Lou Reed, “Live — Take No Prisoners” (3/10)
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere. The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst. Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
–“Second Coming,” W.B. Yeats
The 70s brought us a lot of great things, like fabrics made from space-age polymers and film stock that instantly looked dated.
But one of the more questionable fads from that time was the live album. From Kiss “Alive” to “Frampton Comes Alive” to Cheap Trick’s “Live at Budokan,” rock bands released live albums not simply to fulfill contractual obligations (like their cousin, the greatest hits album), but as a way of showing fans what their music can sound like when it’s recorded live in front of what may or may not be a captive audience. And with or without overdubs.1 The trend was so ubiquitous, that I thought every band, as a matter of course, released three studio records and then, to break things up, a live album.
But in sixth grade, a friend (I think it was Jeff?) gave me a couple of records he didn’t want and thought I might like. One of them, I don’t remember. The other was Ted Nugent’s “Weekend Warriors.”
The third was Lou Reed’s “Take No Prisoners,” a double live album.
At first, I was most interested in the Nugent record, since I had seen his other records in record stores and suspected his music sounded like the wailing guitar solos I heard coming out of dirty, smoky cars driven by unbathed long-haired dudes smoking cigarettes.
The cover was about what you’d expect: it’s an illustration of the Nuge shredding on his guitar but the neck of the guitar morphs into a gun that’s shooting, I don’t know, rock-n-roll naysayers? The songs are about what you’d expect, too: songs about the ladies, songs about drinking, songs about venom, songs about rocking in the streets 2 and so on.
Yes. It was exactly like the music I heard coming out of the smokey cars and it got old pretty quick.
The Lou Reed record, on the other hand, seemed far more dangerous.
The cover, a gatefold, was an illustration of a man in fishnet stockings, stiletto heels, and a leather motorcycle jacket. Or is it a man? Those stockings…
S/he’s standing on a corner 3 Behind her, a puddle of urine and a trashcan has been dumped over, the contents — a busted up doll, some costume jewelry, a shattered picture frame — spilled on the sidewalk. On the back cover, there’s a long black car at the curb and, at the end of the street, a man leaning against a light pole.
“Probably selling drugs,” I thought. “These punks are all on drugs.”
I wasn’t quite sure if this was “punk rock,” that dangerous subgenre rock so subversive, “20/20”4 did a special segment on it. My parents and I watched the segment together and I shook my head in disgust, tsk-tsking at all the right places, making concerned comments like, “Ugh, do they have to be so loud?” and “What’s with the hair, huh? I mean, come on.” But deep in my heart, I was thinking, “This is the music for me.”
All indications were pointing to the album being punk rock, but I was still nervous about listening to it. I strapped on my headphones and placed the needle at the beginning of record one, side one.
And, boy, did I have every right to be nervous.
The album opens with what sounds like very shaky hands lighting a cigarette with wooden matches. Then a voice. Lou’s, I assumed.
In the right ear: “Hello.”
Pan left: “Sorry we’re late but we were just tuning.”
The voice seemed forced and weird. Like a weirdo. Like a punk.
Then, the sounds of the audience. A real audience.
If there’s one thing the live albums of the 70s could never get right it was the sound of the audience. The closest anyone ever got to an actual live vibe was a firecracker going off during “Wind of Change” on “Frampton Comes Alive.” The rest of it is white noise that might contain young women screaming. Who knows. It never varies. It appears the audience doesn’t know when songs begin or end. It’s just a persistent buzz that fades in and out.
But the audience on “Take No Prisoners”? You can hear their conversations. And what are they talking about? The craziest stuff! The first intelligible thing you hear?
Lou Reed’s a bastard! Woo!
An actual swear word! My 12-year old ears were on fire and loving every minute of it!
Then Mr. Reed starts talking and within seconds he’s using the real cream of the crop, hardcore, R-rated swear words.
Someone else in the audience yells, “Heroin!”
Of course, at the time, I didn’t know this was the title of one of Reed’s songs. I thought this was how junkies behaved: they randomly shouted out their favorite drugs, like one yells out the name of their favorite players during football games.
At the same time, this wasn’t exactly what I imagined punk rock to sound like. The music was… listenable. Melodic. There was a piano, background singers, a saxophone. Granted, Lou Reed never really sang, but he certainly surrounded himself with world-class musicians.
Reed opens the set with a quote from Yeats. Yeats! Then he goes on to talk about Springsteen (digs him), critic Robert Christgau (hates him), Patti Smith (on the fence), and everything else that comes to mind.
And that’s just the first song.
I listened to the rest of the album intrigued, scared, curious, and loving every minute of it. Some of the songs are incredibly loud and intense (“Leave Me Alone”), incredibly sad (“Berlin”) and I still believe the version of “Satellite of Love” on this record is one of the greatest live performances ever recorded: The piano is odd and mysterious. Reed’s voice is raw and weak, yet he manages to tell a story so well. And the guitar break at the end of the song will make the hair on your neck stage dive. Sometimes, this guitar break makes me cry.
Yeah, yeah. Reed’s made better records and there are probably better live albums out there. But there was no better introduction to the seedy, dirty world of underground rock than Lou Reed “Live – Take No Prisoners.”
“‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst. Are full of passionate intensity.’ Now you figure out where I am.”
Ramones, End of the Century (2/10)
How often does the first album you hear by a favorite artist continue to be your favorite album by that artist? With the Ramones, it’s not easy to pick a best. For some, they all sound the same. For others, the badassery never falters.
Backstory: when this record came out, I was a young man intrigued by this new music craze called “punk rock.” It was going to be the downfall of society, they said (unfortunately, it was not). It would force me to wear my hair funny and inspire me to question authority (fortunately, it did). And so on.
We were visiting my grandparents in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and visiting the local mall. One of the record stores was going out of business and everything was on sale. My mom said she would buy me one album, so I had to choose between this and, I don’t know, Van Halen II or some such. I chose this.
I brought it back to my grandparents’ house and my dad asked what kind of music it was. I said I thought it was punk rock. He said, “There will be no punk rock in my house.”
Fortunately, there was. And, in the days and years to come, there was a lot of it.
Look, I know pairing Phil Spector with the Ramones seems about as smart as pairing Brian Eno with GWAR and apparently, the sessions were far from smooth, even by Dee Dee Ramone standards. But Spector’s “wall of sound” — and all of the over-the-top touches that go with it, like strings and horns and celestas — made this record palatable enough to my young, untrained ear that it made me hungry for more.
There will always be room in my heavy rotation for “End of the Century,” and, in particular, songs like “Danny Says,” “The Return of Jackie and Judy,” “Rock n Roll High School,” and — the first song KDGE ever played way back at the end of June in 1989 — “Do You Remember Rock n Roll Radio.”
Do you remember lying in bed
With your covers pulled up over your head?
Radio playin’ so no one can see
We need change, we need it fast
Before rock’s just part of the past
‘Cause lately it all sounds the same to me
Note: A few months ago, I fully intended to learn what I needed to learn so I could create a brand spanking new and beautiful website. But, as my Grandma Butler used to say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” And so the new website went straight to hell. Things may change soon. I’ll keep you two updated. And I’ll be better about posting. I promise. For example, check this out.
Last week I had the honor of “adjudicating” young improv troupes at this year’s ISAS Festival, held at the Hockaday School. I’m not going to lie, some of the performances were pretty rough. But there’s was something they all had in common: this resilient optimism. They were all so gung ho about being there and doing the work.
I have no clue what an “adjudicator” does, so I shot straight with them. I told them, “You have boundless energy. You have quick wits and smarts and talent.”
But I did not tell them, “Hold on tight to that and don’t let this shit planet bring you down.”
I did not tell them that because I probably would have been escorted from the campus and also because they need to ride the high before they learn for themselves (really the only way to learn anything) about how shit this world is.
Instead of telling them that stuff, I thought it might be better if I tried to be the change I want to see in the world. But how do you do that? Act like I’m 17 again? No. No one wants that.
I’m a recent convert and current rabid fan of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. He recently interviewed Mark Oliver Everett (a.k.a. “E,” “Eels”) who said, as grownups, maybe we should act more like Mr. Rogers and less like Donald Trump.
This morning I got an email from a friend I haven’t seen or spoken to in probably 20 years. I like to brag about my friend, David. When I first met him, he was a theatre nerd wearing a “Cats” t-shirt. We started hanging out and I got him to watch some movies. Some weird movies. Bergman, Fellini, Jarmusch, Kurosawa, you name it.
He got hooked on film and, now, he’s an experimental filmmaker. His work is part of the permanent collection at the Whitney Museum, he’s the past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he’s hung out with Yoko Ono. He’s a little bit of a big deal.
Sadly, David lost his father in February. I met his father once, but the memory is hazy. David said his father remembered me. “(H)e remembered you – and remembered you as the person you are, particularly in relation to me: the man who set me on my life’s path.”
I don’t say this to boast. Okay, maybe I say it a little to boast. But mostly to say it that this is one way to be the change we want to see in the world[note: I understand this is a recurring theme with me. I’m okay with that. I hope you are, too.]: that we share with others the things that we love. Partly because they maybe they will get something out of it and partly because maybe they find in it a passion they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.
I hope in my talks with some of the students at the art festival last week, they grabbed hold of something. Maybe they’ll check out long-form. Maybe they’ll read about Del Close. Maybe they’ll look into the Compass.
And maybe I did some good.
I’ve always threatened to build my own theme from scratch because I’ve never seen a scratch that I actually like. Well, I’m making good on this threat as you can now tell since the site looks like dung. So here we go. Expect to see quick (I hope) updates and changes as I’m on my way to creating a website that will turn me into the world’s first billionaire surrealist blogger.
It’s still sort of a new year and I’m still trying to make good on my resolutions. Which means for the next few weeks, you may see a flurry of activity on the site, at the end of which I’ll make a post about how great all of the momentum has been and then… nothing.
Enjoy and feel free to send me words of encouragement on both writing, building this here blog, and maybe even weight loss.
Okay good bye.
I’m a musician. I’ve been playing music since I was able to sit in front of a piano. And if there’s anything I like to do more than playing music, it’s listening to it. All kinds. I love classical1, jazz 2, punk, indie, downtempo, industrial, folk, bluegrass, ragtime, metal, ska 3Late 70s British ska, duh.[/duh], country, lounge, you name it, I’ll give it a listen.
But lately, I’ve reached a wall. Nothing sounds good. It’s like being hungry but having no clue what you want to eat. I’m having a difficult time listening to music with a distinct rhythm, or voices, or harsh sounds (I love you, Miles Davis, but I just can’t with the trumpet right now.), or crazy dynamics. I don’t like fast tempos and the slow tempos put me to sleep.
I’ve hit a musical wall.
The only thing right now that I can listen to — and it’s more just to fill the silence — is ambient. Which has left me with a small handful of choices. I’ve been listening to Moby’s free album (which you can find here), a lot of Brian Eno, and Loscil, whose work always sounds good.
So basically, I’m listening to melodic white noise.
Anybody else ever have this problem? What did you do about it? Will it go away? I hope so.
I don’t know if you’d consider this “meta” or just “too much,” but I wanted to call out something that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time and now have actually done: I’ve created a page with some of my music. I hesitate to say “my” music because a huge chunk of it was co-authored by my good friend John Flores, who, as you may have guessed, is the “John” in “Jim/John Make Noise.”
You can visit the page here and you can spend a few minutes listening to my own stuff and then a few hours listening to J/JMN, who is your new favorite band.
Also, I have a gazillion songs I wrote a gazillion years ago that I’m thinking about recording and posting. What do you two think? Good idea? Crap idea?
Every now and then I get to see how advertising is delivered and the means for getting people’s attention. I saw some today, in fact. And it’s gross.
Because it’s everywhere. They’re looking for us everywhere. No place is safe from a possible ad message being sent. I don’t want that, do you? It creeps me out that I can be walking around a grocery store, that there are scores of people who know this, and they all want to send me something that says “Buy this!”
Do either of you know what it takes to get off the grid? Or at least how to be a less of a presence on said grid? All of this nonsense makes me want to delete my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts and delete this dumb, undervalued, underused blog. Or maybe just move to the woods and write manifestos. And also fly fish.
Here’s one thing I’ve considered doing: the world has gone survey crazy. It seems like it’s a law now that businesses must include a survey on every receipt they hand out. So for those surveys? I’m going to lie. Not on the whole thing, just on one or two questions. Because all of these surveys and all of this information that we get all gets fed into formulas and algorithms that determine what action the advertiser takes. So if you give standard answers in a way that makes sense, the advertiser will know exactly how to communicate with you. But if you throw in a few nonsequiturs, then the advertisers will be thrown for a loop.
Wait… Consumer 4877-B4-21AQ492 says he lives an active lifestyle, but in question 19, he claimers he has 78% body fat. What gives?
It’s a little thing, but maybe it will help. Or maybe the Wealth Courts will find me in contempt of the plutocracy and I’ll be sent to Panhandler Prison.
Whatever. Who cares. I’m still angry about my low play SoundCloud play count and I’m done with just about everything.
So one of your friends/fellow writers/people you look up to asks you to write a song for a show he’s producing and you write it and it actually turns out to be much better than you had hoped for, so good, in fact, that you think, “This is stellar!” and they put it in the show and use it and it gets a good response and you think, “I’m going to share this ditty with the world!” and you ask aforementioned friend if that’s cool and he, of course, says it is because he is cool which is part of the reason you look up to him and so you post it and you announce and you just sit back and wait for the listens to roll in but they never do – there’s only eight – and you keep checking because you’ve got that sort of mental… thing but still the number of listens does not go up and so then you really screw up and do the math and you realize that this means that roughly 00.6% of your Facebook friends have listened to these songs, except, of course, that when you see the people who have liked the songs and presumably listened to the songs are not, in fact, your Facebook friends but random SoundCloud listeners who you really appreciate for taking the time to listen to your music but still you have to wonder why none of your real “friends” have listened to it and, sure, you think that maybe it’s something wonky in the Facebook algorithm that doesn’t show your posts because Facebook has something against SoundCloud or maybe even against you but it does nothing to lessen the sting that comes from knowing people don’t want to hear your music so you decide, “Man, I gotta get this off my chest!” so you write a blog post and think, “If I don’t share this then I can just vent for a while and that will feel good and because I’m not going to share it I won’t have to come off sounding whiny or petty or petulant” which is something you pretty much feel all the time but then you realize the irony that you’re not going to share something that people would probably ignore anyway since they haven’t acknowledged the other stuff you’ve shared and it all becomes almost laughable until you realize these are issues you’ve had for years and they continue to haunt you but then you think maybe if you write it in a long train of thought sort of fashion that people will actually think you’re trying to, say, channel the work of David Foster Wallace and then you wonder if there are any tropes or devices you could use to make it seem even more like you’re trying to channel DFW and they will soon ignore the reality of your situation w/r/t music and songs or the lack of people listening to them and then you sort of reach a point where you realize you’ve written over 500 words and maybe that’s enough for now and you also wonder if maybe the Nihilists were right.
My apologies in advance if I come off sounding like either a personal finance coach or a self-help guru, but listen to this: Everything is an investment. Every choice you make is a form of investing. Because everything you do will have a result. And, like investments of money, there are high-risk and low-risk investments. There are some choices you make that won’t matter much and some that do. For example, most of the time the choice to put on shoes just means that your feet will be covered. But every now and then you’ll realize that you just stepped on a Lego and that decision (investment) to put on shoes seems pretty solid. And, like financial investments, some take a while to pay a dividend (consequence). For example, if you tell a kid he is funny looking and his mother dresses him in odd fashions, some day a big hulking Muay Thai kickboxer may come up to you at Quizno’s and exact his revenge with a double chop elbow because of your earlier teases and taunts. And this will make you sad because originally all you wanted to do was point out some truths: he is funny looking and his mother did dress him in the odd fashions. But now you’re hurting big time and there’s no fun for you.
I say all of this not to prevent you from taunting kids (many of them are deserving) but to remind you (and by you I mean “me”) to be mindful not only of the choice but of the dividends for the choices you make. This is part of the wonderful world of mindfulness and I need it now more than ever. This Burrito Bell Gigante looks delicious with its oozing liquid cheese, but it will deliver a double chop elbow to the guts in a few minutes hence. Or this game of Angry Birds is so rewarding, I will continue playing it until the batter on my phone runs out. Decisions are investments. Which decisions will pay the highest dividends?
Decisions are investments. Which decisions will pay the highest dividends?