Category Archives: music

Elvis (best and worst of all artists) one of my heroes.

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I am taking a break from my own saga, to comment on some of my heroes. I will begin with Elvis Presley.

Some of my earliest memories are of Elvis. Both my sisters were huge Elvis fans when I was a baby, and on into adulthood. So I heard Elvis constantly, went to see his movies, and saw him live, once. He is one of the greatest artists of all time, in my opinion, as well as one of the absolute worst artists of all time. Let me make my case. If you mention Elvis today, you first have to clarify if you are talking about Costello or Presley. (Elvis Costello is another one of my heroes, for which I would also say he is the best and the worst.). Then when you say Presley, they think of the fat turd in a jumpsuit, singing crappy songs on stage, who died on the toilet due to a drug overdose. They don’t get the big deal. He is a joke to a lot of young people today. But there are sub-groups that know better. There are those that are devoted to the earliest Elvis. The young man who virtually created rockabilly. They will contend that those five singles were the best thing he ever did, and the only Elvis you really need to bother with. Another group expands this appreciation of the younger Elvis by including all of Elvis’ music and movies from the fifties. But they would agree that Elvis died when he went into the army. There are a few people that focus on his comeback period of 1968-69, saying that is Elvis in his prime. Finally you have the crowd that like the unintentionally campy movies and music Elvis made throughout the sixties, the cornier the better. There are even those that prefer the seventies period, such as LIsa Marie, his daughter. Of course, that was when she knew her daddy. Each of these different versions of Elvis are distinct from each other, and it boggles the mind that the same young stud who recorded All Shook Up was also the geek who recorded Barefoot Ballad.

Elvis is a mystery. He wasn’t a hillbilly (or a country bumpkin, as he pointed out once when someone asked if he wanted to record “Country Bumpkin”). He wasn’t stupid. He wasn’t a genius. He wasn’t particularly macho in the beginning, preferring to avoid that sort of thing, but in the seventies he had become macho and overbearing at times. He allowed himself to be used for profit by Colonel Tom Parker, ruining his career in the process. It didn’t look that way from Parker’s point of view, because his movies, and soundtracks made a lot of money, at first. But it prevented Elvis from becoming the kind of artist he could have been if he had had a manager that pushed him to do his absolute best. Elvis could be very lazy, and in the seventies he just recorded songs he liked that he heard on the country rock radio station, without regard to quality.

It is hard to put across to someone who wasn’t there at the time (like myself), but when Elvis appeared on the scene in 1956, his look, his style, his performance, was revolutionary. I don’t buy this nonsense that he just ripped off the black artists. He did record a number of Little Richard hits, and songs by Ray Charles, Joe Turner, Lloyd Price, Winonie Harris, and of course, Arthur Crudup, a little known blues artist, but he acknowledged his sources, never making it appear that the songs were his own. But, more importantly, he did the songs in his own style, not copying the style of the original. The sound of the Blue Moon Boys (the original name for Elvis, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black), was a unique blend of country and blues, which opened the door for rock n’ roll. (Of course, there were other influences as well. In fact, much of Scotty’s guitar sound was inspired by Bill Haley and the Comets). I still consider that music some of the most exciting music ever recorded. I don’t agree that only the early Sun record recordings were brilliant. That same sound carried over into the music he made for RCA Victor. There is a joy, a sense of freedom, courage, and precociousness to that music which, sadly, Elvis never really recaptured. You can hear the same infectious youthful enthusiasm in both early Elvis and early Beatles. There was a decline in quality when Elvis began recording songs for his movies (with significant exceptions in Jailhouse Rock and KIng Creole). But this was nothing compared to the catastrophic collapse in quality which would come in the sixties.

There is a silly, campy, sort of tongue in cheek, quality to much of Elvis music in the sixties, but, let’s face it, it stinks!! There was some good music made. particularly in the beginning and the end of the decade, but the real schlock is from 1963-67. His movies became so bad that I dare anyone to be able to actually sit through some of the worst ones, such as Easy Come Easy Go, Speedway, or Charro. What the hell happened? I think Elvis truly lost interest in his career. He began to look at it as only a job, a job he hated. The amazing thing is that even when Elvis was left with crap to record, he managed to do as fine a job as was possible under the circumstances. The songs are sung well, they just aren’t good songs. Then at the end of the sixties he came on strong, with a tv special which blew everyone away. He sang with a gutsy quality which wasn’t even there in the fifties. His voice had deepened, allowing a more soulful delivery. You could tell he was pouring himself fully into the performances. That is, indeed, some of his best work. He developed an interesting sound, contemporary r & b with a slight Memphis country touch. His singing is extraordinary on songs like Suspicious Minds and Any Day Now. He only had that sound for a brief period, basically only in 1969 and 1970. He never looked better. He had redeemed himself, but it didn’t last long.

The seventies Elvis is a bad dream, which descends into nightmare. Elvis started out well enough. The music was cheesy, and the performances were repetitive, milking away whatever merits the songs might have had in the beginning. The way he sang his old fifties songs was a crime. He tossed them off as if he didn’t give a damn. He didn’t. He sold his entire catalog for a few million dollars, and thought he had earned a ton of money doing nothing, when in fact, he was a big fat idiot. He did not see himself as a legend, or as one of the best artists of all time. Some of the music from the seventies is unbearable. On many of the recordings he doesn’t sing well. However, there are a few stand outs, in which his voice is strong and rich. His version of Danny Boy is a masterpiece. But it didn’t happen often. It is amazing, as well as disgusting, that a tv special was filmed of what turned out to be Elvis last concert. That Colonel Parker would allow his ‘boy’ to appear on tv as a horribly sick, fat slob, bearly able to walk, much less perform, is mind boggling. At the time he died, he was unable to move his bowels. Hamburgers were jammed tight into his colon. He didn’t need a drug overdose, just the attempt to move his bowels was enough to generate a heart attack. What a sad way to go. But it feels like an appropriate comment on the American Dream, He died of cheeseburgers up his butt.

Elvis Presley’s ghost haunts us still. He confidence, his exquisite beauty (he had the profile of Apollo), his humor, but also his mediocrity, the incredible disappointment he became not once, but twice! For some, he is a big phony. For others, he is the real deal. Both are correct, depending on which Elvis Presley you mean. When I was in high school I tried to dress like him, to  disastrous effect. I had joined a very long line, including John Lennon, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and countless others. Their results were better. His influence within my family was so great, that my oldest brother said losing Elvis was like losing a family member. We weren’t alone. I will try to post something about some other heroes of mine. Elvis is my hero because he was totally original (unlike what some would have you think), even though he was influenced by James Dean, Marlon Brando, and even Tony Curtis and Dean Martin, he managed to take all his influences and create something truly unique to him.  At his best, no one could touch him. He was the most exciting. He was the best looking. He felt like Freedom! At his worst, well let’s not go there…….I will leave you with a video of Elvis when he was igniting a revolution. His first television appearance on Tommy Dorsey in 1956. Here are four of his Dorsey show appearances. I know it’s a lot but I want you to let yourself be transported back to that time and see how wild Elvis actually was.

Woman of Light

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I’m inspired to write a review of David Lynch’s latest album, Crazy Clown Time. I have been a fan of David Lynch since Twin Peaks. Actually, I remember loving Blue Velvet before that. In any case, I believe David Lynch explores the human subconscious and superconscious  in a unique and exciting way. Since I am in the process of getting my novel ready, which has metaphysical themes throughout, I definitely saw some parallels. David has explored the mystical aspect of the feminine in pretty much all his work. This latest effort continues to portray the search for the divine feminine, as an Angel, or simply a being of light. He explores the dark, dank, and cripplingly simple minded world of what is perhaps a serial killer in this album. David actually sings in a sort of demented way, which I think should be understood as a character. He is the crazy clown of the title, (which reminds you of John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer who liked to dress up as a clown to entertain children).  This character’s psyche is not that far removed from most male psyches in the teenage years, except this is more extreme to better drive home the points he’s making. His deep longing for love and sex and some kind of meaning leads finally, in the final song, She Rises Up, with an epiphany. The woman he had been stalking on a dark, lightning filled night (the lightning perhaps representing the kundilini sexual energy which is sometimes referred to as being like a lightning bolt shooting up the spine and out the top of the head. There were some similar imagery in Twin Peaks). Anyhow the woman he had been stalking transforms into a being of light and rises up. Perhaps an angel or Goddess? You could probably write a term paper on the content of this album, but a lot of people are just going to be put off by the weird singing and strange lyrics. But not me, just like with his films, it encourages me to dig deeper. So I strongly recommend this album for Lynch fans and anyone who wants to get lost in an hypnotic landscape lying deep within a disturbed psyche. (not Lynch’s, the character’s). It also serves as a kind of soundtrack for my novel, which I will finish!!! Finally, I was struck by the similarity between Lynch’s album and an album I had of Pere Ubu named Why I Hate Women. (talk about horrible marketing! It’s like Pere Ubu is saying “buy this, if you dare”) I Love Women, but when I see something like that it intrigues me just because it is purposely repellant. Also I know Pere Ubu’s work, and recognize the satire. Tell me what you think. I am including two of Lynch’s songs, Good Day Today, which shows a strong Moby influence (they have been working together, Moby may even be on this song). and She Rises Up, I also include Pere Ubu’s Synth Farm and Babylonian Warehouses from the above album. I think you will see the Pere Ubu influence. They are traipsing around in the same bardo. Pretty scary, but also transformational place. However, one significant difference between Pere Ubu and Lynch would be David Lynch’s love of that particular guitar sound of the late fifties and early sixties, a kind of Link Wray, Dwayne Eddy hybrid which is used to great effect. The music is awesome, it’s just Lynch’s voice that some people might find hard to get used to.

Once again, sports fans, tell me what you think.

Trouble Every Day

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Written while listening to Trouble Every Day by Frank Zappa

It seems appropriate. I feel lonely, sad, anxious, afraid, and wish I could just transform everything!! There is an incredible amount of friction in my life right now. Absolutely nothing is easy. It is rough at work, and when I get home I just feel tired and unfocused. (and with my glaucoma I am literally unfocused.) I am still a bit obsessed with Margaret Cho, but not as badly as before. I enjoy her blog, and like to post comments. It is nice to find a kindred spirit. But I wish I could dispel this feeling of dangling over a precipice. I need a breakthrough. I daydream of having my own talk show, or of doing stand-up comedy. Relationships are a struggle and it is hard to develop an interest in anything. I just sit in front of the computer and have no fucking clue. Listening to music isn’t as much fun as it usually is. I post things on Facebook, and nobody ever fucking notices. It’s funny. I never cared about making contact with anybody before. Fuck you Facebook!! I was happy in my isolation. Now I crave connection, I want somebody to fucking care. But then, I don’t care all that much myself so what the fuck do I expect? Gotta give to get. Blah Blah Blah Actually it seems to me that the world is on the edge of a transformation, although I am not sure I will live to see it reach it’s full fruition. This is just the beginning of the beginning. But I can feel it. Rough times before we get there, though. No way around it. I guess you could call it some sort of a spiritual cleansing (if you were some new age asshole!) There! got that out of my system, that felt soooo good. It’s just that every time I start getting all philosophical I get really pissed off at myself, thinking that I’m going to start acting like some pompous ass. I hate new age assholes!! They say you should talk to a mountain climber if you want to learn how to climb a mountain, and these people haven’t climbed any fucking mountains.

OK OK I am taking off my cranky pants now.

I do sincerely believe that we are in the process of discovering that it is all up to us, the (do I really have to say it?) 99%. There ain’t going to be anybody that is going to save our sorry asses. That dream died when we discovered that Barack Obama is just another human being. Hope is for Dopes, it’s time for Action! Although I am just as clueless as anyone about the exact nature of that action. I think the Occupy movement has some potential, if it doesn’t get hijacked by a bunch of left wing morons, which seems to be happening. But the idea that we need to just step out there and take things in our own hands is a step in the right direction. The people in local, state, national, and international government don’t have a fucking clue. That much is painfully clear. Somebody needs to come up with some new ideas. Not all those old tired ideologies, like socialism, communism, capitalism, etc etc. None of it Works!!! Excuse me, waiter!! This isn’t the paradigm I ordered! Maybe that’s because I bought into somebody else’s paradigm instead of creating my own. We are entering unknown territory, fraught with peril and possibility. It isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference who becomes President, or what happens to the Eurozone, because there are changes sweeping over this planet that no governmental body of any kind can contain. The 1% is going to feel like Marie Antoinette felt when she could see the tsunami of history sweeping over Paris in 1789. Heads will roll, but only those heads stupid enough to try to hold on tenaciously to the status quo. Unfortunately I will likely be homeless while all this is going on, without access to media. But I hope I live to see the transformation that I crave. We shall see……….

Observations about popular culture

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These are some observations about popular culture from a cranky old man (well, actually I’m only 57, but I am quite cranky at times.) I’ve been thinking a lot lately, which is always dangerous. While struggling with unemployment and …(oh, what is the use of going into it, I’ve given my sob story in earlier blogs, so enough already!), I have been spending my time checking out old movies and such on Youtube. This was inspired by my watching Metropolis (a DVD I actually purchased in an actual store, my bit to improve the American economy.), a movie that I had seen pictures from and clips from for a long time, but never saw the whole thing. Actually the whole thing was thought to be lost until recently, but anyway, it is fascinating. While I’m sure the concept of an artificial being had been explored before, dating back to the Jewish legend of the Golem (is that the right word?), and, of course, Frankenberry, excuse me, Frankenstein. Excuse my impertinence, I watched too much Steve Allen when I was a kid. But what made this version of creating a robot especially intriguing, was that it was created to distract the working class from recognizing their abject slavery. It took the form of a woman, the exact form of a woman the common people had revered, and who had protected their children. The robot would appear in a demonic ritual and whip all the men into a sexual frenzy. This idea of an artificial creation for the purpose of creating a sexual obsession in the masses is very, very modern, and resonates with all we know about the popular image of Madonna and Britney Spears. In fact, Christina Aguilera’s latest album is entitled Bionic and shows her as a robot. The appeal of these artists, and many others, consists primarily of sexual stimulation and little else, the music being quite robotic in nature. As a matter of fact, I’m sure some of my readers remember the colorized version of Metropolis which came out in the eighties (which I avoided seeing just on general principles). That version had a modern “new wave” soundtrack, which totally missed the point of the film, the popular culture of the eighties (and today, as well) glorified the sex goddess robot instead of recognizing it’s evil effect upon the audience.  If you know your history, you know that the 1920’s were a time of hedonistic devil may care attitudes, especially in Weimar Germany, where Metropolis was made. This movie was quite prophetic in it’s message, describing a technocratic society masking an underground slave culture.

I decided to explore another silent film era icon, which I hadn’t investigated before. I had had many photos of Louise Brooks but had never actually seen one of her films. Her image haunted me, although the photos were from the twenties, they felt modern somehow. She seemed to hold a dark, sad, mystery. I have since discovered that a cult has developed around Louise Brooks and I am hardly alone in my fascination. I found two of her best films, also made in Weimar Germany, Pandora’s Box, and Diary of a Lost Girl. Both are excellent, especially Diary. They are also disturbing. Louise Brooks is totally different from the acting conventions of the time. She is natural, and seems as modern as any of today’s actresses. She is even more hypnotic and mesmerizing in the films than in the photos. I can see some connection between Metropolis and these Brooks’ films. I hope I don’t stretch that connection too far, however. She is like the robot in Metropolis, especially in Pandora’s Box as Lulu, in that she  has an evil effect on the men around her, while she appears relatively unscathed, and uncaring, much like a robot. But while the character of Lulu bears resemblance to the inhuman creation in Metropolis, the character Louise plays in Diary of a Lost Girl is very different. This character bears a resemblance to the real woman in Metropolis that the robot is modeled after. Diary deals with how women can be abused to the point of being dehumanized (turned into sexual robots, isn’t that sort of what prostitutes are?), and yet, Brook’s character rebels against her dehumanization and the dehumanization of other women. In real life Brooks was quite contemptuous of popular culture and refused to continue to play Hollywood’s game, which cost her her career. She serves as an appropriate role model for modern women. My question to today’s icons, such as Lady Gaga, for instance, are whether they are a mindless product of popular culture, cashing in on the rebelliousness of today’s youth, or a genuine example of a woman who uses her sexuality to liberate rather than enslave, and is willing to be true to her ideals even at the cost of her career. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter. In the meantime I still need to find a job, and keep from (oh, here I am whining again!) In any case, if you are one of the unwashed millions living in caves, who haven’t seen any of these movies, they are all on youtube, check them out. I don’t think you will regret it.