Monday, May 4, 2015

Public Image Ltd, "Rise"

My favorite teacher in high school was Mr. K. I couldn't tell him, because then I'd be a kiss-ass, and I wanted everyone to know I was rebel who didn't need school because I was already smarter than the teachers. So I disrupted his class, trying to catch him in contradictions or misreadings of the class assignments. But then I'd go home and immerse in Invisible Man, The Awakening, The Great Gatsby, Sula, Amok, All the Pretty Horses, In Our Time, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and numerous other worlds he opened up to me.

One day, after class, I tried to impress him with my vast knowledge of world literature. "Hey, Mr. K," I asked. "Do you like Thomas Harris?"

Mr. K smiled and barely looked at me, as if he'd already dealt with hundreds of high school boys who liked Thomas Harris. "No," he said. "I don't like Thomas Harris."

I can't remember what my response was. Probably something belligerent about how Black Sunday and Red Dragon transcended the elitist standards of the literature canon set by bureaucratic institutions like Edmund Burke High School.

"Thomas Harris isn't a good writer." Mr. K responded. "He just pushes buttons."

I kept arguing with him. But I started to wonder if he was right.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Let's Duet

Let's Duet
  1. Joan Jett and Paul Westerberg, "Let's Do It"
  2. Shane MacGowan and Sinéad O'Connor, "Haunted"
  3. Kavinsky and Love Foxxx, "Nightcall"
  4. Ben Lee and Liz Phair, "Away with the Pixies"
  5. Ben Folds and Regina Spektor, "You Don't Know Me"
  6. Estelle and Kanye West, "American Boy"
  7. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, "You're All I Need to Get By"
  8. Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, "Don't Give Up"
  9. Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot, "Bonnie and Clyde"
  10. Johnny Cash and June Carter, "Jackson"
  11. Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, "You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly"
  12. R.E.M. and Patti Smith, "E-Bow the Letter"
  13. Miss Piggy and Ozzy Osbourne, "Born to be Wild"
  14. Q-Tip and Norah Jones, "Life is Better"
  15. Blind Willie Johnson and Anonymous, "John the Revelator"
  16. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and Kylie Minogue, "Where the Wild Roses Grow"
  17. Metallica and Marianne Faithfull, "The Memory Remains"
  18. Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry, "Well Did You Evah!"
  19. Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"
  20. Bonnie Raitt and John Prine, "Angel from Montgomery"
  21. John C. Reilly and Angela Correa, "Let's Duet"
Mother's Day 2015

Saturday, April 25, 2015

X, "In This House that I Call Home"

5 Days to Find a Home

Like a punk "Wouldn't it Be Nice", X are one of the only rock bands (much less punk rock) to long for adulthood and maturity. They didn't always live up to those standards, and some of them still don't, but on record John Doe and Exene Cervenka wrote song-length novels about trying to grow up, thrive and work out relationship drama in early '80s Los Angeles.

"In This House that I Call Home" is one of the best, with John and Exene half-harmonizing about how nobody knows the party rules, and somehow manage to complain about noise and crowds without sounding like parents. In hindsight, maybe they were addressing LA gentrification or punk appropriation, but on Wild Gift it could be anybody's home.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ozzy Osbourne, "Mama, I'm Coming Home"

6 Days to Find a Home

There's a probably apocryphal story of a young Bob Dylan approaching Mick Jagger to tell him, "I could have wirtten 'Satisfaction,' but you couldn't have written 'Mr. Tambourine Man.'" To which Jagger responded, "Yes, but you couldn't sing 'Satisfaction.'"

Ozzy Osbourne is not a great songwriter. By now we've all heard about how Iommi wrote the riffs and Geezer Butler wrote most of the lyrics on the classic Black Sabbath albums, and only a fool couldn't notice that Ozzy's only great solo albums--Blizzard Of Ozz, Diary of a Madman and No More Tears--were assembled with his two best backing bands. The wiriting credits of some of his best singles ("Bark at the Moon", "Shot in the Dark" and Perry Mason" among them) often show outside help, and have been disputed in court over the years. He's a self-admitted a rock star first and a musician second. But boy, what a rock star.

It's not just that he's a rock star, as heard on his biggest solo hit, "Mama, I'm Coming Home." Written primarily by Lemmy (who surely knew this couldn't be a Motörhead song) and guitarist Zakk Wylde
(years away from the self-parodying Black Label Society), "Mama" is one of the only power ballads that earns the classification. Wylde's playing is as delicate and diverse at is would get, but it's Osbourne's show, pushing a voice with far more character than range to deliver more heartfelt sentiments than anyone thought Ozzy, or metal in general, was capable of. He's a rock star, but imagine any other rock star, even Ozzy's closest peers--Brian Johnson, David Lee Roth, Steven Tyler, Lemmy, Joan Jett, Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Paul Stanley, Alice Cooper--pulling off "Mama, I'm Coming Home." It doesn't work.

Perhaps Ozzy scores because he'd prefer to sing "Mama" than "Crazy Train". Part of his appeal is that he's metal's wolfman ("barking at the moon"), a gentle giant whose crazy side came to the top at the right moment. Osbourne once said that his family's TV show felt like being the Wizard of Oz telling people to ignore the man behind the curtain. He must've forgotten that he already ripped the curtain down on track three of No More Tears.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Metallica, "Wherever I May Roam"

7 Days to Find a Home

James Hetfield's self-empowering anthem depicts a vagabond unbound by commitment, material possessions or any authority: Invictus as a headbanger. Employing an electric sitar and twelve-string bass over an undeniable hook, Metallica's unconventional arrangement still sounds like a single entity, six minutes of metal power without as much as a blast beat or even a scream. Some of the weirdest, tightest one-man vocal harmonies this side of Prince. A sitar on modern rock radio. On the Black Album, Metallica was honoring the Beatles and subverting them, claiming their place as the biggest band in rock by writing their own rules (sometimes with a sitar). They lived impervious to trends and created new ones.

"Wherever I May Roam" is arguably the highlight of the Black Album, even over the signature "Enter Sandman" and "Nothing Else Matters", or the classic "Unforgiven" and "Sad But True". Out of the entire album, "Wherever I May Roam" sounds the least like any other Metallica songs, and therefore is the most Metallica-worthy, knocking out metal conventions, preconceived notions and mainstream pretenders by trying something completely different. It's a sense of adventure that complements the lyrics, and one that has come closest to defining Metallica, for better (The first five studio albums) and worse (the next three) over their entire career. "Wherever I May Roam" emphasized the fact that Metallica could keep adapting their music without conforming to anyone else's standards.

It also helped establish an influence that has stood unmatched in metal over the past 20 years. "The song is probably the closest thing to a personal anthem for me," wrote metal intellectual/wanderer Cosmo Lee. "The Phrygian-flavored intro is delightful; years of metal have made Phrygian modes feel much more natural to me than standard major/minor scales. But when it shifts up a half step at :58, it feels like a wonderland opening up – which connotes the openness of the road that the song celebrates."