Year of the Dead, well thats it or the other one…

Things have been a little quiet around here. I seem to have not really been able to get my act together enough to write a coherent sentence that was positive. So on the drive this evening as I finally got finished with the three day snow experience that managed to paralyze Portland Oregon but was just a lot of fun to work in I figured out how to end this Year of the Dead for me.

No I never managed to play all the Dick’s Picks albums, or even all of the studio albums. I never managed to go see any of the Dead live although several elements past through town or are appearing soon. I never managed to deepen my appreciation for the 80’s on in any meaningful way. I did however manage to confirm for myself that the albums I really like, I really do like. Also that I can manage to enjoy just about any show recorded from the late 60’s to about 78 and that Donna Jean may be a great singer but she can almost certainly manage to ruin just about any rendition of Playing In The Band she appears on.

img_5987So as I struggled through the frozen landscape of Clackamas County I figured the best panacea was some warm weather music from the Dead. It’s a strange timeless experience traveling on frozen deserted roads, fog rolling across the highway as you struggle up hills and around corners. The best bit about the side roads is that people tend to avoid them, preferring the highly polished major arteries. That are populated by insane people driving all wheel drive nightmares far too fast. Slow and steady is not the by-word for the majority of drivers. Of course the lazy rhythms of the Dead can manage to keep you alive in these circumstances.

As I was working and driving I figured that the best choice was Workingman’s Dead.  Itimg_6041‘s slow paced  blue collar tempos did not cause too much consternation for the passengers as they sat white knuckling the ride to work. High Time relaxed them with it’s familiar pedal steel and strolling bass line. Actually they were having a great time sipping their latte’s and laughing.

I am after all an engaging and fun filled driver. The plea for some Lady Gaga from the young folk in the back was shushed by the grizzled veterans next to them as Dire Wolf taught them what may happen if we broke down and New Speedway Boogie and Jerry and the boys tried to come to terms with the tragedy of Altamont. By the time we got through the whole album on a journey that usually took 25 minutes or so but was stretched to 40 plus by the weather they were singing along to Casey Jones and had the sunny disposition of the Dead convert and no  I did not let them stop at any to the 7 marijuana grows we passed on the way in.

Three days of driving for work, picking up people to make sure the kids were looked after, making hot chocolate with marshmallows, two igloos built, helping four strangers put their chains on and sleeping the sleep of the exhausted all to the dulcet sounds of Jerry and the chaps in their prime. Successful end to the week, however the winter weather warning for tomorrow was not welcome as I would really like a weekend.

So there it is, my year of the Dead, I have not managed to keep track of any of this in an orderly fashion, guess I have a lot to think about for this blogging thing. This thing probably all began with the gift of American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead around this time last year so it’s fitting that it should all end here as well. Not sure if any of this made sense and I never had a schedule and I know there are a lot of records I missed but hey it was my trip and like the last few days it was a fairly strange one.

So these are my last two pictures, the drive home tonight.


Sometimes we are kind…

There is a moment when you sit and wonder what is going on, nowadays those moments are almost daily as the world goes crazy around me. I have a natural almost instinctive distrust of people in authority. I attribute this to early trauma from attending an all male Catholic School. The sneers and ridicule of the teachers still ring in my ears and my legs from the strapping. This results in a need to question authority at all times and be highly suspicious of the pat answers of the disdainful elite. All we can do is vote and hope, although for the disenfranchised amongst us that is not even an option.

Recently I have been a little stuck musically in the late 70’s and 80’s, maybe because this was the time of my teen and young adult years. When my ears were busy being invaded by music that was meaningful to me as my mind was being invaded by the injustice of Thatcher. I have always loved that classic rock of the 60’s and 70’s and been attracted to the over indulgence of punk and prog, that masqueraded as something other than rock’n’roll, but I grew up in that post-punk melange that the end of the 70’s and the 80’s wallowed in. A time when the progressive re-entered the sound and a love of the Doors made it more visceral and ambiguous.

Often I could not admit my love for the music of my contemporaries, more intent on the acceptance of my peers, but it was always there. Being from Liverpool melody and beat was always important and the musicians of the town were never afraid to nod there heads to Love and Mott the Hoople, Zeppelin and Syd. A town of musical snobs were your influences and the cut of your pants may be more important than the sounds you can make on a guitar. Many of my most beloved loves of what is now dubbed classic rock was discovered through the B-Sides and live cover versions of contemporary bands or the music played before the band strolled/staggered on stage.

This has become more strange with the passing of Pete Burns from Dead or Alive. I never knowingly met him but the myth of his antagonism to the paying customers at Probe Records on Button St. flavored a life of fear of the disdain of the people behind the counter at all record stores. Would they ever really understand why you are picking up that Phil Collins album along with The Clash and Magazine and don’t try and explain away the Ian and Sylvia albums, Neil Young covering your song is not enough to escape the sneers. In the early 80’s I used to peek into Probe to make sure it was safe to enter and still left my ears ringing with the mocking sounds of shock at how uncool my choices were.

This feeling was more apparent the other day as I picked up  the ABBA compilation for the young woman who is leaving work this week. I heard no judgement but deep in my heart I knew I should. Maybe buying from a thrift store as opposed to a real record store saved me. It doesn’t matter that this  record virtually guarantees free beer at the brew pub it is still unhip no matter how many thefts Elvis perpetrated on the band with Mr. Nieve, of course free beer helps.

I feel fairly certain that the fear of judgment actually made me make better choices in the record store, whatever that means. You don’t get that same sense of fear with a download or the helpful ladies at the thrift store. There is no gauntlet of disdain to run. No sneer or snigger meeting your purchase. You can literally slide a collection of prog, punk and pop across the counter img_5873without comment. No discerning/concerned  look, just a gentle smile as you pay. There is no bargaining, I’ll let you buy that shit if you buy this record that will expand your mind. I think they may even feel a little sorry for the anachronistic behavior of buying a record when there are so many CD’s to be had.

In order to attempt to regain some self self-esteem I am laying here with a post election hangover and a need to make sense of stuff listening to Joni Mitchell’s Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. It’s a disconcerting mix of strange tunings, jazz and orchestral interludes with Joni’s ethereal voice the anchor for the whole thing. One of the side effects of listening to any Joni Mitchell is that you suddenly become smarter, more attractive to your chosen sex and a true citizen of the world. Listening to this album allows you to truly understand how messed up the world really is and still hold onto the anchor of great art.

There is one lyric that jumps out now in Otis and Marlena:

They’ve come for fun and sun
While Muslims stick up Washington

The only way of fighting the current situation is to educate those you come into contact with. The populist and nationalist ‘ism’s are the bastion of ignorance and intolerance that are promoted by fear. We can individually help people understand this although it is a difficult push. It’s time to seek solidarity with those most at risk and none of them are middle aged white guys who are able to say it will all work out. Many people are justifiably afraid now as they look at that diabolical selfie in front of the gold elevator. Opposition to intolerance is now a requirement no longer a choice.

There is no great art that has ever been created by the lackeys of intolerance. There is however great art that has been created in opposition.It’s time to listen and view that art again and hope our contemporary artists are up to the charge. This is our time to stand in opposition and present the truth to our duped nations. Now I have to decide if it’s time to make a decision and vote and stop being a by-stander although it has never been so difficult to choose between countries.

Damn. I got all that from Joni so go take a listen.

The to be be played pile…

It’s become a problem, it keeps getting bigger longer and may be a little out  of control. The relative cheapness of used vinyl if you are willing to search and it being garage sale season and the joy of low bidding on eBay has resulted in this problem. Also more driving for work the last couple of weeks has taken me past new thrift stores that call out to me as I pass by.

I think this is a 1st world problem and may explain why as a teenager I was a tribal music listener. Most teenagers financially being in the 3rd world although privilege wise firmly routed in the 1st. I find myself buying records that as a younger person I would have sneered at, hence the Sky album I picked up yesterday and two Firm records and the Big Country as well as The Knack. These are all albums I would only have listened to if forced to a number of years ago, or if they were accompanied by the fairer sex.

Maybe this maturing of my listening is caused by a mellowing with age or the apparent increase in disposable income has allowed me to wallow in my addiction and ignore the tacit agreement I had with my beloved that I would slow down the buying of vinyl. More than likely however I am more secure in my willingness to listen to the more pop section of the world. Mainly as it is no longer really pop but has achieved some more respectable that may include the word classic in it’s title.

Unlike most addicts I have not hidden my problem as it is hard to sneak in with new albums when your wife is sat right there. So in the last week here is the haul in all it’s glory and shame for all to see, there are a few missing as they are no longer in the to be played stack having moved to the  listened to and filed away. I do have to wonder if there are some I will never listen to again however.

Somewhere only in my mind and not really in reality are in the to be sold or given away file. They include the duplicates and the inferior copies sonically as I have to admit I have not allowed me to go down the rabbit warren of which issue I have as that way lies madness. It was however very nice to pick up those Pentangle albums.


I am not you I am me…

What does a grown man do when his family goes to Central Oregon leaving him home alone? Obviously he gets out his most ridiculously fun album and plays it as loud as his ears can stand. Then he realizes this album is 31 years old and well enough said.

Live Chronicles may not be the greatest Hawkwind album, it is however a fine album that captures at least the sound of what happened at the Liverpool Empire in 1985. The smoke the dancers the narration and the in my mind immortal Tony Crerar who was secure enough to paint himself white and wave a large black sword around for almost three hours. I loved it so much I think I saw it in Manchester and Preston as well.

The Chronicle of the Black Sword was something of a return to form for Hawkwind in the 80’s, although to be honest the early part of the decade had some great songs on dodgy sounding albums. It has a return to the Eternal Champion concept and Moorcock even helped out.

Live Chronicles is superior to the studio effort, it has some wonderfully loopy narration IMG_5421that ties the whole thing together man, just like the rug in the Big Lebowski. It is populated with mostly newer songs but Magnu and Master of the Universe turn up dutifully, Brainstorm is referenced in there and Assault and Battery is on the CD but never made the album for some reason because we really needed Moonglum instead. Side 3 and 4 are when things really kick of with the wondrous Choose Your Masques and things descend into Hawkwind mayhem until Moonglum when you get to use the toilet. The whole album has Huw Lloyd Langton noodling like an ADD heavy metal Jerry Garcia, sometimes a bit too much but in general well.

22560214I am sure the evening began for all three nights at the Swan Inn on Wood Street drinking Old Peculiar and Owd Roger to fuel ourselves for the travails ahead, whether that was a walk to the Empire or a train to Manchester with the requisite cans of Special Brew before the ceremony of a Hawkwind show. The evening probably ended right back where it began at the Swan unless it was too late and then the Freewheeler awaited.

This was the look the cat has on it’s face for the duration of the album, I think this constitutes a recomendation.



Rock’n’Roll and my turtle dove…

Year of the Dead, a studio moment.

I have mostly been listening to live dead albums but I found a really nice copy of Wake of the Flood the other day and decided that it was worth another shot.

Wake of the Flood was the first Dead album to appear on their own label and the first with the Godchaux’s and the change in sound that brought. Gone is Pigpen and his blues hollering and in is a funkier jazzier sound that has that halting stop start feel to it especially on Row Jimmy. There is also Stella Blue which may just be one of the more beautiful songs by the Dead and the sprawling Weather Report Suite.


It has a less than inspiring cover, not sure what the intention is, it has always appeared a little creepy to me. An old lady with sheaves of wheat near the ocean. I am sure it is supposed to inspire some sort of hippy earth mother idea. As far as I can tell the cover has nothing to do with the music and nowhere is their a picture of the band. There is also the scary crows on the back.

It’s a mournful album and that may be why it was seldom played by Dave as he tried to indoctrinate me into the Deadhead cult. It does however reward with repeated listenings and of course the live versions of some of these songs are legendary.

I think that as I am several months into this that my Dead problem is beginning to mellow a little. Maybe I am getting it, or as Dave may have said “you always did get it man, you just never knew until now.”

Maybe we ain’t that young anymore…

In a horrific dream I was transported back to 1985 as a young man named Russell  stood on the roof of a long boat on the Birmingham canal. He was bellowing the words to Born In The USA and throwing bad Springsteen shapes as the boat wallowed along the canal.

It was the year of Live Aid and the mega growth of Springsteen and the resurgence of Queen as a monster rock act. U2 managed to get some credibility and Jagger and Bowie gyrated, pouted and managed to unselfconsciously out embarrass the world as they danced in the streets.

All of this was brought on by my managing to find a copy of Bruce and the E-Streeters Live 13178760_10207978034362594_4119009996198978640_n1975-85 box-set of joy. I really dig Bruce, he is all machismo and sentimental sincerity. You get the idea he is probably a lot of fun to hang out with, worries about the little man and is a little embarrassed by his wealth as well as surprised at his popularity. It is a massive undertaking to listen to all five albums and I bet I have to stretch it out.

I did however find myself losing myself in the big sound of the E-Street Band and the Boss as they stroll though some of the best songs committed to record. Some of the mid song banter is a little cringeworthy, although my understanding it is this aspect of the Springsteen show that can really whip the crowd into a frenzy as he works them like a baptist preacher or snake oil salesman.

MI0003521606My biggest problem right now and then is getting the sight of that skinny white dude with the permed blonde hair in too tight, too short shorts dancing on that cheesy boat. At the time it was summer holidays and we thought it would be fun to putter up and down a canal. Russell managed to bring along hours of Live Aid he had copied from the TV. Everyone else forgot music and we had to put up with this onslaught. Until we pulled into a small town that had a WH Smith where I managed to find a copy of World Shut Your Mouth in the sale rack. Kolly Kibber’s Birthday never managed to drown out the memory or sound of Radio Ga Ga and Born In The USA though. It was however more successful than those slightly stretched live tapes at attracting the young ladies of the Midlands, it was also the first  and last time anyone ever said to me you sound just like the Beatles in the UK.

As I hit side 4 of the box set I am wishing a bit I had found the Cope album as it is a classic but my guess is almost impossible to find in the wild in Oregon.


Dirty old man…

papaThe sole purveyor of funk fiddle, Papa John Creach. This man plays like satan being chased from a whore house by Ted Cruz and his evangelical gangsters. He is an esteemed member of the Airplane/Starship and Hot Tuna and  in no uncertain terms an unashamed dirty old man.

The cover pictures Papa in his pimp outfit sitting on a lawn chair in the junkyard.

This album should come with a parental warning, it will cause licentious thoughts amongst the most devout and puritanical. Papa has a filthy mind which and not only does he know it he celebrates it. The album is titled Filthy and it heads for the innuendo gutter and stays there with a groove that is indescribably funky, Stax meet the Airplane via the Temptations in their best psychedelic mode, it will never be a classic but it is unforgettable. Yes that really is Keb Mo’ on guitar as well.

I was as I am sure you are all aware too embarrassed to type the song titles so here is the back cover.


Too hot for the band with a desperate desire for change…

There is something about early Elton John that is truly captivating. I can say that now even though it took me until my forties to actually buy an Elton John album. I have no idea if it was prejudice at the thought of owning an album by a pop artist or the costumes and glasses. It may also be that Elton had become a parody of himself by the time I started to pay attention.

In my formative musical years he was in my truly monumentally arrogant opinion a lightweight compared to Bowie or Bolan and would be blown over by the parping saxes from Hawkwind. It could also be that I was a pretentious ass of a teenager who as I said before always new he new better.

There is however no doubt that Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is a truly mesmerizing experience from start to finish. Many a musical reference and a truly biographical album that manages not to be pretentious. A classic especially Someone Saved My Life Tonight.

Also in these days of downloads you just don’t get a package like this with lyric book, scrapbook, gatefold sleeve and fan club membership form. I desperately want to fill the thing in and send it in, would anyone reply, is there a wizened Elton employee manning the address to reply to the tardy fan?

Half of my life, I spent doin’ time for some other fucker’s crime…

“Half of my life, I spent doin’ time for some other fucker’s crime”

It’s this line that may have convinced me the Dead were tough, this and Mama Tried. The truth is far from that as they were in reality as far as I can tell fairly privileged navel gazing hippies. Which is to say like most of American youth at the time. Yes I am jaded today, I may have tried to watch the debate and am wondering what happened to that sixties generation.

Skull and Roses Front+CoverSpoilt rotten, all the same they could make some great records when the weather was good and the acid kicked in and life was mellow. 1971 saw them release the album they wanted to call Skull Fuck but is more popularly known as Skull and Roses. In the great tradition of bands more intent on playing than recording much of the album is live with some overdubs I am sure, the Dead never got the harmonies that close live is my guess.

It is the first time I actually bought the America’s jukebox tag they get, songs by Merle Haggard, Buddy Holly, Kristofferson and Luther Dixon all on one album, along with the joys of Wharf Rat and Playing In The Band. It sometimes gets a bad reputation from some people but if you want a Dead album that hits all the high points of the early 70’s Dead you could do worse, and if you hate it the gatefold album looks cool hanging on the wall in your office, man cave or even the outhouse. My copy has no cover, it is probably hanging on some suits wall as we speak, he probably had no more need for the music but thought the cover was cool.

There was a time I would argue that this album, American Beauty, Workingman’s Dead and Europe 72 were all the Grateful Dead albums you need.

Ok I admit it the Grateful Dead fill me at times with equal measures of joy and confusion/disdain at the same time. They are simultaneoulsy awe inspiring and annoying it’s the dialectic in action man.

I saw a neon sign reflected in a pool of liquid sky…

In the late 70’s when I discovered Hawkwind at the insistence of my cousin Tony I took that journey in chronological order, enjoying the noisfest that the albums created up to Warrior. The blanga was in full flow and the Captain and crew could do no wrong.

My hopes were high as I bought Astounding Sounds and Amazing Music. Everything was in place, great Barney Bubbles cover, harking back to science fiction magazines of the 50’s and 60’s. The titles of songs, The Aubergine that Ate Rangoon, Kadu Flyer, Reefer Madness, Steppenwolf, it was all there.

Then I played it and felt a sinking feeling. There was no power here, it was kind of Floydy or maybe T-Rex or my god a little approachable. How deserted I felt by the peoples band, my Dad even looked pleased by Chronoglide Skyway and it’s soothing violin solo. Out of 7 tracks only 4 had lyrics and they almost made sense. There was a quirkiness there brought along by Bob Calvert but this had nothing to do with the all out assault on the senses that the earlier albums had been.

I promptly hid the album away and never revisited it as far as I can tell, at some point it left my collection never to be seen again. I have no recollection of selling it or giving it away. It’s a mystery.

astoundingThen last week as I rummaged through the racks at EveryDay music there it was staring at me. It is a wonderful cover after all. The front all early science fiction and the back a little fascistic and intimidating with the Hawk in it’s Germanic glory. I ended up buying on impulse and then having to gather my courage to listen. It’s a reissue from Atomhenge and they have even re-created the style of the old Charisma label. The sticker proudly claims it was cut from the original analog  masters so what the heck.

Thirty or so years later here I am once again listening to Astounding Sounds. It still seems a little distanced from other Hawkwind albums, transitional is the phrase normally associated with this type of album. Maybe it is, the follow ups all made sense in the Hawkwind story, poppy and punky leading up to the raucous joy of the 79 tour after Calvert had left the building again.

On reflection the album is an awkward move to a different sound, what makes it jarring is the fact it followed Warrior which was so masterful. It is also according to Brock the first album he mixed without tripping which may reflect in the clarity of the sound. Calvert’s lyrics are here for the first time for a whole album with the band, his sense of humor is not to the fore as much as on later releases. It is however not a lost masterpiece but it is better than that first time I listened.