Death Alley Classic

I’m going through a major early 80’s hard-rock phase lately.  It’s partly because of my Spotify obsession and the ease of hearing what I want immediately.  And it’s partly because this is the music I grew up with.  Junior-High school years.  The years of transitioning from hard rock to new wave.  Punk came later.  Sorry.  Not that much later, though.  I feel bad for the punks who never got to experience a NWOBHM period of their youth.  New Wave of British Heavy Metal to you acronymnly challenged.  To me it’s the best way to a musical open mind later in life.  Going from classic rock to prog to heavy metal to hair metal to new wave to punk to ska to funk to world (latin-african-gypsy mostly) and back to classic rock and heavy metal.  Not as subdivided as all that, but sort of an overlapped progression, never a replacement – more of a supplementation.

It could be my recent obsessions with aging, with ever increasing curmudgeon-liness.  These fucking kids!  They don’t know shit and their stupid clothes and and their ass-crack pants and retarded haircuts!  And the fucking bands they listen to!  Boring and derivative.  Can’t you come up with your own fucking ideas?  Don’t get me started!
Which is why I can’t stop listening to Rainbow.  Yes, Rainbow.  Ronnie James Dio-era Rainbow.  Sure.  Awesome.  Man on the Silver Mountain.  Amazing.  But that was the 70s and I came of age during the era of Joe Lynn Turner on vocals and he had it going too.  I even liked Graham Bonnet’s stuff with Rainbow.  Lost in Hollywood is one of my favorite Rainbow songs of all.  Sure, you can say the 80’s stuff is dated, and end to end, the ’82 album, Straight Between the Eyes doesn’t hold up, but any album that has Death Alley Driver and Stone Cold starting it off with a 1-2 punch, can’t be expected to keep it up.

Never even mentioned Ritchie Blackmore, who is definitely one of the top guitarists of all time.  His solos hold up over the decades and, to me, are unique and inimitable.  No one sounded like him and no one has since.  And how can you argue with a music video where a motorcycle riding Joe Lynn Turner is being chased down by a Ritchie Blackmore passengered 1920’s (?) black (Lincoln?) that could probably couldn’t keep up with a Vespa.  Classic.


Fishbone Doc at Roxie Theater – SF


Just saw one of the best rock docs ever last night.  Everyday Sunshine – The Story of Fishbone.  And to top it off, Angelo and Norwood, Fishbone’s original members, played an acoustic set before the screening and did a Q&A afterwards.  I’ll talk later about the influence Fishbone had on me as a pesky teenager.  I will say that they will forever be the most exciting live act in the history of rock; and I’ve seen a lot of bands and a lot of shows. 


No, I am not going to bore you with stories of ex-girlfriends.  Rather I am going to bore you with stories of ex-favorite bands.  We all have them.  Bands we once loved with a passion.  Maybe the poetic, deeply-personal lyrics spoke to us.  Maybe the raw energy and unbridled enthusiasm brought us out of our doldrums.  Maybe we just found the lead singer exceedingly attractive and he/she filled the void where an actual girlfriend/boyfriend should be/used to be.  Whatever the case, now we hear their latest song and it does nothing for us.  We tell ourselves that we are giving it an open-minded listen, but it doesn’t make a difference.  And what’s worse is that the critics are heaping mounds of praise on the album/band/song, so we can’t join in on any bashing.  We simply have moved on.   Probably for greener sounding pastures.

This isn’t a bad thing.  It’s what allows for an expanded musical appetite.  Times change, tastes change, styles change and your love for Duran Duran or Nirvana or (in my case) The New Pornographers changes too.  And it’s not like you can’t stay friends.  You can meet for coffee every few months and check in, but things tend to go a lot better when you reminisce about the good ol’ days instead of trying to catch up on the new stuff.  (Why NP bore me now – how they now seem hollow and uninteresting and predictable where they were once fresh and wholly unique.)

Usually this surprise breakup happens with recent exes.  Long-ago exes often come around to become really good friends again when the fingers of nostalgia are long enough and gentle enough to massage and tickle, if not in the same way they originally did, then in a way that can still trigger pleasure and joy.  In musical terms, at least 15 years needs to pass for this type of rekindling.  I thought maybe 10 was enough, but that’s way too soon.  New Pornographers’ debut “Mass Romantic” was released in 2000 and was a milestone album for me;  I must have played that CD at least 100 times during the first few months after I bought it (this was before the download maelstrom).  But even now, when I can still recognize the greatness of that album, the disconnect I feel toward their later 2000’s albums and their latest too, make it difficult for me to separate the wheat from the chaff.  I’m just not ready to be friends again.  It’s too soon.

The 15 year (at least) separation is necessary because it takes that long to be able to re-love the albums of the past without letting the more recent musical misfires to contaminate the feelings.  In fact, what this added time allows, is for me to come to respect (albeit grudgingly) the newer catalog and to able to hear it with less critical ears.

I’m finding a lot of the music I loved deeply in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, or more accurately, the bands I discovered during that period, is falling flat on my ears today.  I wonder if this is a factor of age; I was in my early 30’s in the late 90’s and mid-40’s now.  Most of the bands I discovered back then (The Decemberists, Death Cab For Cutie, Okkervil River) I rarely listen to now and when I play their newer music, I neither love it nor hate it.  It’s all just OK.

I can attribute it to my transition from my 30’s to my 40’s, or is it less personalized than this?  If it’s an aging thing, can it be any generational shift?  20’s to 30’s?  25’s to 35’s?  I don’t know.  I just am looking forward to 4 years from now when the New Pornographers’ debut, Mass Romantic, reaches its 15th birthday.  I’m gonna play it all day long – on CD – over speakers – and hopefully with a shit-eating grin on my face.

One of 2011’s best tunes

I spent a decent amount of time listening to the top albums of 2011 and I’m still aurally digesting it all.  I of course needed to make a best of CD as is my purview each year, but as much of my “collection” was acquired over the last couple months, much of it either has gotten ignored, glossed over, and/or otherwise judged prematurely.  The stuff I’ve been listening to over most of the year has received more attention, deeper consideration.  So, in terms of albums, the vote is still out.  I need to let the soup simmer a while longer.  Songs, on the other hand, are more immediate.  That is why most of my favorite songs are usually catchy pop-songs or funky soul rave-ups.  I don’t even know what a rave-up is, but I’m sure I like it (or them).  Challenging tunes that require multiple listens, or attention at all, will get their due, but for now, head bobbers and toe-tappers will win out.

I was late to the Jeff The Brotherhood bandwagon.  They have released 5 albums and I will admit to only having heard the latest one, “We Are the Champions” (great album title).  Rock duos are all the rage and most of them sound to me like they are missing something (like a bassist or a guitarist or xylophonist).  But JTB (brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall) are the exception to this rule.  With just drums and guitar, they really sound like a full band.  Part of that is the production, which fuzzes out Jake’s guitar and fills out the mix.  But this isn’t some highly produced rock album – you won’t confuse JTB with the Black Keys (who are also great, but less garage-sounding nowadays).  It’s usually a bad idea to compare bands to other bands, but when you are a professional comparer, like myself, and use these gifts with care, it can be an effective method of giving the educated reader (like yourself) a clearer idea of what the artist/band/writer/etc sounds like.  So, to me, these guys are a cross between the Meat Puppets and Jay Reatard.  Stoner punk, with a leaning toward stoner.  You can find out for yourself by watching the below video, which was recorded for the Tiny Desk Concert series on NPR.  It’s a really great series and I highly recommend you subscribe to their podcast.  You can also watch the concerts on the NPR website and most of them are searchable on youtube as well.

That’s it for now – I’m hoping to keep this thing going regular and true for as long as I can and if you like this, I have archived the Steve’s Song of the Day blog here.