December, 1963

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I’m skipping, for now, the argument for why King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is my new favorite band. Partly because it feels so, so last week.

But I will talk about my latest EARWORM song, one I kept humming all day long, not even knowing who sang this tune. I wasn’t even sure the title of the song; Was it “Oh What a Night”? Luckily, the internet saved me yet again.

I know you know this song and you are now probably humming it in your head too. You’re welcome. I guess I forgot that Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons had some big hits in the 70s. I think of them more as a 60s act. Four-part harmonies, songs like “Sherry,” lots of falsetto. I’d forgotten that Frankie Valli performed the main theme song to “Grease” the movie (though it was written by Barry Gibb).

I never saw the musical Jersey Boys, which is all about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which is too bad, because I like musicals and I appreciate the impact Frankie Valli has had on the evolution of modern music. I tended to shy away from these sort of groups from the 60s, thought of them as “my parents music.” But seeing this medley of hits, and getting older no doubt, has expanded my capacity for nostalgia, even a nostalgia mostly from an older generation. I do remember these songs being played as a small child, even if no specific memories come to mind.

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My New Favorite Band pt. 1

the-onion-your-favorite-band-sucks-t-shirt-bustedtees-2It’s been a long while since I’ve had a favorite band. Far too long, really. In fact, when I think back over all of my life since I’ve been probably seven years old, I’ve always had a favorite band, a favorite singer or artist. It may have been The Partridge Family at first, or perhaps that’s how I choose to portray my cute-as-a-button young self. I can picture little Stevie sitting cross-legged on the floor of the living room, as Dad, bell-bottomed and thick side-burned, changed the 45 on the record player from Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain” to The Partridge Family’s single, “I Think I Love You.”

But the chronology of this imaginary flashback is all fucked up. And my parents were not hip enough to have The Partridge Family album in their collection. Neil Sedaka, sure. That part rings true. And it wasn’t a groovy LP my dad, and later, I, would play; it would be a nifty little rectangular 8-track tape. And Barry Manilow. Lots of Barry Manilow. Manilow I, Manilow II, Trying to Get the Feeling, This One’s For You, my dad had them all.

I think what I’m trying to say, is, perhaps Barry Manilow was my first favorite artist.

I won’t go through the long list of subsequent favorite bands, all 40 plus years of them, because that just seems like a lot of work. Obviously, the teenage years and the twenties are going to be the most intense favorite-band period, and for me that was 1980-1995. If you’ve read my other posts, you are probably already guessing that Rush played that important role for a good portion of those years and you’d be right. But, like best friends, favorite bands could change on a dime, and my undying adoration for Rush might suddenly shift to Joe Jackson. Or maybe Public Enemy. Bam! Sorry Geddy! Sorry Neil and Alex! The fan is a fickle beast!

Now, as a man of a certain age, with arthritic bones and sensitive ear drums, a good portion of my listening time is spent on podcasts. And if I find myself really enjoying a new band, it’s usually not reaching all the way down, not like artists with a deeper catalog and history. And would I really call any of these newbies “my favorite?” Like moreso than Richard Thompson? More than A Tribe Called Quest? That’s just not gonna happen; my musical DNA is mostly written.

My last favorite band, the most recent one that, during their peak, I loved so much I would buy their new CD the first week of release; the band I would buy tickets to any show the minute they went on sale, was Ween. I think I must have seen the music video for “Push the Little Daisies,” from their Pure Guava album and been alternately frightened and intrigued. They were a duo of smart aleck brothers (Gene and Dean Ween – though I soon would learn Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo were unrelated) who played bizarre, silly, dark and ear worm-quality catchy music unlike anything I’d ever heard before. My buddy Colin and I then saw them perform in concert at the Kennel Club (now The Independent) and the impact on me was what I imagined seeing Nirvana or Devo at the beginning of their ascensions must have been like. Over the next decade I’d see Ween play on every bay area tour, eight times at least. In fact, I’m about to see them for the 9th time in little more than a week! (Or, if you are reading this after Sept. 23rd, then I’d just seen them for the 9th time and it was amazing! Or, I would have recently seen them for the 9th time if not for Trump’s sudden cross-state travel ban. Ok, even I’m not that cynical…)

I’ve done such a great job not mentioning my newest favorite band; partly because this is a much deeper topic than I ever imagined, partly to see how long I could stall, and partly because I simply got distracted.

And now I’m kinda sleepy so I think I’ll just tell you next time. Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day.

No. That’s mean. And my readership is already as thin as wheat. I’ll tell you. But I’m going to talk about them next time. Cause they deserve all the attention. Not just a coda to a rambling post.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. My new favorite band. I don’t expect you to agree, especially after watching the below video. But to me, this is the band I would follow like the Grateful Dead if I were 25 and independently wealthy. Which I’m not/not.

More to come about them.

Heart – Dog and Butterfly

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There are so many great songs about dogs, or at least songs with the word dog in the title, that I struggled to choose one for today. I went with this classic ballad from Heart, partly because it’s one of those songs that whenever I come across it, on the radio, in a public space, I always stop and pay attention. Ann Wilson’s voice has a way of winding its way into your….yes, I’m gonna say it….heart. But it passes through all the other organs first, giving the listener a full-body experience.

It’s just the two of them, Nancy on acoustic guitar and Ann on lead vocals and there’s a simple joy to the song, a sweetness and an innocence. Kind of like a dog, no?

The song apparently came to be one day when Ann was watching her sheepdog running around in the backyard and noticed that it was chasing a butterfly. It made her think about all the things people chase in life, things they never catch up to and then end up feeling like failures. But her dog never exhibited frustration, he seemed to simply enjoy the company, the challenge, the playing.

I’ve read the lyrics to the song a few times, and if I squint carefully I sorta see parallels to Anne’s inspiration story, but it’s a bit of a stretch. To me, I take it more literally. Dogs don’t wallow in failure, they don’t give up before they’ve tried everything. And when I’m around a dog I move through periods of depression and sadness, I don’t get stuck in them. Dogs are guides; we might be the one holding the leash, but they’re the ones leading the way.

There I was with the old man
Stranded again so off I’d ran
A young world crashing around me
No possibilities of getting what I need
He looked at me and smiled
Said no, no, no, no, no child

See the dog and butterfly
Up in the air he likes to fly
Dog and butterfly
Below she had to try
She roll back down to the warm soft ground, laughing
She don’t know why, she don’t know why
Dog and butterfly

Well I stumbled upon your secret place
Safe in the trees you had tears on your face
Wrestling with your desires frozen strangers
Stealing your fires, the message hit my mind
Only words that I could find

See the dog and butterfly
Up in the air he like to fly
Dog and butterfly below she had to try
She roll back down to the warm soft ground
Laughing to the sky, up to the sky
Dog and butterfly

We’re getting older the world’s getting colder
For the life of me I don’t know the reason why
Maybe it’s livin’ making us give in
Hearts rolling in taken back on the tide
We’re balanced together ocean upon the sky

 

Walking the Dog

 

So, since Bernie won entry into the Oakland Animal Shelter 2018 calendar, officially announced tonight (!), I thought I’d write a series of dog themed posts. Below is a short story I just wrote after taking the Bern for a walk….hope you like it.

I chose this song (Originally a Rufus Thomas song: see below) because it’s so good but also it has the most directly relevant title for my story….so many great songs about dogs. What are some of yours?

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Bernie doesn’t know what to make of cats. They aren’t dogs, but they are small and furry like some of the neighborhood dogs that he enjoys playing with. They smell different, though. And they don’t bark. And they arch their spines when he gets near and they sometimes bare their claws.

I say to him, “Bernie, that’s a cat. 99.9 percent of them aren’t going to like you. That’s just a fact.”

Bernie tilts his huge pitty head up at me, his pink and brown lips half-pursed, his ears flopped over, taking in what I’m saying. He doesn’t fully understand. “Yeah, but why don’t they like me? I’m happy-go-lucky and I’m always in a good mood.”

“I don’t think I have enough time right now to explain to you why big, strong and happy-go-lucky dogs aren’t appealing to the cat population,” I tell him. “I wouldn’t take it so personally, if I were you. Can we just finish our walk?”

“OK,” Bernie says, and we continue down the street. I can tell he’s still bothered. He stops, lifts his left leg and pees on a rose bush. Some of it splashes back on him, but he doesn’t seem to notice. “Here’s the thing,” he says, his one brown eye and one blue eye staring up at me. “That cute min-pin on Madrone Avenue — the one that hates every other dog — she loves me! You tell everyone how I’m her big boyfriend.”

Bernie sits, then sticks his paw in the air toward me and I reach in my jacket pocket and give him a piece of chicken-apple sausage bite. I keep forgetting to only give him treats when he follows my orders, not when he sits and shakes when he feels like it.

“I agree, you’re a good looking boy. And by all measures  you have a great personality too.” I worry that I may have inflated his ego with the constant crooning about how wonderful and perfect he is, and now he thinks his shit don’t stink. “But you sometimes come across as a bit over eager.”

Suddenly, Bernie lunges forward, yanking me over to the lawn in front of the Morrisons house. Before I can react, Bernie opens his mouth and slurps down a freshly swirled cat turd. “Goddammit!” I yell, my shoulder joint remaining in place only for the sake of the yoga class I’d taken earlier that afternoon. “Bad dog!”

“Sorry, I guess I’m just a bit over eager,” Bernie says, speeding up to befriend a squirrel circling a telephone pole up ahead.

 

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

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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.