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Archive for October, 2011

(Updated) Thinking About Music – All Along the Tape Deck

Posted by middlerage on October 29, 2011

On Searching for that Perfect T.S.O.L. Version…

[Updated. Twice! See end of post]

To all my peeps, this is a long one. I think it’s one of my better posts, but if you have a short attention span, best save for a Sunday morning, curled up on the couch with your iPad and a cup of coffee.

I came of age during the great stereo era. Every red-blooded young american boy saved his paper route money to buy the component stereo system – amplifier, receiver, equalizer, giant hard-wood speakers, (head phones because your parents/neighbors couldn’t stand the giant speakers), and…of course…the tape deck.

This was the pre-mp3 era. The pre-peer2peer era. The pre-Napster era. The pre-music-industry-freaking-out-RIAA-lawsuits era. Back in that age, the music industry didn’t worry about revenue loss from the occasional copying of albums among friends. I distinctly remember in the mid-1980s the rock station in El Paso would play full albums at midnight. The DJ would break between album sides and say, “I can hear tape decks being switched off all over the city.”

But the great beauty of the tape deck was never in the piracy; it was in capturing the elusive, phantom moments of music greatness. Radio stations often had special features of live concerts, where you could capture a favorite artist in the moment. I still have a dusty cassette of a live studio performance by Santana that just kills. On the B side is a full George Thorogood album recorded off the radio. I also still have a dusty tape of a Cyndi Lauper concert broadcast live from the Houston Arena. All awesome, and all courtesy of the ubiquitous tape deck plugged into the stereo receiver and delivered via the FM radio stations that dominated before Sirius and the World Wide Web. Of course, don’t forget the mix tape. No young man could romance his special lady without the help of the carefully crafted, select mix of songs put to tape and delivered to her sweaty, teen-spirit hands.

I don’t want to fall into the old-guy trap of “In my day…” because in my day the music industry ALSO freaked out over bootlegs, and searched you before entering live concerts. I haven’t been to a concert in years (and I imagine they still search you), but to judge by the awesome concert footage I see on YouTube, the camera phone has opened a can of whup ass on anti-bootleg efforts. Someday, today’s teenager will write a blog post about how awesome the smart phone era was.

However, the Age of the Tape Deck was a great time, and I have many –many- cassettes that occasionally get exposed to daylight and played in the pickup truck which happens to have the obsolete device. One of my favorites, and currently being worn to a faint and thin strip of magnetized plastic, is a recording I made of a favorite show from Albuquerque’s 94Rock, circa late 1980s. Back in those days, L.A. and NYC had radio stations devoted to the rock fringes of punk and new wave, while the middle of the continent worked their days to album rock staples, and Steely Dan was considered pushing the envelope. 94Rock had a young intern by the name of Phil Mahoney (who has since risen to the position of station director, and yes, it seems, 94Rock is still going strong after all these years). Mahoney had his own show, called Fast Forward, that featured all the New Wave and Punk rock that we mid-continent denizens didn’t normally get to hear. Thank God for the interns of the world. I can’t remember when his show aired, but it was probably on some cul-du-sac of an advertizer-safe time slot like 10pm Tuesdays. One night he devoted his show to punk and new wave bands doing cover versions of other songs.

In went a blank tape, and click went the REC switch.

That dearly loved cassette contains such gems as The Minutemen and Aztec Camera doing awesome covers of Van Halen’s Ain’t Talkin ‘Bout Love and Jump, respectively. It has the Slits performing Heard It Through the Grapevine. There’s also an amazing cover by the Stranglers performing the Dionne Warwick-famous Walk On By (written by Burt Bacharach). It powers into extended, jazzy keyboard and guitar solos very reminiscent of the extended version of the Door’s Light My Fire. And if you’ve never heard Devo cover (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, then babybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybaby you haven’t lived. Finally, my favorite piece on the tape is a cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower by hard-rockers T.S.O.L. (aka the True Sounds of Liberty).

In 2009 Spin Magazine rated the 50 greatest cover tunes of all time, and Jimi Hendrix’s soul piercing, voodoo volcano version of All Along the Watchtower came in at Number 2. Should’ve been number 1. Just sayin’. (BTW, that is a fun article, and it has song samples for all 50, so you could spend a fun afternoon delving into that).

I have no evidence for this, but I posit Watchtower is possibly one of the most covered songs of all times. Well…probably Louie Louie by the Kingsmen is the most covered Rock-n-Roll tune of all time, and if you step outside of Rock, then I bet Amazing Grace or Star Spangled Banner whup ass in the most-covered category.  Anyway, you could throw a guitar pick in the air and it would fall on a cover of Watchtower. I’ve seen bluegrass versions, jazz versions, heavy metal versions; the Dave Matthews Band does a killer live version in concerts.

So there I was, on this late night, in the late 80s, Phil Mahoney was spinning his collection of New Wave cover tunes, when he played this awesome cover of All Along the Watchtower. It begins with an acoustic guitar strumming out the main theme, then an electric guitar explodes on the scene with a spine tingling pick slide down all the frets, and the rest of the band kicks in with a hard rocking thump. In my best Jack Black impression, “It…is…AWESOMMME.” I love pick slides, and could listen to Social Distortion all day (they being the kings of pick slide guitar mojo). Mahoney distinctly announces it’s from the “Scream LP” but a perusal of T.S.O.L.’s discography at AllMusic.com shows no Scream LP.

Enter the age of the mp3 and iTunes. Because my cassette is slowly wearing out, I am trying to download digital versions of all these cover tunes. Stranglers, check; Devo, check. But iTunes has no copy of Aztec Camera doing Jump, nor several of the other tunes.  I do find a T.S.O.L. cover of All Along the Watchtower, from their Hell and Back Together compilation, but it is a lame, all-acoustic acoustic-ish spare version that is really quite ho-hum. I do web searches. I find another, all electric version on Amazon’s mp3 site, but it just doesn’t have the zing that my tape version has, nor the all-important pick slide. How many versions did T.S.O.L. record of Watchtower? And where is this elusive acoustic+electric version? Did Mahoney err when he said it was the Scream LP? Is it some rare vinyl that has disappeared into the sands of time?

I hope this post might become a message in a bottle, floating across the interwebs, waiting to be found by an ex-groupie, or maybe even a band member. Perhaps Phil Mahoney will google himself and stop by with the answer. Someday, my version will come.

[Update. 10-30-2011. 8:30pm] Nothing like thinking about this to get the research juices flowing. So a new round of web searches leads to this: Scream – The Compilation. Apparently, Scream was an L.A. club and this 1987 album was put out to promote it and several bands. I don’t find it in iTunes library, but several used version of vinyl  are available from Amazon resellers. Perhaps it is time to go to Costco and buy one of them vinyl to mp3 thingies. The info comes from discogs.com which is devoted to discographies. That’ll have to join Allmusic.com as one of the go to resources.

[Update. 10-31-2011. Morning] Houston we have lift off! First, the muddledrambler finds the awesome extended version of Aztec Camera’s Jump on YouTube. Then, following his lead, I say, “hmmm…wonder if anybody’s posted the Scream LP on YouTube?” Well…they have! But the first person, while they had posted several tracks, hadn’t posted the all important Watchtower. A subsequent search turned up another poster who had. SCORE!

I’ve linked both Aztec Camera and the T.S.O.L. below, but do me a huge favor and FIRST listen to a sample from the Hell and Back Together album on iTunes or your favorite mp3 site just so you can get a sense of how important versions are. In the height of irony, I tried to find a YouTube video of the lame versions, and came up empty.

Posted in Thinking 'bout music | 14 Comments »

Thinking About Books – First They Came for the Corn…

Posted by middlerage on October 21, 2011

…then they came for the wheat. A look at Wheat Belly by William Davis.

A couple of years ago, Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, was all the rage. Trendy books don’t normally interest me, but a friend loaned it to me and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It is a literary book that contemplates what we eat, and how, through a combination of evolution and modern industry, we eat what we eat. One of the book’s central points is that our diet is dominated by corn. Corn that has been hybridized into a deviant, over-domesticated Frankenstein, and then broken apart into its constituent parts and added to everything. Maybe all of this corn in our diet, especially the high-fructose corn syrup, is to blame for America’s obesity epidemic.

Flash forward to the present and there’s a new sheriff in evil, over-domesticated-food town, and its name is Wheat Belly authored by cardiologist William Davis. Its central point is …(and to make a point I’m going to copy ‘n’ paste the above, replacing ‘corn’ with ‘wheat’)…our diet is dominated by wheat. Wheat that has been hybridized into a deviant, over-domesticated Frankenstein, and then broken apart into its constituent parts and added to everything. Maybe all of this wheat in our diet, especially the gluten, is to blame for America’s obesity epidemic.

Except that Wheat Belly is not nearly as literary and a lot more “tabloidy” than Omnivore‘s Dilemma. So why am I reading it? Let me establish my cred…I swear I heard about it on an NPR show. I looked on the usual NPR websites to see if I could find a link to the piece and prove I’m not a National Enquirer reading idjit, but I had no luck – you’ll have to trust me. (And to judge by the New Age-ey infomercials offered during PBS pledge drives, maybe invoking public radio is not as cool as I think.) To be fair, Wheat Belly is not meant to be a literary exploration of food culture, ala’ Omnivore’s. It is meant to be a self-help book for dieting, and this is what it is. Like all such books, it has the content of a pamphlet that has been padded into a full blown book. It repeats itself and has the usual, “but if you just try it, you’ll be amazed!” quality to it. Well. Now that I’ve managed to insult the book, NPR, and PBS, I will say that the book is very interesting, and I am enjoying it.

Davis’ contention is that wheat has a particular combination of complex carbohydrates that are very easily digested by the stomach (more so than other grains), and as such, two pieces of whole wheat toast have a higher glycemic index than two tablespoons of sugar. More shockingly, it doesn’t matter if you are eating whole grain wheat or white flour.  Davis has looked into wheat research and believes that, in the last 50 years, hybridization has produced a wheat grain that is not your father’s Buick. He also explores other  research that suggests gluten (a major component of wheat and is a protein not a carb) is easily converted into an “exomorphin” that has the unique ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and bind with opiate receptors. This in turn makes you want to eat more wheat leading to a cycle of eating even when you don’t want to. Here, the author invokes his tabloidy side and pushes statements like “Wheat is the Haight-Ashbury of food,” and “Wheat products are Jim Jone’s Kool Aid.” However, it makes for fascinating reading, and he warns that giving up wheat is like going through withdrawal because of the exomorphin effect.

Which gets to the rub – why give up wheat? His theory is that the blood sugar ups and downs of eating carbohydrates, especially modern Frankenstein wheat, packs on the visceral fat, hence Wheat Belly (as in “beer belly”). The fat on your butt and thighs is not good for you but is a minor player, while visceral fat (aka belly fat, gut fat, pot belly) is a horse of a different color. Like a good scientist, Davis admits when science doesn’t have the answers. He admits we don’t know why, but not all fat is equal. For some reason, belly fat causes a whole lot more problems than just being in the way. It is linked to inflammations all over the body, including arthritis. It is linked to heightened amounts of arteriosclerosis and heart damaging plaques. It does not seem to come so much from eating too many burgers – like the flabby thighs and arms – but rather comes from the insulin-strapping cycle of over-indulgence in carbohydrates.

At the end of the day, a rose by any other name is still a low-carb/Atkins diet (how’s that for swinging multiple clichés in a small room?).  Davis mostly advises an Atkins style diet requiring one to give up ALL wheat products, PLUS other gluten containing grains including rye and barley. This means, (GASP! )no beer. Arghhhh. The book tries to accomplish too much by being both an anti-wheat theory and an anti-gluten theory. Celiac disease (allergy to gluten) is a major problem for those who suffer from it, and the gluten that causes celiac disease may also be the culprit in arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. But if you don’t really suffer from gluten intolerance than some of his advice is over strident. Other than giving up wheat (and wheat like grains), Davis advocates a rather yippee diet – eat all you want! Or rather, eat all you want of cheese, nuts, meat, fish, and flax seed which is the only gluten free grain. Well, that is cool, I’ve read elsewhere that calorie restriction is ineffective. Any diet that says ‘eat all you want’ is probably onto something.

Interestingly, Davis pays homage to Jerrod Diamond of Guns Germs and Steel fame, because Diamond has recently come out with the interesting statement that the agricultural revolution (10,000 years ago) may be the worst thing to happen to humans since…errr…sliced bread (pun intended). Yet, Davis never mentions Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. It is an odd exclusion.

In the final analysis, despite my criticisms, the book is interesting enough that I will likely buy it. I am currently borrowing it from the library, but the book is new and popular and has many holds on it. No renewals allowed.

Posted in Thinking 'bout Books | 12 Comments »

Do You Believe in Vacuums?

Posted by middlerage on October 14, 2011

To be filed under Head, Heart, and Guts.

So I feel like I should blog about the Occupy Wall Street movement. This is right up middlerage’s alley and when I first heard about it, my nerve endings went all tingly. However, there’s just too much to say, my mind an inchoate miasma, worthwhile analysis seems jumbled and far away. My readers are soi-tainly welcome to chime in. I hope they do, meanwhile at the end of this short essay I give you completely unrelated fun. File under wtf.

The movement immediately appealed to my heart. “Right on!” it (my heart) said. “Everybody’s wallowing in the hog lagoon of the Great Recession except the filthy rich. Protest protest protest!”

Then the punditocracy swung into action and I started to read criticisms that made sense to my head. Why occupy Wall Street when the 1% actually live elsewhere? How come college kids are complaining about their high student loans? Did they think they were entitled to a job? Isn’t the wearethe99%  tumblr blog loony to worry about the bottom 99% of wealth when that class includes people making ~$550,000? How much of this protest is nothing more than avarice and envy? Banking is an industry that America does well and employs lots of people, do we want to drive it offshore? All salient points (but not unanswerable, I think).

And then some damning internet posters came out showing emaciated Africans, and declaring protesters as being in the top 1% of global wealth. Ouch.

But my gut is making its unconscious calculus. Like the woman’s intuition telling her to get out of this dark parking lot, guts is telling me something ain’t right with the dark parking lot of this wealth disparity.

In the end, my gut says, “Either you believe the wealthy make their money in a vacuum, Or you believe they couldn’t have made that money without the rest of us.”

So in lieu of hard hitting analysis, I give you…a couple of funny links, plus the link to the tumblr blog which is really pretty good.

We are the 99 % tumblr.

The muddledrambler made an awesome flash movie/game. Check it out.

Finally, anonynurse sent along this video that warms the cockles of middlerage’s burrs. In the spirit of suffer no fools, and geez ain’t people silly, and wtf, comes this comedian questioning a drug fad. Like I say, nothing very related here.

Posted in Politicks, wtf | 1 Comment »

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