Allman Brothers, Dreams

My old friend Russ and I fashioned ourselves in the mode of Neal and Jack, at least sometimes, living a sort of vagabond life of simple ascetic pleasures traveling the world the way the monks of Tibet once famously did.

That meant hitchhiking after school from St. James to Cold Spring Harbor to try on and sometimes buy Hit Em Hard corderoy work pants, baggy the way they wore them back in the depression. If we found a beer or a J to go along with our Camel cigarettes we would enjoy it, and when we got hungry some yoghurt usually did the trick.

Most days we played basketball in Gaynor Park. There was always a game on the single court there, and we’d rotate in and out, playing full court hard, against our high school friends, and Freddy and Jay and others who had cycled back from Vietnam and brought a steely dark humor and cynicism to our lives.

The hoops court at Gaynor Park was the locus for our social life. This is where you went when you wanted to find your friends, who were either jamming on the court or flopped over the concrete pump house on the other side of the unused tennis courts. I didn’t know how all the boys and girls who spent so much time in that strip of tarmac, grass and concrete ended up there, it all seemed magical, but some part of it was because the Eastman clan, Russ and family, lived catty corner across the avenue.

It was there, at Russ’s house, that we hung out at lunch, and on days when school was shortened for testing. It was there we sat in the yard discovering that granny smith apples and Madeira Rainwater were an incredible combo. It was there that we watched Bogart movies, read Tin Tin (Rich, having colored all the dog images in a book with a yellow marker: “Don’t eat the yellow Snowy.”), and learned what Thai stick was (in the garage, in case it was volatile).

Russ and I also spent many weekends hitchhiking around Long Island, setting some goal (Hey, Southhampton!) and often making it there and back. The adventures weren’t usually dramatic. A dip in the ocean, flirting with some girls who droves us two miles, finding somehow some beer. Not exactly Tibetan simplicity, but basic, elemental, life distilled.

We talked to everyone. Drivers who picked us up, of course, but also road workers, and convenience store clerks. The workers in Army Navy stores and wherever we went to buy Dannon yoghurt as a snack. Local gossip, news, the weather, that downhome chatter was part of a package of values that we developed and shared and which I think has endured. In later years, when we were actually in control of the car, we’d stop and help people whose cars had broken down, Russ making them feel safe as we helped or found help for whatever the problem was.

We often found ourselves, because of our long hair and baggy pants, talking to police officers who assumed we took drugs. I remember a number of times that we chatted up those cops, while holding a joint or two, talked seriously about the problems with Nelson Rockefeller’s increasing penalties for pot possession, and managed to save our hides by good grace and luck and maybe a certain amount of innocent guile.

Until we didn’t, at which point our wanderings and self-inventing become more publicly known at home, and lawyers had to be called. We’ll blame Frank Zappa for that. We ate the yellow snow, metaphorically at least.

Through all of this we listened to a lot of music. And the music that we listened to most was the Allman Brothers. When I heard from Russ’s sister that he’d died this past Saturday I thought about his cancer, and the unrelenting beat of disease that transforms a life of love and devotion into an unrelenting agony and violation of all of that. And I ached, for the many years in between those strange halcyon days Russ and I shared figuring out how to live in the world, and these strange days when whatever script we’ve been given makes the ending seem as inevitable as one of those Bogart movies. And much more terrible because it isn’t just a story.

I started thinking about this Allman’s tune today. It’s from their first album, which for some time was underappreciated, though nobody cares anymore from whence the good stuff came. And this is the good stuff.

So sit with Russ and me on the pump house, with our friends, and argue about Jaimo and Butch, and Duane and Dickey, appreciate Berry’s amazing bass line, and think about motorcycles and eerie coincidences and terribly sad moments. And raise a Stegmaier, please, for Russ. And don’t klunk.


Live Supershit 666

Not really.

Saw my old friend Jason Grey today. We figured out we hadn’t seen each other for three years. He helped me out big time and happened to mention that my greatest contribution to Remnants for him was turning him on to Supershit 666.

So I looked and found this British cover band playing Star War. Every song on that little EP is a 10, so this is as good or bad as it gets. Supershit was a studio-only supergroup and this is the best and only live version of a SS666 song I’ve ever seen.

Actually it’s a little Supershitty, but it’s fun to watch the drummer. I’d be happy to play with him. I think the bass player is sitting on the couch.

For Jason.

Dead Boys, All This And More

One of the thrills of the punk years was the primacy of singles. US bands would launch with a self- or independently pressed 45, looking for enough buzz to get a major label deal. UK bands and labels eased the way into the US market by dropping 45s into the indie record stores, where some people, I was one, would hang out and hear the choicest cuts on the store’s record player.

These singles came, usually, with picture sleeves. Sometimes they came with other gimmicks. I’m sure every punk band wanted a hit single, but most of these weren’t destined for radio play. They were meant as samizdat from the heart of DIY RNR, a beacon looking for similar youths with guitars and loud drums. If you had a single, you had a calling card at least.

One true thing was that there were some great songs released, and another true thing was that many were followed by fairly crappy albums.

The Dead Boys album leads off with their great single, Sonic Reducer, and is followed by a collection that sounded pretty strong in its day. Looking back at it now, what seemed like great energy and clever arrangements then seems today a little obvious and not quite as hard as they should have been. Such is context.

Gene points out, however, that this album should have been on the Rolling Stone Punk Top 40 Albums, and he may be right. It was historic, one of the first true punk albums on the shelves. I’m not sure of that importance as I listen today, but I am nostalgic. See, I actually performed on the album as a musician, of sorts.

The cut is the second track, All This and More. My girlfriend’s sister’s boyfriend, Jim, was an assistant engineer on the album for Genya Ravan at Electric Ladyland. One day we were hanging out there, maybe waiting for him to get off work, when he brought us into the studio. It was the weekend, for sure, it wasn’t someplace we could wander in to usually. But on this day we got headphones and instructions to do the hand claps that lead off All This and More. And we did them and are on the record.

I think. Because I’m assuming our hand claps were good enough. I’m assuming that Genya didn’t get some other young people in to do better hand claps. No way to know that now. In any case they’re good claps. Not as good as the hand claps in the Stooges’ No Fun, but good enough for All This and More, which has one of the great weird first lines in all rock songs.

So, Gene reminded me that I probably performed on a record he thought should be in the Top 40 of Punk albums, even if it’s the elpee that displaces Blink 182.

What a joke.

In other words, we didn’t get any royalties or credit. And I haven’t played the record since before it came out, which I guess is why I forgot about this story. Until now. But there it is. History, perhaps.


Remembering Richard.

Three years ago my friend Richard died. He and I had been occasional tennis partners, often shared dinners with mutual friends, and enjoyed talking about music.

He was English by birth, but had lived in the US for many years. I bring that up because he had a love for Englishy art rock and subgenres of dance music that I found somewhat bewildering. But each New Years Eve, at the party we would inevitably be attending together, he would pass out CDs with his favorite songs from the previous year and it was a treat to hear the world through his ears. Richard loved sharing the tunes he liked, and was always looking for new sounds.

At his memorial I learned that back in the early 80s Richard had played the synthesizer in a band.

After his death his wife, Monica, shared a big folder of songs of his, which is another window into his world. We’ve long talked about posting some of these songs somewhere as a tribute, and may still do that on Facebook.

But while thinking about Richard this memorial week, I thought a post of a handful of the tunes I’ve discovered from his collection would serve as a memorial, a tribute to someone who is missed by many.


Link: Rockin’ With the Sequoias

My friend, Seabrook, wrote that book, The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory. It’s full of great writing and storytelling about the making of hit records. That was last month.

About five years ago Seabrook started a band with another friend of mine, Homans, and they called themselves the Sequoias, because they were tall. It was a good name.

Last Friday night, the Sequoias played the Bowery Electric. Last time I was there I was seeing the Upper Crust. Of course, the first time I went to Bowery Electric it was to see the Sequoias play at my friend Walker’s 50th birthday party. Back in those days, Walker was the bass player in the band.

I posted about the Sequoias last spring, when they played a show at the Correspondent’s dinner in DC, with Chuck Leavell playing keyboards on Gimme Shelter. They were pretty good that night, as they were at the Century Club around that time, for our friend Susan’s birthday, but the vocals were a bit of a hodge podge.

Last Friday, at the Bowery Electric, they featured a new vocalist, Rebecca Donner, who has a big swooping voice that embraces just about every bit of emotion it can, and squeezes ecstatically. They were also tighter, more rehearsed, and the keyboard man, John Colapinto, stepped up to sing Brand New Cadillac in maximum style, while Ben Dickenson sang some of the night’s rockingest guy vocals, as well as played drums.

So, this link is to an excellent New York Times story that improbably (until you think about it) ran today in the paper of record (and gets every fact as I know them right). Notably, that’s my daughter in the second picture, behind the woman having her book signed.

There’s a link in the story to a clip of Rebecca singing I’ve been loving you too long. Or you can click this:

Afternoon Snack: Lynyrd Skynrd, “What’s Your Name?”

Lynyrd Skynyrd were another band who really made it right when I was in the throes of punk and new wave and listening to the exciting new bands who were reinterpreting rock rather than expanding it under existing rules.

For that reason Freebird just put me to sleep. Remember though, I was 25 when the band hit it big, and I had already had my fill of arena rock and ten minute songs and 12-minute extended guitar solos.

But, with age, I have learned the core band–most of whom died while I was in London in ’77 and when punk had just grabbed me–was a pretty clever guitar band of pretty good musicians with a pretty fun sense of play and humor.

Who knew?

Along with some other bands I did dismiss (like Rush, but not like Styx, Kansas, Toto, et al) I have been listening to the Skynyrd lately and love Mr. Saturday Night, Gimme Three Steps (penned by JJ Cale), and Ooh That Smell among others and they are great little pop/guitar tunes with clever words.

What’s Your Name, however, tops the lists of my faves, so here are the guys laying it out there.

Darlingside, “Terrible Things”

I went with my daughter to see these four young men called Darlingside last night at the excellent Rockwood Music Hall in lower Manhattan. It’s a clever but lousy name. Darlingside, I mean. Rockwood is a clever and excellent name. We were there at the invitation of the author, John Seabrook, who is writing about the band for the New Yorker, who was there with his son Harry. Lucy and Harry were born two months apart 16 and a half years ago, and have grown up together in many ways. Rockwood is a 21+ venue. Special exceptions were granted. They were the youngest people in the room, surely, just as John and I were probably, statistically at least, the tallest. And maybe the oldest, now that I think about it.

John knew about Darlingside because his wife’s niece went to college with them recently at Williams. They’re very cute and apparently the kids at Williams thought they were great. These two things aren’t unrelated, but cuteness doesn’t diminish their skills. They are talented multi instrumentalists and harmonizers. Their first album came out yesterday and the show we saw was their first on their record-release tour. All of which is supposed to suggest that I didn’t know much about them until I listened to the album yesterday. It is full of very smart lyrics, and soft but engaging arrangements and vocals. In other words, it is not rock.

But watching their lovely show, which was thoroughly enjoyable and displayed a sense of humor the earnest songs on the album don’t, it was kind of easy to project back a few years to a band that was perhaps a little edgier, a lot less interested in being lovely and a lot more interested in telling it like it is. With drums.

Today my daughter found this old (from 2012) music video from Darlingside. It’s not hard rock by any stretch, but it’s a strong song with a rock beat and a sharp video that came way too late to hit the indie boom. But the harmonies are still front and center, and delightful, as is the dark storyline with a happy ending. This, I think, is Darlingside.

My Brilliant Career, as a model

audiocover-smallIn 1981 my friend Max and his associate (and our friend) Kathy, made an advertisement for the magazine Max worked for: Audio.

I have no recollection of how the whole thing came together, but at the end of the day three members of the Warren Street All Starz stickball team, Rafael Pizarro, Fleming Meeks and moi, were cast. Fleming as the delicate consumer, Rael and I as the Mono Brothers, the wild beasts of the street.

The “record store” was set up in the Cooper Square loft of Janet, a friend of other All Starz members.

I remember brutalizing my hair with a pair of scissors, trying to make it as spiky as I could, before heading over to the shoot, though it doesn’t look that spiky.

The image tells the rest of the story. This episode did not prove to be a stepping stone to a new career.


Excerpt: The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

sexlivesofcannibalsMy friend David, who is living in New Zealand these days, sends this clip from  The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

I packed thirty-odd discs that I felt could comprehensively meet any likely musical desire…[but] I forgot our CDs in my mother’s garage in Washington, thousands and thousands of miles away…

..I was thinking about these CDs a few months later, when once again I was being driven to the brink of insanity by an ear-shattering, 120-beat-a-minute rendition of “La Macarena,” the only song ever played on Tarawa. It was everywhere. If I was in a minibus, overburdened as always with twentysome people and a dozen fish, hurtling down the road at a heart-stopping speed, the driver was inevitably blasting a beat-enhanced version of “La Macarena” that looped over and over again. If I was drinking with a few of the soccer players who kindly let me demonstrate my mediocrity on the soccer field with them, our piss-up in one of the seedy dives in Betio would occur to the skull-racking jangle of “La Macarena.” If I happened across some teenage boys who had gotten their hands on an old Japanese boom box, they were undoubtedly loitering to a faint and tinny “La Macarena”…

…As I continued to be flailed by “La Macarena,” I took small comfort in the fact that at least no one on Tarawa had ever seen the video, and I was therefore spared the sight of an entire nation spending their days line dancing…

…What finally brought me to the brink was the recent acquisition of a boom box by the family that lived across the road… sometimes for hours at a time, and I would be reduced to an imbecilic state by the endless playing of “La Macarena.” It was hot. My novel—and this is a small understatement—was not going very well. My disposition was not enhanced by “La Macarena.” I wondered if I could simply walk across the road and kindly ask the neighbors to shut the fucking music off… and I asked Tiabo if she thought it was permissible for me to ask the neighbors to turn the music down. “In Kiribati, we don’t do that,” Tiabo [the maid] said. “Why not?” I asked. “I would think that loud noise would bother people.” “This is true. But we don’t ask people to be quiet”…

…As the months went by and “La Macarena” was etched deeper and deeper into my consciousness, I became increasingly despondent that our package of CDs would never arrive. Then, one day the stars aligned, the gods smiled, and as I rummaged among the packages I saw with indescribable happiness my mother’s distinctive handwriting. Oh, the sweet joy of it. I claimed the package, stuffed it my backpack, and biked like the wind.

“Tiabo,” I said, full of glee. “You must help me.” She eyed me suspiciously as I plundered through our box of CDs. “You must tell me which song, in your opinion, do you find to be the most offensive.” “What?” she asked wearily. “I want you to tell me which song is so terrible that the I-Kiribati will cover their ears and beg me to turn it off.” “You are a strange I-Matang.” I popped in the Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head. I forwarded it to the song “Gratitude,” which is an abrasive and highly aggressive song. “What do think?” I yelled. “I like it.” Damn. I moved on to Nirvana’s “Lithium.” I was sure that grunge-metal-punk would not find a happy audience on an equatorial atoll. “It’s very good,” Tiabo said. Now I was stumped. I tried a different tack. I inserted Rachmaninoff. “I don’t like this,” Tiabo said.

Now we were getting somewhere. “Okay, Tiabo. How about this?” We listened to a few minutes of La Bohème. Even I felt a little discombobulated listening to an opera on Tarawa. “That’s very bad,” Tiabo said. “Why?” “I-Kiribati people like fast music. This is too slow and the singing is very bad.” “Good, good. How about this?” I played Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. “That’s terrible. Ugh . . . stop it.” Tiabo covered her ears. Bingo. I moved the speakers to the open door.

“What are you doing?” Tiabo asked. I turned up the volume. For ten glorious minutes Tarawa was bathed in the melancholic sounds of Miles Davis. Tiabo stood shocked. Her eyes were closed. Her fingers plugged her ears. I had high hopes that the entire neighborhood was doing likewise. Finally, I turned it off. I listened to the breakers. I heard the rustling of the palm fronds. A pig squealed. But I did not hear “La Macarena.” Victory. “Thank you, Tiabo. That was wonderful.” “You are a very strange I-Matang.”

Night Music: Tiki Brothers, “Ocean—Thank You Lou Reed”

My buddies the Tiki Brothers play a lot of water and beach themed tunes. They started out playing covers, lots of novelty tunes (Pipeline anyone?) a few years ago and at one of their early shows at the Steinhof Cafe, a bar up the road from my house, they played a gorgeous non-novelty song about the sea that stately-sloshed it’s way up the bank and back down the beach again, with a long inevitable build of tension and melody and determination. These are the not coincidentally the characteristics that, for me, dominate Lou Reed’s song writing. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that he wrote this late Velvet Underground song that I didn’t know, called “Ocean,” which I’d surely heard because it was on the Velvet’s big commercial move, Loaded. (The link here is to the demo version, which features John Cale on organ and wasn’t on the released elpee.)

Walker, the Tiki’s bassist, sent me a recording today. It’s Ocean, the Lou Reed song, only with a kind of righteous poem dedicated to Lou Reed laid on top by the Tiki’s vocalis/mandolin player, Buck, extemporaneously I’m told. And like the original it starts quiet and builds into something of a roiling swamp of tone poem and tribute and something a little lovely and oddly familiar with Lou. It’s recorded live in the rehearsal studio so the balance and mix isn’t always perfect, but that’s okay. It builds to something I thought worth sharing.

Ocean–Thank You Lou Reed, by the Tiki Brothers.

louandlaurie-southfork Ps. I went looking for a picture of Lou Reed at the beach, maybe doing tai chi or working on his tan, but this was the closest I could find.