Adam Zero's ramblings and rants on popular music, culture, politics, folklore, religion and related skullduggery.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

John and Paul Dump George and Ringo

Here's a question for alternative universe ponderers. Ringo quits during the White Album. Only in this universe he never comes back. Pauls does the drumming until a replacement is found. Who is it? I don't know--haven't figure that out yet.

George also quits, feeling slighted by the lack of input of his songs.

John talks a distracted Eric Clapton into subbing for a band now called the Lennon & McCartney Experience. Or the Lenna-Macca-Expa, for short.

John and Paul are able to pursue side projects: John does his Heavy Breathing released in 1969 and Paul offers the public Granny Pinched Me on My Arse the following year.

Meanwhile, Ringo starts a two-drummer band with erstwhile Beatle Pete Best. While their recording success is limited, they becomes an opening act for Elvis in Vegas. Ringo is reported to say, "El was always bigger than the Beatles."

George, meanwhile, takes up ostrich-farming as means to offer the world a low-fat white meat that tastes as good as chicken. Although this endeavor fails, he does popularize the sport of ostrich-polo (particularly in South Africa). He continues to dabble in music releasing a solo album every ten to fifteen years.

Lenna-Macca-Expa finally disbands in the late-70s as a disco album bombs. Macca, however, has been saving all his money and buys the Beatles catalogue out from under an outraged Lennon. McCartney then goes back and rerecords every album in the Beatles catalogue--with McCartney playing every instrument and singing every part. This keeps him busy through the mid-90s--preventing him from recording a lot of crap.

Lennon finds happiness, not in the arms of Yoko Ono, but making and flying ultralight airplanes. He designs his own fourteen-winged plane out of tissue paper and balsa wood and tries to regain fame in 1980 by making the first transatlantic solo flight in an ultralight aircraft. He takes off from Long Island, but abruptly crashes on Montauk Point, putting an end to "the dream" forever.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Holy Roller Stones

I've turned my attention lately to the Rolling Stones, particularly their seminal 1968 album Beggar's Banquet. The title itself reveals the Christian influence--referring to Christ's parable regarding the Father who was giving a banquet and when noone showed, he invited the beggars from the street.

Here are the other hidden Christian messages in the songs:

1. "Sympathy For The Devil": God in his infinite wisdom and mercy forgives the devil for his misguided deeds--He knows that deep down the devil is just a little boy who never received enough love and attention. "Every cop is a criminal/and every sinner a saint" is an explicit reference to St. Paul, who as Saul was first a persecutor of early Christianity.

2. "No Expectations": "I've got no expectations to come this way again"--because I expect to be raptured. I hope I'm not driving at the time or look out!

3. "Dear Doctor": Having given up his worldly lust after an altar rejection by a girl "like a bow-legged sow" (clearly an unclean animal), the singer has a spiritual rebirth putting his hands in control of the Doctor Jesus Christ.

4. "Parachute Woman": While this seems a straighforward song about worldliness and lust, in fact, the song is a subtle ode to spiritual communion between the lover and his Beloved, God, or his female stand-in, the Virgin Mary. The woman has a parachute clearly because she is descending from heaven. The Blessed Virgin of the Paratroopers was often pictured this way during the dark days of World War II.

5. "Jig-Saw Puzzle": Life is like a jig-saw puzzle of meaningless pieces, until God steps into your life and starts to put the pieces together for you. Oh, look, it's a picture of a donkey!

6. "Street Fighting Man": Little bit of sectarianism here, in the form of Anglican Protestantism vs. French Catholicism. While Frenchie is marching and charging up the streets of Paris, unchecked by an indifferent Vatican, sleepy London town is benefitting from the wise spiritual guidance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, by the way, really "digs" this rock-and/or-roll "youth music."

7. "Prodigal Son": What more can be said. Straight out of the New Testament. Come home, sweet prodigal, your bedsheets are clean and we're even gonna roast a fatted calf for you. It sure beats living like a filthy, dumpster-diving hippie!

8. "Stray Cat Blues": This song shows the protecting/nurturing role of big brother for homeless runaway teenage girls. Rather than exploit the underage girls, the singer offers to let them come upstairs and share his bed, in a strictly platonic manner. As he clearly indicates, "it ain't no hanging matter/ain't no capital crime." I'm sure he'll sleep on the floor and in the morning, it's one call to Mother and those prodigal gals will be on the first train home.

9. "Factory Girl": A true inspirational message that Divine Love is no respecter of persons. So what if the factory girl's zip is broken and she gets into a playful tussle with the girls--God loves her for the healthy proletarian she is. And the singer sees that inner beauty. And guess what they make at that factory? Plastic Baby Jesuses for manger scenes!

10. Salt Of The Earth: Jesus' people! One line can seem misleading: "Let's drink to the good and the evil." But what the line actually means is: "Let's drink to the good and let's drink to the evil, because that means the good will perform good works in converting the evil to good." The song praises such worthies as: 1) the "common foot soldier"--clearly an onward Christian soldier marching off to war; and 2) the "stay at home voter" who is not fooled by the wiles of Caesar and prefers to stay home and memorize the Book of Common Prayer. Finally the song offers us the "choice of cancer or polio"--whichever will increase our suffering and get us to Heaven sooner.

Beggar's Banquet--perhaps the first true "Christian Rock" album. Forget Kali's tongue, the satanic mish-mash and the Altamont murder, these guys are the Lord's band. They make U2 look like a ragged bunch of raging heathens.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Let's All Get Dixie-Fried

I visit a Beatles Forum on a regular basis. There's a core (or should I say, hardcore) membership who discuss all things beatle-ana.

There's usually a poll of some sort. Most are good-natured conversation starters, but sometimes they can get a little ugly.

Needless to say, if you make any comments in any way, shape or form derogatory toward the Fab Four or any part of their legacy, you can expect to get a serious flaming.

These are Beatles fans, after all. The band has been out of commission for 35 years, but the faithful still meet to discuss the relative merits of the Phil Spector version of the album "Let it Be" with the Glyn Johns mixes with the recently released "Let it Be . . . Naked" "authorized by" the the Beatles and estates.

Recently there was a poll on the Greatest Decade of Rock'n'Roll. The choices were the '50s to the 90s. (The 00s weren't considered.)

Of course the poll was won by the 60s, hands down. This is a Beatles forum. But what was interesting was the number of votes for the 70s.

Many fine albums were produced in the 70s. The singer-songwriter form matured, punk happened, new wave made waves--not bad unless you remember about disco, progressive rock, "Taking It to the Streets," The Eagles in all their incarnations . . . .

What makes the 60s so interesting is that critical and commercial acclaim seemed to coincide. The Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, the Byrd, the Kinks, the Beach Boys--they all sold alot of records but were brilliant and innovative. The climax may have been Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" hitting #2 on the Billboard charts. Of course, you also had plenty of garbage Sonny and Cher and the Turtles and Sgt. Barry Sadler, but on the whole, the best pop-rock music of the decade was the most popular.

So I agree, the 60s were the greatest decade of rock. But I think you have to call the 50s a very close second. The 50s rockers were the Homers--they created their genre (pulling from blues, country, r&b, gospel and anything else that was at hand) . But they also defined the rock image as well as the music. Elvis' sneer, Chuck's duckwalk--these almost unconscious gestures helped to shape the look and feel of rock almost as much as the music itself.

50s rock was small time, small town, underground. A guy like Carl Perkins could come into Memphis from Jackson, TN, record a few songs he'd written down at Sun Records and the next thing you know his "Blues Suede Shoes" is on radio all across the country.

While Elvis gets the place of King of Rock, Carl deserves a place nearby. Carl not only wrote, but he played guitar and sang--created his own sound. (A young George Harrison was listening.)

Carl wrote so many monumental songs: "Blues Suede Shoes," "Dixie-Fried," "Movie Magg," "Honey Don't" (covered by the Beatles, sung with aplomb by Ringo), "Bopping the Blues," "Your True Love," Matchbox" (an old blues song given a definite rockabilly reading) and "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby (also covered by the Beatles, this time George).

Carl was lost in the 60s. Played guitar for the Johnny Cash band after Luther Perkins (no relation) died. He did a helluva job on "Boy Named Sue"--holding together an incredibly tight backup band.

I've got a bootleg of sessions from the late 60s/early 70s of Dylan in Nashville singing standards with Johnny Cash. Carl's on guitar, playing those forceful, yet tasteful leads that are his signature. His playing is never too jazzy, but not simpleminded either. Johnny is generous to Carl, pulling solo after solo out of him.

But when Dylan and Johnny do "Matchbox" it makes you want to cry. Johnny has to feed Dylan the lines which Dylan recites in the weird fruity Nashville skyline I-gave-my-love-a-cherry voice (or should I call it, the hey-ma-I-can-sing-purty voice?). You're just begging for Johnny to call out, "Hey, Carl, you sing one!" but it never happens.

I've almost worn out that tape. Hoping that maybe the next time, the vintage Carl will step in, sing a couple verses, hotlick it on his guitar and steal the show while Johnny whoops it up in the background.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

No Direction, Period

The much-hyped Martin Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan's early career to 1966 has arrived on U.S. airways, thanks to PBS' American Masters.

I'm not sure what the point of this series is, beyond heaping homage and glorification on hand-picked American Artists, and then communally basking in their glow. After all, we as Americans "created" them. Don't we deserve some of the credit--if only sitting passively through documentaries informing us of the importance of these "Masters"?

So it is with Bob Dylan--via Scorsese. The hype is through the roof on this one. "The Best Film About Anybody," one headline screams. Another says this is Scorsese's best picture.

As Dylan himself wrote on the back of one of his albums, "Whaaat?!"

There is nothing that unique or informative about the Dylan opus--shown in two 2-hour installments. Dylan's own playroom attempts at film hold more stylistic interest. No, despite the hype, this is not on the level of Raging Bull or Taxi Driver (to be honest, Dylan's just not as interesting as Jake LaMotta or Travis Bickle). No, unlike Werner Herzog who has made some truly visionary documentaries that complement his fictive work, Scorsese has yet to turn that corner. His attempt at documentary is garden variety--"newly found" vintage clips interspersed with candid interviews with friends capped with "authorized" words by the man himself. (Is there a reason why some of the musicians interviewed have to be holding their instruments awkwardly, as if they were an extra appendage--e.g., Pete Seeger?)

We wander through the familiar narrative of Dylan's life--the us-vs.-them agon of hipster and folkie. The hero-artist performing for booing audiences. The genius typewriting late into the night, fed by any number of cross-indicated stimulants.

The upshot of the film seems to be: "golly gee whiz, Dylan wrote all these amazing songs, suffered to such for it, he must be a Genius or something." He's touched by the holy spirit (according to producer Bob Johnston) or a shaman (according to Allen Ginsberg). Or he's the supremely talented dope (according to Joan Baez, who seems closest to the voice of sanity in this thing).

What you don't get from Bob himself is any key admissions. Like, "sure, man, going electric at Newport was pure gold publicity-wise." Or, "I was a real asshole to Joanie for not letting her play on my Britian tour after she'd virtually created an audience for me." Or, "I don't know why I can't write songs like I used too--maybe it was just the drugs, after all." Or, "I was so stoned at the time I can't remember what I saying in that clip and, frankly, I'm a little embarrassed by it now."

No regrets for the D-man.

Of course there's no mention of drugs--although during the last third of the second installment he looks so wired you only have to guess what he's abusing. It'd be interesting if someone had explored the "shaman" claims with the obvious drug-use to explore how Zimmerman morphed into Dylan (and the degree to which the latter was a creation of mind-altering chemicals). But that clearly would have been too arcane for American Masters. We like our mysteries simple. "Funny looking little feller's a genius, by God!"

Or if someone had looked at the possibility of obsession/compulsion in Dylan's lyrics that border on mental illness. (The first version of "Like a Rolling Stone" had fifty verses--I mean, when this guy hates, he hates.) Joanie gives a nice insight to the writing of "When the Ship Comes In" to Maynerd-Krebs-like Zimmy being refused a room by a provincial hotel desk-clerk.

I wish someone had had the guts to explore Dylan's sense of revenge and even cruelty in his lyrics. Is the anger in "Like a Rolling Stone" justified in the same way that it is in "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"?

And why did Dylanophiles respond so warmly to such anger? Did they want to blame the culture for their own lack of place in it--watching Bobby Z shadowbox with the straw men he had created for their solipsistic destructive amusement?

While Dylan was being called "Judas" at the Manchester City Hall, he wasn't damning the Vietnam War or showing solidarity with writers behind the Iron Curtain. He wasn't taking sides anymore (except for his own, which he had pretty much taken from the beginning, one thinks.) (Sure, he would revisit topical song occasionally for George Jackson or Hurricane Carter, but he never seems to have sustained much public interest in any cause after 1963.)

Dylan's revolution was a non-revolution. Contrary to Allen Ginsberg's pronouncements, the '60s was not the world's first bloodless revolution. It wasn't a revolution at all. The baby-boomers didn't change the world, just enlarged their sense of entitlement and self-absorption, retiring to the suburbs in SUVs and plugging in their iPODS.

Dylan playing with straight-laced and -tied reporters hardly amounts to a revolution (btw, the Beatles are much more entertaining in their interviews than Dylan, who looks more blank/stoned/tired than magisterial in his non-answers to stupid questions). In fact, you want Dylan to have the guts of a John Lennon who could claim the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus" and really tell the press what he thought about them, their society, etc.

But then Dylan was always better with straw men than real men. One of the best clips is a "confrontation" between Dylan and a nitwit interviewer/cameraman who wants him to pose for a picture by putting his glasses arm back in his mouth. Geninuses of the time nibbled on their glasses, I suppose. Dylan, of course, refuses, and tells the man he can put the glasses arm in his mouth if he wants to.

What's the point? Dylan is holding a press conference and obviously wants press. But he wants to play the game his way. He's smarter than the system. The stupid pressmen. He's not going to nibble on his glasses arm. He'll show them. But then the situation peters out.

What's the point?

Maybe it's that Bob was always better with a typewriter than the spur-of-the-moment. (I guess, the Holy Spirit needed the Corona in the room--something solid.)

Or that when it came to image-creation, Dylan preferred to remain an "auteur"--whose authority Scorsese referentially (slavishly?) maintains.

As for the fellow musicians interviewed, it's odd that only Mickey Jones gets on-air time about the famous/infamous 1966 tour. You don't hear from the living Band members (such as Levon Helm, who quit because of the booing--his voice would have been an interesting one to hear). I was a little bit startled by Mickey's appearance until I recognized him as the bearded character actor in Home Improvement and any number of TV and movie parts. (Mickey, by the way, made a home-movie the '66 tour which he's selling on his website.)

So, we get yet more hype about the much-hyped Dylan who answers questions for the camera now, almost amiably, wanting to build his legacy or some-such dream and be compared to Picasso or Shakespeare or some other eternally protean visitant of the Holy Spirit/Muse.

We are told that he is our man for the ages. The boomers can soak themselves in reflected glory and join in the orgy of self-satisfaction. ("Our guy, right up there with Mickel-angelo!")

Who knows, maybe it will happen for him. Maybe, several hundred years in the future people will look back at the '60s as we look back to the Italian Renaissance and make incredible pronouncements about pop music's achievements, crowned by Bobby's. They'll recognize that he bested the zealot-folkies and the stupid pressmen and the Blue Meanies.

He fought the forces of popular music and beat them at their own game.

"Like a Rolling Stone": number one on the Billboard charts, baby, NUMERO UNO! With a song that was A-R-T!

Maybe, if the Gods who rule over things like public TV see fit, it will happen.

But as the Boy-Bard himself once said, tomorrow is, regretfully, a long time. And neither he nor we will be around to enjoy the sweetness of that final revenge and self-justification.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Plague . . . .

Check out this story.

Seems the workers at a Newark bio-terror lab can't account for three mice infected with the plague bacterium.

Just think: mice, New Jersey and Plague. We've hit the trifecta.

From 9-11 to New Orleans, the national consciousness is a little jittery. This is just what we need--the good old-fashioned plague. Killed about a third of Europe in the 14th century.

Of course, we've got antibiotics now and Medicaid. And the Federal Government (who lost the mice in the first place) to protect us.

Homeland Security probably needs to add a new section--one to protect us from ourselves. I know there's probably a very rational explanation for the experiment with plague. Probably counter-terrorism. It makes sense, but then a "goof" like this . . .

It almost makes you think there is a conspiracy among the illuminati or freemasons or somebody to reduce the planet's population. Like AIDS coming from Army experiments.

I was reading a very weird interview with Jimi Hendrix included in David Henderson's funky biography. Jimi, circa 1968, is speaking in very ethereal terms about religion and vibrations and ET's and talks about something "heavy" coming down thirty years from then.

That'd make it about 2008.

He says it's something that will effect the whole planet.

There's nowhere we can hide.

I suppose the poor folks in New Orleans have learned this. I suspect the rest of us will be learning it too some time in the near future.

I just hope it's not the plague.

Thanks, Government.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

New Orleans: Blame the French

It's easy to ignore that something truly epic is happening.

A city of over half a million is no more.

We talk of rebuilding. We talk of the French Quarter reopening in time for Mardi Gras. We grasp at straws.

Or we point fingers in blame. Bush. "Brownie"--his inept FEMA head whose sole qualification for the job is that he roomed in college with the previous FEMA head. Governor Katherine "What Should I Do Next?" Blanco. Mayor Ray "no more goddamned interviews" Nagin.

It's a like a perfect storm of incompetence and negligence.

Oddly, there's at least one player no one wants to finger. And that's the Big Muddy itself. "Old Man," as he used to be called by the Natives and by Faulkner.

It's the largest river in the United States. It wants to move. To save New Orleans from "the Big One" we have leveed the river all the way up to Iowa. In the 1993 floods, countless suffered upstream to spare New Orleans.

We want to blame global warming. Fine. Let's create more fuel-efficient, less oil-dependent modes of transportation. (Don't look to Bush and Cheney for these answers.)

We want to blame the loss of wetlands which can soak up the storm surge. Fine. Shut down the beachfront developments. (Just don't look to politicians whose milk-money is supplied by big donors who are making money and creating "job growth" out of the building boom.)

We want to blame government. Fine. But the point is, Old Man doesn't recognize our authority--especially when Queen Katrina comes ashore.

There's something elemental at work here. We are not in control. Maybe because we can watch the events unfold on cable TV, we think we have control, like the eye of God sitting in the stadium box, but we really don't.

There's nothing more pathetic than anchors roaming devastated areas looking for "stories." Being able to put an event into a "story" implies control. While people are still being rescued and/or drowning, Anderson Cooper and Christian Amanpour bloviate on the loss of cell phone connectivity on some dry spot in the French Quarter.

A relatively informational analysis segment with past FEMA honchos is stopped short to cut to a segment at the NO airport where a lost dog has been rescued and adopted by an evacuee.
(According to the Analects, when Confucius learned that the Royal Stables had burned, he asked how many men had been killed, he did not ask about the horses.)

Meanwhile Foxnews is running damage control for W. How many times did they show the hundreds of schoolbuses half-flooded by the waters--buses supposedly reserved for the city's highly thought-out and implemented evacuation plan?

Highly adroit and analytical rappers like Kanye West self-appoint as our nation's frontal lobe. The chorus becomes deafening: "Let's blame somebody, let's blame somebody!" (And we wonder why we have the worst education system among industrialized nations.)

The ancients of this continent used to sacrifice victims to satiate the powers of Nature. Aztec, Mayan, Mississippian. I'm not suggesting we revert to this but . . . it might be a whole lot easier than the finger-pointing, politicization and grievous acrimony that will be unleashed in the coming months. Katrina's second storm.

As far as blaming anyone, I nominate the French. They're easy to hate and they built the damned city in the first place--where no city should ever be.

I know we can get Foxnews--now if we can only get Kanye and CNN on board.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Meaning of Lance

In our post-mythic age, our sports stars have become more than mere athletes. They have become symbols of what is best, or worst, in our culture. Our demigods and devils. Michael Jordan and OJ Simpson. Tiger Woods and Mike Tyson.

The demigods represent achievement, victory, winning—that remains somehow selfless. Or self-transcendent. They do it for us. They allow us, the spectator, to become part of their triumph. There is an innocence, almost childlike, in their victory—it renews the culture’s faith in itself and where it is headed.

The devils do it for themselves. Something drives them not only to beat but to humiliate the foe. Destroy the rival. Break the limits. There is a sense of bitter experience, almost defeat, in their victory—it weakens the culture’s faith in itself and makes it wonder where it is headed. They call it winning ugly.

Of course we are not talking about reality but myth. OJ may have started out as a demigod and only to descend to devil (at least in some peoples’ eyes) after the murders of Ron and Nicole. Mike Tyson, well, is Mike Tyson.

But what about Lance? Why this ambivalence towards his amazing feat, not only over cancer, but also seven consecutive Tour de France titles? Thomas Friedman sees Lance as a hero—using him as a strategic planner/delayed gratification model that short-sighted make-the-next-quarters-numbers culture of corporate America could learn something from. Others—cyclists and skeptics—see a hollowness in Lance’s achievement. He only dominated the Tour de France, not the Tours of Italy and Spain. At times he seemed more machine than man, with his unabashed embrace of hi-tech wizardry and aerobic science. And there were the persistent doping rumors—although he never once failed a drug test.

I don’t think it has helped Lance either that his unique physiognomy—abilities to take in more oxygen with his lungs and process lactose in his blood—has become the fodder of cable documentaries. It lessens the romance and thrill (and the gut-level human competitiveness) to know that Lance has these natural gifts.

Of course most great athletes have great natural gifts, but with Lance it’s become a chicken-or-egg thing. Would he have been a champion without the extraordinary level of his natural gifts? Do the natural gifts make the playing field almost uneven?

One might counter, if the guy’s so dominant physically why didn’t he sweep the Tours of Italy and Spain?

So the arguments go. They are the stuff of sports.

For me, Lance is a hero, demigod not a devil. I wasn’t wild about his dumping his wife for his rockstar girlfriend, but the will-to-win and transcendence is written on his face when he rides. And I don’t care how well he processes lactose, you can tell the guy’s in pain, but he seems motivated by something beyond himself. Cancer survivors, America, his kids--who knows?

Maybe that’s why he’s a hero for America today. We need to learn to cope with pain, play with pain, not be afraid of it. We can’t let terrorists or enemies of freedom and liberty deny us those very things by creating a state made safe by an unpatriotic Patriot Act? We need to look at the hill in front of us, feel the burn in our thighs and keep climbing. And not care about the yellow jersey, but just making it to the top of that next hill.