Thursday, March 31, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 53

In my previous blog, I exhausted almost everything I have to say about David Bowie. Almost. One Bowie album that’s grown on me quite a bit since I wrote all that turgid prose a few years ago is Space Oddity. It’s an interesting transitional record, featuring the last gasp of Bowie’s largely failed attempt to carve out a place for himself in the world of 60s Mod pop, as well as initial elements of the muscular folk metal that would dominate The Man Who Sold the World, another album I’ve reassessed favorably. Space Oddity also offers a first hint of the glammy thing for which Bowie soon became famous. Tonight’s song, for instance, sounds like an outtake from Ziggy Stardust. A lot of the great Bowie techniques are already used as if they were second nature, especially in the chorus where he harmonizes wildly with himself and shakes some groovy tambourine for added emphasis. What makes Space Oddity compelling to me now is that you can really hear Bowie searching for an identity. And judging by the continual shifting of his persona over the following years, maybe he concluded that stable identity is overrated. You can twist your mind into knots if you think about this shit for too long, but I can’t help myself. So here's some food for thought: If Bowie's self titled first album is where Davy Jones becomes David Bowie, then Space Oddity is where David Bowie becomes David Bowie. It's the point at which he assumes a purposefully deconstructed identity, one that paradoxically becomes one of the very few sources of continuity for him in subsequent years…

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 51

I’m not a big ELO guy, which might seem strange since Jeff Lynne is so good at making melodic pop. Sure, I can still play ELO’s Greatest Hits on my iPod and enjoy songs like Do Ya, Living Thing, Telephone Line, Mr. Blue Sky, and even the disco stylings of Turn to Stone. I used to get really excited when I was eight and Living Thing would come on the radio. The song’s amazing strings and vocals give it a lush, dreamy sound that would really send my imagination soaring. But somehow ELO never made it into my personal pantheon of greatness. Part of it might be that they seemed so wimpy and I became aware of them at a time when I wanted my music to have muscle. There was a period of my life when I preferred rock to pop, the opposite of the way I feel today most of the time, and in spite of the occasional crunchy guitar riff you get in this or that ELO song, they will never be mistaken for a rock band in anything more than the most generic understanding of the term. The other thing is that I have this vague suspicion that Jeff Lynne is your stereotypically dumb brummie, a kind of idiot savant who just so happens to have a great talent for infectious pop. I don’t know why that bothers me because I love the Beach Boys and nobody will ever mistake Brian Wilson for Isiah Berlin. I don’t need my pop heroes to be conventionally intelligent, so why do I hold it against Jeff Lynne if he's no brighter than my bedroom doorknob? Maybe it's that the songs aren’t that good upon closer inspection. Maybe they’re simply confections that taste good in the moment but don’t have enough heft to inspire lasting emotional attachments. I mean, do you know anybody who’s absolutely fanatical about ELO? …Come to think of it, one of my best friends is just such a fanatic, so it's probably just one of those subjective things where some do and some don’t… The ELO record that interests me most at the moment is their first album, primarily because of the involvement of Roy Wood and the band’s brief crossover with the Move. Tonight’s song has a big sound and some very satisfying arpeggiated guitar playing. And no matter who you are and what you do, playing arpeggiated chords is, generally speaking, the fastest way to win my heart...

Monday, March 28, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 50

The main reason I prefer pop to rock is that pop songs tend to make their statements concisely, without a lot of wasted motion. The third and final Move song I’m posting for you tonight is an archetype in this respect, a piercingly romantic bit of orchestral pop that refers back to the Beatles in the interstitial period between Help and Rubber Soul. Beautiful Daughter is one of the finest achievements of Roy Wood’s career. The songcraft is intricate and complex, but also amazingly efficient. I marvel at the way Wood was able to pack so much emotionally intense stuff into less than three minutes. The song’s release was not far enough removed from the 60s to have garnered appreciation as a retro-cool piece of music. Its uniqueness is the result of its weird positioning as a song that’s ahead of its time precisely because it’s regressive. It looks forward to a time when pop will increasingly simulate the past, and it can be heard as a kind of proof of concept for what Wood would do with Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan on the first ELO album. The song also features Tony Visconti on bass, further validating my theory that anything cool you can think of involves Tony Visconti in some way or other…

Sunday, March 27, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 49

Another lovely song from the Move to help ease your Sunday night blues. This one is an even more obvious example of how the band was just a tad behind the curve... Something about the chord progression, the slightly flanged vocals, and the generally whimsical vibe give Curly a McCartneyesque feel. The song would have been right at home on Magical Mystery Tour. Unfortunately, by 1968 the fruity pop thing had run its course and become totally unhip, replaced by a heavier sound that marked the end of innocence. If the Move had just waited a few more years to release Curly, I'm convinced they would have had a big transatlantic hit with it. They needed to let the era of simulation begin, the postmodern condition, under which pop music would become ever more referential and imitative. Think Badfinger. Think Barclay James Harvest. Think Big Star. Think ELO... ELO is a very interesting example in this context because of the crossover with the Move. Would ELO have been such a huge success if they had done what they did in the late 60s? I think not. ...But all these Johnnie Walker Black-fueled thoughts make the listening experience too dry and overly intellectualized, don't they? The real test for me is how the song makes me feel. If I put all the socio-historical stuff to one side and move from my head to my heart (admittedly a difficult thing for me to do sometimes), I'm left with one of the truly gorgeous pop songs to come out of England in the 60s. It might've been retrograde when it came out, but hearing it now fills me with joy and makes me feel less lonely, somehow. Compared to this, all the other considerations are small potatoes...

Friday, March 25, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 47

The stars of yesterday's post, Les Fleur De Lys, also went by the name of Rupert's People and recorded tonight's lovely offering, a song that showcases the deep appreciation the Mods had for American soul music. I've come across a rumor on the internet that Jimi Hendrix plays ghost guitar on this track. I don't think it's true. Then again, the guitar playing does have a Wind Cries Mary-ish quality to it, and Jimi did spend quite a bit of time in the 60s in England, so who knows? Whether it's Jimi or not, the guitar laying sounds just perfect. There's also a delightful sounding soap opera organ that creates an atmosphere of kind benevolence and tragic beauty. I wonder what exactly it is that the Brits did in the 60s to make their records sound so good? I mean, have you ever heard a record that sounds as good as this one?

Baseball Preview Part 3: Predictions

My track record as a baseball prognosticator is not good, so it may be embarrassing for me to look back on this post at the end of the 2011 season. Nevertheless, here's how I see things unfolding this year...


NL East

Braves, 90 - 72
Phillies, 89-73
Marlins, 84-78
Nationals, 75-87
Mets, 70 -92

With all the talk of the Phillies bringing the “best starting rotation in the history of baseball" into the 2011 season, it’s easy to overlook the serious age this team has on it. Age has already come into play for Forrest Gump's ballclub as second baseman Chase Utley, 32, will be out for an as-yet-unknown period of time due to nagging knee problems. In fact, with youngster Dominic Brown going down with a broken hand after he was slated to replace the departed Jayson Werth, the only player under 30 in the projected opening day lineup for the Phillies is outfielder Ben Francisco. The Atlanta Braves, on the other hand, are loaded with young and talented players like power hitting outfielder Jason Heyward (.277/.393/.456, 8 HR, 4.4 WAR in 2010), tough-as-nails catcher Brian McCann (.289/.360/.489, 18.1 WAR over six seasons in the bigs), and unproven but highly touted first baseman Freddie Freeman. The Bravos balance the youth nicely with solid veteran players, not only Chipper Jones, who may or may not make it through the season at 39, but also shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who smacked 16 bombs last year, and newly acquired slugger Dan Uggla at second base. The Phillies have the better rotation, no doubt, but the Braves have a pretty good starting staff as well, with Tim Hudson (17-9, 2.83 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in 2010), Derek Lowe (16-12, 4.00 ERA, 1.36 WHIP), and youngster Tommy Hanson (10-11, 3.33 ERA, 1.17 WHIP). I just think the Braves are the better, younger team, at least in the regular season. But the Phillies will get into the playoffs as the wild card and can obviously do some post-season damage with their vaunted pitching staff.

NL Central

Brewers, 84-78
Reds, 83-79
Astros, 81-81
Cards 79-83
Cubs, 76-86
Pirates, 62-100

One of the paradoxes of the 2011 season will be that, while the NL Central looks to be the weakest division in baseball, the top team in the division - which for my money is the Milwaukee Brewers - will quite possibly be the most exciting team to watch. Over the past few seasons, it has not been a question of whether the Brewers could mash and score runs but rather a question of whether they could pitch and play defense. They dealt in the offseason for Shaun Marcum (13-8, 3.64 ERA, 1.14 WHIP with the Jays in 2010) and former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke (10-14, 4.17 ERA, 1.24 WHIP with the Royals). The two of them will join Yovani Gallardo (14-7, 3.84 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) and seasoned veteran Randy Wolf (13-12, 4.17 ERA, 1.39 WHIP). Greinke has suffered a broken rib this spring, the result of being a selfish ass clown with no common sense, but he should be back before May, and provided the injury doesn’t continue to cause him problems, the Brewers will now have solid 1 through 4 starters. The bullpen will feature closer John Axford along with Latroy Hawkins, Kameron Loe, and Zack Braddock, all solid arms. Still, the strength of this team is definitely its lineup, which boasts one of the most underrated players in the game in Rickie Weeks (.269/.366/.464 in 2010, including 29 HR and 11 SB). And don’t forget the two big boppers on the team, Ryan Braun (nice Jewish boy) and Prince Fielder. The Reds are likely to regress in 2011, in my opinion, and The Brewers are my sleeper pick to represent the NL in the World Series. It would be a nice feather in new manager Ron Roenicke’s cap. He's a good man and I'm rooting for him this year...

NL West

Rockies, 90-72
Giants, 88-74
San Diego, 78-84
Arizona, 70-92
Dodgers, 69-93

I’m one of those baseball fans who believe that the 2010 San Francisco Giants were a fluke, much like the 2006 Cardinals and the 2002 Angels. They played very mediocre ball for much of the summer but then got hot at the right time and rode Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez all the way to the Promised Land. They still have the good pitching, including eccentiric closer Brian Wilson, but what else do they have? Answer: A lot of guys who are either past their prime or stiffs, if not both. Andres Torres? An old stiff. Freddie Sanchez? Old. Aubrey Huff? Old. Cody Ross? A replacement-level player who happened to get hot in the playoffs. Pat Burrell? Old. Miguel Tejada? Old. Pablo Sandoval? A fat stiff with no range... No, the Giants aren’t gonna repeat. I like the Rockies to win the division this year. The middle of their lineup, with Carlos Gonzalez (.336/.376/.598 in 2010), Troy Tulowitzki (.315/.381/.568), Ian Stewart (.256/.338/.443) and Todd Helton (.256/.362/.367) will score tons of runs at Coors Field. The Rocks had a lot of problems playing on the road last year and will need to pick it up in other people’s parks if they are to win the division this season. After Ubaldo Jimenez at the top of their rotation, the starting pitching is very average, and the bullpen can be erratic with Rafael Betancourt setting up for Huston Street. But I think the bats will make up for it, and I like any team managed by Jim Tracy, one of the sharpest guys in the game. 2011 feels like the Rockies' year, especially when you consider how weak the rest of their division will be. And once you start playing games at Coors Field in October, the elements will come into play and anything can happen.


AL East

Red Sox, 100-62
Yankees, 90-72
Rays, 86-76
Orioles, 81-81
Blue Jays, 78-84

As much as it pains me to admit this, the Boston Red Sox are currently the class of baseball, hands down. Nobody even comes close. The Yankees are old. The Phillies are old. And no other potential contender can match what the BoSox will be bringing to the table in 2011. The fan in me hates GM Theo Epstein, a self-satisfied cocksucker who went to Harvard and is living a dream life that fills me with seething jealousy. But the side of me that’s a more objective observer of the game admires the guy. Sometimes you have to swallow hard and tip your cap. The organization is run with supreme intelligence, they make smart acquisitions, sell out every game at Fenway, and reward the rabid loyalty of their drunken fanbase by spending tons of money in the free agent market. I envy Red Sox Nation almost as much as I hate those fuckers… Let’s start with their starting pitching. While not quite as regal as that of the Phillies, the Red Sox will have an outstanding rotation in 2011, arguably the second best in baseball, though the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels may have something to say about this. Lefty Jon Lester has emerged as the ace of the staff. He's a big boy at 6’4 240 lbs and an absolute bulldog of a competitor. He has won at least 15 games in each of the past three seasons and is both a strike thrower and an innings eater, pitching in more than 200 innings in each of the last three seasons. John Lackey will be the number 2 starter after having what many consider to have been a disappointing first season with Boston in 2010 (14-11, 4.40 ERA). He’s no youngster anymore, but like Lester he’s a fierce competitor who still has one of the nastiest curve balls in the game. Some of the criticism he’s received might be colored by the huge free agent contract he signed, but last year was definitely not Lackey-like and I look for the big Texan to bounce back this season. I watched him for eight years with the Angels and the guy’s just too good to dismiss. Clay Buchholz, the number 3, had an outstanding 2010, going 17-7 with an ERA of 2.33. He’s still only 26 and I have no doubt that the guy’s gonna be a big star. Rounding out the rotation are Josh Beckett, who was hampered by injuries in 2010 but can still be a very effective number 4 if he stays healthy, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who’s been disappointing thus far but could be a sleeping tiger preparing to wake up at any moment. …The three main arms in the bullpen for the Sox are likely to be newly-acquired fat man Bobby Jenks, who looks to be the 7th inning guy, Daniel Bard, a closer in waiting who’ll mostly work as a setup man, and trashy head case Jonathan Papelbon, the closer for now. Bard throws gas and could take over the closer’s role if Paps falters. And since Paps is in his walk year, it wouldn’t be a great shock if he gets dealt before the deadline. I get the impression he’s worn out his welcome in Boston. The only thing preventing the FO from dealing him, I think, is that they would not want the team to have face him in the playoffs or World Series. So they may just end up taking the draft picks, we’ll see. …What really puts Boston over the top this year is that they’ve taken an already imposing lineup and added two of the best players in the game, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (.298/.393/.511, 31 HR , 101 RBI, 6.3 WAR in 2010) and Carl Crawford (.307/.356/.495, 19 HR, 47 SB, 4.8 WAR). Keep in mind that Gonzalez put his huge numbers up in cavernous Petco Park, and he's got outstanding opposite field pop, so you can just imagine what the dude will do the the Green Monster. Along with providing two more great left handed bats to the lineup, Gonzalez and Crawford both play stellar defense. ...The Sox will have excellent bench depth as well and will platoon Mike Cameron against lefties and JD Drew against righties. And let’s not forget the likes of Youkilis, Ellsbury, Pedroia and Big Papi, if he’s still got anything left in the tank. …The Red Sox will be scary good in 2011. The only reason they won’t win more than 100 games is that they play in the toughest division in baseball.

AL Central

White Sox, 94-68
Tigers, 92-70
Twins, 87-75
Royals, 77-85
Indians, 70-92

The American League Wild Card will come out of the Central Division this year, where the White Sox will win the division and the Tigers will edge out the Yankees for the last playoff spot. The Sox have a nicely balanced team on both sides of the ball. One guy who flew under the radar for them last year was speedy left fielder Juan Pierre, who had a .339 OBP, stole 68 bases, and scored 98 runs from the top of the order. But it’s the addition of Adam Dunn’s left handed thunder that will make the Sox much better this year. His insertion into the middle of the lineup means that Paul Konerko (.312/.393/.584, 39 HR, 111 RBI) will see more pitches to hit. Carlos Quentin will also be a fixture in the heart of the club’s order after hitting 26 HR and 87 RBI in 2010…. The White Sox’s pitching is admittedly a question mark, but if things go right for the team their starters keep the club in games at the very least. Mark Buehurle is a gamer who I’d take on my team any day of the week. He is the projected number 1 for the Sox this season. He’s never put up eye popping numbers, but he’s thrown 200+ innings every year for the past 10 years and he’s a very tough competitor. One hopes that at age 32 his arm doesn’t already have too much wear and tear on it. Jake Peavy is already dealing with problems in his shoulder before the team has even broken camp. He is expected to miss a few starts but should be the number 2 starter if the shoulder problems don’t derail him. If the shoulder turns out to be serious, the White Sox will be in big trouble and may need to try and deal for another arm. But if Peavy can recapture the form he had when he was with the Padres, he has the potential to eventually take the number 1 spot in the rotation. Gavin Floyd is a serviceable number 3, but he’s had a few down years after going 17-8 in 2008. The bottom end of the rotation will be John Danks and Edwin Jackson. …With Bobby Jenks gone to the Red Sox, Matt Thorton, who some believe to be the best lefthanded reliever in the game, steps into the closer’s role. The team will also have flame throwers Chris Sale and Sergio Santos coming out of the pen. …The White Sox are undoubtedly a team with some flaws, but Ozzie Guillen gets his guys to play hard and I see them as being a little better than the Tigers this year. But the Tigers will keep it close with their pitching. Justin Verlander is the obvious ace of the staff, followed by Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Brad Penny and Phil Coke. The offseason acquisition of Joaquin Benoit (1.34 ERA, 0.68 WHIP over 60 IP with the Rays in 2010) makes the Tigers bullpen much stronger, but the team was dealt a setback when hard throwing Joel Zumaya recently went back on the DL with elbow soreness. Still, the team will have the solid Jose Valverde closing out games, and the Tigers will arguably have the best bullpen in baseball if Zumaya can get healthy and return to form. …The Tigers also improved themselves offensively by signing Victor Martinez during the offseason. His career offensive numbers are impressive (.300/.369/.493) and he joins a lineup that also includes the speedy and talented Austin Jackson (.293/.345/.400, 27 SB in 2010) and Miguel Cabrera, who, in spite of his off-the-field turmoil, is probably the most feared slugger in the American League. Magglio Ordonez will also be back in 2011. He’s definitely on the down side of his career at 37, but he still put up nice numbers last year (.303/.378/.474), and every contending team needs a few wily veterans to bring experience and perspective into the clubhouse.

AL West

A's, 89-73
Rangers, 87-75
Angels, 83-79
Mariners, 70-92

The Oakland A’s quietly made themselves into a much better team during the offseason, adding relievers Grant Balfour (who has one of the more unfortunate names for a pitcher) and Brian Fuentes, as well as outfielders Josh Willingham and David DeJesus, and DH Hideki Matsui. The team also added Rich Harden, who returns to the A’s after spells with the Cubs and Rangers, but he is currently injured and his role on the team is unclear at this point. None of the position players on the 2011 A’s will make you say wow, but the team overall is well balanced and should score more runs in 2011. The club’s real strength – and the reason I think they’ll beat out the Texas Rangers in the AL West – is their pitching, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Trevor Cahill, the ace of the staff, has phenomenal stuff and is on the cusp of becoming a superstar. Last year, in only his second season in the bigs, he went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. Gio Gonzalez, the projected number 2 starter, posted a record of 15-9, with a 3.23 ERA. Brett Anderson, the number 3 guy in the rotation, went 7-6 with a 2.80 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Overwrought douchebag Dallas Braden threw a perfect game last year but didn’t have a great overall record (11-14, 3.50 ERA). Still, he’s a very tough competitor and will keep the ballclub in games. Brandon McCarthy is projected to be the fifth starter in the rotation after not playing in the majors in 2010. In 2009, he posted a 7-4 record and a 4.62 ERA with the Texas Rangers. Braden and McCarthy, both 27 years old, are the two oldest guys in the A's rotation. The team’s bullpen is up there with Detroit’s as one of the best relief corps in the game. Harden could be used as a reliever, and along with Fuentes and Balfour the club has solid arms in Craig Breslow and Brad Ziegler, and they will probably use Andrew Bailey to close games after he saved 25 last year with a 1.47 ERA and a 0.959 WHIP. …If you compare the Oakland A’s and the Texas Rangers on paper, the Rangers have what seems to be the sexier team with Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre. But I think they are making a huge mistake if they decide to use Neftali Feliz as a starter. Why would you take a lock-down closer – a guy who can close out games for you for years to come – and turn him into a starter? The answer is that they don’t feel they have enough starting pitching after failing to land Cliff Lee in the offseason. I would tend to agree. Lefty C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.35 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 2010) is solid and could emerge as a bona fide ace. Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) has scattered flashes of electricity but is inconsistent. Tommy Hunter’s 13-4 record was quite a bit better than he pitched last year, so I wouldn’t expect the same results this year. And then the trouble really starts. Derek Holland is currently penciled in as the number 4 after going 11-17 with a 5.52 ERA and 1.46 WHIP over two seasons with the Rangers. The number 5 right now figures to be Matt Harrison, who could be good if he pans out, but his 5.39 ERA and 1.57 WHIP over three seasons with the Rangers does not inspire much confidence. ...The way I see it, the Rangers are a team that will score a lot of runs, just as they always do, but they will also give up a lot of runs. And I think the July-August-September heat in Arlington is probably all the more wearying when your pitching staff can't at least keep things close. It’ll come down to the wire, but I like the A’s to win the West this year.

It goes without saying that, because MLB’s regular season is a 162-game grind with injuries affecting each club in ways that can’t be predicted in advance, it’s a little silly to try and predict who’ll be playing in October when we’re not even out of March yet. It’s silly, but it’s fun, so here goes…

In the National League, the Braves will play the Brewers and the Rockies will play the Phillies. Although the Braves arguably have a better staff as a whole than the Brew Crew, Milwaukee will outslug Atlanta and they will be able to use a hungry Zack Greinke two times in the series. I like the Brewers in five… Age will catch up with the Phillies and Coors field will neutralize their pitching advantage over the Rockies. Look for CarGo and Tulow to come up huge and lead the Rocks to the NLCS... The Rocks and Brewers will be an exciting series. The Brewers have the better lineup and a better overall pitching staff, including a better bullpen. The Brewers will win the pennant in seven games…

In the American league playoffs, the Red Sox will play the Tigers and the White Sox will play the A’s. The Red Sox are just too talented for the Tigers and will win their series in a four-game sweep. The A’s and White Sox will be close, but the A’s pitching will be just a little more than the White Sox can handle. A’s in seven. The Red Sox will defeat the A’s for the AL pennant but the A’s will put up a good fight. Red Sox in six. Even though the A's will lose, I expect Trevor Cahill to become this year's version of Cliff Lee and King Felix...

It’ll be the Red Sox and the Brewers in the World Series with the Red Sox winning in five.

But the World Series is a long way away. The season starts on Thursday and I can’t wait. Play ball already!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 46

Mother Nature is giving us one last nasty grudge fuck before she hopefully provides some relief with the warmth and hope of spring. And when I say nasty, I mean nasty, as in cold rain coming down in impossibly relentless sheets for hours and hours on end. The rains make me feel irritable and on edge. This is not what I signed up for when I decided to plant my roots here in sunny Southern California. It’s been a strange winter. We’ve had weeks of spectacular weather, followed by the most horrible monsoon-type rains you could imagine, followed by the good stuff. Back and forth in violent gyrations. For the first time, I’m starting to feel the tangible effects of climate change. The weather patterns here are not supposed to be this erratic. LA weather is supposed to be smooth, subtle and relatively consistent. It’s reasonable to expect the occasional bad storm, but nothing like the violent yin-yang roller coaster ride we've had to endure during the winters over the past few years. Which brings me, strangely, elliptically, to Les Fleur De Lys and their balls-out cover of Pete Townshend’s Circles, a song I’m digging at the moment because its force matches the massive pounding of the rain against my living room window. Opinions are varied, but my view is not only that the cover version pisses all over the Who’s original, but also that it captures the amphetamine fueled spirit of mid-60s Mod London as well as any freakbeat song I’ve ever heard. Along with folk rock, power pop and glam, freakbeat is a style I never get tired of. Mid-60s London was clearly one of the places where human civilization reached its absolute zenith. The Mod sound of the period tended to be a heavy-duty bit of business, but if tonight’s song sounds particularly heavy it might be because the single was produced by Jimmy Page. (I’m telling you, the guy shows up everywhere.) My favorite part of the song is when the last verse climbs up a semitone, a technique you hear fairly often in country music and ballads, less so in heavy rock, but which in this case – and in the Who’s original – elevates the sonic energy of the music into the realm of the sublime...

Monday, March 21, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 43

Here Comes the Night is more appropriate on Friday at 5pm then it is on a rainy and cold Monday, but who cares. The song sounds very advanced for music recorded in 1964. The song really could have been titled, Here Come the 60s. It has that feeling of becoming, if you know what I mean. Van Morrison’s voice was still developing at this point, but you can hear the first traces of the style and range that would become key elements in his long and prolific solo career. The harmonies are totally wacky. I can't quite tell whether their double tracked and Van is harmonizing with himself, or if there's more than one singer. ...If you’re wondering why the Telecaster sounds so rich and satisfying, the fact that Jimmy Page is playing it may have something to do with it. Funny how ‘ol Jimmy shows up on so many hit records as a session player. I actually first became aware of Here Comes the Night via Bowie’s cover of the song on Pin Ups. The original version, posted tonight for your listening enjoyment, is far superior and always manages to make me feel good, even though its overall emotional thrust is one of jealousy, anguish and pain...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 42

It's raining like a motherfucker here in LA at the moment. There's water leaking through the ceiling of my house. But I'm ok, just as long as I've got me some heavy English music. I've spent the whole day listening to the Yardbirds, Small Faces, and Humble Pie, and I haven't left the house. My cats are so stoked. It's nice to feel so wanted and appreciated ...I think you're gonna really dig this clip from Antonioni's Blow Up. The movie is a bit slow and deliberative, but its depiction of swinging London in the 60s sends my imagination soaring. The color footage of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page in the Yardbirds is such a great gift. Check out Jimmy's mutton chops! Antonioni definitely had his finger on the pulse of the happening London scene, a scene in which the guitar was the central totemic idol...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 41

Bob Cowsill was really fun last night. As my friend likes to say, Bob is the Jerry Garcia of Ventura Blvd English pub players. Heart Full of Soul was among the two dozen or so great 60s classics in his set. If you talk to me at the right time and under the right circumstances, there's a good chance I'll tell you that Heart Full of Soul is my favorite song, period. I prefer the Yardbirds during the stage when they moved away from straight blues and went in the direction of psychedelic pop. Their grounding in the blues remained an important part of their identity and was the reason why even their most pop oriented offerings still sounded so heavy. It was still some heavy-duty shit, but the hooks became so much more inviting than what would be possible with a more traditional conception of the blues. Listen tonight for the acoustic rhythm guitar. Jeff Beck's lead guitar crackles with waves of euphoric electricity, and he does that classic mid-60s thing - perfected by the Beatles and Buffalo Springfield, among others - where his solo simply replicates the song's core melody. It's a simple but oh-so-satisfying solo within two-and-a-half minutes of pop ecstasy. Guaranteed to lift you out of your doldrums when you need it most...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Songs for broken hearts, no. 40

I'm going with my bestest buddy tonight to hear Bob Cowsill at the Pickwick Pub in Woodland Hills in celebration of my 43rd birthday. He does this great thing every Friday night, just him, his guitar, and just about any 60s radio hit you wanna hear him play. It's great fun. I have to leave for the Valley in about 20 minutes, but I didn't want to break my string of consecutive days posting SFBH. Routine is very important to me, and I feel like doing this every day has helped me get through a difficult period. Music really does have healing powers. It's an amazing, beautiful thing. ...I'm not quite done with this revivalist kick I've been on. Along with Springsteen, Blondie and the Ramones, the New York Dolls were very much in the revivalist vein. When I was a kid, I used to see the Dolls' records in the record shops. The band looked so scary to me. Maybe I was a little freaked out by the sexual aberration they represented, but they also looked kind of menacing and unpleasant. Bowie, Iggy, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper did as well. It all seemed so wrong to me, yet at the same time I couldn't look away when I saw their pictures in Creem and Circus. The song tonight is in keeping with frightening things. It also happens to rock very hard. Happy birthday to me...

Baseball Preview, Part 2: The Mets

Meet the Mess, meet the Debts, step right up and meet the Mets…

The New York Mets will not be good in 2011. Sorry Met fans. It’s just reality. Actually, most Met fans already know this. It's no secret, as Marty Balin would say. …I am picking the Mets to finish dead last in the National League East, behind even the Washington Nationals. The reasons for this gloomy prediction are many, but let’s start with the dark cloud of the Madoff affair and how it’s likely to affect the ongoing operation of the ballclub. The trustee and lawyer in charge of the class action suit seeking to recover losses for the victims of the Madoff Ponzi scheme, one Irving Picard, is suing the Wilpon family for about $1 billion. That’s billion, with a B. Picard alleges that Sterling Properties, the Wilpon family’s commercial real estate entity that owns the Mets and the SNY cable network, actually made money on the Madoff scheme and either knew or should have known that something was fishy with Madoff’s methods. A number of damaging details regarding the Wilpons’ relationship to Madoff have emerged, not the least of which is that Saul Katz, a close business associate of the Wilpons and a partner in their ownership of the Mets, took an active role in attracting new investors for Madoff. Could Katz have been doing this without very specific knowledge of the means by which Madoff was consistently winning outsized gains, even in down markets? I highly doubt it. My guess is that Katz knew, and the Wilpons knew as well. I think the class action suit has legitimacy. But what does this have to do with baseball you ask? The Wilpons had reportedly been using proceeds from their Madoff investment to fund daily baseball operations, and they are now struggling to finance debt associated with their ownership of the Mets. The family has put a minority stake in the team up for sale, and they have recently had to borrow $25 million from MLB to cover shortfalls, so it wouldn’t be a shock to me if they have to sell the team outright, especially since they’re reportedly having trouble finding new lenders. One hopes they won’t try to hang on, which would be to the detriment of the ballclub and its loyal fans. And if they do try to hang on, then MLB should do the right thing and seize ownership of the team until a more financially viable owner or ownership group steps up to buy the team. Bud Selig is supposedly close to Fred Wilpon, which I pray won’t cloud his judgment or the aggressiveness with which he might have to push his friend to sell. Baseball is like religion in New York City. If run properly, instead of with flim-flam leveraged paper wealth, the Mets can be a huge money maker again. I can’t imagine it will be too hard to find a qualified and enthusiastic buyer.

Ownership’s involvement with Madoff is one of the reasons the Mets were so inactive in the offseason in terms of acquiring quality players. The organization sacked GM Omar Minaya, as well they should have, and replaced him with Sandy Alderson, who then hired his loyal lieutenants, Paul DePodesta and JP Ricardi. But the new brain trust managed to do nothing much more than pick up inexpensive journeymen pitchers from the scrap heap, some of whom are coming back from protracted injuries and surgeries. ...Along with the Madoff affair, a second reason the new Front Office didn’t do much in the offseason is that the club still has five very bad contracts on their books left over from Minaya’s reign as GM. Lefty Oliver Perez is owed $12 Million this year, but he does not figure to make the team out of spring training, not even as a middle reliever/mop-up guy. Luis Castillo, the 35-year-old washed-up second baseman, is owed $6 million this year and is also unlikely to make the trip north when the team breaks camp. Carlos Beltran, now 34 with diminished skills after knee surgery, is owed $18 million this year. Lefty Johan Santana, whose velocity was already down from his peak years with the Minnesota Twins, is still recovering from shoulder surgery. He is owed 22.5 million this year but is not expected to pitch again until at least July. And while righty head case Francisco Rodriguez is still an excellent closer, he is owed $11.5 million this year. And if K-Rod finishes 55 games this season, a clause in his contract will pay him a staggering $17.5 million to close games for the Mets in 2012. Omar's ghost will be haunting the Mets clubhouse for quite some time...

On a team with a payroll of $126.5 million for 2011, well over half of those dollars are tied up in these five players. What’s worse, only Beltran and Rodriguez can be realistically viewed at this point as players who’ll be useful to the Mets, both on the field and hopefully in trades that would help the team re-stock its depleted farm system. But the Mets will not be able to trade K-Rod, I don’t think, without assuming a sizable chunk of his salary. The good news is that Beltran will have every incentive to play well and win one final good contract, and only Santana and maybe K-Rod will remain on the books after this season. The bad news is that that Beltran, Castillo, Perez, Santana and Rodriguez are all still on the books right now, and the combined weight of their contracts and the looming financial damage from Madoff lawsuit has kept the Mets mostly on the sidelines during the offseason. The whole situation is a mess. A big fucking mess.

But they have to play the games, and this year the Mets will be going to battle with a new skipper at the helm, the great Terry Collins. Or maybe not so great. I remember Collins from his days managing the Angels, a position from which he was forced to resign in 1999 after several key players, including Mo Vaughn and Jim Edmonds, staged a clubhouse mutiny. It was ugly stuff. Over six seasons of managing the Houston Astros and the Angels, Collins has compiled a record of 444 – 434, a winning record, just barely (he's also managed in Japan). Collins is very intense and has a raging temper, kind of in the same vein as Larry Bowa. We’ll see how his style flies with multi millionaires like Beltran, Wright, Bay and Reyes...

I’m not fully sold on the club's new stat-based Front Office, though I agree with their approach to the 2011 Mets, viewing the season as a bridge year in which they’ll see what they have and start making plans for the future. And in spite of all the shit surrounding the team and the organization right now, the Mets have some compelling pieces. If nothing else, there’ll undoubtedly be some interesting things happening on and off the field in 2011. Let’s take a look at the on-field “product”…

At first base, Ike Davis will be coming back after an encouraging rookie season in which he fielded well and produced a 264/.351/.440 line with the bat, including 19 HRs, 71 and RBI. Davis strikes out a lot and has a tendency to act like a little bitch when he gets wrung up by a plate umpire, but he’s learning and played to a 2.5 WAR in 2010. He figures to be a big left handed stick in the middle of the Mets’ lineup for years to come… The team’s two most valuable players at this point are on the left side of the infield. Third baseman David Wright’s batting average was down more than 20 points last year, but he hit 29 bombs, drove in 103 runs, and yielded almost 4 WAR. He’s very solid defensively, plays the game the right way, and is just someone you root for because he seems like such a good guy. It’s a shame to see his peak years getting pissed away with such a train wreck of a team… When healthy, Jose Reyes is one of the most electrifying players in the game, a rare five-tool shortstop whose speed might make you think of him as an ideal leadoff hitter, except that he’s a bit of a free swinger, strikes out more than he should, and has a just-ok career OBP of .335 over eight seasons. Still, he steals bases (a maligned skill among the new stat intelligentsia), hits for some power, and has an unbelievably live arm from the hole at shortstop. The biggest issue for Reyes is that he’s somewhat brittle and has spent a fair bit of time on the DL over his career. He’s a lot of fun to watch when he’s not on the mend…Second base will be a black hole for the Mets in 2011. Luis Castillo will hopefully get his walking papers before the end of spring training, leaving Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, Brad Emaus and Luis Hernandez to compete for the opening. [editor's note: As we go to press, Castillo has at long last been released. Fare thee well, Luis. Have fun spending all that money you'll be getting paid for doing absolutely nothing.] Personally, I’d like to see Murph and Tejada split the second base duties, but it looks like Hernandez will begin the season as the everyday guy. His career offensive numbers (.250/.298/.409) are ho-hum, at best… Along with Ike Davis, catcher Josh Thole is one of the team’s talented young players. He reminds me a little of a young Jason Kendall, only not as skuzzy. Unlike Kendall, Thole bats from the left side, but both are slap hitting gritty catchers, and Thole can even yank one out of the yard on occasion. He also handles pitchers well and plays solid defense. Thole will get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate, with Ronny Paulino playing Duffy Dyer to Thole’s Jerry Grote…

The opening day outfield will feature Angel Pagan in center, Jason Bay in left and Carlos Beltran in right. Pagan had a decent year last season (.285/.335/.435, 11HRs, 69 RBI, 4.8 WAR (!)). He cut down on the mental mistakes, played hard, and became a quiet team leader. He’ll be key to any success the Mets have this year…Bay struggled to find his footing in New York last season before a collision with the leftfield wall at Dodgers Stadium shelved him for the remainder of 2010. But nobody plays the game harder than he does. He’s a gamer when he’s right, and I’m pulling for him to have a bounce-back year. …Beltran is not nearly the player he was just a few years ago, but he’s a savvy, switch hitting veteran. The Carlos Beltran era in Queens is drawing to a close. The best the fans can hope for is that he plays well enough to garner some decent trade value before he walks at the end of the season.

The weakest link for the Mets, a team with a lot of them, is the pitching, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen. The top 3 starters are not bad. Mike Pelfrey had his best year in 2010, going 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA, but was 10-2 going into June and then regressed to the mean. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is my favorite player on the team. He transformed himself from a power arm to a knuckleballer after his career appeared to be in the toilet, and then last year, after getting sent down to the minors during spring training, he fought his way back onto the team and became one of the rotation’s most reliable arms (11-9, 2.84 ERA). On top of all this, he’s an eccentric southerner who reads books in the bullpen on his days off and likes to quote Faulkner in interviews with the beat writers. Armed with his knuckler – which he throws harder than most, sometimes up into the 80s – Dickey’s career may only just be getting started at age 36… Lefty Jonathon Niese had a better rookie year than his numbers suggest (9-10, 4.20 ERA). He doesn’t throw hard by today’s standards, but he’s got a nasty cutter and a lot of upside.

After Pelfrey, Dickey and Niese, Met fans should pray for rain. Chris Young, the likely number 4, has pitched in 18 games over the last two seasons. Who knows what we’ll be getting. Chris Capuano will anchor the staff. He’s 32 and has had Tommy John surgery, twice. Don’t expect a lot, even though he was once a solid pitcher for the Brewers.

The bullpen will be a fingers crossed kind of thing. K-Rod is the closer. One of the compelling stories for the Mets in 2011 will be whether the club tries to prevent him from reaching the 55 completed games he needs in order for his $17.5 million kicker to activate. The Players’ Association will undoubtedly be monitoring the situation very closely…The Mets lost a lot of bullpen arms in the offseason – Pedro Feliciano, Hisanori Takahashi, Elmer Dessens, Fernando Nieve, and Raul Valdes are all gone…Bobby Parnell will be back and is likely to be the set-up man for K-Rod. Parnell looks to me like a closer in waiting and has already lit up the gun at 103 MPH. I like his demeanor on the mound and I’m rooting for him to succeed. …Manny Acosta, picked up from the Atlanta Braves, will be another power arm in the pen….Journeyman DJ Carrasco, 34, was picked up cheaply off the junk pile and will be a middle reliever, and Taylor Bucholz, with one of the best curve balls I’ve ever seen, will try to reassert himself in 2011 as a major league caliber pitcher. …Like I said, keep your fingers crossed when the Mets have a lead and you see Terry Collins signaling for the bullpen.

It's not unlikely that the instability of the ownership situation will force the Mets to hold a fire sale before the end of the 2011 season. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran will both probably be dealt by the trading deadline. But it may not end there. Jason Bay could be traded, David Wright could be traded, and even K-Rod could be traded, provided the team is willing to assume some of his remaining salary. A house cleaning would not be the worst thing in the world. I like the idea of the Mets going with a nuclear option, torching the whole thing to the ground, and starting from scratch. They are probably 3 to 5 years away from being good anyway, and trading high-octane players now is a good way to get a head start on building for the future. I would welcome being able to see what some of the younger players can do at the Major League level, guys like Lucas Duda, with his Dave Kingmanesque power; Fernando Martinez, who always seems to be the next big thing but never gets enough playing time to adequately demonstrate his talents; and Jerry Meijia, with his lightning-fast heater. As much as I hate watching the Mets lose, this is the scenario I’m hoping for in 2011. I predict the team will finish 70-92, good enough for last place in their division. It’s gonna be a long summer in Queens, but the situation at the top of the organization is fluid, and maybe we’re now in a bottoming-out phase, the lowest low point immediately preceding a new period of ascendancy...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Baseball Preview, Part 1: The Halos...

We’re about two weeks away from opening day of baseball season. It can’t come soon enough! I’m already dialed in with my MLB Extra Innings package. I realize it makes me sound like a dweeb and a no-life loser, but the first thought I have at the start of every season is that I’ll have something to do for the next six months. ...Today I’ll touch on what I expect to see from the Angels in 2011. I’ll preview the Mets in the next few days, and then try to get in an overview of the league as a whole before the games begin...

The Angels will be mediocre in 2011. They should remain within pissing distance of first place deep into the season, but I doubt they'll have the horses to close the gap. ...Angels GM Tony Reagins and owner Arte Moreno really fucked up this offseason, showing themselves to be overmatched little boys in a man’s world. They added outfielder Vernon Wells in a head scatchingly confusing trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Mike Napoli, a useful, cost controlled power bat who was then flipped over to the Texas Rangers, where he will undoubtedly haunt the Angels and have a career year. Acquiring Wells was an act of sheer desperation after Reagins showed up late to the winter meetings and failed to land either Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth or Adrian Beltre, the three major offensive producers in the free agent market. Wells, who has one of the absolute worst contracts in the history of the game, is a serviceable right handed bat who can hit for some power, but he has a fairly pedestrian lifetime career line of .280/.329/.475, with 25.6 WAR over 12 seasons in the bigs, good for an average of about 2 wins per season. If he plays to this average in 2011 - and keep in mind that he's no spring chicken at 32 and has probably already begun his age related decline - the Angels will be paying him approximately $10 million per win, not an especially efficient deployment of funds. And with the onset of decline, Wells has become no better than an average defender in the outfield. There are even some advanced defensive statistics that show him to be a below league-average outfielder at this point in his career. Several commentators have pointed out that the best thing about the Angels getting Wells is that it means they won’t have to trot Bobby Abreu out into the field anymore. Abreu, now 37 years old, will DH, and the Angels’ outfield will be Wells in left, the speedy youngster Peter Bourjos in center, and Torii Hunter in right. So there's some worrisome age at the corner outfield spots. It may not be as bad as last season with Juan Rivera and Abreu at the corners, but Father Time spares no one, so I don't see the revamped outfield this year as a much of an improvement.

The Angels also picked up Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi in the offseason, two versatile lefties who should bolster what was a shaky bullpen last year. But the club still lacks a go-to, lights-out closer. The job is likely to be Fernando Rodney’s to lose, though I’d rather see Kevin Jepsen or even Jordan Walden get the job, both of whom throw harder than Rodney, which is what you want from a closer, a guy who can take the rock in the ninth and blow batters away. I could see Rodney getting booed out of town if he starts to blow games. He gets easily rattled and walks the bases loaded with alarming regularity. Should he struggle early on, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Scioscia goes with a closer-by-committee approach until somebody emerges as the trusted guy to finish out games.

The infield will be a little bit (but not much) improved with Kendry Morales coming back from injury after missing most of 2010. But you never know how a guy is gonna come back from an injury like the one he sustained being an ass clown last season. It’ll be interesting to watch what kind of start Morales gets off to. …Second base and shortstop will be Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, two replacement-level players, more or less, and switch hitters Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo are likely to split duties at third base until or unless one of them wins the everyday job. Neither of them inspires too much excitement, and they both seem like they’d be better suited as guys providing bench depth. Perhaps Brandon Wood can work his way back into the lineup this year and show that he can hit major league pitching. It would be a real gift if he panned out and gave the Angels the kind of power they really need out of a third baseman.

If the Halos are to have any shot whatsoever at winning the AL West this year, the starting pitching will have to pick up an otherwise middling squad. The club should have one of the more solid rotations in the game. Jered Weaver has emerged as the face of the franchise and the ace of the staff. With his deceptive mechanics and killer changeup, Weave has evolved from a finesse pitcher to one of the top strikeout artists in the game. Monterey Park's own Dan Haren is almost like a co-ace, and the Angels will get a big boost having him for the whole year. Ervin Santana is a solid number 3, even if there are times when he seems to lose focus and mental toughness. Joel Pinero is about as good a number 4 as you can hope for. He throws strikes, eats innings, and keeps his team in the game. He is also playing for a new contract in 2012, so don’t be surprised to see him bring a little something extra to his starts this year. Scott Kazmir, the only lefty in the rotation, may be washed up at 27. Isn’t that sad? Nice Jewish boy. There was a time when he had dominant stuff and was a dude opposing batters didn’t want to face. It seems like ages ago. If/when he falters, Michael Kohn or Matt Palmer can hopefully fill in competently.

Several rookies could have an impact. Hank Conger is battling it out with Bobby Wilson this spring for the second catcher spot behind Jeff Mathis. Mathis, for reasons known only to manager Mike Scioscia, was tendered an offer at the conclusion of last season, even though his career line in six seasons with the Angels is .199/.265/.311, with a -2.3 WAR. You’d be better off bringing Bob Boone out of retirement than having Mathis behind the plate every night, but Sosh seems to think he’s a good defensive backstop, so he’ll be the guy going into the season, at least. I’d really like to see Conger make the team. He seems like a good guy, and sooner or later he'll probably be the everyday catcher, unless the Angels trade him for some 37-year-old worn-out veteran with a horrible contract, which is sadly a distinct possibility. …First base prospect Mark Trumbo is having a good spring and there’s a chance he’ll start the season at the major league level since Kendry Morales is not fully recovered from his leg injury. If Trumbo turns out to be something good, he could be made into an outfielder, giving Wells and Hunter rest periodically and coming off the bench, or Morales could be turned into an outfielder if Trumbo shows a good glove at first base. But the guy everybody’s talking about is 19-year-old phenom Mike Trout, who was recently voted the best prospect in all of baseball. He’s a five-tool player, and an outfield with both Bourjos and Trout would prevent a lot of runs from scoring on the basis of speed alone. The Angels are very conservative when it comes to bringing up rookies, so I don’t expect to see Trout at the major-league level this year unless the team gets hit with a lot of injuries or is badly out of contention. Maybe we’ll see him as a September call-up, who knows?

I think the Angels are about three wins better than they were last year. That’s pretty disappointing given the money they're throwing at Vernon Wells. What makes the Wells trade all the more frustrating is that his contract is likely to hamstring the ballclub over the next few seasons in terms of acquiring the kind of high priced talent they'll need to improve. In any case, your 2011 Halos will finish the season at 83-79, six games back of the Oakland A’s, who will pull an upset and beat out the Texas Rangers for the division crown, possibly by one game. This is based on the admittedly dicey assumption that neither the A’s nor the Rangers will be seriously affected this season by injuries, which is why they actually have to play the games. But if it comes down to the last week of the season, the Angels play their last six games at home against Oakland and Texas. Even if we don’t have much of a shot at the division this year, it’ll be nice to get a chance to play the spoiler. I most emphatically do not want to see either of those ballclubs celebrating on our field...

Monday, March 14, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 36

There are many times in my life when I feel sorry for myself for having been born too late. Mainly it has to do with music and missing the 60s. But recently the disappointment has been more general since it feels like, at least here in the USA, we're living through a nasty era of crisis, stagnation, and national decline. A lot of the things we all took for granted up until 9/11 won't be so easily available to us any longer, if they're available to us at all. But in the end, fretting about when you were born is a waste of time, and at least I got to experience a nice little chunk of the pre-9/11 world. One thing that makes me feel very lucky is that I got to see Bruce Springsteen on several occasions when I was a kid, the first time in 1981 at Madison Square Garden, exactly one week after my bar mitzvah. Childhood memories are always more vivid and have a tendency to become larger than life as you reflect back from the standpoint of a world-weary adult, but that Springsteen concert, in support of The River, stands in my mind now as the greatest show I ever saw, and I think that's saying a lot...

With all the thinking I've done about Dion over the past week or so, it was inevitable that I'd make my way to the Springsteen records in my collection. There's a direct line connecting Dion and Phil Spector to Springsteen. That same line, incidentally, also connects to the Ramones, Blondie, the New York Dolls... That's a story for another day... Springsteen's connection to the early 60s is quite interesting and weirdly contradictory. He hit the scene right around the time when a feeling began to emerge that rock had become overly serious and self-important. The 60s dream had crumbled, America was on the verge of losing its first war, the president was shown to be a two-bit crook. It’s not surprising given this context that nostalgia for a simpler time would grip the masses. American Graffiti, Happy Days, Sha Na Na, the renewal of interest in the early Beach Boys... So Springsteen comes along and he’s also a throwback to the days when rock ‘n roll was fun and innocent. He's a revivalist. And yet, he can't be so easily reduced to nostalgia for the time before the 60s got all hairy and serious because his music both harkens back to the halcyon days of Dion and Spector and also has people talking about him as the new Bob Dylan. Perhaps we can see him as a revivalist who takes the art of pop seriously. A serious revivalist. Something like that. But however you choose to view Springsteen, there's no denying that the dude's always been a very complicated cat. He seemed so god-like when I was a kid. There was a kind of religious devotion to him, a messianic aura that I got swept up into. I can recall counting down the days to the concert, feeling like it would never come, and then it finally came and it was so much more than what I could have imagined. How often does that happen? I think part of it had to do with growing up in New York. I know
Springsteen's a Jersey guy but, let's be real, Jersey is just a New York satellite, and there’s always been something very Nu Yawk about the Boss. It’s his 1970s New Yorkness that somehow always seems to pick me up when I’m feeling sad and blue… Springsteen was in heavy, heavy, heavy rotation on WNEW-FM, ‘where rock lives.’ (Interesting that even back in the 70s there was already this serious anxiety about rock ‘n roll burning out or fading away). I used to call the station all the time and ask Scott Muni, Pat St. John, Vin Scelsa, Meg Griffin, Richard Neer, and even the late Allison ‘Nightbird’ Steele, to play songs like Badlands, Rosalita, Backstreets, and, of course, this one, which might be my favorite...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 35

A hep cat interpretation of Purple Haze. Dig the groovy flute and bongos, and check out how to the menacing sounding strings add drama and a low-level sense of unease. ...I picture myself in a Greenwich Village bachelor apartment, sitting Indian style on a Persian rug with a handful of friendly strangers. A peace pipe gets passed around and a beautiful orange cat sleeps peacefully in the bookshelf. I'm in a semi-trance as I watch a blob moving on the wall, created by the reflection of the overhead light on the record as it spins round 'n round on the phonograph. 'What's your trip?' the girl sitting next to me asks. Her hair is black. She wears colorful beads and smells like strawberries. The question startles me out of my waking reverie. I tell her I'm searching for something, trying to make sense of life's riddles. 'I don't like riddles,' she says. 'Jokes I like, riddles not so much.' But it's all a big riddle, I tell her. Not liking riddles is kind of like not liking air or water. Elemental substances. 'Air I can deal with she says, as long as it's clean. You wouldn't know much about clean air, coming from Los Angeles and all.' I tell her that cleanliness is next to godliness. It's a stupid cliche, and I regret saying it the moment it escapes my mouth. I was just trying to impress her. She has striking green eyes. I often regret things I say right after I say them. 'I don't believe in god,' she says. I ask her what she does believe in. She takes her turn with the peace pipe and thinks about my question. 'I believe love will get you to where you wanna go,' she finally says after blowing out a large cloud of smoke. I tell her I don't have anyplace to go. 'Then just be here now,' she says. And wait for love to give you the call.' She closes her eyes, takes in the music's dazed vibe, and smiles blissfully. I go back to watching the light blob rotating on the wall...

Friday, March 11, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 33

I'm feeling quite shaken, no pun intended, by this massive earthquake that has rocked Japan. The aerial footage of the tsunami wave advancing over the land is just horrifying. Really chilling stuff. The whole thing hits close to home for us Angelenos because anybody who lives here and has half a brain knows that the Big One is not a question of if but only when. I think about it every time I drive into the tunnels on the 110 freeway, or under a freeway overpass, or if I'm sitting under a deck at Angels Stadium, and when I'm at any number of the other precarious places in which one can find themselves over the course of a normal day. It's yet another of those things that makes you realize how important it is to not get cheated. Try to enjoy every day as best you can, hard as it may be to do so these days. Enjoy every sandwich, as Warren Zevon says, because it can all get taken away from you without warning. Death don't have no mercy in this land. So take pleasure in the little things. Like a great song from Dion and the Belmonts, even one you've heard a billion times before. Try and listen for something new every time. Let the song remind you of the good things in your life. I know I'm starting to sound religious here, which is funny since I'm a proud atheist. Tragedy has a way of bringing out the magical thinker in me. Magical thinking for me serves as an obsessive-compulsive bulwark against bad stuff happening, if that makes sense, even though the rational, scientific, evidence-based materialist in me knows that we're all in this alone. We only have each other. This is all there is...

So Dion and the Belmonts. So great. As you watch and listen to tonight's clip, it's weird to think that there's heroin coursing through the guy's veins. I don't think the backing singers behind him are the real Belmonts, but I dig the way they shuffle, and the way the three of them look like they're about 50 years old. You'd never see that today, where youth has become the only thing that matters in the entertainment business. ...There's great little touches in Dion's performance, like when he drapes the microphone cord over his shoulder. That's the move of a total pro, a real entertainer, and he can't be more than 19 or 20 at this point...

Dion's music in this period was a product of the seedy underbelly of the Bronx in the 1950s. I'm obsessed with the whole milieu. Underworld. The Polo Grounds. The Grand Concourse. The L Train. Last Exit to Brooklyn. Jackie Gleason. The Wanderers. C. Wright Mills. The Power Elite. The Naked Kiss. The Killing. Sterling Hayden. J. Edgar Hoover. Whitaker Chambers. Alger Hiss. American Tabloid. City of Night. Phil Spector. Frankie Valli... And Dion. A guido from the rough backstreets who had a monkey on his back for a long time, but he still found a way to shine. I find inspiration in guys who are deeply tortured yet manage to dig way down and find something incredible in themselves. I wonder why. Teenager in love. Love came to me. Gonna make it alone. Donna the prima donna. The wanderer. Lovers who wander. Runaround Sue. No one knows. Where or when. Lonely teenager. The majestic...

On this somber day, I feel blessed to be able to sit here in my home and say a few things about how much I love Dion...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 32

Dion is a hero of mine and one of the genuinely compelling figures of the 1960s. He's also been somewhat forgotten, probably because of the way the British Invasion rendered the Golden Age of American rock ‘n roll obsolete. Interest in doo wop in particular remained dormant from the mid 60s onwards, until a wave of nostalgia for the relative placidity of the late 50s and early 60s swept across America in the wake of Watergate, Viet Nam and race riots. Even though you can find him among the cast of characters adorning the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s, Dion went through a bit of a lost period after the Beatles first came to America. But in 1968 he got clean for good – he’d been a heroin addict from the age of 15 – and he returned with a completely revamped orchestral folk sound. Tonight’s song was his comeback single, and I think you’ll agree that it’s a total gem. Ethereal, nimble, and lovely in every way, it’s the sound of a man who’s had a huge weight lifted from his shoulders and now wants to offer soothing music to those feeling shaken by the ugly side of social upheaval. His voice is what gets me more than anything. I get such goose bumps when he sings it seems the good they die young / I just looked around and he's gone. The adenoidal quality of his earlier singing, which might very well have been a consequence of his addiction, is a distant memory, replaced by a warm and inviting expressiveness that'll relax you and make your pain all better. Abraham Martin and John is truly a song for broken hearts.

PS - Apologies for the cheesy video attached to the song this evening. YouTube is an incredible, seemingly limitless resource for virtually any interest under the sun, but sometimes you have to deal with other people’s “creativity” in order to access the things you want. The advice I would give to my legion of readers is to close your eyes or minimize the window and just let the beauty of the song work on your imagination and transport you. You’ll be much better served by the images that projected on your mind's movie screen...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

songs for broken hearts, no. 31

Pop music is an exhausted medium today insofar as inventiveness is concerned. This is probably true of art more generally. Everything refers to something else. I can only speak for myself, but I can’t really hear something new without thinking that it sounds like something I’ve already heard, can’t see a movie without thinking the director is borrowing his style from another director, can’t read a book without thinking it’s an attempt to parrot another author’s style. Jean Baudrillard talked about how in a media saturated society all culture would increasingly become a simulation, and then a simulation of a simulation, and then... And it's come to pass. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that new music is bad or tired, though it does suggest that it’s not realistic to expect much in the way of innovation anymore… Which brings me to my main point about music making in the 60s, at a time when it was still possible to do new and fresh things. What fascinates me is not just how sounds and styles changed so quickly from one year to the next, and even from one month to the next, but also the uneven way change occurred. Some artists transitioned from na├»ve teenybopper pop to headier drug influenced music as early as 1965, while others didn’t really catch up until 1969 or 1970, by which time the first few rounds of psychedelia were already being surpassed by pioneers who moved into harder FM radio rock with longer, more ‘serious’ songs.

Tommy James and the Shondells were among those who were late to the psychedelic party, and in retrospect that’s not a bad thing. During parts of 1968 and 1969 - when the Beatles were doing the white album and Abbey Road, and the Who were doing A Quick One and Tommy, and pieces of the Hollies, Buffalo Springfield, and the Byrds were breaking off and forming Crosby Stills and Nash - Tommy James was only just starting to move from bubble gum music to psychedelic pop. This resulted in some of his best singles, songs like Crimson and Clover, Sweet Cherry Wine, Ball of Fire, and tonight’s song, Sugar on Sunday. The brilliant thing about all these songs, though, is that Tommy James never abandoned pop for rock, never tried to get too heavy in any sense of the word. With the Shondells’ psychedelic pop singles, you hear harpsichord, and flanged guitars and vocals, and peace and love, but the songs remain light ‘n airy and have a naivety and enthusiasm about them that you rarely get from heavier rock with its more jaded and self-important approach to music. Even though James supposedly took umbrage with the bubble gum label, you can tell that the guy has always been in love with pop, and he held onto that side of himself even as his sound evolved. His music gives me a warm romantic feeling inside, perfect for the onset of spring. The days are getting a little longer, flowers are blooming, and the air is pregnant with possibility...