Frank Gutch Jr: Perspectives… Music— Does the Past Control Our Future? Music Snobbery. Lyricists, Take Note. Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts. And Information You Can Eat For Breakfast (Meaning, Notes…..).
Here I go on one of my cerebral journeys, most of which run into a brick wall and consign themselves to the ash heap. I, like most of the world, have a very short attention span, it seems, and while I have bursts of genius (I swear!) little of it makes it to the outside world. This time, the message(s) is(are) spurred by a link posted by friend Greg Phipps, with whom I worked at Peaches Records in Seattle in the 80s (Phipps, btw, records under the name Palestinian Israel-Jones, should you desire to visit his planet), who has been on a roll finding and posting or reposting questions and videos worth my, if not your, attention. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, he asked about the negativity toward celebrities “selling out,” whoring their wares for profit.
It is not a new question, for sure, but one which answer has changed drastically from the days of Nike, who used The Beatles’ Revolution in an ad, and Apple Records, who sued (click here). Or since Van Halen allowed the use of their songs in commercials, claiming that the choice was simple— allowing use for payment or having a band cover the song for which little (in comparison) remuneration would be paid.
More recently, Phipps linked me to a video I am not really certain I had ever seen (or, if I had, I had forgotten), though it had at its core one of the most influential musicians/composers of my young life, Leonard Bernstein. While Bernstein was not my first exposure to Classical, he quickly became the conduit through which I listened, thanks to his Young People’s Concerts, an introduction to not just music but the reasons behind the music.
No, that’s not the video I’m talking about, this one having been broadcast some ten years before, but it should give you an indication why I was glued to the TV screen every time one was broadcast. It didn’t take long for Bernstein to gain a reputation for breaking music down to its simplest forms.
But Classical was the music Bernstein had grown up with, along with jazz and big band and the genres of the 40s and early 50s. He knew it well, though he constantly reminded us that one never knew it completely. Now, when it came to what he didn’t know, or maybe just didn’t understand, he was as relentless in his curiosity. He calls it Pop in this 51-minute dissection of the new music changing not just the musical but political landscape of the world. I call it rock. Semantics, schlemantics. We’re talking the same language in different terms, is all. I heartily suggest you watch this 51-minutes worth of real music history as a precursor to what follows. If not now, in the very near future. When you get to the end (my beautiful friend), you will understand.
In what we might call today a totally elementary approach, Bernstein almost stumbles his way through his half of the program, a supposed introduction to the music itself. The intrigue lies in the fact that Bernstein struggled at all. Here is a man who had forgotten more about music than I will ever know attempting to make sense of the musical melting pot which had affected young people so much that it forced its way into public consciousness and eventually took it over. Judging by Bernstein’s approach, this was music not to be trifled with but to be understood. And the music he and others of his generation strove to understand was viable and worthy. The music is the massage? Indeed.
You have to remember that this was 1967. That rock music was spinning off genres (though we did not call them that then) like crazy. Music attracted the young much like The Pied Piper (who would show you where it’s at). Music then tipping the music industry on its ear. Classical? Strong but losing ground. Country & Western? Holding steady but the big artists slowly being absorbed by Rock. Soul? Always viable but dominated by Motown, Atlantic and Stax. No, what was driving the music industry by then was Rock. The youth market. The incredible buying power of the teen which a decade before had been miniscule in comparison.
No wonder, then, that CBS-TV jumped on the bandwagon. No wonder that they felt the need to stay ahead of the game. No wonder that the young at CBS convinced CBS executives that Inside Pop– The Rock Revolution needed to be done. The surprise is that it had to be done in this way. That the obvious was not so obvious. Not back then.
The real rift had come back in the 50s, as I remember it. It was not rock but rock ‘n’ roll which got the establishment’s knickers in a knot. Greased-back hair and t-shirts with packs of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve. Hot rods and drag races. Petting parties and God knows what else taking place in the oddest of private places. But the youth were not organized then. They weren’t ready. By the time the mid-60s came around, the schism had widened. Vietnam was cranking up, drugs were becoming readily available to young people and the music— well, the music backed everything that was not America, you know?
America knew it had troubles. Otherwise, the documentary would not have been made and shown in primetime. Let’s take a peek beneath the covers.
Los Angeles provided the backdrop, possibly because Hollywood portrayed the youth scene to so many. Perhaps because of the ready availability of the wayward youth and the music there. Maybe because the equipment was readily available. No matter the reason, we get a doc pretty much limited in size and feel to that scene.
The musicians appearing: Frank Cook (Canned Heat), The UFO’s (an all-girl band from New York which just happened to be in town?), The Gentle Soul (Pam Pollard & Rick Stanley), Frank Zappa, Jim McGuinn (yes, I said Jim), Graham Nash (so full of idealism you might not recognize him), and Graham Goldman (later, with 10CC).
There is a positive spin to the times. Nash was convinced that music could take over the world and in his debate with Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits) attempted to make his point. Zappa, in a stand-alone interview, warned that “there’s a revolution brewing…” The UFO’s keyed on peace and love as the future hope of the world and McGuinn, he was just McGuinn, though not as reclusive as he would become in later years.
Had they filmed it today, you would never have seen artists the status of The UFO’s and The Gentle Soul. Documentary makers these days rely upon names rather than credibility and better to have hitmakers like, say, Justin Timberlake or even Justin Bieber make comment even if they are talking about music they understand way less than the session guitarist or the engineer.
But that is what I really appreciate about it. They went to the source, however weak that source or for whatever other reason than name. They allowed the people who were there to have their say. Nothing kills a music documentary quicker for me than the inclusion of the pop music star of the moment commenting about music popular when they were babies. And that isn’t on the pop star. That’s on the producer.
The main two performers included, Janis Ian and Brian Wilson,, were acceptable, mainly because of the reasons for their inclusion. Ian was young and very early into her career and inserted as an example of better pop music by Bernstein (whether chosen by him or not). Wilson was, even then, bigger than he really was, and the chance to include him in a studio setting, solo, playing a song from the newly released (or so they inferred) Surf’s Up album.
I find this documentary fascinating on so many levels, most recounted above. Of all of the people involved in front of the camera, the biggest and best known was Bernstein. While people today will go nuts over comments made by Zappa and McGuinn and Nash, they were on a slow track to fame and would become real stars in future. In fact, their importance, as far as I am concerned— all stars importance— has been blown out of all proportion in today’s world, one in which we see daily meme’s on the Net— quotes by Zappa or Hendrix or McCartney on every subject from underwear to politics to philosophy, most taken out of context. Inside Pop— The Rock Revolution should remind those of us who lived those times that they weren’t at all like most of us remember them— that our looking glass to the past is skewed beyond all recognition to the “us” who lived those days.
You can bet that if I want to know something about philosophy or politics, I’m sure as hell not going to leaf through biographies of Hendrix or The Beatles to find it. Give me The Gentle Soul or The UFO’s every time. I’ve just plain heard too much about and from those other guys.
There is a game being played on the social networks these days— “Which musician/wine/historical figure/character from a book/politician are you? Every day, I see posts from Facebook “friends” claiming that they are Toto from The Wizard of Oz or Jimi Hendrix from the world of guitarists. One of these measures snobbery as it attaches itself to music. I didn’t even have to play. I am the greatest of musical snobs and know it. I am the guy people hated to have at parties, especially my own. I am the guy who allowed a person I did not know take off the Glass Harp album I had put on for his choice, Dark Side of the Moon. I am also the guy who let everyone know that that guy was no longer allowed at any of my future parties. I am the guy who grew so tired of hearing about The Beatles and Led Zeppelin and Queen that my ears closed like a whale’s blowhole upon diving every time they were mentioned. I don’t hate any of those bands, contrary to popular opinion. I am just tired of hearing about them.
I, unlike so many of my contemporaries, have moved on. I no longer need the camaraderie of shared opinions over classic albums. I no longer desire to be judged upon the obscurity of the music I discover and love. I no longer go to parties, especially if music is involved. I eat cats, but only if they have been properly skinned. I do make exception for cats and all other animals if they know how to play guitar, air guitar not included.
But I am also that guy you want on your side when it comes to finding music worth hearing. You may not accept this, but I do not write for myself (all the time, anyway). I write for the musician and listener. I want to help people find music and I want to help musicians get discovered. When the music is exceptional, in the case of, say, The Norrish Reaction or Sydney Wayser, that gets amped up to need. I need to help get this music to the right people because it deserves to be heard. Is that hard to understand?
So, yeah, I’m a snob when it comes to music, but not really. If I cut you off when you’re trying to explain the importance of Led Zeppelin in rock history, forgive me. The fact is that you are not going to tell me anything I have not heard already (and way too much) and am getting old and have only a handful of years in which to pack a couple of decades of music I have not yet heard. My time is limited. Arguments for or against Led Zeppelin, unfortunately, are not.
On that note, It’s the Words, Stupid!!!!!
I swear to f**king God, songwriters, if you want to make an impact, you have GOT to get a grip on lyrics! You know what the best lyrics are? The ones which either overwhelm the listener with their exactness or profundity or ones they don’t even notice because they fit the song so well. You want to get a music writer to listen, you had better have key words, especially cuss words, wrapped in brilliant clothing because otherwise, you sound like an asshole, pure and simple. I know a lot of younger writers who think it’s cool to pack those words into as few as possible and that is probably a good rule to follow at times, but if you really want to make an impact, don’t rely on fringe words. Anything that pulls focus away from the song should be avoided.
And, yes, there are times you can bump up against the line. If it’s done with a sense of humor or is in context. I think No Small Children handle it as well as anyone. Two of the songs from their latest album, Trophy Wife, center on rough language— FU In Any Language and KMA. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the acronyms there and they actually help solidify the reason for the songs in the first place.
Then again, maybe I’m not the misogynistic asshole some people obviously are. And, hell, maybe you can come up with lyrics bad enough to make Volume 2 of Bad Lyrics. Just don’t expect me to listen to them.
And If You Are Lacking Perspective…..
…you might want to take a listen to DBAWIS‘s Jaimie Vernon‘s freakin’ brilliant concept album, Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts. Jaimie put it up on the Net recently for FREE download (but it’s so damn good, you are going to feel a huge amount of guilt if you don’t contribute SOMEthing) and I am having a hard time completing my column because of the altered realities with which I now have to deal. The basic storyline has something to do with the whole history of Canadian rock radio station, CRCK, and its last day on the air, but it isn’t that simple. This is a broadcast worthy of the old Cruisin’ series which recreated broadcasts of old rock ‘n’ roll radio from the fifties and sixties. The show is hosted by Brian “The Iceguy” Campbell (Bob Segarini) with various appearances by Minnie MacKenzie(Jade Dunlop) and a handful of others (or impersonations of others) and laid out just like you would expect— commercials, newsbreaks, weather— the whole schlemiel. And here is what makes it so good. Not only is the station as recorded viable, it is spot on. The comedy is hilarious (and you don’t even have to be an aficionado of Canadian history/humor to appreciate most of it), the deliveries timed perfectly, and (and this is crucial) the music ready-made for airplay! You get such hits as Dancing With the DJ, Frequency, Clique Me Down, and Soundtrack To Oblivion. Trust me, they are hits, at least within the confines of CRCK. Solid hits. A few even have the aura of Electric Light Orchestra, or what ELO would have been if they hadn’t burned themselves out so quickly.
I know I shouldn’t be plugging something from in-house, but I have to call a rock a rock and this rocks.
We can thank Jaimie along with Brian Gagnon, Lawrence Ingles and Todd Miller and a cast o’ talented plenty for the music and thank them I do. I love this! I am now on my third listen (I am looping it until I am forced into overdrive to complete this column) and am going to load this onto the MP3 player so I can plug it into the car radio.
The package also comes with album attributes (meaning a list of people involved and in which capacity), a short history of CRCK, plus personal notes on the history behind the concept and the recording of the album.
I know Jaimie has talent. I read his columns each week because he is a damn fine writer and am slowly making my way through his catalogue of released albums on his label, Bullseye Canada. I am impressed. Now I am really impressed.
Pssst! Listen. Can you hear a pin drop…? Here’s the link to the bandcamp page Jaimie set up for this (click here). Listen and, if you so desire, download. “… that’s Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts, music fans! It just doesn’t get any better than this. And if you listen closely, you can hear the crinkling of all the tin foil hats…”
I need more coffee. But first, how about digging through a whole lot of impending releases and watching a few videos? Yep. Time for them tips into the immediate future and a few extries— them wonderful…..
Notes….. Time for Music 101. John Fahey attempts to school us on guitar styles and the importance of rhythm in music. Interesting.
The guys down in San Diego have gone retro! A new group calling themselves as The Sidewalk Scene are revisiting (and sort of updating) the 60s for those of us who love that sound (and I do). The band itself is a bit of a supergroup, being comprised of musicians who have played with numerous popular SD bands over the years. Info available after a few messages/contacts. In the meantime, dig this!
I am relatively new to Chloe Albertthough I knew her music before her Juno Awards appearance this year. She evidently has an alias, Chloe Lynn, who appears with a group calling themselves The Carolines (here is a link to their website). I recognize all three faces, but can only at this time match Chloe to a face. Supposedly, they are recording and will have something ready this month? I hope so. If you haven’t picked up on Chloe, by the way, I recommend her highly. As for the Carolines, here is a taste.
This just in from Peter Cole of Lost Leaders(click here)— Release date on the new album will be May 29th. LL is the duo of Cole and Byron Isaacs, card carrying member of Ollabelle and who backs Amy Helm in her band much of the time. They have been threatening to release an album for the past couple of years and have finally announced the leap. Whether they actually make it or not is anyone’s guess. I dig them, though, and am anxiously awaiting the music. Check this out.
I make no apologies for my love of Zoe Muth‘s music. Her time with The Lost High Rollers (click here)has given me two of my best nights of live music. Her new album, World of Strangers, is scheduled for a May 27th release. I am giddy with anticipation. You want some Muth, here is one of her many excellent videos.
Chris and Gileah‘s album will also be out the end of May. I check in with Gileah on a fairly steady though irregular basis and was super thrilled to find that they were finally recording together. I was even more thrilled when I heard their voices blend so well together. Here their cover of a Bruce Cockburn song. If I have posted this in the column before, forgive me. I want to make sure the good stuff is covered.
Petunia & The Vipers have a new album impending. I just received the files last week and haven’t had a chance to crack them open yet, but as soon as I’m done typing this….. They play a variety of antiquated sounding tunes and amaze me at times with the authenticity of the sound. Check back in for a rundown on the new album, but first check this out. Take it away, Petunia!
I’m fairly new to Tina & The B-Sidestoo. I thank Sweet Relief and especially Sheldon Gomberg for pointing her out. Album due for release as I type this. This may just be a lyric video, but listen to that voice!
Those who know as little about Tina Schlieske as do I, here is a fascinating clip from the 90s from a documentary about the Minneapolis music scene around that time.
L.A.’s Sam Morrow (click here)releases his new album, Ephemeral, April 29th. I was very impressed with a few tracks I heard from an earlier EP and am anxious to hear it. The guy has a unique way of phrasing as you can tell on his latest video, a cover of Springsteen’s Dancing In the Dark.
Frank’s column appears every Tuesday
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“Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”