Friday, September 28, 2007

Hot for Preacher (2) - A Brief News Update

Bono Awarded Liberty Medal

U2 frontman Bono has been awarded the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia. The award is given annually and recognises leadership in the pursuit of freedom.


After being awarded with the medal, Bono paid tribute to the US, saying: "In the American body politic there's no poetry like the poetry of the Declaration Of Independence and the Constitution.

Actually, I happen to be pretty fond of Casey at the Bat. And there's still bars up in Sitka where a spirited recitation of The Cremation of Sam McGee will set you up with free rounds of Yukon Jack for the night. (Technically, that one's Canadian, but none other than Seamus Heaney has cited it as a childhood favorite.)

Speaking of Canada:

Hail to Van Halen

Van Halen's two-hour-and-10-minute performance kicked off with a triple-shot of great classic rock -- their cover of The Kinks' You Really Got Me, I'm the One, which the band stopped mid-song to rapturous applause -- "It only took us 20 years to get this far," said Roth -- and Runnin' With the Devil.

In between, there were such classics -- all from the Roth-fronted years of 1978-84 -- as Romeo Delight, Beautiful Girls, Dance the Night Away, Everybody Wants Some, their cover of Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman, I'll Wait, And the Cradle Will Rock, Hot For Teacher, Little Guitars, Jamie's Cryin', Panama, and Ain't Talkin' Bout Love.

Truthfully, it was hard to maintain the energy of that trio of opening songs, but the band definitely aimed to please with a hits-heavy set list and backed by impressive green laser lights, an enormous video backdrop and confetti raining down on the audience by the very end.

"I can't tell you all how excited we are to be here tonight," said Roth.

By the way. It's 'brown' M&Ms. The green ones were valued at my high school for their supposed aphrodisiacal qualities, which probably led to my confusion. And, having read to that point in the story, I've learned that the brown M&M clause was a cold and calculated business trick, further encouraging my growing respect from the little old rockers from Pasadena.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hot for Preacher (1) -- Mano a Mano con Bono

Ever since Grace Cathedral ruined my grand finale1 for last December's email carol of The Twelve Days of Bono, I've felt that there's been some unfinished business betwixt myself and Mr. Hewson.

I knew that I needed something new to focus my somewhat unexamined, but always emailed, feelings for the man and the band who continue to haunt my life in strange and unexpected ways. (Most recently by very nearly providing Hillary Clinton with her '08 campaign song.) Maybe even something like that worked like a kind of penance or atonement for all those cheap jokes and unpurchased albums.

And although I hadn't a clue as to what form that it might take, I knew there would be a Sign. A Path. I had Faith that Providence would Provide. (Providence seems to be good at that. Hence, perhaps, that name it's got. 'Providence.') A Way would be made Clear. I would also Need to get my Caps Lock Key FIXEd.

Or I'd just find a really cheap, used copy of Eamon Dunphy's Unforgettable Fire at the record store where I probably bought the bulk of any U2 vinyl I ever owned. And I'd think "Yeah, that'll work. I'll read Unforgettable Fire and write snide rants to my friends who will quietly block my email address and alert the appropriate authorities. It'll be like a book club meeting that goes on and on and there's nothing you can do about it."

Reader, I bought it!

And after a couple depressing thoughts on the twenty year old copyright date, I started in. And there we are, onstage in 1985, at Wembley. It's Live Aid, clearly the greatest stadium concert with [as the book says] "the greatest rock 'n' roll bill of all time." And off we go:

It all hung on Bono. At moments of acute need like this it was as if he was the vessel into which all their fears and hopes, ideas and emotions dissolved. In him and through him the pool of accumulated sadness, joy, anger and yearning swelled and began to flow -- from Edge's guitar, through Larry's drums and Adam's bass the music gathered force, bursting out through Bono whose task it was to give it words, meaning, substance on a day like this. He was the medium for their message. When Bono prayed that day, as he always did backstage, he asked for strength...

Right there. That's when the needle scratched across the vinyl of my attention span. Praying backstage. At a ROCK concert? And am I the first to catch that "through him, with him, in him" echo in the second sentence? Yet I keep reading. A page later, we have Bob Geldof and Paul McGuinness crying like reunited brothers in each others' arms.

Oh dear. It's going to be a looooong book.

I understand atonement and all, but shouldn't a rock-n-roll biography have something a little more ...ah...carnal about it? Like underage blonds in hotel suites, roadies with bicycle chain belts and tattoos, mirrors and razors, M&Ms painstakingly sorted by flunkies backstage, wads of under-the-table cash exchanging hands, suits from the record label harshing the buzz...all that sort of thing? At the least, a certain snarky, smart-ass tone capturing the hustle and balls of it all?

For example, here in Ian Christie's new book Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga, published by Wiley. (Oh yes it is!) Does the legend of Eddie, Alex, Michael and Dave start with prayers and hugs? Let's take a look:

Like the stories of other great Americans from Henry Ford to Walt Disney to Fievel the Mouse, the saga of Van Halen begins in an ancient land, far from the United States and its constant supply of hot water and electricity. As a narrator would say in the old movies: Among the windmills, tulips, and wooden shoes of lovely Amsterdam, Holland, there lived a kindly musician named Jan van Halen.

Now that's not too bad on the snark-o-meter, but to be fair and balanced we need to give it a full page of text as we did for the other. And so to:

As they traveled all around Holland and sometimes across the border to Germany, the boys saw the practical aspects of a musical career firsthand, and on some of the more rustic and ribald nights they discovered the perks--Alex reported losing his virginity at age nine after one of his dad's gigs.

Hot DAMN! You can almost hear that clicking sound of green M&Ms being sorted now.

And so I've decided that I will read BOTH books. At once. As in together. Randomly. Flipping from one to the other whenever the mood strikes. Confusing names, places, venues, genres until I forget whether it's Bono or Alex who trips over a cable and twists his ankle at the Anaheim Stadium in '78. Whether its Paul McGuinness or David Lee Roth who gets sent down from Trinity College, Dublin. It's a Lit-Crit Mash-up! Prayers AND M&Ms backstage! Let there be ROCK!

I am running a little bit hot tonight, now that you mention it. I can barely see the road from the heat coming off. So I reach down between my legs and I still haven't found what I'm looking for...

1. How did they get wind that I was planning to attend the much vaunted U2charist with two of the City's leading members of the leather community and a young, brash, rising star in the drag performance firmament, that's what I want to know.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Husband says "Best CD you played in the car stereo in a long time."

It's not often that one of my music choices on the Saturday shopping drive earns an instant response from the housemate, but Lady's Bridge, an album from Sheffield artist Richard Hawley, managed it. Eamon Carr reviews:

Hawley Grail

..."I'd be a shit rock band. On all my records the influences I draw on are well before 1969. I still listen to Marty Robbins, one of the best singers that ever lived.

"I don't hear that very much in a lot of modern music that I hear. People seem to be scared to expose themselves to what they're feeling."

For a man who's quite relaxed and not bolshy or argumentative, Hawley has fixed ideas on what makes interesting music. "If I'd been in a pub band playing blues or whatever I'd be happy," he says. "When you earn your living out of music there's a honesty to it that I like. I refuse to compromise. When I write songs the first person I have to please is myself," he says.

The songs on Lady's Bridge pass the test. It's the most compact treatment of loss and lonliness since Frank Sinatra recorded In The Wee Small Hours in 1954 or Roy Orbison, the Sultan of Sorrow, performed surgery on heartache in the 1960s. Echoes of that bruised baritone haunt Lady's Bridge...

Whole review at the link.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"if i knew the way, i would take you home"

Found while looking for something else

On the other side, also in my writing: "Charlemagne! How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-N-D-S" which is clearly a play on the old Rolaids advertisement. Proof that I was destined for marketing all along.

The paper opens up to a flier that asks, on the other side, "Would You Be Interested in Tutoring? The Learning Center Has Tutoring Opportunities..." All the 'o's are shaded in and there's another sketch of a Greek goddess in profile in the margins. Her proportions are slightly off.

Well, it's like Tom Leher said "Bright college days, oh, carefree days that fly, To thee we sing with our glasses raised on high..."

I do like the oars coming out of the wheel-wells on the bus though!

As seen on Doc 40, but not in the UK

The critically acclaimed album Trouble Pilgrim -- the first Radiators from Space album in many a year -- is due for an upcoming UK release. But it won't be featuring the album artwork that the band wanted it to have.

The controversial cover (shown below) provides a glimpse into one of those mid-century American moments of synchronicity that Don Delillo would savor: James Dean and Ronald Reagan co-starring in some forgotten TV drama of dubious artistic quality.

Read what Mick Farren has to say about it over at Doc 40

Monday, September 03, 2007

"Fuld og skæv og bange vakled’ jeg til Mollys kammer"

Originally written in late 2002 with some updating over the years. Smart-ass tone is vintage to the period.

In permanent rotation on my playlist is one variant or another of that Celtic classic known as Whiskey in the Jar. This is the song with the highwayman relieving a uniformed officer of a substantial amount of cash and returning, with cash in hand, to a woman who betrays him to his erstwhile victim. The song with the 'wack fo the daddy oh" chorus. The song covered by the Clancy Brothers, the Dubliners, the Pogues, Tempest and every bar band from here to Buffalo New York.

Now, in the world of folk music, there is no such thing as the ‘correct’ version of a song, but there is certainly such thing as a ‘favorite version’ or ‘the kick-ass version’ or perhaps even ‘the only f*ck*ng goddamn version worth playing.’ And in that category, there is for me only one version of Whiskey in the Jar.

And that would be the song with the nasty sawed-off guitar riff that tears through the lyrics EXACTLY in the way a primer-coated late-model Camaro, filled with empty cans of Bud and a bunch of teenage thugs ditching shop class, tears through a high school parking lot.

The song that CD Universe lists as “heavy metal.” The song ably covered by Metallica. The song with Molly instead of Jenny.

Yes, the song by Thin Lizzy.

It is not just a question of style. Thin Lizzy’s version of Whiskey in the Jar just tells a better story than the one you are likely to hear from the local bar band. Plot, pacing, characterization – line for line Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey in the Jar delivers a cynical classic of greed and betrayal. All other ‘Whiskeys’ – particularly the ‘Jenny’ labels –are just inferior rotgut blends. It’s Jameson vs Yukon Jack.

But let’s examine in detail…

First, there’s the encounter on the highway, which manages to suggest both premeditation and opportunism – an ambiguity of motives and consequences that persists throughout Thin Lizzy’s version:

As I was goin' over the Cork and Kerry mountains
I saw Captain Farrell and his money he was countin'
I first produced my pistol and then produced my rapier
With some geographic confusion aside, most versions get immediately to this point. Even the one where Sergeant Pepper has been promoted out of his post as band leader:

As I was a-walkin' 'round
Kilgary Mountain
I met with Captain Pepper
as his money he was countin'
I rattled my pistols and
I drew forth my saber.
Actually, I always thought one rattled sabers and drew forth pistols, but threatening weapons have been produced and that’s the important thing. As for ‘walking ‘round a mountain’ it just seems like it would take some time.

Then most versions -- the ‘Jenny’ versions1 -- just get silly:

As I was a going over
Gillgarry Mountain,
I spied Colonel Farrell and
his money he was countin'.
First I drew me pistol
and then I drew me rapier,
Sayin' stand and deliver
for I am your bold deceiver.
"For I am your bold deceiver?" What kind of hold-up line is that? What the hell is a "bold deceiver"? Frankly, it sounds like something Amanda Wingfield would buy for her glass figurine-collecting daughter Laura in the first draft of a Tennessee Williams play: "Now, Laura dear, be sure to pin those bold deceivers securely in your bodice, so your gentlemen callers don’t discover our little secret..."

Yeah, maybe when Colonel Mustard is finished giggling he’ll hand over the loot, but for the moment he’s being robbed by Trelane, the childish alien with Liberace’s wardrobe in Star Trek: Original Series. Whereas,

I first produced my pistol and then produced my rapier
I said stand and deliver or the devil he may take ya
makes a far more effective threat.

Then there’s the chorus; the “Musha ring um du rum da” part which I have no complaints with in any version2. But let me point out that Thin Lizzy injects more menace into “Musha ring dum a doo dum a da” than you’d expect. They’ve got your “Whack fol my daddy-o” swinging.

The second verse introduces our third character. In most versions, she’s named Jenny:

He counted out his money and it made a pretty penny,
I put it in me pocket to take home to darling' Jenny.
She sighed and swore she loved me and never would deceive me,
But the devil take the women for they always lie so easy.
Nice pun there on ‘lie so easy.” Yes, I expect they do, especially when a pile of gold coins is on the table. But this is Jenny, the heroine of the lesser Whiskeys and it’s just an obvious rhyme with penny. There’s another traditional version with a rhyme that introduces us to Molly:

The shinin' golden coins
did look so bright and jolly
I took 'em with me home and
I gave 'em to my Molly
She promised and she vowed that
she never would deceive me
But the devil's in the women and
they never can be easy
Although Molly’s shortcomings will soon be undeniable, it’s not worth a sweeping generalization of the failures of womankind. And, besides, the pun on easy is gone, which is a shame. Molly and/or Jenny couldn’t be easier if it was Girls Gone Wild on Bourbon Street and you’re the lucky sod holding the video camera.

So it’s with a rocker’s sneer at the requirements of rhyme and rhythm that Thin Lizzy gives us another story:

I took all of his money and it was a pretty penny
I took all of his money, yeah, I brought it home to Molly
She swore that she'd love me, never would she leave me
But the devil take that woman, for you know she tricked me easy
Which is a good thing, because the word “jolly” has no business in a rock song, unless it is followed by the word “roger.” And “roger” is a dicey word in any genre, so it’s best to avoid the whole business altogether.

Thin Lizzy’s Molly is a secret unto herself. She’s warm and loving; she’s full of tricks. And, in the lesser versions, as Jenny she may have cause for complaint:

I went into me chamber
all for to take a slumber
To dream of gold and girls
and of course it was no wonder.
Me Jenny took me charges
and she filled them up with water,
Now, there’s just too much Freudian imagery for me to analyze here, especially when we reach the crisis of the story:

Next morning early before I rose to travel,
There came a band of footmen and likewise Colonel Farrell.
I goes to draw me pistol for she'd stole away me rapier,
but a prisoner I was taken I couldn't shoot the water.
Yeah, my friend had that problem too, but Viagra3 cleared it up.

I’m not sure why Jenny is so quick to betray our narrator, but perhaps an hour invested in taking care of her needs before dreaming of “gold and girls” might have saved his worthless hide.

Now in the Thin Lizzy version, the moment of discovery packs a little more tension and a lot more drama:

Being drunk and weary I went to Molly's chamber
Takin' money with me and I never knew the danger
For about six or maybe seven, yeah, in walked Captain Farrell
No ‘next’ morning here. And no unnecessary cast of thousands with footmen and such. Drunk and weary, maybe, but also in Molly’s chamber with money. And losing track of time. This is a man who knows a little bit about savoring the spoils of victory, and perhaps even coming back for seconds. And then, ‘in walked Captain Farrell…’ Now, maybe I’m a romantic, but I always see this moment as the bad luck of evil co-incidence and poor scheduling on Molly’s part. I don’t think Captain Farrell, or Molly, or our hapless narrator; expect to see the intersection of their three lives at this very moment. Maybe Molly has been providing the hospitality of her chamber to both highwayman and captain without incident for years, but on this fateful night she’s gotten her Palm Pilot entries mixed up. Though the sense of shock and three way betrayal is strong, not a moment of hesitation (or watered-down pistols) on our hero’s part:

I jumped up, fired my pistols and I shot him with both barrels
Well okay! Vaya con Dios, Captain Farrell. And doesn't that teach you not to flash your paycheck while wandering around alone in the countryside of Cork and Kerry? And, sadly, Molly’s active role in the song is pretty much done at this point too. But with the Captain dead and our hero in serious trouble, she’s certainly up one bag of gold with no questions asked. Let's hope she used the swag to book passage for Boston and finance a Day School for Young Ladies of Good Massachusetts Families with herself as headmistress. That’s certainly what I’d do, at any rate.

In the ‘Jenny’ versions, matters go their dreary course:

They put me into jail
with a judge all a writin'
For robbing Colonel Farrell
on Gilgarry Mountain.
But they didn't take me fists
so I knocked the jailer down,
And bid a farewell to
this tight fisted town.
I'd like to find me brother
the one that's in the army,
I don't know where he's stationed
in Cork or in Killarney.
Together we'd go roving
o'r the mountains of Killkenney,
And I swear he'd treat me
better than me darling' sporting Jenny.
Well, pal, which locality is it? Cork or Killarney? Where I live, the County Jail gives you only ONE phonecall on the gov’t dime, so you’d better know what you’re about. And why is the brother going to be especially motivated to abandon three hots and a cot to go roving o’r the mountains with his jailbird sibling who’s also expecting him to be a substitute for ‘darling sporting Jenny?’

Trust me, there’s no substitute for what Jenny/Molly can deliver.4

And, besides, introducing the brother at this point just messes with the neat triangle of characterization established so far. Furthermore, knocking down the jailer after arrest is no way as exciting as unloading a double-barreled blast on the Captain himself at the moment of discovery.

So. Far, far better is the dramatic power of the stripped down final verse in the Thin Lizzy version. Savage electric guitars dropping away, the story shifts from past glory to present miseries:

Now some men like the fishin' and some men like the fowlin'
And some men like to hear, to hear the cannon ball a roarin'
Me I like sleepin' especially in my Molly's chamber
But here I am in prison, here I am with a ball and chain yeah
And there it is – a tale of gold, love, murder and the vengeance of the law in four neat verses. No post-arrest escapes, no brother. And this is the only version I’ve found that brings Molly back for the finale, and that wistful tone of regret for her chamber strengthens my argument that Molly was guilty of nothing more than loving too much (or too many…) but no grudges are held.

Musha ring dum a doo dum a da
Whack fol my daddy-o
Whack fol my daddy-o
There's whiskey in the jar-o

1It has recently come to my attention that the Dubliners sing the "Jenny" variant of this song, which has probably led other bands down that road.

However, I would submit that the Dubliners could sing "Sunshine and Lollipops" or "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No" or “Genie in a Bottle" or any such song with any such lyrics and still be one bad-ass band.

2Just try singing it with boys after three pints. Huh buddy? Where’s your self-respect now?

3[2007 edit] I’ve since learned that Viagra was invented in Cork, Ireland. Yes, it does have a kind of ‘coals to Newcastle’ feeling, doesn’t it? I imagine the lab conversation as follows: “Say, you know what I think? I think this world could use more langers. Big, proud and ready-for-action langers!” “Funny you bring that up. I’ve been working on this pill…” *The two scientists then beta-test the pill.* “BRILLIANT!”

4[2007 edit:] Unless you are ex-Senator Craig [R], Idaho. Nice job supporting those American family values, Senator!