Monday, January 30, 2012

Too Beautiful: Steve Marriott and the Rise of British Soul

It’s no huge stretch to suggest Rock & Roll may have died the death had it not been for British musicians. Following a period when many of the first wave of rockers were out of commission—jailed, drafted, or fiddling with born-again salvation—America had Roy Orbison, Dion, and The Beach Boys but few other new rockers of depth (and some might argue that The Beach Boys didn’t even acquire much depth until after the British Invasion). The years immediately preceding The Beatles’ arrival were pretty dire. Chuck Berry eventually managed a respectable return with “Nadine”, “No Particular Place to Go” and “You Never Can Tell” in 1963. Back from the army, Elvis still produced tremendous work on occasion, such as “His Latest Flame” or “Little Sister”, but his spark was largely gone. The charts were dominated by old-fashioned crooners and vapid teen idols: Shelley Fabares, Connie Francis, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Vinton, Neil Sedaka, Tommy Roe, Steve Lawrence, Bobby Vee. There was also a horrid trend of novelty acts like Ray Stevens and The Singing Nun. By far the most vital American music of the period was coming from the soul and R&B artists enjoying their initial successes on new labels like Tamla/Motown and Stax or with wunderkind producer Phil Spector. They had their share of massive hits—The Shirelles’ “Soldier Boy”, Booker T. & the MG’s “Green Onions”, The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel”, The Contours’ “Do You Love Me”, The Drifters’ “Up on the Roof”, The Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine”, Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave”, The Impressions’ “It’s All Right” to name a few—but they had little affect on the pop singers marshalling together to make American radio as dreary and dull as possible.

In Great Britain, young musicians were listening intently to their more soulful neighbors. Americans tended to stereotype England as a tiny, quaint berg of manners and repression. Yet few American rockers of the period captured the spontaneity, excitement, and commitment of their R&B countrymen and countrywomen with the authenticity of the new wave of singers emerging in the U.K. Though none of them had anything on, say, Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett, they were still capable of delivering their own impressive brand of fierce rhythm and blues. These are the artists who most assuredly gave Rock & Roll its second life.
The mightiest British shouters of the bunch—Mick Jagger, Eric Burdon, Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey, Reg King, Chris Farlowe, Steve Marriott—got their starts singing the American R&B of the period. Why this music resounded so thoroughly in the U.K. is a matter of debate. Class has often factored into the discussion, yet a zeal for American R&B flourished at the posh art colleges that churned out blues and R&B-influenced guitar legends Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend as powerfully as it did among cats like sheet-metal worker and James Brown-fanatic Roger Daltrey. Steve Marriott’s father owned a modest jellied eels stand and his mother was a factory worker. Whatever the cause, the results are beyond debate. The Beatles, The Stones, The Animals, The Who, The Yardbirds, and other groups of their ilk completely resuscitated Rock & Roll and continued to keep it vital as their less soulful peers—The Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Freddie and the Dreamers—fell by the wayside.

This new crop had its share of amazing singers, and the one to beat may have been one of the less successful and respected ones. Steve Marriott of Small Faces was more confident than Jagger, more skilled than Daltrey, less dependent on mimicry than McCartney, and possessed a wider range than Burdon, yet he and his band suffered a troubled reputation. They were major stars and chart regulars in the U.K., but were often dismissed as lightweights because some of their early material was deemed too poppy (not that “Love Me Do” or The Stones’ reading of Chuck Berry’s “Come On” were any weightier than “Sha La La La Lee”). Small Faces were branded teeny-bop pop early on, and the tag dogged them despite the tremendous power they always displayed throughout their brief career. The band’s eponymous debut album is only rivaled by The Who’s My Generation in terms of noisy excitement. To exacerbate matters, their indifference to touring the U.S.—and Ian McLagen’s international-travel-stifling drug bust— meant they didn’t make much impact in that essential market. Only the psychedelic “Itchycoo Park” cracked the U.S. top twenty.

None of this diminishes the case that Steve Marriott was England’s rawest, most effortless R&B singer. He was not an imitator like Paul McCartney, a technically superb and exhilarating singer who borrowed liberally from Little Richard, Fats Domino, Wilson Pickett, and others. He required no adjustment period as that other great mimic, Mick Jagger (his voice was fairly weedy until “Satisfaction”), did. From the very first Small Faces record, the Solomon Burke rip “Whatcha Gonna Do About It”, Marriott was in top form, tearing his larynx in two and still game to keep doing it all night. He sang in naturally, even allowing his Cockney to emerge whenever his voice descended from the hysteria stratosphere. As the band began experimenting with lighter forms of music during the psychedelic era, Marriott was always quick to remind listeners of what a stunning R&B shouter he was. “Itchycoo Park” climaxes in raging wails of its hippie refrain that might have been laughable if sung by anyone else. “IT’S ALL TOO BEAUTIFUL!” Marriott howled. The psych concept album Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake levels many of its peers because it motors on the R&B power. Marriott brings as much force to “Afterglow”, “Song of a Baker”, “Rollin’ Over”, and others as he had to the cover of “Shake” (Sam Cooke by way of Otis) that opened the first Small Faces album. The fiercest, most R&B moment on The Stones’ own psychedelic opus, Their Satanic Majesties Request, comes not from Jagger but from Marriott’s guest cameo on the Bill Wyman-composed “In Another Land” (“THEN I AWOKE!”).

The critics could say what they will about Small Faces being bubblegummers. The band’s fellow rockers knew the score. In 1968, Jimmy Page considered Marriott (along with another great, underrated British R&B singer, Terry Reid) as frontman for his new band, Led Zeppelin. Today that bubblegum reputation has largely evaporated, though Small Faces are still relegated to cult-band status in the U.S. That may be so, but make no mistake, when it comes to shouting and raving, when it comes to going toe-to-toe with the great American R&B singers that inspired the single most important Rock & Roll movement of the ‘60s, Steve Marriott still stands in a class of his own.

Steve Marriott was born 65 years ago today.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What I Learned from Piper Laurie

Last night I attended a screening of Carrie at the Landmark Loews in Jersey City. In attendance was Piper Laurie, who was much more charming than the character she played in the film--if slightly less murderous. The pre-film Q&A was even more enlightening than I was expecting. Here are a few fascinating tidbits I learned from the actress:

*After reading the Carrie screenplay, Laurie assumed the movie was a comedy, and only learned it wasn't when Brian DePalma told her to tone down her performance. She did, but just a tiny bit.

Mr. Tojamura, the Japanese businessman her character Catherine Martell masqueraded as on "Twin Peaks", was entirely her own creation. David Lynch gave her carte blanche to choose any ruse she pleased. It was her idea to make the character a Japanese businessman.

*The only people who were aware that Laurie was Tojamura were Lynch, Derick Shimatsu (who played Tojamura's assistant), presumably Mark Frost, and Laurie, herself. Even Jack Nance and Richard Beymer didn't know this despite sharing close scenes with her. They weren't aware of the con until receiving their scripts for the episode in which Tojamura's true identity is revealed. Peggy Lipton thought the character was being played by Isabella Rossellini!

Learn more fascinating facts about Piper Laurie in her new autobiography, Learning to Live out Loud:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Deluxe Small Faces Reissues Coming Soon...

Following its mighty Kinks reissue campaign of 2011, the Universal Music Group has a similar one on the way for 2012 for one of the other great unabashedly British Rock bands. Four Small Faces albums--their eponymous debut on Decca, From the Beginning, and the eponymous debut on Immediate--will receive deluxe, double-disc editions. Their masterpiece, the semi-Rock opera Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, will receive a sprawling triple-disc revamp. Each set will include each album in mono and stereo and supplemented with bonus tracks. Unlike the staggered Kinks campaign, all four reissues will be released in the UK on May 7. Track information is not yet available, but you can pre-order each disc at Amazon using the links below.

Many thanks to The Second Disc for this scoop, and tune in next Monday for more Small Faces business here at Psychobabble!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

David Lynch Fest Coming to NY's 92YTribeca

Huge news for Lynch freaks in the New York area. This February, the 92YTribeca will be hosting screenings of Dune, Wild at Heart, and (of course) Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me in celebration of the 25th anniversary of David Lynch’s big-screen continuation of his and Mark Frost’s small-screen sensation “Twin Peaks”. That’s mighty impressive considering the critical drubbing Fire Walk with Me received when it debuted back in 1992. However, Lynch fans have long championed this equally nightmarish and dreamy film, and it has enjoyed quite a bit of critical reevaluation in the ensuing two decades. Other “Twin Peaks”-related events are a panel discussion about the actresses of “Twin Peaks” hosted by Tom Blunt and a screening of the pilot episode with a new electronic soundtrack by Brooklyn’s Silent Drape Runners.

Update:  Dana "Bobby Briggs" Ashbrook will be in attendance at the February 24th screening of Fire Walk with Me for a Q&A.

Visit the official 92Y site for more information. Here’s the schedule:

92YTribeca, 200 Hudson Street, Manhattan

Meet The Lady: The Women of Twin Peaks! 
Sat, Feb 11, 2012, 8 pm

Wed, Feb 15, 2012, 7:30 pm

Silent Drape Runners Present Twin Peaks: The Beginning
Sat, Feb 18, 2012, 10 pm
Live re-soundtracking to Twin Peaks.

Wild at Heart
Wed, Feb 22, 2012, 7:30 pm

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
Multiple dates/times are listed, click to see more information.

Thanks to for this scoop.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Review: The Criterion Edition of 'Godzilla'

For many monster maniacs, Godzilla was a towering, rubber-suited ruffian with a heart of gold, practicing WWF moves with a giant moth and siring (or giving birth …what gender is Godzilla, anyway?) a cutesy pie, smoke-puffing baby-zilla. In other words, Godzilla was strictly kid’s stuff. This isn’t how the towering one got started. Ishiro Honda’s 1954 Gojira was a somber, sober allegory about the H-bombs that rained horror on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was shot in artful black and white, Godzilla didn’t do any crowd-pleasing capering, and Takashi Shimura, the respected actor who was a favorite of Akira Kurosawa, starred. Gojira was a serious film with a serious reputation for being one of Japan’s greatest.

Despite the content of the monster’s debut, the name “Godzilla” will forever pack connotations of fun and frivolity and skyscraper smashing. Criterion’s new double-disc DVD does a terrific job of emphasizing the seriousness of Gojira and the goofy joy of Godzilla. Honda’s film is presented in beautiful, high-definition on disc one. The bulk of disc two is devoted to the infamous 1956 Americanized version by Terry Morse. Retitled Godzilla: King of the Monsters, this version retains less than 60 minutes of the original film, loses all explicit references to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and shoe-horns Raymond Burr into the plot in a cheap attempt to give Americans “someone to relate to.”  While this film retains some of Honda’s melancholy, it is closer in tone to the Godzilla films that would follow, particularly because of its awkwardness. It’s a sloppy mix of bad dubbing, bad translations, and blatantly phony attempts to make Burr seem as though he’s interacting with Honda’s cast. It’s also quite a bit more fun than the Japanese original.

The extras are similarly split. There’s a disturbing featurette about the radioactive-ash-showered fishing vessel that inspired Gojira. J. Hoberman offers a grim and engrossing booklet essay titled “Poetry After the A-Bomb”. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a fun featurette about the film’s impressive photographic effects and a totally neat Godzilla pop-up in the packaging. Film historian David Kalat provides lively commentaries for both films, which are different enough to warrant them. Of course, those films are the main selling point of this DVD set, and they look and sound spectacular enough to entice Godzilla freaks who have more than their share of Godzilla stuff to purchase these films one more time.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Through the Past Darkly with ‘Between the Buttons’

Tap your foot and rhyme, trip back 45 years time… Swinging London in full swing… floppy hats and foppish brooches… skinny drain pipes and big round sunglasses under sunless skies… paisley, pinstripes, pop art… acid and nightly clubbing with Rock royalty… The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks… the artists’ art: Rubber Soul and Revolver, My Generation and A Quick One, “Sunny Afternoon” and “Over, Under, Sideways Down”… visitors from across the Atlantic: Bob and Brian bringing Blonde on Blonde and Pet Sounds back home… Chuck and Muddy stacked in the attic… out with Chrissie Shrimpton like yesterday’s papers; in with Marianne and Anita… all these ingredients in the soup of late ’66… when The Rolling Stones consumed their peers and times, the styles, the sex, the drugs, the lifestyle, the retro vaudeville and prog psychedelia, spat them out on a vinyl time capsule called Between the Buttons… see it more clearer…

Between the Buttons starts as a laugh… a spate of writing in late 1966… Mick goes solo for the first time, discarding Chrissie with utmost cruelty on “Yesterday’s Papers”… Keith composes “Connection” without connecting with his mate, unknowingly foretelling

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Bloody Bevy of Hammer Horrors Coming to Blu-Ray

Blu-ray enthusiasts can look forward to seeing a lot of high-definition phony blood in 2012. The recently resurrected Hammer Studio has a huge Blu-ray campaign in the works for 30 of its classic titles. It all begins in March 5 when Dracula Prince of Darkness is unleashed in the U.K. (you can pre-order it using the link below). Other titles in the works include Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Devil Rides Out, The Plague of the Zombies, Rasputin the Mad Monk, The Mummy's Shroud, and The Reptile. Marcus Hearn, author The Hammer Vault, will be overseeing the documentaries and interviews that will supplement these discs. No word yet on whether or not these same deluxe discs will make it to the U.S.

Thanks to Bloody for this scoop.

The Beatles, Richard Lester, and the Art of Rock & Roll Movies

Press Goon: “Don’t you ever get a haircut?”
George Harrison: “I had one yesterday.”
Everyone: hysterics

If The Beatles could break up a room by drolly delivering middling quips like this, just think what they could do mouthing the words of a professional screenwriter! After all, they’ve already sent millions into frenzy doing nothing more than twanging their electric ukuleles, bashing their Ringo bongos, shaking their hideous wigs, and screeching “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Look at all the cash raked in on those awful Elvis films. Quickly, quickly! Get a writer! Get a director! Any will do! No budget is too small! Just get “The Beatles” up on the marquees before time runs out on this fab fad.
Dezo Hoffmann's iconic leaping Beatles.

Rock & Roll wasn’t supposed to last, and Rock movies were even more ephemeral. The New York Times said The Girl Can’t Help It was “as meager and witless as a cheap pin-up magazine joke.” So what if Frank Tashlin infused it with the color and energy of a Tex Avery cartoon? So what if Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, and The Treniers pitch the pace into hyperdrive with their elation-inducing performances? The Times knew well they were just “grab[bing] the spotlight and beat[ing] out their agonized tunes… the way alert bullfighters rush into the ring when a companion is gored.” No one would remember the picture beyond 1957, but it doubled its budget at the box office. No one would remember a Beatles movie beyond 1964, but that sort of thing was guaranteed cash in the bank.

The Beatles didn’t seem to think much of the Elvis pictures, but they did catch The Girl Can’t Help It. Lennon was particularly turned on by the sights of Little Richard screaming while beating his piano standing up and Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps shaking off their blue caps during “Be-Bop-a-Lula” (a record he first heard from his mother, Julia, The Beatles often covered in their early days, and opened Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll L.P. in 1975). The New York Times may have been quite happy to forget all about The Girl Can’t Help It. The Beatles weren’t. On September 18, 1968, they even delayed the night’s “White Album” session—and put their severe personal problems on hold—to convene at Paul’s place to watch the movie’s BBC debut. Perhaps Rock & Roll movies weren’t so fleeting. Perhaps they could have profound impacts, inspiring fledgling musicians to change the world and patch up damaged relationships. Perhaps a visionary director such as Frank Tashlin could make a difference.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Piper Laurie to Make Personal Appearance at 'Carrie' Screening in Jersey City

Sissy Spacek may have played the title role in Carrie, but the film's undeniable scene stealer is Piper Laurie, who psychoed it up as Carrie White's crazy Christian mom. Piper recently published her autobiography, Learning to Live Out Loud, and to promote the book she'll be making a special live appearance at The Landmark Loews theater in Jersey City on Saturday, January 28th. The event begins with includes a meet and greet at 5:15 pm. A screening of The Hustler (1961), for which she earned a best supporting actress nomination, follows. There's another meet and greet at 7:45 before getting down to business with an on-stage interview at 8:30 and a screening of Carrie at 9:15. Hopefully she'll field some questions about her stellar work on "Twin Peaks" (Mr. Tojamura is one of the all-time amazing fake outs!).
The Landmark Loew's Jersey Theatre
54 Journal Square Jersey City, NJ 07306
(201) 798-6055

Admission for individual films: $10 adults / $7 seniors & kids.
(Also includes on-stage interview and "Meet")

COMBO admission for BOTH “The Hustler” and “Carrie”: $16 adults / $12 seniors & kids
(Includes on-stage interview & “Meet”)

Read all other details at the official Landmark Loews site here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

'The Move Live at the Fillmore 1969' coming in February...

The Move were an outrageous enough live act to witness The Who’s outrageous live act and declare, “Ours will be more outrageous.” By 1969, Roy Wood and the gang were no longer donning pinstripe gangster suits to smash automobiles, televisions, and political effigies with sledgehammers and axes on stage. But they were a tight enough band by that point to render such gimmicky shenanigans obsolete. Now Right Recordings is issuing a double-disc testament to The Move’s live greatness for release on February 13 in the U.K. and February 21 in the U.S. The Move Live at the Fillmore collects a dozen Move classics as well as a bonus recollection of the tour by basso profondo drummer Bev Bevan.

Here’s a little historical information straight from the Right Recordings website:

“Thought lost for over 30 years, the master tapes from The Move’s shows at the Fillmore West were saved by Carl Wayne but suffered technical problems & could not be released. Thanks to advances in studio technology, Carl began restoring the tapes in 2003. Sadly Carl died in 2004 & was never able to complete the live album he believed would show how incredible The Move was as a live band. Now, with the full cooperation & permission of his wife, Sue Wayne, the tapes have been painstakingly restored, remastered & released in memory of The Move’s dynamic front man & lead singer. “

And the track list and details:

1. Open My Eyes
2. Don't Make My Baby Blue
3. Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited
4. The Last Thing On My Mind
5. I Can Hear The Grass Grow

1. Fields Of People
2. Goin' Back
3. Hello Susie
4. Under The Ice
Additional Night Performances
1. Introduction
2. Don't Make My Baby Blue
3. Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited
4. The Last Thing On My Mind
Bonus Track
1. The Moves 1969 USA Tour recalled by Bev Bevan

“100 minutes of previously unreleased Move live magic recorded at San Francisco’s Fillmore West.

Full colour 12-page booklet with rare & unseen photos & memorabilia.
Exclusive commentary, new & archive interviews with members of The Move.”

Pre-order The Move Live at the Fillmore 1969 below:

Thanks to The Second Disc for this scoop.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tim Burton May Squeeze Another Movie Out of 'Beetlejuice'

Beetlejuice was everywhere in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s: star of his own hit movie, spun off into a popular cartoon, ubiquitous Halloween costume. Tim Burton was on a pretty hot streak at the time, and his Daliesque ghost story about a sleazy, wise-cracking bio-exorcist has held up well over the years (it even cracked its way into Psychobabble’s ultra-prestigious 120 Essential Horror Movies list, although some readers took issue with my designation of the comedy as a horror movie. Tough for them).
Back in September, writer Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride & Prejudice & Zombies) was rumored to be penning a Beetlejuice sequel. This project has apparently been churning in the rumor mill for years, so big deal, right? But Beetlejuice creator Tim Burton has now given it more legitimacy by telling, “I just said to [‘Vampire Hunter’ writer] Seth [Grahame-Smith], ‘If you have some idea about it, go for it, and then I'll look at it freshly.’ In the past, I tried some things, but that was way back when. He seemed really excited about it.”

Smith hasn’t run any ideas by the director as of the MTV interview, so the deal isn’t sealed yet. But anyone who’s seen most of the movies Burton has done since Ed Wood knows he isn’t super choosey when it comes to scripts. So chances are he’ll be adding Beetlejuice 2 to his ever-growing list of possible and probable upcoming projects, which currently includes a feature-length Frankenweenie, a stop-motion Addams Family adaptation, and Dark Shadows. Let’s hope he leaves Alice in Wonderland be, though. I couldn’t suffer another happy dance:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: 'I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution'

With that barrage of commercials instructing 7-year-old me to call my cable company and demand my MTV, I was hooked on the new basic–cable channel showing nothing but music videos even before it finally came to New York in 1982. It was the classic scenario: my sister and I would come home from school ever day, ditch our textbooks in the nearest wastebasket, plop a few inches from the T.V. screen, and vegetate until our parents came home and read us the riot act about consuming so much sexed-up, violent crap starring weird-looking specimens like Boy George, Madonna, and the increasingly cadaverous Mick Jagger. That, of course, just deepened our addiction to MTV. Years away from even becoming a record buyer, I couldn’t consume enough music videos. I wanted my MTV, and when I got it, I OD’ed. By the time that initial golden age passed, my tastes evolved beyond new wavy one-hit-wonders and made no room for shitty hair metal. I’d pretty much had enough of MTV at that mid-‘80s turning point, even as I was still strangely compelled to spend hours and hours watching it. Perhaps Martha Quinn and J.J. Jackson were too deep in my bloodstream to purge them completely.

Reading Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum’s I Want My MTV is a lot like the scenario described above. Their oral history is absolutely impossible to put down even when its initial novelty has worn off and the stories become somewhat repetitious. There’s a lot in this 600-page book about music videos going wrong, artists and executives over indulging in various substances and bodily functions, and folks looking back on the channel’s content with a fair share of embarrassment. Anyone interested in reading this book has probably heard a lot of these tales before: the endearing cluelessness of that first crop of VJs, the backlash against the channel by religious and political groups, the infamous showdown between Kurt Cobain and Axl Rose at the 1992 Video Music Awards. But such familiarity is inevitable in a book as thorough as I Want My MTV. Quite a lot of it is revelatory, such as the extent of Monkee Mike Nesmith’s role in creating the channel, Mick Jagger’s role in selling the “I Want My MTV” ad campaign, a truly outrageous story about the kid who won a contest to be Van Halen’s “roadie” for a day, a bizarre assertion about Martin Scorsese’s Casino from Bobbie Brown of “Cherry Pie” video fame, and the dangers of elephant mating when filming Duran Duran videos. It’s all wonderfully lurid, strange, and tongue-in-cheek, and the roster of interviewees is impressive: all surviving VJs, Debbie Harry, Robert Smith, Michael Nesmith, Tom Petty, Mark Motherbaugh, Stewart Copeland, Dave Grohl, Stevie Nicks, and droves of executives who partied harder and did weirder shit than a lot of the rock stars they put on TV.

Yes, 600 pages of I Want My MTV is a bit too much of a good thing. The chapter about the channel’s indisputably greatest program, the alternative showcase “120 Minutes”, is too short and too focused on mainstream acts like U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Lenny Kravitz. There’s stuff in here you might feel compelled to skim or skip, but that’s what makes it such an appropriate approximation of the over-indulgent first ten years of MTV—and it is appropriate that the book ends with the debut of “The Real World” in 1992, the moment when MTV ceased to stand for “Music Television” once and for all. Whatever its faults, I Want My MTV is almost always entertaining, addictive reading. And who could resist any book with chapter titles like “He’s Got a Metal Plate in His Head”, “A Whopping, Steaming Turd”, and “The First Time I Smelled Freebase”?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Heroes : 9 Artists Who Helped Shape David Bowie

“As early as 1972, Bowie was describing himself as ‘a collection of other people’s ideas’ or ‘a Photostat machine with an image.’”

Nicholas Shaffner repeated these quotes from the great chameleon in his essential primer The British Invasion, and spends much of his chapter on David Bowie discussing how the self-professed “actor” was more of a brilliant chimera of his influences than a model of “authenticity.” Of course, this was one of his great allures: Bowie was a master of slipping into guises, whether they were completely fabricated like Ziggy Stardust or subtler variations on the artists who most inspired him. More than any other artist of generation, David Bowie’s birthday could not be traced to a single day. He was born over and over again, first 65 years ago yesterday as the child of David and Peggy Jones— then as a mod, a chanteuse, a glam alien, a synthesizer swaddled glacier. Every year or so, David Bowie came floating back to earth after metamorphosing in the deepest regions of freaky space like the Star Child in his beloved 2011: A Space Odyssey. Here are nine surrogate parents who had hands in some of his rebirths…

1. The Who

David Jones launched his Rock & Roll career just as all his ‘60s peers did: as a mop-topped member of a hard-driving R&B groups. Unlike the far more successful Stones or Who, he failed to distinguish himself in groups such as Davie Jones and the King Bees and the Manish Boys (named for a Muddy Waters classic, just like Mick Jagger’s gang). He made a slightly bigger splash after following the flashy lead of The Who, a budding mod act with the incendiary stagecraft (Smashing guitars! Blowing up equipment! Outlandish costumes!) Bowie would refine in his future act. But for now (now being 1965) he was perfectly content to just swipe The Who’s sound with his short-lived group David Jones and the Lower Third. Like The Who, The Lower Third were fixtures at the Marquee Club (though usually relegated to opening act) and they played arrogant, slashing Rock & Roll best exemplified by “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving”, which completely appropriates the mid-song freak out of The Who’s “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”. Though David Jones did not remain in mod garb for long, the period was near and dear enough to him to receive tribute on his 1973 L.P. Pin Ups, which includes covers of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” and “I Can’t Explain”. For that matter, he wouldn’t remain David Jones for long…

2. Davy Jones

Teeny-bop pin-up Davy Jones may be an unlikely player in the David Bowie stage play, but his role was one of the more decisive. And all because of a name. When music publicist Kenneth Pitt took hold of David’s career following his stint with The Lower Third, he became aware of an upcoming television series to star one Davy Jones of Manchester. Pitt was not about to have his new protégé vie for brand recognition, so he

Friday, January 6, 2012

20 Things You May Not Have Known About Charles Addams and “The Addams Family”

Charles “Chas” Addams didn’t crawl out of the womb on writhing tentacles or sporting an extra head when he was born 100 years ago tomorrow. Such irregularities would have been fitting considering the bizarre body of work he left behind. Addams is best known for the eponymous family he created for a series of peculiar New Yorker cartoons, but the lesser-known facts of his life are equally worthy of attention. Here are twenty curiosities about Charles Addams and the family he created that may be new to you…

1. The macabre nature of “The Addams Family” led many to believe its creator was similarly offbeat. According to Linda Davis of NPR, many believed Charles Addams slept in a coffin, drank “martinis with eyeballs in them,” and kept “a guillotine in his house.” Fans were reported to have sent him “chopped-off fingers” and a “monogrammed straightjacket” as mash gifts. While these stories are largely apocryphal, the disarmingly charming Addams did have a taste for the gothic, filling his Manhattan apartment with suits of armor, crossbows, maces, swords, snakes, a human thighbone, “a sewing basket fashioned from an armadillo… and “a mounted rubber bat.”

2. According to Linda H. Davis’s biography Charles Addams: A Cartoonist’s life, Chas was a distant relative of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Jane Addams.

3. As a boy in Westfield, New Jersey, Charles Addams had ambitions of becoming an architect, but his fascination with the macabre was full-blooded from his earliest days. In a 1953 issue of LOOK magazine, he explained, “on Halloween I wouldn’t have considered being anything but a ghost.” In a 1976 piece in People magazine, he credits all the “scary old Victorian houses in my neighborhood” with sparking his interest in ghoulish things.

Monday, January 2, 2012

21 Underrated Songs by The Kinks You Need to Hear Now!

The Kinks are an uncommon group. A plethora of bands seem to sit under that name: the pioneering heavy garage rockers who forged “You Really Got Me”, the distinctly British craftsmen who fashioned “Waterloo Sunset”, the olde tyme big band that made Muswell Hillbillies, the theatre group that staged Preservation Acts 1 and 2, the arena rockers who bludgeoned their way through Give the People What They Want, the ‘80s poppers who made a splash on MTV with “Come Dancing”. The Kinks’ reputation is equally schizophrenic (acutely so; not to mention paranoiac). They scored a wealth of hits in their U.K. homeland and enough in the U.S. to make them more than a cult band on both sides of the pond. Yet The Kinks are a cult band because the mass of their discography—and the mass of their greatest recordings—are barely known outside their fanatical following. And most Kinks die-hards do not worship the band for “You Really Got Me”, “Lola”, or “Come Dancing”. It is their peculiar, unashamedly sentimental, quiet masterpieces that moved Rolling Stone’s Paul Williams to scrawl that Kinks fandom is not just an enthusiasm for “some rock group. It’s more like a taste for fine wines from a certain valley, a devotion to a particular breed of cocker spaniel.” Williams wrote this astute observation in his review of The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. If ever there was proof of The Kinks’ cultiness, it is the fact that their greatest album was a complete flop in both England and America. But the record has built a following over the years that now allows it to be spoken in the same breath as Pet Sounds, Revolver, Beggars Banquet, and Blonde on Blonde. As Ray Davies himself noted, “It’s the most successful failure of all time.”

So many of The Kinks’ commercial failures were artistic triumphs that they are poorly represented by the usual crop of “Greatest Hits” compilations. That means there are numerous treasures for the budding Kinks kultist to discover. The following is a starter list of twenty-one wonderful creations that never slipped onto singles or major hits compilations. For anyone interesting in traveling to the marvelously realized nation Ray Davies, Dave Davies, Mick Avory, and Peter Quaife founded, here are twenty-one splendid tickets.

1. “Wait ‘Til the Summer Comes Along” (from the E.P. The Kwyet Kinks) 1965

We begin in a suitably untraveled, leaf-strewn nook of the Kinkdom. A spot where younger brother Dave huddles with his acoustic guitar, fending off winter winds and dreaming of summer. Dave’s first solo composition (he’d co-written the pleasant pop piffle “Got My Feet on the Ground” with Ray for the Kinda Kinks L.P.) is strong and mature, highly reminiscent of John Lennon’s recent dark country/folk numbers on Beatles for Sale. In his autobiography, Kink, Dave explains that he wrote “Wait ‘Til the Summer Comes Along” “during a moment of depression and reflection” and that the song is “about loss and regret.” He was possibly reflecting on a girl named Sue, whom he’d gotten pregnant while still a teenager. His mother prevented him from seeing Sue again and kept him from knowing about his daughter for years. Dave's pain over the Sue situation inspired much of his work, and the first song in this sad series is likely “Wait ‘Til the Summer Comes Along” (“Can it be that she never wanted to break some poor mother’s heart”). If so, it is an ambiguous but suitably fine forerunner.

2. “The World Keeps Going Round” (from the album The Kink Kontroversy) 1965

After delivering the usual Mersey Beat sentiments of love and lust on big hits such as “You Really Got Me” and “Set Me Free”, Ray Davies started expressing a more
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