Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bad Theater Is Still Theater

With the opening salvo in this morning's musical attack, my iPod declared an aggressive ambivalence towards my enjoyment.

1. 'Black Box Theme' by Tom Waits from 'The Black Rider'

This album is the sonic accompaniment to a theater piece conceived by Robert Wilson and written by William S. Burroughs. I'd seen Waits/Wilson's 'Alice' at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and was very excited to hear their next oddity. I didn't know it would be the end for me and Mr. Gravel-larynx-at-the-carnival. I simply could not find it in me to care about any of these songs. Remember when the whole world went crazy for Al Pacino after 'Scent Of A Woman' but his true fans knew he was done? Yeah, me too.

2. 'L.A. Song' by Deconstruction from 'Deconstruction'

I never got into Jane's Addiction so it still surprises me how much I like this album by the group Dave Navarro put together after Jane's demise. They truly hew to their name as well, not allowing anything to completely cohere, one minute gentle the next ferocious. If Navarro had continued in this manner he might not be a reality TV star. He might actually be a serious musician with sick chops and a chameleonic lizard of a band.

3. 'When I'm Sixty Four' by The Beatles from 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'

My mother used to play this song for us on her guitar. I thought she wrote it. I was shocked when I heard these guys singing the song my mother wrote. She also throughout the years has written countless birthday songs for friends and family, inserting the age of the birthday boy/girl and humorous details about them. For a lady who claims to prefer silence to music she's a pretty sick guitar player.

4. 'The Boilerman' by Mike Watt from 'Contemplating the Engine Room'

Mike Watt was the bass player in The Minutemen, one of the great bands of the '80's. Their lead singer/songwriter D. Boon was killed in a van accident on one of their shoestring budget tours. He later formed the group firehose which was ultimately a failed experiment. This album is a diary of sorts, a love letter to his fisherman father, and an aching tribute to the friend he lost in the Arizona desert.

5. 'Uncomplicated' (Alternate Version)' by Elvis Costello and the Attractions from 'Blood & Chocolate (Bonus Disc)'

This is a great song from a great album. 1986 was a sick year from Elvis, two VASTLY different albums released in the same year, the two albums that I would say were the ones you couldn't live without if you had to choose. 'Blood & Chocolate' and 'King of America' are perfect. I have bonus discs from both and I ignore them because the albums say all that needs to be said.

6. 'Eugene's Lament' by The Beastie Boys from 'Ill Communication'

I love this album but I can't remember this song even though I heard it less than an hour ago.

7. 'Love' by Destiny's Child from 'Destiny Fulfilled'

Listening to this on the bus is slightly disconcerting due to the fact that all of a sudden Beyonce has covered me in baby oil and grapes are dangling just out of reach. Did I just type that out loud?

8. 'Can't Wait' by Bob Dylan from 'Time Out of Mind'

Shall I tell you why Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world? Shall I unveil the mystery of the deepest corner of the ocean with some simple sentence? Of course I shan't. In fact I won't. Don't ask. Get off of my lawn. Listening to Bob is like being invited in for coffee in his mansion after being sprayed with buckshot.

9. 'The Greeting Song' by Red Hot Chili Peppers from 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik'

As transcendent as this album is this song isn't.

10. 'Raspberry Beret' by Warren Zevon from 'Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon'

I don't know quite why this song doesn't work for me. I love Prince, I love Warren Zevon, I tolerate R.E.M...

Guess I figured it out.

11. 'Moon River' by Oranj Symphonette from 'Oranj Symphonette Plays Mancini'

The more I hear from Oranj Symphonette the more I want to hear from Oranj Symphonette. There is something very generous in their oddity, an inclusive attitude that reassures you that their experimentation isn't for them, but for you. They gently ask you to forgive them for their eccentricity and then you realize that they were only doing so to ease your transition from resistance to swingness.

12. 'Saviour' by Prince from 'Emancipation (Disc 2)'

Heard this yesterday. First time the shuffle has played a song twice. First time I skipped to the next selection.

13. 'Responsible' by Freedy Johnston from 'Can You Fly'

I don't know why I have this album instead of 'Perfect World' but it'll have to do. Freedy is the whole package but he hasn't learned to sing yet on this album. His phrasing is blocky, as if he's fighting through braces and a speech impediment.

14. 'Tossed' by Frank Black from 'Frank Black'

I must have blinked and missed this song. No recollection of hearing it on the bus. I'm reading 'Post Captain' by Patrick O'Brian, the second in the 'Master and Commander' series and I must have been up in the rigging spotting a privateer.

15. 'Chloroform' by Jack Logan from 'Bulk (Disc 1)'

Oh Jack two days in a row you are spooky. In this lullaby he entreats his darling to sleep as he places the handkerchief soaked in chloroform over her mouth. This double album was home recorded over 10 years in Athens while no one was paying any attention. Even the room I picture in my head is like something out of a noir film.

16. 'Where I Want To Be' by David Carroll from 'Chess Broadway'

I love the musical 'Chess'. The music was written by the Abba dudes. The story is a Cold War/Chess analogy layered over with a tragic love story. The songs are great. I have a feeling someone will make a movie musical out of 'Chess' one day and it will finally get its due.

17. 'Lucky Day Overture' by Tom Waits from 'The Black Rider'

What a surprising choice! Strange carnival music with Tom as a barker, raspily shouting out freak show terms! Way to go out on a peg limb there Tom. You know what would shock me from you Mr. Waits? A recording session two weeks removed from a pack of Pall Malls and a song about a girl with no squeaks or farm machinery converted into instruments. Give it a shot.

18. 'Baby It's You' by The Last from 'Duck and Cover'

The Los Angeles punk rock label SST released this album of cover tunes by its stable of artists in the late '80's. I bought it because The Descendents did a great cover of The Beach Boys' 'Wendy'. Needless to say this is the first and last time I ever listened to The Last.

19. 'Stranded' by Amy Correia from 'Lakeville'

Melody chastised me for ragging on Amy Correia the other day. So I guess I have to say I like her. This album rubs me the wrong way for some reason even though her artistry is obvious. The whole thing is about moving from New York to California and it strikes way too close to home. So begrudgingly I'll admit that she writes great songs and has a great voice. Arrgh.

20. 'Better Version of Me' by Fiona Apple from 'Extraordinary Machine'

Now that's better.

21. 'Dirty Little Girl' by Elton John from 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'

The only way this song interests me is if he's singing about himself.

22. 'Slow Drag' by Fastball from 'All The Pain Money Can Buy'

These guys are just solid. I have never gotten tired of 'The Way' and every time I hear a deeper cut from this album I wonder whatever happened to Fastball. Guess they couldn't throw the curve.

And that is that, the curtain has dropped in the black box and we straggle out into the night, struggling to articulate what we have just seen.

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