Friday, September 23, 2016

Old Ears

As a forty-year-old artist, it is noticeable to me that the years bring with them a sense that one’s tastes have to keep changing. Rock music is certainly not the most advanced music in the world; is, basically, a kind of folk music; yet what’s good, or even best, about rock music (when it’s good) is a sense of solidity and depth, which can take a good long time to hear. Inversions abound: musicians might be surprised to know that to forty-year-old ears, George’s songs are the best, most musically solid, of the Beatles’ tunes; that many of McCartney’s 70s Wings singles (Goodnight Tonight, Listen To What The Man Said) are more solid then any of his Beatles material; and that of the Beatles oeuvre, the Lennon songs are the big floozies; in fact, the whole Beatles set-up, mythology and all, including hierarchical rankings, is a sham as one gets older. Viva George! As for more hometown pride/flag-waving; it is hilarious to me that Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton get to be ranked as acclaimed virtuosos on the surface, but Daryl Hall, for his vocal prowess, does not; Hall is another solid figure in pop music whose best songs get better as you hear them over the years. Then, the tug of war begins; do you have the guts to bring your own opinions to the surface, against the counterweight of who wants you to say what?

They did, on the other hand, play Hall and Oates with some frequency at the Last Drop in the Aughts. They also played the Velvet Underground, who I used to care for very much and don’t anymore; mature ears can’t not hear a paucity of musical intelligence in Lou Reed’s tunes, however interesting the lyrics might be. Big Star is even weirder; they shouldn’t still work, for a number of non-solidity musical reasons; yet, the je ne sais quoi factor is huge. The Big Star parts shouldn’t add up to something I can still listen to, but they do. Conversely, there’s so much about The Who that I want to get into again; like Roger Daltrey really putting some guts into his vocals; but the je ne sais quoi factor works the other way around with them. Then, you learn, the branch of rock subsists like Yes and much of Led Zeppelin, that’s actually classical music in disguise, and righteous as such; maybe Floyd, too; but then you wonder if Floyd were ripping off Sun Ra. And if you find yourself still able to deal with the Stones, it might be because, very much against the grain of most rock music, they were allowed to make a number of albums musically solid all the way through.

The Cars have to get better over the years, because their sense of what the electric guitar can do in rock recordings is more subtly advanced then it appears to be. Nick Drake is clearly a musical genius but lacks visceral impact; Bruce, Neil, and Van are still around in little bits; Bob and Joni never. Dylan starts, if most of us are being honest, from a middling ground, which he loses as one’s ears grow older. As far as the 90s are concerned, for me Smashing Pumpkins resolutely wins now as they won then. Whoever made the two or three major records had to be a formally trained musician. Bars were counted, folks. Poor Kurt is sounding pretty bedraggled these days, and Jeff Buckley is Daryl Hall’s worst nightmare, and a bad joke. The Aughts and Teens I don’t feel comfortable even addressing yet; we’re still too close to them. I will say that, with the Internet being what it is, there is no chance in hell that there isn’t a lot of good rock music floating around. For old heads such as me, it’s just a matter of being patient until you find the solid stuff. Music is solid, folks. The spirit of music is no floozy; and as long as people can express themselves on high levels musically, in rock and in higher branches of music, all of us who love and play music have a connection out into space which can never be severed.    

Friday, September 16, 2016

Philly Rock Mix: Nazz ta Teens

Here comes The Nazz: to the extent that rock people don't realize that Philadelphia in the 60s produced its own Fab Four, who Todd Rundgren, Carson Van Osten, Robert Antoni, and Thom Mooney are, should not be unknown to them now. The Nazz in the 60s produced a body of rock music, from Philadelphia "on out," that rivals anything else produced during that era. They were also a solid commercial success at the time. Who, for the duration of the century past the early 70s, erased them, and why were they erased? Who knows? My overriding feeling about The Nazz has to do with my own youth/adolescence in the Philly 'burbs. As my friends and I tuned in to WMMR and WYSP, two repositories for classic rock and the classic rock canon (WMMR bothered to maintain a contemporary edge, WYSP did not), what we missed was any sense of hometown pride that the presence of The Nazz could've granted us. The Nazz could've improved our adolescence by belonging to us. The Alternative Revolution and WDRE didn't improve matters much. On the two twin towers of Philly rock radio, oddly enough, London was king. Surprisingly little from New York made it onto the airwaves; L.A. had The Doors, The Eagles, and a few others. So, we were forced to become little Anglophiles in the world. Does London as a big rock dream city work over a long period of time? Probably not; it's cold, grey, and foreboding up close. But, back to the Nazz; I have included them in the mix here in hope that rock people can make the nifty discovery of Philly's own Fab Four. The Nazz are pitched to a rock vibe heavier then The Beatles and The Stones, more like The Who; and with a Who-like sense of dynamics, they open a bunch of vistas which still might be fun to explore now.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Adam Fieled: El Goodo (instrumental)

El Goodo has now joined the ranks of Soundclick hits in the world. What I remember specifically about the El Goodo session at Main Street West: it was the second or third session for Ardent. We'd just finished Bullett. It was the dead of winter in South Philadelphia. Matt ran his space heater, which worked intermittently. For some of the winter sessions, I kept my coat on the whole time. We were baked: who cared? What I brought to the El Goodo session was a loose outline of another instrumental. I imagined it sounding like early Fleetwood Mac: "Albatross" or "Before the Beginning." What happened surprised me: the song demanded rougher, grainier treatment. I applied fuzz pedal and began doing overdubs. The labyrinth led me back, as it often has, to Big Star. So that, once I had nailed down roughly what I wanted to do, Matt rolled tape and I did it. In, if I recall correctly, precisely three takes. The eagle-eared may note: I sometimes use scales outside the standard rock vernacular. The Dorian and Phrygian mode show up here. Thank you, Gene Pasquerelli, who taught me such things at Pro Drum Works in Glenside when I was a kid. The "outside" tonal vernacular and the Midtown Memphis overtones, I hope, make a unique composite.

El Goodo, as I mentioned, has done well on Soundclick. What this seems to be part and parcel of is a democratization of the music business. Who's to say that Soundclick, in 2016, has any less weight than YouTube, Google, or any of the more long-entrenched sites that have bearing on such biz? Not to pick on the YouTube-Google conjunction, but there is at work sometimes, as a remnant of century XX, an Old School Republican Regime around rock and rock culture, which insists, now against the grain, on its own centrality. The constituent feature of Psychedelic America which I have pointed out elsewhere- the failure of any one context or port of call to achieve centrality- democratizes the process by which rock songs, even rock songs from Philadelphia on the surface, can become hits in the world. Sites like Soundclick, Bandcamp, Mixcrate, Internet Archive, and even the mostly-lit PennSound float in their own space, while the Google-YouTube nexus, which does not deserve entirely pejorative treatment, floats in its. As we enter a democratized (Psychedelic) era, a song like El Goodo, which sits at an odd tangent to conventional rock, even to Big Star in some ways, can get a fair chance to be successful in the world in a way that it couldn't ten or twenty years ago. Wikipedia and standard print media outlets work as adjuncts to Google-YouTube; Blogger, Wordpress, and Facebook tend to favor the new, more heavily democratized regime. A truly democratic context has to be fractured; the human race does not tend to form cohesive wholes; and those who want simplicity around rock and rock culture are going to be disappointed by 2016 and onwards. But if you have a head that finds complexity and complex realities intriguing, where rock appears to me to be going should be right up your alley.