scratchin’ at my beard…

“All rock ‘n’ roll is about America and most other songs too son…” then he picked up his guitar case and wondered into the night.

I had sat there and listened to his Texas drawl as he told me stories of the west that were probably ninety percent bullshit and one hundred percent true. We had drunk out of the same bottle of whiskey on the station platform, he was leaving London and I was passing through. I believed he had wisdom and he was jealous of my  foolish youth. I never got his name, we were only talking because he saw me opening a cassette, it was probably a John Lee Hooker compilation Dave was making me listen to.

I was full of questions about the USA and he was full of answers, none of which had made sense. I was an expert on the USA, I had watched Starsky and Hutch, Kojak, 12 Angry Men, Serpico the Godfather and Bullitt. I had read On The Road and Catch 22 and more importantly the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, what more was there to know. I’d been listening to American music most of my life, all the greatest hits albums. I even was beginning to “get” the Grateful Dead.

At this point it would be perfect to say and that’s when I learned who he was… Of course it would be, the truth is he could have been anyone or no-one, what did I really know and true to form at 17 I never asked.

We parted ways, the scruffy long haired kid waiting for the train and the floppy haired texan, we both shared the same dress sense, Levis and a work shirt, he however had some nice boots and a stetson, I had converse and was bareheaded. Later I learned he couldn’t have been a cowboy as he was not wearing Wrangler’s. No self respecting cowboy would wear Levi’s. I am not sure if that’s true but I was told it with finality by a Wrangler wearing, snakeskin booted rancher as he reached for his Coors Banquet beer. I wasn’t going to argue I could see the bulge in the small of his back. He told me he was probably an oil man, that was still romantic enough so who cared.

I never really decided to be living in the USA. I was fascinated yes, but I never thought of myself living here. It was a place you saw on TV or in movies, it was just too far away. I never really thought about the impact the USA had on me as a child, I was from Liverpool the town that single handedly changed the face of rock music. I never really understood that Little Richard, Bo. Diddley, Chuck Berry and a slew of others had already tried and failed and it had to come back to the working classes in the UK and then be taken back to be accepted, Paul McCartney and Jagger could whoop and holler and make millions, Little Richard had to toil in obscurity, this is the paradox of the USA. They don’t want the real thing they want the polite cute thing.

This year begins my 25th year in the USA without becoming a citizen. It may finally be time to take the big step and accept this is where I am.

Of course the best way of describing these thoughts is by a band from Liverpool.

we can all tune in together to light and love and laughter in the end…

It’s been a few weeks of adjustment. New watch and all it brings and some other stuff that is percolating in my mind.

Things are moving along though, although a tree fell in the forest.

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Well not so much the forest as into the creek. This does however leave a great vantage point to spot the encroaching clouds/interlopers and other malcontents. I feel a real root ball art project approaching.

The attempt to get back to the country has been delayed by retiring planners at the county and the manufacturer of the home deciding to make the dining room too small, the kitchen too big and putting the sliding door in the wrong place. All of which resulted in some tense phone calls, driving several hundred miles to show them where these things should be along with the approved plans that were sent to them months ago.

Suddenly things have gone very quiet and it looks like we may actually have some movement, the slash piles are being burnt, there are stakes in the ground were the house will be, the well digger is booked and the permit for the septic system exists. All we have to do is manage to keep within the stated setbacks and all should be well in a month or two.

I see in my future much chainsaw work and fighting with blackberry bushes.

This weekend we went out there to tramp around again, the snow has stopped, the rain let up for awhile and it was beautiful.

We discovered the inimitable power of the trees, and were surprised at it’s source. Cedar has seldom been so powerful.

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The other week we experienced some snow which as usual caused the usual fear mongering in the Portland metro area, it was however incredibly beautiful out here in the foothills.

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I have to make it clear the co-pilot took the pictures about now.

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I toyed with the idea of starting a new blog for this stuff but as I have never really had a clear or consistent idea of what this should be I figured what the hell.

With any luck we should be moving pretty soon, seems like I have been saying that for a long time. I have been fighting the need to pack the records up but we are I believe getting close to that inevitable time.

Hopefully we will move so that I can plant some veggies as it’s been three or so years since we managed to have a garden of any sort, even if we don’t there will be blackberries.

I can’t believe you’re trampling me…

I remember the Royal Court Theater sometime in the late 80’s. A sweaty writhing festival of bouncing and pummeling and shouting. A deranged individual hanging from the mike stand he was riding sweat showering down on the audience.  The music loud and insistent and pervasive. The audience and band one. It was then I realized that the young woman I had brought to the gig was not going home with me. In fact she was not going home with anyone, in fact she had gone home alone and about 10 minutes ago. Or as a matter of fact almost as soon as the wild show that was Julian Cope had staggered onto the stage as his Syd Barrett meets Jim Morrison leather clad rock god persona had arrived.

For about two hours he hollered railed and gyrated his way through the show. There was no thinking, no mercy and only an ego as large as Cope could manage to pull it off. Surrounded by the worshippers at the church of Cope it was easy to forget that I hadn’t wanted to come and had only bought the tickets as a way of getting the young woman I went with to come out with me. She had however become overwhelmed it seems by the event even before it began. Of course a concert at the Royal Court in those days could be pretty overwhelming.

I never saw this young woman again, I never saw Julian Cope again either, maybe it was all a bit overwhelming after all.

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The jury is often out on Cope. He has however managed to meander his way through the pop world doing whatever he wants to do and seemingly only answerable to himself so more power to him, He has also written some of my favorite songs over his albums. If you want a crash course in his early work St. Julian is as good an entry point as any other, it does manage to be a bit more consistent than his other efforts.

 

 

1989…

It’s funny how years stick in your mind in relation to music, life and everything else. 1989 for some reason is that year for me as I discovered listening to that Texas album.

1988 and 1989 saw me living in the south, this is the one and only time in my life I have done this, funnily enough I felt more lost and confused in the south of England than I ever have since moving 6000 miles to the Pacific Northwest. There may be all sorts of reasons for this mostly to do with mine and other peoples biases. Or maybe I just feel safer in the north west of any country I inhabit.

For two years I was away from my hometown. I had to travel by train to get there and back when I had time off or needed a bit of sanity in my life, or insanity at times. Of course this ended for awhile when I met the woman who would become my wife and then the four/five hour journey became less important or frequent. Until she went north and I had to commute in a way all over again.

All this travel required me to buy a walkman cassette player, and then start buying cassettes. This was an alien experience and I have to admit it was not a medium I enjoyed. I went pretty quickly from records to CD’s with little stopping in between apart from the recorded mix tapes and cassettes my friends gave me. This was difficult for me as I was forced into buying albums in a format that was not particularly enjoyable for me to listen to. It also involved folding the inserts the right way to fit into the container, making sure the cassette was rewound so I didn’t have to start in the middle or rewind before listening and the countless batteries.

The outcome of all this was I decided to only buy those albums that were newly released and were essential to me at the time. Of course being particularly snobbish I also tried to keep this to a minimum as it would eat into the record buying and I was already paying a fortune in train fare. fullsizerender-3As soon as I stopped that silly every other weekend commute I stopped buying cassettes which meant for about a year every other Friday on the to Liverpool and on the way back to the south I only listened to these albums. I think I may know every line and note of these records . This also means that if I listen to them I am immediately transported back to 1989. Aural time travel at it’s oddest.

Anyway in the particularly blurry picture to the left are the sounds of 1989 train journeys as I put my head down and navigated the tube and London without making eye contact with another human being as this may have initiated a conversation that I was not ready to have. It seems ridiculous that I survived countless journeys with only these five records to keep me company. These are also the only five records I have owned in three formats.

 

Goin’ home goin’ home…

There are those albums that take you back to a time and space that is comforting, late at night it’s time to pull them out and rock your soul. Or as sometimes has been the case in the early mornings as well. The great albums of you life fit you like a glove, they remind you of the past and prepare you for what’s ahead. They can be gentle or raucous, loud or quiet but they always take you back and ease you forward.

Terry Jacks Seasons In The Sun alway transports me back to Liverpool in the 80’s when it was guaranteed to get a reaction from the clientele in many a seedy bar and club as you snuck it on the jukebox. This was in the days before irony when the wrong song was cause for beer to be spilled. The secret was to hit them with Psychedelic Warlords by Hawkwind and The Seeds Pushin’ Too Hard before the final knockout of Terry and his tale of death and loss. In this way a false sense of security was achieved, drinkers nodding along to anthems of psychedelia and discontent to be cruelly knocked down by the middle of the road. At that point it was essential to head for the ditch and vacate the premises, my guess is the deadly triumvirate became known by the clientele and the last long hair at the jukebox had been spotted.

In the current technological climate this can be achieved nowadays from the safety of your seat through an app on your phone. At least this is what my son tells me as he plays Patsy Cline in the local biker bar. Guerrilla Jukebox at it’s best and safest.

Which has nothing to do with the original premise which I may get back to next time, for now I want you to imagine a bar full of bikers rocking out to Patsy.

Am I so blind I cannot see…

For a late teen going on twenty years old in Liverpool in the eighties it was a confusing time. I was too young to really have taken advantage of the Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen, Mighty Wah years. There were I am sure a number of great bands out there that would entice and entertain but I had a hankering for guitar theatrics, fringed jackets, the twang of the Byrds and the out and out violent assault of Neil Young on full Blackie mode with a cool pair of boots on the fold back speakers.

All of this could be had with Ian McNabb and his Icicle Works. They obviously had a true IMG_4686appreciation of the rock god posturing of Zeppelin, the angst of Lou Reed, the theatricality of Bowie and Bolan with an occasional dash of Neil Young’s self righteous politicizing. They festooned their 12 inch singles with appropriate cover versions making all the right sounds from The Seeds to Zeppelin vi the BeeGees early psychedelia sometimes in the same medley, they were a band of fans it seems and they wanted to rock out.

They could also write a sweet melody and danceable music which helped with the young ladies at the student union and Mr McNabb had that innocent McCartney lookalike face that would get them to the gig even if they had never heard of the band. All in all the total package, sightly psychedelic, jangly pop songs with a drummer who appeared at times to be possessed.

They were also it seems destined at the time to be incredibly unhip. Too good for that punky feel, too smart for pop and too rock for some. Not gloomy enough for those serious boys with their floppy hair and too serious for those Madonnalike girls in their leg warmers and bangles. A conundrum but a fun one, those knowing grins seemed to say they were in on joke that could only be understood if you knew Moby Grape and the 13th Floor Elevators and could sing along to the entire ditch trilogy. Approachable scallywags, often as drunk as the audience and friendly if you didn’t fawn,  they always seemed to be having a good time until it was over.

From 1984, when I hit eighteen until 1990 they were often the covert soundtrack of my summers, they kept me company through the strange experience higher education was and sane in my Yorkshire years. Covert because my heavy metal friends would think them weak because they had no spandex and flying V. What they didn’t understand was that while they rocked out in their testosterone haze the Icicle Works audience was very much co-ed.

They were the last band I saw in Brighton at the Zap Club, although by that time only McNabb was left and they should have been a solo project. I still vaguely remember falling out of the club onto the pebble beach and listening to the waves break, knowing I had been to a rock gig by the smile on my face and the ringing in my ears.

Anyway all this was brought on by finding a UK version of Blind to go alongside my US version, it was just not right listening to the running order on the US version after all those years of the UK one.

Anyway here they are from the dim and distant past of 1986 on the Tube politicizing and rocking out, there may be fringed jackets leather pants and boots on view as well.

Empty out your pockets…

Some albums are of a time and some describe a time. Everyone knows the story of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, if you don’t you can find it here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yankee_Hotel_Foxtrot

2001 was a tough year personally for many reasons, in November I went to see Wilco at the Roseland Theater when they played most of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on tour. I had whiskey and beer spilled on me, drank too much and witnessed something incredible.yankee-hotel-foxtrot1 I had never heard so many strange blips, interference, static in a coherent manner since Julian Cope at the Royal Court in Liverpool. I had also never seen a front man so insanely possessed by  the songs he was singing.

I remember being blown away, the aging hippy Dan I went with had not been to a gig since seeing the Band and Dylan in ’74. He was blown away as well. He never went to another gig but never seemed particularly phased by that. He died last year watching the sunset from an Indian hillside listening to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, at least that was what was in the CD player when they found him in his lawn chair. I like to think it was playing.

Since I got my new record deck I have been wanting to hear this album on vinyl, for nostalgia, to wallow in a moment or maybe just because it is an album on the list that everyone should hear.

Of course it is a serious album covering all sorts of heavy subjects even heavy metal drummers. Apart from that it is an album of melodies and noise with all sorts of cool musical references, whether it is Krautrock drumming or the slightly breathless Lennonesque vocals and ambient Eno noises.

Jeff Tweedy may have written better songs since, performed better shows but I don’t think he has released such a complete statement since.

The end of my recollection is summer 2002 after buying the CD, barreling north on I205 in an overheating rusting ’85  F150 pickup and realizing I was living in America. The geeky English guy trying to find out how Liverpool was doing in the Premiere League before the all pervasiveness of the internet, trying to find a way to buy Fairport Convention albums without going bust listening, to a song about bad ’80’s heavy metal drummers and realizing it may not get much better than this.

Anyway how does the vinyl sound? Just perfect is the answer as I keep my wife awake with the strange bleeps, whistles and static.

 

trying to lead a middle aged life…

We moved to the USA in 1994. This was a difficult move for all the usual reasons, missing family and friends, starting again in a new land. The biggest thing on my mind as we got off the plane though was that I would be missing Roy Harper playing Cropredy in a month or two.

This post however has nothing to do with Roy Harper though, even though I arrived in this country with a bunch of CD’s some books and every Roy Harper record on vinyl and three copies of Stormcock,stormcock an original pressing on the Harvest label, the reissue on Awareness and a CD that had just been released. All of these are now gone, the two l.p.’s stolen and I gave the CD to my wife’s cousin. I now do not have a copy apart from mp3 of my undeniably favorite album in a real solid physical format.

Again this post is not really about Roy Harper.

For about 8 or 10 years I immersed myself in the American dream, eating too much, working and not taking enough vacations and at times neglecting my family.

At this point in the story someone asked me had I ever heard Robyn Hitchcock, I admitted I had heard of but not anything by him. A CD of I Often Dream if Trains was thrust into my hand and then my discovery of that most English artist Robyn Hitchcock began.

I found myself in a world of crustaceans, hens, strange allusions to an England that should have existed, where Syd didn’t go crazy, The Move are accepted as the genius’s they are and Bowie is accepted as the true king of pop. It is ironic to me that this most English of performers was introduced to me as I found myself immersed in the American life. In one sense my sanity was saved by this most eccentric of performers. Hitchcock’s fascination with American life from the so English slightly amused angle taught me how to live here and stay sane. It really is a movie with a great soundtrack, all happening on the biggest of screens.

So here it is my first in a new series that I may keep doing depending in the vagaries of Spotify and my interest.  The digital equivalent of the mix tape. My ten essential tracks of Hitchcock, including the Egyptians and solo, no what some would call the deep tracks just the ones I go back to again and again.

Yes I know I missed a lot but hey it is 10 songs not a box-set.

Now I’m Just A Cosmic Man

I have loved Hawkwind since the first time I heard them. I have been l at times completely infatuated with and then at other times totally dismissive of them. The first album I ever heard was Hall of the Mountain Grill and I was captivated almost immediately. Swirling mellotron’s, thunderous bass from Lemmy and the relentless guitar of Dave Brock all crowned with Nik Turner parping away on untutored sax and violin, rock violin. It is a cacophony that only one band can ever get way with, strange dystopian science fiction lyrics sung so seriously all surrounded by driving drums and an almost punk attitude.

Titles like Psychedelic Warlords, D-Rider and Paradox and You’d Better Believe It, do not prepare you for what you are about to hear never mind Goat Willow, the cover of a space ship crash landed in a swamp can only hint at the insanity inside. hawkwind-hall-of-the-mountain-grill-non-sticker-lpIt was a revelation to me, almost Floyd but too harsh, not metal, not pop it was something I later discovered is space rock, although that term can’t really do what you find inside justice. The best term I have ever heard to describe the music is BLANGA, for a full description of what the term means go here:

http://www.doremi.co.uk/hawks/index.php

For me it is that moment when the chaos settles, the beat goes on and all is well with the world, Crazy Horse can get there but Hawkwind do it almost without thought on a good day.

Hawkwind while a bunch of anarcho hippies did not have that slightly fey west coast hippy vibe, they looked like they may destroy your town when they arrived and you would feel good about it after they leave. They were more influenced by the metronomic music of German rock music such as Amon Duul, Neu and Can. They were relentless in their drive and their search for the perfect trance like moment. Space Ritual is the epitome of this but Hall of the Mountain Grill is my album.

I remember the strange days of my teen life crouched around a pye record player listening to a borrowed scratched copy of the album. Trying to understand what was going on and almost succeeding. I read the entire Hawkmoon trilogy by Michael Moorcock to this album.hawkmoon And then I got to that point in my Eternal Champion reading and I knew I had to get the album again before I started so off I went searching it out and buying it for the 5th or 6th time in my life. It is one of those audiophile 180gm vinyl versions, They have spread it over two albums and it has lost some magic because of this, they should have kept the original package. Audiophile and Hawkwind are two words that do not make sense.

The album sounds great from that 1st wash of synth and the riff to the ending insanity of Paradox but it was never a double album, it was 40 minutes of perfection and now we have extra tracks and alternate versions stretching it out.

Oh well it is still my Hawkwind, raucous and comforting, dangerous and safe all at the same time, as my friend Greg would say, it’s the dialectic man don’t you get it?

Or in the words if Dave Brock:

You think you know the answers but we don’t tell no lies
We can take you anyway thro’ seven different highs
World turned upside down now, there’s nothing else
to do, but live in concrete jungles, but they block up the views

I crossed my old man back in Oregon…

This was the first time I ever consciously heard the name of the state I ended up living in. It’s from Don’t Take Me Alive on Steely Dan’s The Royal Scam. I know somewhere on the wonderful internet there is an explanation of the song:

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=20243

See told you so.

Royal Scam is the first Steely Dan album I ever heard, I bought it by mistake thinking it was a Steeleye Span album. I am going to bet I am the only person willing to admit this publicly. Imagine my dismay when I got home to discover the entire lack of fiddles and no Maddy Prior. I almost sold it so many times as it was way too different to anything I was listening to at the time, the only song I liked was The Fez, it was many years before I figured out what the song was about. Go on google it.

Over time and with perseverance it became a favorite. This was a time when the height of sophistication in my  record collection was Very ‘Eavy by Uriah Heep,eavy which is still a classic by the way or Steeleye’s Rocket Cotttage. Learning to appreciate such an uncool album led me to be able to listen to other styles of music that my friends mocked relentlessly. Suddenly Springsteen was attainable as an artist, I could listen to Zappa and when I learned that all pop was not Kylie Minogue I could hold my head high and listen to the likes of The Teardrop Explodes. So my willingness to listen to a diversity of music and deal with the ridicule is because of Steely Dan in a way.

That willingness to listen to just about anything eventually led to an overload of music with almost 400 gig’s on a hard drive and the current search to slow down and enjoy the tunes. Vinyl has allowed me to take a breath and really listen again. To take things in 20 minute chunks and then flip the disc. It has also raised a little anxiety at times, who knew a cat, a dog, a wife and three kids could be so heavy footed. Vinyl standards have improved as well, gone are those flimsy discs, replaced with heavy solid substantial discs that settle on the turntable with a solidity that is reassuring.

Incidentally not only is listening to vinyl more restful, Neil Young is right it sounds better and I have a ridiculously cheap set up that would be ridiculed by any audiophile. I did however buy a spinclean cleaner to deal with those dirty used records. And yes the thought has hit me to update my stereo already but I am determined to hold out.

That song about Oregon did however stick in my mind. Then I met a girl from Oregon, she told me they were pronouncing it wrong and it became even cooler in for me. Then I married that girl and all was lost.  You have to believe Becker and Fagen knew exactly what they were doing with their pronunciation, they new how much those granola crunchers out west would cringe every time they heard it. I bet they grin every time they sing it too.

So now I am in Oregon and have to pronounce my states name appropriately if I don’t it could well cause an international incident.

This weeks listening:

Fisherman’s Blues, The Waterboys

Royal Scam, Steely Dan

The Yes Album, Yes

Close To The Edge, Yes

Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd

Past Present and Future. Al Stewart

A brief question though, how many people when they see the sign, Rummage Sale Tomorrow 10am wonder if there will be vinyl??