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|I am a volunteer KDHX writer. I am also a pamphleteer.|
Half a century after Bob Dylan‘s self-titled debut comes the bard’s 35th studio album, “Tempest.” I’ve got my tools nearby — a scotch-taped copy of “Chronicles” for reference, a warm bottle of Empire Sarsaparilla for relief and a tourniquet for no reason at all. We can’t stop the blood, so let’s hash this thing out.
The first track on “Tempest,” “Duquesne Whistle,” possesses a similar pace and sensibility to “Thunder on the Mountain,” the first track on “Modern Times,” from six years ago, insofar that you can hear something recognizably aged faintly modernized for yet another decade. Remarkable. Timeless. Fresh.
“Tempest” is versatile, perhaps even chaotic. “Early Roman Kings” offers us a standard foot-stomping blues song with an organ channeling Muddy Waters or Bo Diddley, but with darker lyrics. I will say that, sure, this album is “dark’” compared to the rest of the canon, but I also received it to be not so much dark as chillingly playful.
Three tracks in, “Narrow Way” thrives on a beautiful, unpolished riff ala Mike Bloomfield. It also smells a little of Muddy, and Dylan appears to have mediated a meeting between the blues and complex lyricism.
“Soon After Midnight” feels like “Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You” matured and morphed from an innocent beef bouillon cube into a stout poison stew. It starts sweetly with “searching for phrases to sing your praises,” and then dabbles with bodies dragged in mud, and you wonder what the hell is going on? Resonant. Thick.
Nothing to take lightly.
I love everything about “Pay in Blood”: “I got something in my pocket, make your eyeballs swim / I got dogs could tear you, limb from limb…I pay in blood, but not my own.” The song is tough, unforgiving and raw. It’s a party and all the body bags are invited.
And then we have “Tempest,” the song. An interminable ironman about America’s favorite nostalgic disaster. And Leo. The Titanic sure has got plenty of attention, and this song will garner some too. The content is so familiar it’s nearly familial. To me, it’s just another topical song pulled from the wreckage of America’s history, another story Dylan found in print newspapers of years gone by. Only this time, we all know it. It’s a palatable narrative.
In “Chronicles,” Dylan writes about his youthful appetite for such dated news:
The madly modern world was something I took little interest in. It has no relevancy, no weight. I wasn’t seduced by it. What was swinging, topical and up to date for me was stuff like the Titanic sinking, the Galveston flood, John Henry Harding shooting a man on the West Virginia line. All this was current, played out and in the open. This was the news that I considered, followed and kept tabs on.
“Tempest,” of course, was also the last work of William Shakespeare, which immediately prompts symbologists, conspiratorial theorists, line cooks on smoke break and barstool philosophers to speculate. Is it? Could it be?
I wasn’t surprised at the utter disappointment many media outlets expressed when the much hyped August 7 finally arrived revealing, not a tour announcement, but rather the release of a music video for “Hell Broke Luce,” the battle march from 2011′s “Bad As Me” by Tom Waits.
But what does “live up to the hype” even mean?
I like the idea of an artist sending cryptic messages of pirates and sharks to media outlets, regardless of the big reveal.
The video, directed by Matt Mahurin, brilliantly matches the aggressive song with the lingering, surrealist imagery of Waits marching through a battlefield, pulling a house by rope.
Advisory: this video contains profanity and awesomeness.
“…you’re the one that’s been causing all them riots over in vietnam. immediately turns t a bunch of people an says if elected, he’ll have me electrocuted publicly on the next fourth of july. i look around an all these people he’s talking to are carry blowtorches / needless t say, i split fast go back t the nice quiet country…”(2)
during the second song last night at off broadway, “Corrina, Corrina” played by Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine, i leaned over to my friend and said, “I really like this song.” i could have said that all night. over beers, over anything. Shot of Love — a 12-band, five-hour marathon tribute concert celebrating Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday — a testament to the diversity and ability in our local music scene to cover the range and depth of Dylan’s lengthy career. “70, f**k you Keith Richards,” Roy [Kasten] joked, and the FCC-fill-the-blank joke. we associate icons with iconic symbols, or so I thought when i eyeballed the Skekses beginning “Boots of Spanish Leather” with the harmonica cage, or the even the whistle in “Highway 61 Revisited” which produced a healthy group giggle. Ryan Spearman, he played “The Times They Are A-Changing” — “played it pitch perfect,” i’m told outside and i’m sad i wasn’t there. Joe Stickley and Sean Canan offered an upbeat hullabaloo “Buckets of Rain” when i returned but not before going to the bathroom.
Rough Shop joked, “We’re going to play an extended version of ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.’ We’ve got 30 minutes, right?” I might have misquoted by a word or two or four but ya get the idea. oh, and Cat [Pick], i heard ya say it was going t b your first MC on last monday drive time “and you do it well.”(3) A beautiful “Wallflower” bounced from the warm strings of Cumberland Gap, and i overheard someone say, “don’t be ridiculous. the best Dylan is ’66, no need to differentiate. royal albert hall, that’s the best Dylan,” to which, a woman responded, “i like his ’80s stuff.” “christian Dylan?” “what do you mean?” and i stopped caring when the Sparrows lead singer, Rebecca Ryan, delicately tapped her left fingers on her left blue jean thigh to a sexy, slowed-down, bass-heavy rendition of “I Want You” and an electric “Oxford Town” — an exercise in “tonal breath control.”(4)
writing a Bob Dylan tribute article is about as difficult as a Mark Twain look-a-like contest if you’re a twelve-year-old boy who can’t grow a mustache or fit properly into a white suit. and your mother won’t let ya smoke a cheap cigar. current events come an go don’t you know and i don’t like my picture taken. Magnolia Summer, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” yep, “i’m going back to South City, i do believe i’ve had enough!” and who was that on the moving piano on “Simple Twist of Fate.” “The Feed,” you answer. [Dave Grelle, to be specific.] “why allen ginsberg was not chosen t read poetry at the inauguration boggles my mind.”(5) i could hear Pretty Little Empire outside. again regret except i met nine beautiful strangers / consuming meat an cigarettes an sitting. Karate Bikini pleased with “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” and “Like a Rolling Stone,”
[end of pause]
while Brothers Lazaroff delivered a tender “Most of the Time” and the brothers invited all musicians to return t the stage. when I first saw that electric Sleepy Kitty poster, I wondered who and what and how it would all end and i was surprisingly shocked at the obvious an beautiful choice — “I Shall Be Released.” unison is funny bird with serious wings.
and then Brothers Lazaroff mischievously ignored the scheduled — i’m guessing by body gestures & apologies — an rolled into an impromptu “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” good fun. where were you “i have no arguments an i never drink milk.”(6) when you see a band, any band from last night, tell em’ I said hello…they brought their own voice t a tribute which wasn’t easy to pull off.
i’ve heard Dylan recently call this era his middle years. he released his first album in ’62. as a different birthday approaches, i reflect not only upon how Dylan influenced her but for how long — roughly 50 years, or 21% of american history!
(1) This article is a tribute to the mad and beautiful notes inscribed on the back of multiple Bob Dylan albums.
(2) Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
(3) Buckets of Rain
(4) Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
(5) Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
(6) Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
Like Bill Maher walking on stage to Real Time music, the introductory song to Adam Carolla‘s podcast filled the room. With Mike Lynch operating the Macintosh, old man Carolla, in ruffled blue jeans, leisurely strolled to the microphone under a massive projector screen to rehash time-tested tales about Jimmy Kimmel pranks and living in Los Angeles.
Any fan of the Adam Carolla Show undoubtedly had heard many of the stories told Saturday night at the Pageant, such as Tom Cruise rolling up to Kimmel’s on football Sunday in a questionable heterosexual fashion. But the beauty of a Carolla story is that it is delivered as if your childhood friend was relating an anecdotal story for the fortieth time to a new group of strangers at the bar. Let me tell you what this guy did once….
Mike Lynch posted Adam’s personal pictures on the slide show, which reinforced the familial feel, and then Adam used the cue to rant. Think Stephen Colbert’s the segment “The Word.” Now substitute pictures. Now substitute Colbert for Adam, and Adam for your friend. Grandpa Carolla talks about Jimmy, Uncle Sal and his parents as if they are your distant cousins.
Your friend shows you an odd picture that he snapped on his iPhone en route to your house and says, “Take a look at this.” That’s the show, except the explanation of the picture is superiorly extrapolated to reveal the downfall of society.
With the exception of a touchdown dance, there were not many gestures or moments of comedic pandering. He’s too blue collar to use the word showmanship. Instead of a concert seat, you might as well have been sharing an appetizer of toasted raviolis on the Hill, while he bitched about his day and ruminated on the goofiness of toasting a ravioli.
If Adam comes back to St. Louis, I’d tell him, “Pass the marinara and tell me again about the one…” (and then plead for his mercy not to satirize how corny that ending was).
Gang of Four originated from Leeds, across the pond some 30 years ago. In the late ’70s, the band offered “a danceable solution to the problem of where four-piece guitar bands could go after punk,” according to music journalist Paul Lester.
Most music — and I don’t say this dispraisingly — seems one-dimensional.
One song, one emotion.
Enter bad guy to goose bump piano music.
Never one song that captures multiple emotions.
We move our bodies or our minds, but rarely both.
Remarkably, a few tracks on Content, Gang of Four’s first album in over a decade, achieve a more multi-layered level of emotional music.
I can’t remember the last time I felt this way with (not about) music. Rage against the Machine is the only band that surfaces in similarity insofar that with both Rage and Gang I feel like kicking back a cold beverage and nodding my head, all while contemplating something George Orwell wrote about last century.
“Who am I?” may be the most endearing song on Content for this very reason. I found myself in bizarre contemplation, as if the Thinking Man, with paw to chin, was swaying in a mosh pit. On the single, Jon King sings monosyllabically, “Who can steal when everything is free? Who am I when everything is me?”
What feels like self-aggrandizement from a luddite bounces with fresh meaning from a group that feels the ever-changing pain of their work carried through many mediums — most recently any of them that are free. These are vexing issues, the free part of our culture, and what makes the 34-year-old band special is their ability to discuss current issues without sounding dated.
Maybe Jon King is right: “We internalize everything, thinking it’s all about ourselves, and the world becomes a mad parade.”
On the opening track, “She Said ‘You Made a Thing of Me,’” Jon King communicates choppily and succinct (think Anthony Kiedes), “what we do is what we must.” Sounds like it’s right out of the plain, drunken mouth of Ernest Hemingway, doesn’t it?
During the span of a prolific career, what Gang of Four does, what they must do, is make us question (rhetorically or directly) everything we hold dear, all while making our bodies move.
George Harrison is credited for introducing rock and roll to the sitar. In 1965, the eastern instrument debuted in pop music in the West on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” In 2010, the West was introduced to new foreign sound—the vuvuzela. They were not welcomed similarly.
This summer you inevitably heard television personalities compare a stadium of vuvuzelas to swarming bees. The ease and frequency of the analogy was as unwelcome as the blasting of those plastic demon tubes.
Oddly, the word produces pleasure. When your teeth reverberate against your lower lip…try it. Vuvuzela. Vuvuzela. Vuvuzela. I’d rather say the word vuvuzela than listen to a vuvuzela. I don’t feel that way about the piano, or Beatlejuice.
I’m sure Africa doesn’t enjoy or understand why America beats two inflatable sticks against one another to make noise at baseball games, but this isn’t an indictment on our culture—just theirs.
Does the vuvuzela produce music or noise?
I’m not quite sure what differentiates music from noise. Organized thought? Intention? I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. But I’ll tell you this though: your answer will be shaped on whether or not you believe wind chimes is an instrument, he said puffing out his chest proudly.
Speaking for the majority of America, I declare that the vuvuzela, made of plastic and horror, makes noise. After all, the media began summer segments this way: “what is that buzzing noise at the World Cup?” And we all know the media is careful with wording.
Now look, to borrow a stalling technique used by politicians when they are thinking of what to say next, that doesn’t mean noise is unwelcome, like when I hear the gentle gallop of my little black bear on our nightly walk underneath the 1920s Depression lamplights of our dimly lit neighborhood—the beautiful noise of 2010.
If you accept that tuning a guitar is noise and playing a guitar is music, then exactly how does a vuvuzela work? Let’s consult the manufacturers—the Gibsons and Les Pauls of vuvuzelas.
“There are now a couple different types, but the Boogieblast is truly the first and original Vuvuzela.” Really? Boogieblast? Does it sound like Eric Clapton would play a Boogieblast?
By the way, you may want to know how to market a vuvuzela: It’s not history and it’s not quality. It’s cost. First thing out of my mouth is: What does that plastic devil cost? I just can’t imagine a world in which anyone says, “You know, I like the Boogieblast, but if you really want the extra quality that goes into blowing your mouth on plastic, I’d recommend Sonata Industry Limited.”
As 2010 draws to a close, the souls that will miss the African vuvuzela the most are the Chinese. The next World Cup will be held in Brazil, a country that really hasn’t benefited enough from football, so we gave them home field advantage. Music is to be announced.
Elvis Costello remains one of the few artists in which the nation recalls the name, but can’t recount many accomplishments by name, like Norman Mailer or Norman Rockwell or Greg Norman. At least, that’s been my experience — transitory Costello comments.
And that’s when some hip guy wearing a classy colored tattoo will jump in, “You’ve never listened to Elvis Costello. Oh, he’s great.” But my gut tells me that even ardent fans approach Costello similarly to a creperie — you love em’, but rarely go out of your way to get there.
I also suspect the average music-goer, which I admit is extremely subjective, who has heard of Elvis Costello never starts listening to him because they are subconsciously confused about how to approach. In the back of your mind, you know you’re not approaching an album, but a career. And what if you pick the wrong starting point?
But this might be one of those problems we over think, like trying to enter the Lazy River Pool during traffic without upsetting the waters. Eventually, we accept that mistakes will be made, but it’s worth jumping in. I guess that’s how I feel about National Ransom, Costello’s latest album.
On the cover of National Ransom, a wolf in top hat flees the scene of a burning crime with bundles of cash, suggesting that those citizens most responsible for the Great Recession knew their actions were both dishonest and harmful to the foundation of America. For the most part, I do not want to believe the latter — it suggests too much intelligence. But who knows? My frustration is balanced between faulty gambling techniques and a lack of complete understanding. It’s unique cover art nevertheless, and the album, complete with lyrics, is aesthetically pleasing to flip through.
Driving on Missouri Bottom Road through a time warp tunnel of psychedelic November leaves, songs about culture and politics and women burst forth from the stereo. And my interest is women — something I can at least pretend to understand.
Jammed six deep in a small, wooden booth down at Black Thorn Pub in St. Louis, “Bullet and a Target” fades in. Shane nods in recognition, not signifying his knowledge of the song—no one knew the song—but that the song captured the right vibe.
The church wasn’t honest
The state put the youth in a harness
Individual slices of deep dish pizza are passed around. Someone starts a story. Another person lights a cigarette. Another nods.
Creatin’ hostility among us
The teacher said no college
Still the kid’s gotta get a check with a couple a commas
A few glasses are filled while someone relates a funny weekend story over the backdrop of smooth hip-hop beats and melodic guitar chords. By the end of it, we were all swaying, if only noticeable by a microscope.
But what you’ve done here
Is put yourself between a bullet and a target
Stripped down music is not only about the musician. It’s about our response to the music, I wondered in thought. Not recognizing the band, what they look like, what genre they are—just swaying, primal.
And it won’t be long before
You’re pulling yourself away
The music was kind of a dance teaser, and for a minute, I came out of the moment and wondered how an audience would respond to this broad, genre-inclusive form of music.
But what you’ve done here
Is put yourself between a bullet and a target
And it won’t be long before
You’re pulling yourself away
Shane hollers, “Who is this?”
The bartender gladly walks toward our side of the bar. It’s his set list on the iPod, and he is noticeably proud someone asked, eager to introduce a band he likes to his customers. “Citizen Cope. He’ll be here in October, the 11th.”
Citizen Cope performs at the Pageant on Monday, October 11, 2010.