The Babys – Isn’t it Time?

How is it that I haven’t picked a song from The Babys after all these years of Warbling?

Isn’t it time that I finally do just that? Get what I did just there?:)

There’s a new restaurant across the street from my office in San Francisco and it is open late and has comfortable outdoor seating with heating lamps and while they were finishing the construction and the grand opening grew nearer, I couldn’t help imagining all the fantastic blog posts I would write there, clad in a cozy wool sweater and matching cap, sipping my beer, chomping on an over-priced tuna melt, thinking I should have taken a Lactaid. The restaurant is a chain, which sucks, but whatevs, it’s got a decent menu, an attractive color scheme and solid wifi, and the lease is probably way beyond anything a small shop could afford and well, I fucking go to Starbucks or Peet’s on a daily basis, so who am I to be a hypocrite about it?

Besides, in addition to all the other appealing qualities of The Grove (there I said it, I was gonna leave the name of the restaurant out of the post just to be an ass, but decided to give in) — whoever chooses the music played on the house stereo has truly awesome taste for essentially a retro-oldies playlist. During my first visit, I heard The Replacements, B52s, The Who, Queen and The Babys. And, not the obvious choices for each band. No “Alex Chilton,” no “Baba O’Riley,” no “Rock Lobster,” no “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And it also wasn’t the one Babys song that most casual listeners over the age of 40 would recognize: their 1983 hit, “Midnight Rendezvous.” (which, I will add, is an awesome song in its own right…a fine blend of Robert Palmer meets Foreigner… the perfect earworm tune, and dare I say it, a little bit sexy).

But the truth of the matter, is that there are a ton of great songs from The Babys that I simply had forgotten about and I could feasibly change this site to “Babys Warbles” and be able to create new posts every day for at least a week and a half.

I won’t try and fit those 10 posts into one, but I will suggest you go and YouTube search them, or go out and get their Greatest Hits album because there’s not a clunker in the bunch. Also, I’m avoiding going into the successful solo career of singer John Waite, because I’m saving “Missing You” for a future post. So there. Also, I friggin’ forgot he was the lead vocalist for Bad English!!!!

Note: I went back and watched some Bad English videos….can’t take that hour back, but I can share four minutes of it with you…it’s essentially Journey with John Waite as lead singer. Holy Crap!

 

Wow – John Waite rocked some of the worst hairstyles of all time….

I’m hoping that the new Grove helps put me in a groove and that this triggers a new batch of Earworm gems, because, like the lack of Babys until this point, there are surely hundreds more deserving artists worth exploring with y’all on Fuzzy’s Warbles.

P.S. – Although I try and find a personal story or angle to attach to each song-post, I am opening the floor to requests, and if you want to describe what the song means to you, I’ll work it in to the post (if you want).

 

Rush – I Think I’m Going Bald

Rush

I’m not usually a vain person.

I’ve been bald for going on 20 years, which, for vain men (I’ll say people since some women lose the hair on their heads), doesn’t really save any time in the mornings getting ready, like the non-bald citizenry would think. We don’t have to blowdry or style with combs, brushes or gels, but keeping a smooth pate requires a lot of mastery with a combination of razors, trimmers and scissors. And it really helps to have a partner or a roommate around to ask the inevitable question at the end of the grooming process: “Did I miss a spot?” It can take 20-30 minutes and a practiced dexterity with a hand mirror to achieve the gorgeous, “natural” bald look so many in society assume we just hop out of bed looking like.

A Norelco 7000 rechargeable waterproof beard trimmer is my main weapon of choice when fighting to maintain a proper pro-basketball-player-level head shine. I assume the pros keep a highly trained follitician on their staff so that the TV stations’ HD cameras don’t set upon a rough patch, just below the ridge of the occiput, alerting all viewers to a grooming faux pas.

But for me, being a simple layman, the chances of public mockery, should I be so unlucky as to leave the house without proper headscaping, are minimal at best and would most likely come from the mouth of Jeff, the douchebag in HR who thinks embarrassing a man who dresses for work before putting his glasses on is actually possible. And the truth is, most errant hairs, nicks, cuts and uncertain bumps, are hidden behind a hat or cap of some sort, as the exposed noggin is a beacon for all manner of sun-related burn, spot or rash. Not to mention the unpublicized truth that our hairless tops tend to resemble bullseye targets for gastrointestinally loose birds.

But it’s bad enough that I don’t get all this assumed added time to my life (OK, I save money on barbers and stylists, I’ll grant you that), now I have to deal with (emotionally, mechanically) the sudden increased hair growth from places that no one in their right mind would ever desire. Ears, nose, eyebrows — those easily viewable facial areas become a veritable hotbed for unwanted follicle stimulation. And you think those nose/ear trimmers that come with grooming packs actually do anything? Ha! The only tool that even marginally trims ear and nose hair is a pair of (Blunt! Must be blunt!) scissors. And even then, it’s worth investing in one of those magnifying mirrors, because chances are, your perfect eyesight has followed your perfect hairdo into the land of the dusty photo album, which you still are unable to pry the dusty pages open without tears and gnashing of teeth (which, by now, are mostly expensive products from the world of dentistry).

And that’s just the orifices. Now try shaving the outside of your ear — where you might stare dumbfounded, wondering how such a pattern of vibrissa could possibly sprout from the earlobe — and not end up holding a wet piece of toilet paper to the ridge for 10 minutes afterward.

But, thankfully, I’m not a vain person, and now see these physical changes of maturity as outwardly directed manifestations of virility, wisdom and masculinity. A reminder not to cling to a stagnant view of self. That no matter what is happening, good or bad, at that very moment, soon enough it will end, and become something else.

 

The Decemberists – Make You Better

 

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As long as Bernie is comfortable. That’s what’s most important.

I awake just past 6am, my brain a buzzing with activity and it feels like I just walked into the middle of a heated conversation. Like I opened the door to a room filled with whirling dervishes and it shut behind me and locked me in. I could have slept at least another hour; or at the very least I had no good reason to arise before 7, if not 7:30. This realization leaves me feeling irritated as I know I’m up for good now. There’s no going back to sleep.

 

I see no need to exert myself and actually get out of bed, so I reach for my iPad on the bedside table. My headphone earbuds are still attached from the night before. I’d finally fallen asleep around 2am to a Spotify playlist of didgeridoo soundscapes, but the calm that the circular breathing had instilled is but a distant memory. I decide to play a guided meditation from my Insight Timer app. Something to guide me to focus on my breath and slow the dervishes. I push the white orbs into my ears and a second later, music begins playing. Not Australian dronings, more like familiar alternative rock. Something I’d heard many times before but couldn’t yet place. I figure that maybe Spotify is still streaming and the tablet had never shut down. I flip the cover of the iPad and double tap the round button on the bottom. Spotify is inactive. I check Google; no tabs open. iTunes. Nothing. I close every app. The music still plays.

I suddenly realize the song playing is The Decemberists’ “Make You Better,” one of my favorite songs from 2015. I decide that as much as I’m flummoxed by not knowing the source of the music, I’m glad that this ghost DJ has awesome taste. My anxious mood begins to lift; I can feel it literally floating off my body as I let the song’s opening swirls of piano, bass and drums fill my heart, brain and lungs. By the time Colin Meloy’s familiar, inimitable warble summons the opening phrases, “I want you, thin fingers/I want you, thin fingernails” the song has coated the entirety of my insides like a velvety gas. It feels like eating the most exquisitely chilled, chocolate cheesecake. (Which would indeed create a velvety, pungent gas should I not take two Lactaid.)

Of all the bands that I was obsessed with in the early 2000s who are still making new music — New Pornographers, Death Cab for Cutie, Spoon — The Decemberists are the only one that has grown along with me, some 15 plus years later. I’m just as likely to play their most recent album, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, as I would their early classic, Castaways and Cutouts. I still harbor a deep love for that 2002 debut, can still be transported back to the first time I heard it, playing it on a CD boombox while I planted lettuce and squash in the garden. I bought the album based solely on a written review in Mojo magazine. Now when I read a review of a highly praised debut album, I just digitally toss it into a bucket of Spotify playlists and hope I find time to listen to it one day. (That’s a topic for another post.)

Castaways and Cutouts sounded like nothing I’d heard before. The vocals were up front in the mix and I could actually understand the hyper literate lyrics. Well, maybe not understand exactly — there were a ton of historical and nautical references that went over my head — but I could make them out, they were well-annunciated. And they weren’t a typical guitar/bass/drums band. Accordion was featured prominently, as well as theremin, pedal steel and organ. The songs were dark and moody but with an undercurrent of humor that kept it all from becoming dreary and precious. For those who like comparisons, The Decemberists, to me, were like The Smiths by way of Neutral Milk Hotel. I feel pretentious just writing that sentence. “The Legionnaire’s Lament” best encapsulates all those qualities for me.

When listening, now, to a song like “Make You Better,” I can hear and feel a profound musical and thematic expansion in The Decemberists’ sound.  They aren’t singing about shanties and fair maidens anymore; the accordion and theremin have been shelved. But there’s an honesty and a reverence of pop songcraft in this tune that they needed thirteen years of playing music together to achieve.

But we’re not so starry eyed anymore/Like the perfect paramour that you were in your letters, singer/guitarist Colin Meloy laments in the song’s chorus. It’s a comment on a long-term love relationship that may or may not be over, a remembrance of youth and of dreams, but it’s not entirely nostalgic. There’s an underlying feeling of having become a better person because of a shared history.

So, I suppose The Decemberists do still sing about history and exotic far off worlds, but they no longer need to dress in pantaloons and sail the fiery seas in order to find their musical treasures. They’ve discovered the pirate booty in their own backyards, the stories hidden in their modern day lives.

Who knows if The Decemberists’ new music will continue to musicially and thematically align with me over the years — they could put out a Barry Manilow tribute album and I’ll probably love it — but I feel like we’ve had 15 years together to develop a certain comfortability, and no matter what crazy roads we decide to travel, they will undoubtedly lead us right back to each other.

music-medicine

I have to believe that this phantom musical moment is a sign to rekindle the Fuzzy Warbles music blog. I’ve been feeling pretty shitty for having abandoned it for a couple of months. I’m good at being harsh on myself; music has been my #1 savior in combating the evil beasts of depression and self-loathing for my entire life. Hearing this song again is yet another reminder of the power of music. But just listening to it isn’t enough. I need to write about it. Cause that’s the one simple truth about music It makes you better.

 

R.I.P. John Wetton

The deaths of rock and roll icons continues in 2017, with the passing of Prog Rock legend, John Wetton. Even if you don’t know who he is (and if you are over the age of 40 you should know), you know many of the bands he once played with.

King Crimson. Asia. Roxy Music. UK. Uriah Heep. Wishbone Ash. Just to name a few. Also, an extensive solo album career.

For most of these bands Wetton played the bass, and also sang vocals. Usually lead. His voice was unique and recognizable, deep and smooth, with a slight bit of rasp, but there was always something comforting in his voice. He sounded like someone’s dad fronting a bar band. He didn’t have a lot of range, he couldn’t hit the high notes, but he had the essential ingredient — feeling. I think it was what led to Asia, his most commercially successful band, to such great heights in the early 80s.

I’ve written about Asia a bit more extensively here, so I won’t go into detail, but for fans of the members of Asia — Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, Geoffrey Downes — Asia was a bit of a disappointment. The mind-blowing solos had disappeared and been replaced by hooks and sing-along choruses. But, listening to the first two Asia albums again today, although the production on them sounds quite dated, there are some masterful instrumental breaks that showed these prog-rock dinosaurs still could show off, just for ten seconds at a time instead of ten minutes.

My favorite John Wetton recorded performances were probably with King Crimson, where he played on arguably the bands most musically adventurous albums: Larks Tongues’ in Aspic, Red, Starless and Bible Black, and USA.

It’s not easy to play the intricate type of music that Robert Fripp writes, let alone sing at the same time. I’ve spent many hours in my late teens and early 20s focusing on the individual parts of the King Crimson canon. Usually I concentrated on the drums, but Wetton’s bass lines were deceptively crazy. But at the same time, Wetton played the role of “glue”: keeping the songs together when all the instruments seemed to be heading in all different directions. There’s a reason King Crimson, once Wetton left the band in 1975, never had a bassist/vocalist again.

John Wetton was irreplaceable and there will never be another musician like him ever again.

I leave this post with one of my favorite songs Wetton ever played on, recorded with the band UK…though this is during a reunion, just 6 years ago, back in 2011, with Eddie Jobson and some other fine musicians.

Firefall – You Are the Woman

firefallThis is the sort of song that pops up in my head unbidden. Without having heard it in a supermarket or a shopping mall. But it was ubiquitous in my parents’ cars growing up. It was songs like this that permeated and saturated my pre-teen ears whenever slumped into the backseat of Dad’s Datsun 280zx or Mom’s yellow station wagon. I could feel the bile climbing up my esophagus as an endless stream of soft rock, by bands like Firefall, America, Seals & Crofts, Captain & Tenille, Ambrosia, Bread and countless other syrupy sensitive artists sung sweetly about the biggest part of me and horses with no names — sending my impressionable self into the open arms of Black Sabbath, Ted Nugent and Led Zeppelin. And not a minute too soon.

Now, a million years later, I can appreciate bands like Firefall. There’s a distant comfort that warms my blood when a song like “You Are the Woman” courses through my veins. I find myself singing along — loudly if in the car — because I know all the words. Even if I’d always thought the lyrics were “You are the one that I always dreamed of,” not “woman I always dreamed of.” But it works either way. Like singing “kiss this guy” instead of “kiss the sky” in the Jimi Hendrix classic “Purple Haze.”

While searching for the above YouTube video, I entertained myself by playing the entire Firefall Greatest Hits album (you know, to get in the mood) and  FRIGGIN’ RECOGNIZED EVERY ONE OF THESE SONGS! Jesus – this was no one-hit-wonder band! I was even bopping my head along to their 1978 hit song “Strange Way” which, I dunno if it’s the chords or what, but the way the flute and bass and keyboards blend together, it’s like a musical massage to my deepest plexus (plexii?). It’s soft-rock magic. I even, for a moment, paying attention to the lyrics, found them dare I say, profound. I mean, am I wrong?

Didn’t I hear your voice this morning, didn’t you call my name?
I heard you whisper softly, but the words were never plain.
And in your dream of darkness, I came shinin’ like the sun.
Waiting for the laughter, but the laughter never comes.

That’s a Strange Way to Tell Me You Love Me indeed. Maybe this is what happens to people when they turn 50, they start to reconnect with the bad music their parents made them listen to as kids. Today I find myself listening to Firefall; last week it was Little River Band, and yesterday, Genesis. I try to resist this bizarre nostalgia trip by playing something that came out in 2016 and this new song (I can’t even remember the name or the artist) floats right past me like yesterday’s underwear.

I just made up that metaphor, but it feels right somehow. Floating underwear is today’s white bread. Maybe tomorrow’s underwear is more apt. No, that’s exactly backward. Firefall is like yesterday’s underwear. Though clearly very white when you brought the undies home from the store, they’ve undoubtedly been through a lot — the wringer you might say. The stains are never coming out no matter how much bleach you use, and the whole thing is a thread’s breath from falling apart. Yet, despite the aging and the fraying, it’s the most comfortable piece of clothing in all your closets and drawers.

In this YouTube clip above, it’s the version of “Strange Way” that, if you know the song, is the one you will recognize. And it’s great as it is, to be sure, but during my spelunking deep into the Firefall wormhole (a situation that occurs quite often when putting together these posts) I discovered a nine-minute live version of “Strange Way” from their 2009 reunion album, creatively titled “Firefall Reunion Live.”  It’s a very clean and crisp recording, and the band sounds especially tight. There’s even a Latin-break about 4 minutes in, replete with alternating percussion, drum and flute solos! The perfect journey into yacht-rock heaven!

 

 

 

Genesis – Abacab

As I scan the shelves at my local Pet Food Express for Bernie’s canned food, I find myself lost in thought, planning out the rest of my day. Would I have time to complete the myriad of tasks on my to-do list before 3pm? I have finally developed a routine of keeping track of my tasks using the “notes” app on my phone and as soon as I think of something I need to do, buy or remember, I jot it down in a note. Because my brain is like a sieve, I check this list multiple times a day, to make sure I haven’t skipped an essential item. Oh shit! I forgot to get a birthday card for Mom! Well, that doesn’t happen now, because, like Santa Claus, I check my list, way more than twice and really can’t tell the difference between naughty and nice.

But I digress. I am scanning the cans, searching for wild boar and rice (Bernie’s favorite) when all of a sudden I find myself bopping to and fro, caught in a pleasant reverie spiral. I realize it’s due to the music coming from the store’s speakers. The recognizable keyboard chords of Tony Banks, the thumping bass-lines of Mike Rutherford, and, of course, the solid drumming and vocals of Phil Collins, playing the fantastic title song from their 1981 album, Abacab.

Genesis.

I will admit, right here and now, that it wasn’t until Peter Gabriel left Genesis that I became a fan of the band. I just couldn’t connect to the epic 20 minute prog-rock jams of the early to mid 1970s Genesis. I liked some of the prog bands of the day — like Rush and Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer — but it wasn’t until the 80s, when Genesis dwindled down to a trio, and specifically on the song “Turn it On Again” from the Duke album, that I became a real Genesis fan. It was this song that received a lot of radio airplay on KLOS and KMET, the stations I listened to for my rock and roll down in southern California.

I got some shit from my fellow 13-year-old friends for not digging The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, but even as a young teenager I could recognize the greatness of Peter Gabriel, but more from his just released third solo album (we just called it Melty Face) than from his time as vocalist and band-leader of Genesis. It was the best of both worlds: two bands for the price of one. It’s 1980, Peter Gabriel releases his arguably best album, and Genesis, finally finds its new voice as a more pop-oriented, yet still experimental band, with Phil Collins more than handling the reins as vocalist.

But as much as I liked Duke, it was a year later, in 1981, with the release of Abacab, when Genesis really took hold, not just of me, but of the world as a whole. It helped immensely that the album coincided with the birth of MTV, a brand new, 24-hour cable channel featuring non-stop music videos. It wasn’t the six-and-a-half minute title song that MTV added to its rotation though. It was the more upbeat, horn-laden 4-minute track, “No Reply at All.” The video for which, shows the three band members goofing around and having a lovely time. Pretending to play the horns and smiling and, well, let’s just say that a person didn’t need to see that video too many times to instinctively lurch to change the channel when it came on. Don’t get me wrong, “NRAA” is a great song. Deserving of all the attention it received and perhaps still receives today. But that video has left a little bit of scarring, so I tend to have more pleasant connotations with their song “Abacab.” Which I thought was an actual word for many years (OK, 35 – I just learned today that it represents a series of notes somewhere in this –or maybe another–song, but reversed — BACABA.)

To this day, Abacab is the album I put on to play from Genesis whenever I’m in an 80’s Genesis sort of mood. It isn’t necessarily their best album; there are certainly some throwaway songs (“Who Dunnit?” is particularly bad), but, for me, 1981 was such a defining year. It was my first year of high school, MTV debuted, I had a solid base of friends and was feeling hopefully for the first time in a long time. Yeah, Reagan just took office, but to a 13 year old boy, that didn’t have much of an impact. What had a much bigger impact on this teenage boy would come a year and a half later, when the family would decide to move to the San Fernando Valley, the summer after 10th grade. To be continued….

Shovels & Rope – Botched Execution

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Going back to the roots for today’s Warble. I have to thank my friend Alisa for turning me on to Shovels & Rope. This is the Americana album of 2016 for me, Shovels & Rope’s 4th album, Little Seeds. I like that the band is not called “Shovel and Rope.” It’s not a singular shovel, but plural shovels. Cause sometimes you need more than one. Adds another layer of macabre to the proceedings.

This song captures the dark humor that Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst (yes, they are married) have been known for since the start. If I had to describe their sound, I would say Handsome Family meets The White Stripes. Maybe a little bit of John Doe and Exene. There’s a lived-in quality to Trent and Hearst’s vocals; a raspy comfortability that brings an honesty to even the most ridiculous of songs. Like this one. And the video is darling, isn’t it? I just saw it for the first time, looking it up on YT.

I did put this on my best of 2016 album list, so if you like this tune, go find the whole album because it’s great all the way through. Like a 12 layer chocolate cake. Yummy.