Monthly Archives: May 2012

THE BIRTH OF COOL

—Although these pages are filled with who I consider to be tremendously talented artists, musicians, and performers, I might call someone brilliant but it is rare that I’ll actually label someone a genius. The subject of my last post, Bob Dylan is one, and today I bring you another post on another genius in the field of music.—

(Photo: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis)

If he had not died on September 28, 1991—May 26 would have marked the 86th birthday of Miles Davis. To my mind, Miles is single-handedly more responsible for the evolution of modern Jazz than any other artist; and he was so goddamn cool while he did so too! So, in tribute I present four of my favorite tracks by this brilliant trumpeter and eccentric bandleader:

Miles Davis plays the trumpet during a recording session for Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else album in 1958. (Photo by Francis Wolff.)

Julian “Cannonball” Adderly

On March 9th of 1958 Miles Davis would enter Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, New Jersey—with a talented ensemble of musicians that included pianist Hank Jones, “hard-bop” drummer Art Blakey, and bassist Sam Jones—to record alto sax player Julian “Cannonball” Adderly’s debut album for the Blue Note label: Somethin’ Else. Although Davis here is billed as a sideman in Cannonball’s quintet (a rarity for the man who notoriously refused to play second-fiddle for anyone) many debate that Miles in fact creatively helmed this record. Miles himself stated that he “did it as a favor” for the man who had already been playing as a member of his own sextet for the past several months. Regardless of who here truly deserves the title of “band leader,” each musician’s dexterity for improvisational expression just shines; particularly on my personal favorite, album opener: “Autumn Leaves.”

——————————————————(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Like it? Buy it.

A languid treatment of a standard (of French origin, “Les Feuilles Mortes” was made popular in 1946 by actor, singer, and one of my grandmother’s favorites—Yves Montand),

Yves Montand chatting up Marilyn Monroe in 1960

this composition’s inherent melodic potentialities are explored on a spacious framework that allows each member of the quintet to elaborate, some with a more stately and straight approach than others. I’ve always loved how Hank Jones’ brooding piano intro tows in the rhythm section accompanied by the ominous horns before Miles and Adderly trade sweet solos, with the trumpeter leaping from shrill, metallic notes down into deep, sonorous melodies and back again to create an emotional mood evocative of sensuality and the odd comfort to be found in sadness.

(Photo by Francis Wolff, 1958)

Miles Davis would further explore this emphasis on mood a year later for his masterpiece of “modal jazz,” Kind of Blue, from which comes our second track for today.

Nearly everyone has put in their two cents on this best-selling album, so I won’t pitch in more than a penny.

Miles, pensive while creating Kind of Blue

Creating only a series of sketches for each composition, which served as scale parameters for each performer to improvise within, Miles assembled some of the finest musicians of his day (and brilliant producer Teo Macero) to participate in this exploration of musical possibility: Cannonball Adderly, alto saxophone; Paul Chambers, double bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums; John Coltrane, tenor saxophone; Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, piano.

From left to right, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Miles Davis, and Bill Evans

With this work Miles fully abandoned bebop’s foundations, placing the music’s focus on melody, economy, and mood rather than on rhythm, speed, and chord progressions. One fine example of this is the cerulean vapor that is the Bill Evans co-written ballad: “Blue in Green.”

————————————————(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Like it? Buy it.

Ten years ago at the age of twenty-one, wallowing in post-break-up anguish in the weeks that followed 9/11, I once spent an entire weekend (AM-PM) listening to this album on loop while writing a long-form poem that I’ve always considered my essential “break-through,” in terms of my creativity. Kind of Blue contained the only music that could match frequencies with the sullen, yet reticent emotions that I had roiling inside me. I would end up entitling the book-length poem The Cartoon Menace, while as a subtitle in parenthesis (Blue-in-Green). Although I’ve never needed that album in quite that way since, I cant help but feel that some furtive spasm in Miles’ psyche had me and my predicament in mind when creating this astonishing work. That’s the thing, Miles music lends itself to a belief in things unseen, a belief in that there is more than just all this.

Miles Davis. Photo by Don Hunstein

From his “Blue Period” we jump on to the era when Miles burst through the last remaining formal barriers of what was commonly considered jazz, and birthed a new musical expression that at times can be described as sublime, and at others, could only be described as sounding like pure fucking evil; not malicious, not devious or angry, but the sound of voodoo evoked evil. The best example of the latter is certainly the 1970 2xLP masterpiece Bitches Brew.

Cover art by Mati Klarwein

It’s as if during those three days in August of 1969, he and his crew of musicians (regular sidemen Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette augmented with Bennie Maupin, Larry Young, Harvey Brooks, Lenny White, Don Alias, Airto Moreira, and Jim Riley) had opened a portal to some Lovecraftian dimension, however, instead of being inhabited by tentacled elder-gods it was a realm filled with music to make you tap your foot, bob your head, and slowly lose your mind.

Miles and Betty Davis in 1969 (photo by Baron Wolman)

Influenced by the sonic territories opened up by the bombastic blues and acid rock of Jimi Hendrix and the intelligent funk of Sly Stone, as well the being introduced to the cultural milieu of the late-sixties by his new wife Betty (herself a musician, releasing some heavy lascivious funk records that you definitely should pick up) Miles’ was both creatively and stylistically electrified.

The innovative intensity of the jazz-rock fusion first explored on Bitches Brew would carry over to his live concerts and would help propel him on a creative edge through a decade marred by massive depression, cocaine and sex addictions, osteoarthritis, bursitis, and sickle-cell anemia.

Miles Davis circa 1970

Our third cut for today, however, comes from a recording session Miles held just a few months after the ones that produced Bitches Brew. Returning to the studio with a similar cast of musicians, Miles further explored his new approach of gnarled phrasing and warped effects twisting over polyrhythmic textures by introducing elements of Indian music, such as Khalil Balakrishna’s sitar and Bihari Sharima’s tabla and tamboura. The results would exhibit a much mellower mood that nevertheless retained an assertive “dark magus” edge.

Dark Magus: Live (photo: Anthony Barboza, 1971)

Dark Magus: Evil (photo: Anthony Barboza, 1971)

The majority of these recordings would not be released until 1974’s Big Fun.

But one track, “Guinnevere,” would not see light until the end of the decade on the outtake collection: Circle in the Round. “Guinnevere” is a David Crosby song first released on super-group Crosby, Stills & Nash’s eponymous debut album of 1969.

(photo: Henry Diltz, 1969)

——————(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Like it? Buy it.

The song is essentially in the “Albion folk” tradition but is rendered with a mystic hippy serenity through Crosby’s talent for strange time signatures and peculiar tuning; and it is these elements that Miles and company delve into on their lush, extended rendition:

Miles Davis at Tanglewood, August 18, 1970, (photo by Amalie R. Rothschild)

———————————————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Like it? Buy it.

Over the next couple of years Miles’ music would place an emphasis on the more electric funk elements hinted at in his earlier work, and it is from this era I present the final song for today’s tribute.

1973

In June and July of 1972 Miles recorded the landmark (but critically derided at the time) album On the Corner. Incorporating the psychedelic-funk styles of Sly and the Family Stone with Karlheinz Stockhausen’s electronic music, and inspirations taken from classic composer Paul Buckmaster, and “free-jazz” visionary Ornette Coleman—all filtered through a musique concrète approach pioneered by Miles and producer Teo Macero—On The Corner is a jazz album that you can just almost dance to, if you didn’t find yourself missing a few too many of the appendages required to maintain the groove. With its wah-wah and echoplex trumpet, afro-centric rhythms alternately sinuous and convulsive, and tape manipulations (the album was created by cutting and pasting recordings made of extended improvisational jam sessions) Miles had this to say regarding his intentions with this music:

            The music was about spacing, about free association

            Of musical ideas to a core kind of rhythm and vamps

            And bass line. A music where you could tap your feet

            to get another bass line (Belden, 2000).

The concise centerpiece for this album is the mysterious and cyclical gem of condensed funk: “Black Satin.” This slice of “street” jazz is simply captivating:

Cover art by Cortez “Corky” McCoy

————————————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Like it? Buy it.

Personnel:

Miles Davis – electric trumpet with wah-wah

Dave Liebman – soprano saxophone

Herbie Hancock – electric piano, synthesizer

Harold I. Williams – organ, synthesizer

David Creamer – electric guitar

Michael Henderson – electric bass with Wah Wah

Khalil Balakrishna – electric sitar

Badal Roy – tabla

Jack DeJohnette, Al Foster – drums

Jabali Billy Hart – drums, bongos

James “Mtume” Foreman, Don Alias – percussion

Paul Buckmaster – cello, arrangements

Well, there you have it; four of my favorite tracks from the hundreds produced by this genius over his lifetime. —The man played it cool right up to the end and it’s a shame he’s not here today to celebrate his 86th birthday.

Miles Davis Group – Jazz Fest, New Orleans, 27 April 1991

[I have to mention, the most entertaining biography I’ve ever read is Miles’ autobiography: Miles: The Autobiography by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe.

Written in his distinct cadence, you get to hear him—whether in praise or disgust—call absolutely everyone a “mother fucker.” Highly, highly recommended.

—————-Bobby Calero———–

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOBBY!

I’m gonna buy me a barrel of whiskey—I’ll die before I turn senile

                                                            “Cry A While” by Bob Dylan (2001)

71 years ago today, on May 24th 1941, at 9:05pm in St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota, Robert Allen (Shabati Zisel ben Avraham) Zimmerman was born. He would grow up to be the greatest songwriter who’s ever lived, and the most influential song-and-dance man of his generation.

Those who know me know that I could speak about Dylan for five days straight until I die of thirst, so I’ll try to keep this brief.

The best summation of the man’s career is the one he uses himself as an introduction at his concerts. Hearing it for the first time at a Minor League Baseball Stadium in upstate New York, I could not help but laugh at the accuracy of the statement, despite its over-simplification and self-deprecation. Adapted from an article by Jeff Miers that had appeared in a local newspaper, The Buffalo News, the house-announcer’s clear, showman voice boomed over the loudspeakers with the words:

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the poet laureate of rock ‘n’ roll. The voice of the promise of the 60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock. Who donned makeup in the 70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse. Who emerged to find Jesus. Who was written off as a has-been by the end of the ’80s, and who suddenly shifted gears releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late ’90s. Ladies and gentlemen — Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!

Blowin’ out the candles on his 25th birthday back in ’66

Other than reaching this milestone of 71, 2012 seems to be turning out to be an exciting year for the man who once went by the moniker of Blind Boy Grunt: Next Tuesday at the White House he (along with the likes of Toni Morrison, John Glenn, and Madeleine Albright) will be awarded the country’s highest civilian honor—the Presidential Medal of Freedom; he’s currently recording a follow-up to 2009’s Together Through Life, which likewise features Los Lobos’ multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo; and he’ll be continuing his Never Ending Tour, which began in 1988 and has seen the man performing roughly one-hundred concerts throughout the globe a year.

            I SAID ONE-HUNDRED CONCERTS A YEAR!

Who would’ve thought in 1966 that this amphetamine wreck …

…would not only still be around as a septuagenarian, but still performing regularly?

Live at Workers’ Stadium in Beijing. Photograph by Liang Shuang

I can’t even think of any acts comprised of kids in their twenties that keep that kind of performance pace.

On January 12, Dylan started off the year by paying tribute to Martin Scorsese at the Critics’ Choice Awards, performing his relatively obscure but haunting masterpiece, “Blind Willie McTell.” His weathered voice now cracked and split like an old leather suitcase that’s been dragged through the dust of the world, I just love the way he pulls and tears at its edges to bend out new sounds from a voice that had already seemed to belong to an old man back on his debut album of 1962.

  Dylan pays tribute to Martin Scorsese at the Critics’ Choice Awards, performing “Blind Willie McTell.”

Originally recorded on May 15, 1983 for the Mark Knopfler Produced Infidels, Dylan inexplicably decided to discard the song and leave one of his finest compositions in years off the album.

Slowly, you receive the song as if it were the torn journal entries of a weary witness, a ghost gone passive before all the horrors, transgressions, and failure in a debased world cut off from God in his heaven. The song “turns all the old, sainted rebels and victims parading across Dylan’s whole songbook to dust, then blows them away”(Marcus, 1991). Caught within that dust we gain a taste of our great nation’s squalid and bloody history, and just as the narrator is, we are ensnared—immobile.  The lyrics make you “put your hands into a wound that will never be closed” (Marcus, 1991). And it seems that for this man, this specter who’s “gazing out the window of the St. James Hotel”—it seems that the only thing on this world that can make him feel anything is the sound of blues singer Blind Willie Mctell.

——————————————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Like it? Buy it.

Blind Willie McTell

Seen the arrow on the doorpost

Saying, “This land is condemned

All the way from New Orleans

To Jerusalem”

I traveled through East Texas

Where many martyrs fell

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, I heard that hoot owl singing

As they were taking down the tents

The stars above the barren trees

Were his only audience

Them charcoal gypsy maidens

Can strut their feathers well

But nobody can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning

Hear the cracking of the whips

Smell that sweet magnolia blooming

See the ghosts of slavery ships

I can hear them tribes a-moaning

Hear that undertaker’s bell

Nobody can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

There’s a woman by the river

With some fine young handsome man

He’s dressed up like a squire

Bootlegged whiskey in his hand

There’s a chain gang on the highway

I can hear them rebels yell

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, God is in His heaven

And we all want what’s His

But power and greed and corruptible seed

Seem to be all that there is

I’m gazing out the window

Of the St. James Hotel

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

Despite the fact that this song has come to be recognized as one of Dylan’s finest, it seems he never considered it more than a sketch: “So many songs that people elevate on such a high level were in some sense only first drafts. […It] was never fully developed; I never got around to completing it. There wouldn’t have been any other reason for leaving it off the record” (Heylin, 2010).  At another point he was quoted as saying: “I didn’t think I recorded it right” (Heylin, 2010). It seems we disagree.

I’ve been privileged enough to see Dylan live 4 times in my life, even once hearing him perform this rarity; and I certainly plan on catching him the next time he and his top-notch band roll through town.

Well, here’s to you Bobby; your art has definitely helped make this world an interesting place, and has helped many to understand it. Happy Birthday!

Portrait of Bob Dylan by Edward Kinsella on display at the current “Illustrators 54 Sequential, Moving Image, & Uncommissioned” show at The Society of Illustrators in New York City

—————————–BOBBY CALERO———————-

Ref:

Dylan, B. (1983). Blind Willie Mctell [recorded by Bob Dylan] On The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare And Unreleased) 1961-1991 [CD] Sony. (1997)

Heylin, C. (2010). Still On The Road. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.

Marcus G. (1991). Real Life Rock Top 10. Artforum.

Marcus G. (1991). Dylan As Historian. San Francisco Focus.

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THE JULIO EXCLUSIVE: BOWIE IN THE STUDIO!

Recent Bowie sighting.

While I’m still assembling part 2 of my tribute to Adam Yauch and the Beastie Boys , I thought I’d pop in to drop off The Julio Exclusive: David Bowie is currently in the studio working on a new album!

My father works weekends down in the Manhattan neighborhood of NoLita, where Bowie and his family have made their home for several years now. Learning of this through a friend of friend from the neighborhood (I know, I know, you hear that phrase and want to call bullshit!) who runs a long-standing, popular Italian restaurant in the area—it turns out Bowie has had dinner nearly every night at this establishment (apparently he usually just gets it to-go from here) after putting in a long day’s work on a new album. At first I assumed that the recording was being done at the Philip Glass founded Looking Glass Studios, located only a few blocks north on Broadway and where Bowie (along with numerous others such as Beck, Bjork, The Cure, Lou Reed, Roger Waters, Patti Smith, and TV On The Radio) recorded several of his past albums, including 1999’s, ‘Hours…’; 2002’s, Heathen; and 2003’s, Reality. However, I’ve since learned that unfortunately due to the obscene and ever-increasing cost-per-square-foot of renting in Manhattan, after operating for 17 years Looking Glass Studios was forced to close its doors on February 21, 2009.

If this project comes to fruition, it will be Bowie’s first album since 2003’s Tony Visconti co-produced, Reality (and his 27th album overall). Coincidently, the cover story for the recent February issue of Rolling Stone was an excellent and well-researched article by Mikal Gilmore entitled: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, how David Bowie Changed the World.

Essentially, the article functioned as an in-depth retrospective on not only David Bowie’s incredible ascent to superstardom, but also an honest appreciation of this artist and innovator’s influence on culture at large. Amusingly, the article basically concludes by stating that since undergoing an emergency angioplasty in 2004 Bowie has effectively retired and become pretty much a recluse. Now, other than some sparse and sporadic guest appearances on other’s recordings (Scarlett Johansson’s 2008 album of Tom Waits covers, Anywhere I Lay My Head; TV on the Radio’s 2006 album, Return to Cookie Mountain) as well a rare, small-set live performance or two—Mikal Gilmore was correct…that is until now!

I, for one, am very eager to hear what the man has to contribute to the global/cultural dialogue of 2012-13, particularly when it overwhelmingly seems (although I know down in my gut that this isn’t true) that we have finally, fully embraced the words of Mark Hunter’s alter ego, “Happy Harry Hard-on” (portrayed by Christian Slater in 1990’s Pump Up the Volume): “Everything decent’s been done. All the great themes have been used up and turned into theme parks.”

art by Rex Ray, typography by Jonathan Barnbook

Bowie’s last album, Reality, was for the most part a captivating collection of dynamic rock songs and jazz-inflected ballads put on edge through a modern sense of the sophisticated paranoia required to live within a mega-city (I lost God in a New York minute/ Don’t know about you but my heart’s not in it, “Looking for Water”) bumping sentiments with both declarations of indebtedness for familial stability (I’m awake in an age of light living it because of you/ I’m looking at the future solid as a rock because of you, “Never Get Old”) and the poetic observations of a journalist doing his best to remain, if not optimistic, then at least able to take what he sees with a smile (There’s always a moron/Someone to hate/A corporate tie/A wig and a date, “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon”). Similar to his album of the year prior, Heathen, Reality was not another “Bowie flirts with-; inhabits-; pioneers- this genre and that style.” It was, however, a solid LP by a mature, singular talent presenting his exceptional craftsmanship for both songwriting and studio production. Additionally, unlike other contemporary musical masters of commentary-on-the condition-of-the-soul-in-the-post-modern-world—say Radiohead with their sonic probes of existential panic, or Trent Reznor’s disgust and intricate sounds of angst—Reality does contains some rather droll moments, and (as odd as it is to say about Halloween Jack and the Thin White Duke) has an every-man quality to it. No, it’s not his blue-jeans-and-flannel album, but many of the songs could be re-conceptualized as the passing thoughts of a middle-aged man while exiting the subway station and walking to work. No, it’s not his “best” album, but considering that to be so you’d have to compare it to Hunky Dory, Diamond Dogs, and Low—how could it be? It is, however, highly recommended.

For me, one of Reality’s standout tracks has always been the good-humored, kinetic, and reconstructed rendition of Masshole1* Jonathan Richman and his Modern Lovers’ 1972 (released in ’76) song: “Pablo Picasso

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David Bowie – vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion, saxophone, stylophone, synthesizer
Tony Visconti – bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals
Sterling Campbell – drums
Gerry Leonard – guitar
Earl Slick – guitar
Mark Plati – bass, guitar
Mike Garson – piano
David Torn – guitar
Gail Ann Dorsey, Catherine Russell – backing vocals

 Like it? Buy it.

1* Masshole is a portmanteau of the words “Massachusetts” and “asshole,” used by in-state residents themselves as a term of affection.

[Quite the ladies’ man, a 61-year-old Pablo Picasso once told his 21-year-old mistress Françoise Gilot that he believed, “Women are machines for suffering.” The two went on to have a relationship that lasted nine years and produced two children, Claude and Paloma (Hudson, 2009).]

Portrait of Françoise Gilot by Pablo Piccaso, 1946

Another favorite from Reality, is its 1st single, “New Killer Star.” Thrust through twitch and glitch layers of sound, accompanied by an eerie, EBow generated loop by guitarist Gerry Leonard—the propulsive rhythm (the perambulating bass/guitar parts always reminding me of the Yukio Kaneoka composed theme music for the 2nd level of ColecoVision’s 1983 game Donkey Kong Jr. [2:01]) serves as a showcase for deftly arranged vocals and some of Bowie’s best lyrics in a career that has endured over four decades.

Below, check out the Brumby Boylston directed video for “New Killer Star” which makes novel use of the nostalgic lenticular-postcard:

See the great white scar

Over Battery Park

Then a flare glides over

But I won’t look at that scar

Oh, my nuclear baby (I discovered a star)

Oh, my idiot trance

All my idiot questions (like the stars in your eyes)

Let’s face the music and dance

Don’t ever say I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready

I never said I’m better, I’m better, I’m better

Don’t ever say I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready

I never said I’m better, I’m better, I’m better, I’m better than you

All the corners of the buildings

Who but we remember these?

The sidewalks and trees

I’m thinking now

(I got a better way) I discovered a star

(I got a better way) Ready set go

(I got a better way) A new killer star

(I got a better way) Ready set go

(I got a better way) The stars in your eyes

(I got a better way) Ready set go

(I got a better way) I discovered a star

(I got a better way) Ready set go

See my life in a comic

Like the way they did the bible

With the bubbles and action

The little details in color

First a horseback bomber (I discovered a star)

Just a small thin chance

Like seeing Jesus on dateline (like the stars in your eyes)

Let’s face the music and dance

Don’t ever say I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready

I never said I’m better, I’m better, I’m better

Don’t ever say I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready

I never said I’m better, I’m better, I’m better, I’m better than you

All the corners of the buildings

Who but we remember these?

The sidewalks and trees

I’m thinking now

(I got a better way) I discovered a star

(I got a better way) Ready set go

(I got a better way) A new killer star

(I got a better way) Ready set go

(I got a better way) The stars in your eyes

(I got a better way) Ready set go

(I got a better way) I discovered a star

(I got a better way) Ready set go

(I got a better way)

(I got a better way) Ready set go

(I got a better way)

(I got a better way) Ready set go

Ooo oo oooo

(I got a better way) Ready set go

(I got a better way)

Concerning the song’s message and meaning, which has been received as a cryptic reaction to NYC life post-September 11, 2001, Bowie has said: “I’m not a political commentator, but I think there are times when I’m stretched to at least implicate what’s happening politically in the songs that I’m writing. And there was some nod, in a very abstract way, toward the wrongs that are being made at the moment with the Middle Eastern situation. I think that song is a pretty good manifesto for the whole record” (Outside Organization, 2010).

One afternoon in June 2003, as a 56-year-old Bowie was in the process of completing Reality in time for its September 16th release date, he spoke with Rolling Stone’s Anthony DeCurtis and had this to say concerning the album’s title—and the songs’ intermittent allusions and moods of, if not necessarily posing specific questions in order to determine “what is reality” then at least attempting to sketch-out what these questions could possibly implicate on a more personal level of “reality”:

“It’s the old chestnut: what is real and what isn’t? It’s actually

 about who’s stolen this world. […] I honestly believe that my

initial questions haven’t changed at all. There are far fewer of

them these days, but they’re really important ones.

Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what

I was writing. Always. I don’t think that’s changed at all, because

it’s not a question that can be answered. It can only be re-posed

again and again throughout one’s lifetime.

“It’s because I’m not quite an atheist and it worries me.

There’s that little bit that holds on: ‘Well, I’m almost an atheist.

Give me a couple of months. [Laughs] I’m almost there now. I’ve

nearly got it right. There’s just one nagging thing. Once I shave that

off, we’ll be fine and dandy, and there won’t be any questions left.’

“It’s either my saving grace or a major problem that I’m

going to have to confront. […] [Reality] hints at [September 11]

but it’s not really trying to resolve any trauma.” (2005).

            Appropriately, as we are just about to hit the 9 year mark since this interview was conducted, DeCurtis concludes with the question: “What do you see yourself doing in the next few years?” The answer to which is actually pretty insightful to why Bowie has been effectively retired for nearly a decade:

“My priority is that I’ve stabilized my life to an extent now over

these past 10 years. I’m very at ease, and I like it. I never thought

I would be such a family-oriented guy; I didn’t think that was part

of my makeup. But somebody said that as you get older you

become the person you always should have been, and I feel that’s happening to me. I’m rather surprised at who I am, because I’m

actually like my dad! [Laughs]

“That’s the shock: All clichés are true. The years really do

speed by. Life really is as short as they tell you it is. And there

really is a God—so do I buy that one? If all the other clichés are

true… Hell, don’t pose me that one.

“So I’d like to think that in 10, 20 years time, I’ve been able

maintain a responsible and secure harbor for my child to grow

up in, and that I can still retain the closeness that I have with my

son from my first marriage. And that I’m good to my friends

and I’m good to the few members of my family that didn’t top

themselves. And that I can keep that kind of stability. That for

me is my priority.

“Work hopefully would bring more light and joy into that life,

but the life itself is the most important thing. Great if the work

also comes along, if I’m still writing. But if my writing takes a

nosedive and I either don’t want to do it or I feel I’m not good

at it anymore, I’ll just stop. I don’t have a problem with that.”

Then, just after the album’s release, Bowie participated in a question-and-answer type of discussion with comedian Ricky Gervais that touched upon the same issues, albeit with a much more prominent sense of humor:

Ricky Gervais: Both the new album and current tour are called “Reality.” Why is that, and do you think a man like yourself can keep the same reality as the rest of us or didn’t you have that in the first place?

David Bowie: “Reality” was among the first tracks that I wrote for this album and the word itself seemed a reasonable simulacrum for the various topics on the album. A bit of an arbitrary choice really. Of course, the reality thing is completely subjective. It’s all very well for those of us with an excess of cable channels to talk of no absolutes and synthetic realities and such, but some poor sod in South London with no rent money and not enough food to feed his family has a pretty good idea of what reality means to him.

Ricky Gervais: Does David Jones still exist anywhere and would he recognize you?

David Bowie: I will always be fundamentally just a Jones. The moment I close the door behind me, slip off my crushed velvet skateboard shorts and throw myself into our heated Olympic size, three level swimming pool, I think to myself, “Self, is there a Jones next door that I should be keeping up with?” And do you know something? There always is. Though actually it’s the Prestons in our case but you know what I mean (Gervais, 2003).

Oh, by the way, my pops also said to be on the lookout for Peter Doggett’s new book, The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s.

This song-by-song analysis of Bowie’s creative output from 1969 to 1980 is by the same author of the engaging (again, according to my dad, I haven’t got around to reading it yet) You Never Give Me Your Money, a post-break-up forensic examination of “the battle for the soul of the Beatles.”

Well, I really hope this hearsay of mine pans out, because the world can always do with occasionally hearing Bowie’s point-of-view on things.

—————————————-(Click To Listen

Better take care

Think I better go, better get a room

Better take care of me

Again and again

I think about this and I think about personal history

Better take care

I breathe so deep when the movie gets real

When the star turns round

Again and again

He looks me in the eye says he’s got his mind on a countdown 3-2-1

Forever

I’m screaming that I’m gonna be living on till the end of time

Forever

The sky splits open to a dull red skull

My head hangs low ‘cause it’s all over now

And there’s never gonna be enough money

And there’s never gonna be enough drugs

And I’m never ever gonna get old

There’s never gonna be enough bullets

There’s never gonna be enough sex

And I’m never ever gonna get old

So I’m never ever gonna get high

And I’m never ever gonna get low

And I’m never ever gonna get old

Better take care

The moon flows on to the edges of the world because of you

Again and again

And I’m awake in an age of light living it because of you

Better take care

I’m looking at the future solid as a rock because of you

Again and again

Wanna be here and I wanna be there

Living just like you, living just like me

Forever

Putting on my gloves and bury my bones in the marshland

Forever

Think about my soul but I don’t need a thing just the ring of the bell in the pure clean air

And I’m running down the street of life

And I’m never gonna let you die

And I’m never ever gonna get old

And I’m never ever gonna get

I’m never ever gonna get

I’m never ever gonna get old

And I’m never ever gonna get

And I’m never ever gonna get

Never ever gonna get old

 

Like it? Buy it.

 ———————————-Bobby Calero————

Ref:

Bowie, D. (2003). Never Get Old. [[Recorded by David Bowie] On Reality [CD] Columbia. (2003).

Bowie, D. (2003) (Creator). p4phoenix (Poster) (2006, Aug 9). David Bowie – New Killer Star (MV) [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?fmt=18&gl=GB&hl=en-GB&v=M_KBqoktTl0

DeCurtis, A. (2005). In Other Words: artists talk about life and work. H. Leonard: Michigan.

Gervais, R. (2003, Sept. 21). Backbeat: Q&A. The Observer. Retrieved from http://www.bowiewonderworld.com/press/00/030921observer.htm

Hudson, M. (2009, Feb. 13.). Pablo Picasso’s love affair with women. The Telegraph UK. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/4610752/Pablo-Picassos-love-affair-with-women.html

Outside Organization. (2010). David Bowie Biography. Outside Organization. Retrieved from http://outside-org.co.uk/2010/12/david-bowie-biography-2/

Richman, J. (1972) Pablo Picasso [Recorded by David Bowie] On Reality [CD] Columbia. (2003).


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I’VE BEEN COMING TO WHERE I AM FROM THE GET GO: Part I: The New Style

ADAM YAUCH, MCA: AUGUST 5, 1964 – MAY 4, 2012; R.I.P.

Unfortunately, it seems that lately the only time I feel compelled to take time out of my busy schedule to post on this blog is under the solemn circumstances of needing to pay my respects to an artist who has recently passed.

 

“Born and bred Brooklyn U.S.A./They call me Adam Yauch but I’m MCA”

MCA

Today, I pay such tribute to hip-hop pioneer and founding member of the Beastie Boys, Adam Yauch, aka MCA, aka Nathanial Hörnblowér. After a three-year battle with a cancerous parotid salivary gland, Yauch died on Friday, May 4th in his hometown of N.Y.C. He was 47. Yauch is one of the few celebrities whose death has actually had a strong emotional impact on me (the death of another NYC artist, Jim Carroll on September 11, 2009 is one from recent memory). Sure, when an artist whose work you enjoy dies you likely take note, but rarely does it truly upset you; rarely does it feel like a personal loss.

However, with each member of this triad being responsible for 33% of the aggregate sounds, images, attitudes, costumes, and overall vibe that is the life-long art project known as the “Beastie Boys” (I’ll leave that final 1% to be assigned to whatever collaborators, inspirations, and spiritual beliefs the group might wish to credit) the loss of Adam Yauch’s intrinsic creative input has effectively put an end to their singular voice, and it is a voice that will be sorely missed.

Along with Mike D and Ad-Rock, MCA’s Beastie Boys have created a most remarkable and enjoyable body of work through a career that has improbably endured over three decades. At their best, the Beastie Boys represent limitless possibility, and the promise of a good time to be had when exploring all these possibilities.

Regarding the death of their “brother,” an obviously grieving Ad-Rock sent out this image…

…while Mike D issued a statement that could also serve to characterize and sum up my feelings towards the Beastie Boys as a whole:

He really served as a great example for myself and so many of what

determination, faith, focus, and humility coupled with a sense of humor

can accomplish (Dillon, 2012).

As modern music, particularly within the genres of Rap and Hip Hop, has increasingly become pessimistic and irate (with dour faced men earnestly either adopting the supposed postures of thugs and hard-cases or acting emotionally fragile, alternately boasting and whining how they are all alone in this world and all the while clenching their teeth to convince you of their sincerity) the Beastie Boys and their overwhelming sense of camaraderie and levity have always been received as a welcome breath of fresh air. Furthermore, beyond these distinctive emotional qualities, sonically the Beastie Boys has been one of the most innovative recording artists to ever emerge. Over the years they have consistently explored and redefined the outer limits of popular sound and song construction.

Formed at the dawn of the 1980s in New York’s downtown art scene, the Beastie Boys began as a hardcore punk band, which served as a supporting act for notable groups such as the Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, the Misfits, and Reagan Youth  (Pollicino, 2009) at long-gone NYC venues like CBGB, A7, and Max’s Kansas City, and numerous other forgotten crawlspaces. Originally consisting of Manhattan-raised drummer/vocalist MichaelMike DDiamond, child of an interior designer and Harold Diamond, an eminent art dealer; Brooklyn-born bassist AdamMCAYauch, the only child of Frances, a social worker and a public school administrator, and Noel Yauch, a painter and architect (LeRoy, 2006); the band also featured friend John Barry as the guitarist; and Kate Schellenbach, who would go on to play drums for the first act signed to the Beastie Boys’ own Grand Royal label: Luscious Jackson.

Adam “MCA” Yauch & Michael “Mike D” Diamond

In 1982, this line-up would release the EP Polywog Stew on the local independent label, Rat Cage. Perhaps the most memorable track on this release of noisy, rapid punks songs is “Egg Raid On Mojo,” as it memorialized one of the Beastie Boys then favorite pastime pranks of terrorizing friends as well as strangers by tossing raw eggs at them. This theme, as well as some of the lyrics would later be revisited in 1989 for the track “Eggman.”

———————-(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Like it? Buy it.

This album also featured the track “Holy Snappers,” for which the following accompanying video was made:

Soon afterwards, John Barry (Berry? I’ve read both) and Kate Schellenbach would leave the group only to be replaced by AdamAd-RockHorovitz. Horovitz—born in South Orange, New Jersey and raised in Manhattan by his mother Doris and his father, playwright Israel Horovitz—was the singer/guitarist for the punk rock band The Young and The Useless, which would often perform alongside the initial incarnation of the Beastie Boys (LeRoy, 2006). With the addition of Ad-Rock, the creative core of the Beastie Boys was now complete.

In 1983 the trio would release the EP Cooky Puss, the title track of which would be their first experimentation with hip hop: the song relying heavily on sampled vocals, turntable scratching, and processed beats, techniques most commonly associated with the still burgeoning style of music. The song’s title is a reference to Carvel’s delicious (I just bought one for my wife’s birthday last month) ice cream cake “Cookie Puss,” which is made in the shape of a face, with ice cream sandwiches serving as the eyes and an upside down sugar cone as the nose. As an interesting aside, Cookie Puss is intended to be a space alien born on the planet Birthday and his original name was “Celestial Person.” These initials were maintained, and later came to stand for “Cookie Puss.” Those who grew up in the NY area might recall the really whacked-out low-budget commercials produced by Carvel that featured Cookie Puss floating in space and speaking in a tweaked, pitch-shifted voice that’s kind of terrifying in retrospect.

The Beastie Boys’ song contains recordings of various crank calls the group made to a local Carvel restaurant, and it would become a local, underground hit single.

———————-(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Like it? Buy it.

After this minor hit, the Beastie Boys—who seem to have always had an uncanny ability to absorb their influences, only to subsequently reproduce, or extrapolate them rather, into something not only unique, but visionary as well—began to alter their sound, reorganizing into the now familiar formula of “Three MC’s and One DJ.” It was at this time that they were signed to Def Jam Recordings, a fledgling record label that had been run out of founder Rick Rubin’s NYU dorm room in Weinstein Hall on University Place right off Washington Square Park. Raised in Lido Beach, Rubin, that odd, bearded figure of old-school hip-hop had recently partnered with concert promoter/artist manager (and older brother of Rev. Run of Run-DMC) Russell Simmons. Simmons, raised in the Queens’ neighborhood of Hollis, had spent the past few years managing Kurtis Blow as well as his younger brother’s group (Tomassini , 2006) when he was introduced to Rick Rubin (I have read alternately that this introduction was done by Zulu Nation’s DJ Jazzy Jay, and by that multi-talented artist and all-around weirdo, Vincent Gallo).

Russel Simmons & Rick Rubin

At the time of the Beastie Boys’ signing, Def Jam was in the process of recording and releasing the debut single by a 17 year-old LL Cool J: “I Need a Beat,” which was co-written by Ad-Rock.

———————-(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Like it? Buy it.

This music and its scene were still in its infancy. It was an exciting time to be at its foundation and it was not only possible for a group of middle-class white boys to be signed based on their potential, but for them to actually become one the most popular and respected acts of the genre too.

Beastie Boys & Run-DMC

Def Jam soon released the Beastie Boys’ 1985 Def Jam debut single; the Rick Rubin produced “Rock Hard.”

———————-(CLICK TO LISTEN)

The track prominently features a sample from the song “Back in Black” by AC/DC (a band I must admit I’ve always loathed). As these samples were used without obtaining legal permission, the record was soon withdrawn. In fact, when the Beastie Boys were compiling tracks for their 1999 career retrospective Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds of Science, Mike D reached out to AC/DC seeking permission for the inclusion of “Rock Hard” but was denied. As Mike D later stated: “AC/DC could not get with the sample concept. They were just like, ‘Nothing against you guys, but we just don’t endorse sampling.’” Ad-Rock then added, “So we told them that we don’t endorse people playing guitars” (NME, 1999). Ironically enough, around the same time as the Beastie Boys’ debut, the airline corporation British Airways created a commercial that illegally used a portion of “Beastie Revolution” off their Cooky Puss EP. The Beastie Boys successfully sued British Airways and used the money awarded them to rent a loft at 59 Chrystie Street in New York City’s Chinatown. This apartment was an ideal location for the group to rehearse loudly “into the wee hours, as it was conveniently located atop a sweatshop and a brothel” (LeRoy, 2006). This apartment was later memorialized as the title of the opening segment of their epic “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” which closes the groups’ 1989 LP Paul’s Boutique, an album that would be simply impossible to create under today’s copyright and sampling laws as it uses an innumerable amount of samples.

Chinatown in the late ’70s

With its thick but bare-bones beats paired with heavy-metal guitar riffs, the steady measured delivery of which serve as a frame for the trio’s rapid, paroxysmal, and pinched approach to rhyming—the production formula for “Rock Hard” would serve as the basic template for the Beastie Boys’ 1986 debut LP, the Rick Rubin co-produced Licensed to Ill. It was an overwhelming success.

Licensed to Ill

They had spent the previous year building a fan base and a bad reputation with the release of “She’s on It” from the Krush Groove soundtrack, as well as supporting both John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols project Public Image Ltd (PiL) and Madonna on her North American The Virgin Tour (apparently she and MCA were momentarily an item while on this tour). Now, with the release of their debut they were certified stars, as Licensed to Ill became one of the best-selling albums in history (Cameron, 2004).

Beastie Boys & Madonna: The Virgin Tour

A collection of juvenile fantasies—both rude and rudimentary—the album utilized samples from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and even Creedence Clearwater Revival crammed with misogynistic lyrics and delirious wordplay that seemed to scream, “don’t take this too serious!” However, ridiculous as it may seem now, the Beastie Boys and their purported message was taken seriously by the watchdog facet of the media and they were deemed a serious threat to the decency of American youth. To my mind equally ridiculous, Licensed to Ill became the first rap album to reach #1 (BBC, 2012). It’s important to note, however, that despite its success there were many who viewed the group and its music as just plain stupid. Originally to be titled Don’t Be a Faggot, the album’s cartoon tales about drinking, drugging, robbing, rhyming, vandalism, gun-toting, and scamming on chicks were delivered in the unapologetic sneer of privileged delinquents, or as they themselves say on “The New Style”:

Some voices got treble, some voices got bass

We got the kind of voices that are in your face

Although being at the very least an amusing album (and still a lot of fun to shout along to), Licensed to Ill and its smash hit single “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)” would leave one with the impression that the Beastie Boys were nothing but a one-trick-pony.

This single was further promoted (as the band’s image was further pigeonholed) with its now ubiquitous video, a quasi-riff on defiant party songs like Mötley Crüe’s cover of Brownsville Station’s “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” and the biker gang invasion scene of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead:

Looking back on this era of their lives and the reactions to the album (particularly how their sense of humor and ironic parodies seemed to be lost on a majority of their audience), the Beasties were quoted as saying:

MCA: We were definitely getting drunk and acting really stupid and

trying to purposely be obnoxious because we thought it was funny—

but we were also talking in the lyrics about smoking crack and smoking

dust and all the type of stuff that we weren’t actually doing. It was all

just stupid exaggeration.

Ad-Rock: And the press, at that time, would have believed anything.

So we just made shit up. It was kind of a goof. We’d just build on each

other’s stories. Like, yeah, we flooded the bathroom at the hotel, and

we sawed a hole in the ceiling so that we could go from one room to the

other.

Mike D: But once it gets printed one place that establishes it as fact.

I think the thing that we weren’t prepared for was when the exaggeration

stopped coming from us—when it went to the tabloid level. It took the

whole thing into a completely negative and kind of frightening and

alienating area. It’s easy to look back on it now, in this context, and see

it all leading up to that point. But at the time, we really didn’t know what

was happening (NME,1999).

As they embarked on their first headlining world tour (a beer-chugging, fist-pumping mess that featured dancing ladies in cages, a giant hydraulic penis, and crowds populated by frat-boys) the Beastie Boys were beginning to feel that the joke was perhaps wearing thin if not turning on them; they were starting to fear that they were actually becoming their own parody. Above all, the excess of the tour was simply wearing them out. The three were roughly only 21-years-old.

Licensed to Ill Tour, 1987

Licensed To Ill Tour, 1987

To further embitter them, producer Rick Rubin was receiving a majority of the creative credit for not only the music, but also the entire “Beastie Boy” persona. Years later, Russell Simmons admitted, “they didn’t have the credit they deserved early on for being creative” (LeRoy, 2006). Interestingly, one of the few tracks from the album that deviates from the rap/rock mold is the sample-spastic “Hold It, Now Hit It” (interpolating: “Drop the Bomb” and “Let’s Get Small” by Trouble Funk; “Funky Stuff” by Kool & The Gang; “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” by Bob James; “Christmas Rappin’” by Kurtis Blow; “La Di Da Di” by Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick; and “The Return of Leroy” by The Jimmy Castor Bunch, who I’ve discussed earlier, here ) which was produced by the Beasties themselves and without Rubin’s input.

Coupling this lack of artistic recognition with the fact that they had yet to be paid by Def Jam (Simmons) an estimated $2 million in royalties, as they came off tour the three were just about ready to quit: whether they would depart from their label or quit being Beastie Boys altogether, I’m certain that they themselves were not sure of at the time. If they had left the project there and then, the Beastie Boys today would most likely be remembered as a novelty act, relegated to a footnote for the golden age of hip hop and only discussed during nostalgia driven programming for the purposes of demonstrating how ridiculous the tastes of the ’80s were.

What followed, however, is one of the most inconceivable tales of artistic reinvention, personal development, and the evolution of music…

TO BE CONTINUED

Stay tuned for I’VE BEEN COMING TO WHERE I AM FROM THE GET GO: Part II! Where we will explore the creation of Paul’s Boutique and the architects behind the Sounds of Science!

REST IN PEACE

————————-BOBBY CALERO————

Ref:

BBC. (2012, May 4.). Beastie Boys star Adam Yauch dies aged 47. BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-17963855

Beastie Boys. (1982) Egg Raid On Mojo [recorded by Beastie Boys] On Polly Wog Stew [vinyl] Rat Cage. (1982). Re-released on Some Old Bullshit [CD] Capitol. (1994).

Beastie Boys. (1983) Cooky Puss [recorded by Beastie Boys] On Cooky Puss 12” [vinyl] Rat Cage. (1983). Re-released on Some Old Bullshit [CD] Capitol. (1994).

Beastie Boys. (1982) (Creators). Fiama22 (Poster) (2007, July 31). Beastie Boys – Holy Snappers punk [Video] Retrieved May 7, 2012 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35YSM7zbV1w

Beastie Boys. (1986) (Creators). TheBeastieBoysVEVO (Poster) (2009, June 16). The Beastie Boys – Hold It Now, Hit It  [Video] Retrieved May 7, 2012 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB0NM6reiRE&ob=av2e%20%5Bvid%5D

Beastie Boys. (1986) (Creators). TheBeastieBoysVEVO (Poster) (2009, June 16). (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) [Video] Retrieved May 7, 2012 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBShN8qT4lk

Beastie Boys. (1985) Rock Hard [recorded by Beastie Boys] On Rock Hard 12” [vinyl] Def Jam Recordings. (1985).

Burns, M. E., (2000). The Beastie Boys. Pendergast, S., & Pendergast, T. (Ed.). St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Vol. 1. 200-201. Detroit: St. James Press. Retrieved from Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Cameron, S. (2004). Beastie Boys. Wachsberger, K., & Laplante, T. (Ed.). Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990, Vol. 1. 47-49. Detroit: Schirmer Reference. Retrieved from Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Carvel. (1985) (Creators). 0816brandon (Poster) (2012, April 16). Carvel’s Cookie Puss commercial [Video] Retrieved May 7, 2012 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjQpGeXnuio

Dillon, N. (2012, May 7.). Adam Yauch remembered: Beastie Boys’ Mike D and Ad-Rock open up on death of their ‘brother.’ New York Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/adam-yauch-remembered-beastie-boys-mike-ad-rock-open-death-brother-article-1.1074007#ixzz1uI94udC4

Horovitz, A., Smith, J., Rubin, R. (1984) I Need A Beat (Remix) [recorded by L.L. Cool J] On Radio [CD] Def Jam Recordings. (1985).

LeRoy, D. (2006). 33⅓ Paul’s Boutique. Continuum: New York.

New Musical Express. (1999, November 11). AC/DC nix Beastie Boys sample. New Musical Express. Retrieved from http://beastieboys.tumblr.com/post/291070903/ac-dc-nix-beastie-boys-sample

Pollicino, R. (2009). Gigography. Retrieved from BeastieMania.com..

Tomassini, C. (2006). Simmons, Russell. Palmer, C. A. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Vol. 5. 2035. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved from Gale Virtual Reference Library.

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