play with him. I remember feeling nervous about saying that.  Now, I’m really glad that I did.  I said that he kept the music alive by putting out music that still mattered, and that I would want to see him play "Tony Adams," "Yalla Yalla" and "Johnny Appleseed" at every concert, not just The Clash songs.  He thanked me for that. He felt people generally weren't as passionate about music as they used to be: he asked why people weren't rioting over artists like Kylie Minogue, he just felt that most "pop" music was so awful. 

During the interview I asked him about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - word was The Clash were going to be on the ballot that year, and of course they were going to get voted in. He kind of scoffed at the idea of performing with them, or even showing up. He didn't want to wear a suit, he felt it was a betrayal of everything he and the band stood for to show up at the Waldorf, of all places, in a tux, and play to rich music industry people. I told him that not everyone wears tuxes, and that no one would tell him what to wear (not that I was in any position to tell him what the Rock Hall does and doesn't do - but I'd been to a few induction ceremonies, and not everyone wears suits or tuxes). I also pointed out that Talking Heads reunited for a few songs at their induction, and it sort of served as a nice "last page" in the band's story. At least it would be on TV (on VH1 in fact!) and all of the fans would have access to see it, if not access to attend the performance. Then, he started being like, "Hmmmmm..." But then he got a bit annoyed on the topic of the band: he pointed out that he'd been working with The Mescaleros for the past couple of years, and the other guys weren't even making music (not totally true: Mick Jones produced The Libertines, but hadn't recorded any of his own music). But none of those guys had called him and asked him to make music with them, which seemed to annoy him.

I remember my camera guy was also a huge Clash fan. We walked out of there dazed and amazed. I felt like Joe Strummer was radiating electricity, and I had absorbed at least a tiny bit of it. I had goose bumps. So, we start shooting the show, which was great. I really did (and do) feel that some of Joe's songs, like "Tony Adams" and "Johnny Appleseed," stood proudly alongside The Clash classics - it's a shame that more people weren't familiar with his solo material, he worked so hard on it, and was rightfully proud of it. But what radio stations would play Joe Strummer's solo material in 2001?  (Again, check out the Let's Rock Again documentary.)

The most shocking moment of the night was seeing this guy in the audience. I thought to myself, "Is that Mick Jones?" I mean, in the audience. Not in some roped off V.I.P. area, he was just there. It was him. Not a lot of people seemed to notice. I figured, I should probably try to get a quote out of him. But I made what I felt was a more moral choice. I didn't think the guy wanted a camera in his face, it would certainly blow his cover. I decided against it.  Had my boss at the time found out about this, I could have gotten in trouble, but I went with my gut.  

After the show, people did start to notice that it was him and crowded around him. He made a beeline for the backstage door. I felt like, "That's nice, maybe he'll hang out with Joe." Potentially, I could have ruined that. It turned out that they hung out for a little while. A few months later, Mick joined Joe and the band at a fundraiser concert in England. It was one of Joe Strummer's last performances.

A few weeks after that gig, Joe Strummer passed away unexpectedly. By then, he had heard the news that The Clash would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the induction ceremony was still a few weeks away. I'd heard that Joe and Mick wanted to perform, but Paul Simonon didn't want to. The week of the ceremony, I got to interview Mick and Paul. I told Mick my story. He looked at me and nodded slightly. Not being a sentimental seeming guy, I think he appreciated what I'd done (or didn't do).  I’m not putting too much weight on my actions, but I’m just glad I didn’t ruin anything. 

I’ve mentioned the Let’s Rock Again doc twice here, but I also have to recommend another Strummer documentary, The Future Is Unwritten, which is about his whole life (where Rock is really about his final tour). It really is inspiring. Yes, he may be gone, but without being too abstract, I think his spirit is still with us, and you can see it in every “occupy” rally, and really whenever people stick up for those who are less fortunate. Tom Morello said it best in his speech about The Clash at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction: “In fact, the Clash aren’t really gone at all. Because whenever a band cares more about its fans than its bank account, the spirit of the Clash is there. Whenever a band plays as if every single person’s soul in the room is at stake, the spirit of the Clash is there. Whenever a stadium band, or a garage band, has the guts to put their beliefs on the line to make a difference, the spirit of the Clash is there. And whenever people take to the streets to stop an unjust war, the spirit of the Clash is definitely there.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Tomorrow night, I make my return to The Busted Halo show on SiriusXM's Catholic Channel. It's been a while since I've been on the program. I'm definitely looking forward to it, it's always fun to talk about music with Father Dave.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the amazing music of Joe Strummer. I think about him a lot lately: I think he would have loved the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and the other ones that it has inspired across the globe.  But whatever your politics are, most people can get inspiration from the way that Joe always stuck up for the underdog.  Whether or not I agree with the tea party, they feel that they're the underdogs!

I'm sure a lot of young (and not-so-young) people can relate to a song like "Career Opportunities." Ditto for "Clampdown."  But while I was doing my research for the program, I listened to "Rock The Casbah," I hadn't really thought about that song (or video) for a long time.  But when I watched the video on YouTube, I kind of forgot how it impacted me as a kid.  First of all, it may have been the first time I saw a  punk rock band.  I was a big metal fan, and I thought of punk rock as sort of cartoony, I guess.  I don't know that this video changed my mind, actually.  But what did make an impact on me was the storyline: first, that it was about an orthodox jew and an arab looking guy hanging out and getting along.  And second, because the thing that they bonded over was music.  I haven't thought about this in a while, but I know that that made an impact on me.

Having just finalized the list of songs that I'm bringing to the show, I just realized that there was nothing from Joe's solo albums, and I feel bad about that.  I know he took a lot of pride in the albums he made with his backing band, The Mescaleros, and rightfully so. So I'll take this opportunity to recommend Rock, Art and The X-Ray Style, Global A-Go-Go and Streetcore.  Let me also recommend The Clash documentary Westway To The World, and the Strummer docs The Future Is Unwritten and Let's Rock Again.

I'll also take this opportunity to remind people about the incredible speeches that The Edge and Tom Morello made about Joe and The Clash when The Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago.  Watch The Edge's speech here, and read the transcript of Morello's here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I'm sorry that I missed being on The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick last week, I had a family emergency.  I'm back this week, and I'll be talking about some new power pop records.

First off is Matthew Sweet's new album Modern Art. Matthew's Girlfriend, Altered Beast and 100% Fun are among my favorite albums, but I haven't enjoyed many of his albums since then.  I think he has to work with other artists: I enjoyed his album as a member of The Thorns and his collaborative albums with Susanna Hoffs.  Modern Art is fine, but none of it really sticks with me.

Speaking of Ms. Hoffs, Matthew Sweet worked on the new Bangles album, Sweetheart Of The Sun. I've listened to it a bit, I think it's a solid album.  It's not as good as Different Light or Everything, but it's good.  I do think that The Bangles could still put out a classic. I wish that former bassist Michael Steele would rejoin the band: even though she wasn't a founding member, they feel off-balence to me without her.  I know they would love her to return.  I don't think she quit the band so much as she quit the country during the reign of bu$h 2.  Come back Michael!

Adam Schlesinger has been busy lately: his main band, Fountains of Wayne returned with Sky Full Of Holes, their first album in four years, and the follow-up to their very underrated Traffic and Weather. "Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart" is a great single, but I don't know if it's as good as songs like "Stacy's Mom" or "Radiation Vibe." Adam's other band, Ivy, has just released it's first album in six years, All Hours.  They are more of an electronic band, not so much "power pop," but because Adam is in the band, it has a very classic pop sensibility.  One thing that took some of Adam's time in the past few years is his other band, Tinted Windows. That group, which features Taylor Hanson of Hanson on vocals, James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle on guitar, and Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick on drums, sounds just like... Cheap Trick.  They're great. Their 2009 self-titled debut is super underrated.

We'll also talk about the former members of Oasis: Noel and Liam Gallagher both have their own projects.


The Jayhawks are a band that I've always admired more than loved. I was in college when they released their breakthrough album, 1992's Hollywood Town Hall. I heard the single "Waiting For The Sun" all the time, and although they weren't where my head was at at the time, I knew they were a good group. 1995's Tomorrow The Green Grass was an album you had to be aware of if you were a music fan. These two albums, in my mind, had a lot to do with popularizing the "Americana" movement that I enjoy so much.  But after Green Grass, singer/songwriter Mark Olson quit the band.  Singer/songwriter Gary Louris kept the band going, but it was a different group without the co-leaders. There were certainly great songs after Olson left ("Stumbling Through The Dark" was great, "Save It For A Rainy Day" is one of the group's greatest moments and one of the best songs, maybe, ever). But the chemistry had changed.

So a couple of years ago when Olson and Louris got together as a duo, there were high hopes. Soon, they reactivated The Jayhawks and Mockingbird Time is the band's first album with both guys back in the fold.   The album is good, but not great, and doesn't have anything as classic as the material on their early '90s records.   On the other hand, the album gives the group new material to play in concert, which definitely holds up alongside the earlier stuff: the first single, "She Walks In So Many Ways" is one of the best songs of the year, and "Hide Your Colors," "Tiny Arrows" and "High Water Blues" are all great songs.  Some of the songs (like the title track) just drag. But if this is more than a "reunion" album, and is actually a "reactivation" album, I think it's promising.  The Jayhawks are the kind of band who could do their best album next year, they still have a knack for great hooks and beautiful harmonies.