Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

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First off, these guys should get some kind of award for best band name.  It’s just that awesome.

The friend who invited me out to see Steel Pulse a couple of weeks ago is the same one who introduced me to Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (hereafter to be called MFATGG, because that’s just too many words to keep typing out).  MFATGG is a cover band, but not your ordinary cover band.  They play speeded up, fuzzed out punky versions of classic pop-rock tunes.  They’re a cover band who decided to make every song they play their own, whether the song likes it or not.

One one level, you think the novelty would wear off after a while, and I don’t really think I could listen to them for hours on end.  The songs don’t all sound exactly the same, but there is a definite formula.  But these guys are clearly having the time of their lives (two of their albums are titled Have a Ball and Have Another Ball). It’s hard to get tired of that, or be annoyed by it.  Because they could have easily been the most annoying group I ever heard.  Their love of the music shows through, even as they metaphorically skewer everyone from The Beatles and Beach Boys to Dean Martin and Judy Garland.  No one is safe from the MFATGG treatment.  Why would you want to be, anyway?

One of the best ones I think they’ve done is Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.”  Barry Manilow is the closest thing I have to a guilty pleasure.  He’s just so. . . corny.  But MFATGG takes the corn and turns up the volume, and somehow makes it sound even more earnest.  That’s no mean feat.

MFATGG’s collected works is available on itunes, and there are lots of their songs posted on YouTube.  Their website plays music from their newest EP, Sing in Japanese.  Feel free to indulge.  I’ve found my limit is about four songs in a row.

Say It! Say It!

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Back in my high school days, on Fridays and/or Saturdays, my little circle of weirdos would make a trip to the local supermarket around 10 or 11 at night.  There, we would stock up on rice and water pistols and, if no one had one on the floor of the car, a newspaper*.  Then we would head to the only suburban movie theater in our area–the AMC at Marina Pacifica mall on PCH–that still/ever had midnight showings of our favorite freaky cult classic.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show was always something of a right of passage for the artsy misfits of the world (including auctioning “virgins” off before the movie began).  It was and still is a truly awful movie.  If you remove the audience participation, it is virtually unwatchable.  Except for the fact that it isn’t.  Oh, it’s bad; there’s really no way to get around that.  But it has some of the most awesome music ever, endearingly corny performances by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon, and Tim Curry.

Curry’s entrance is classic.  He owns the campy, melodramatic, drag queen mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter.  I can’t really imagine anyone else playing this role with such obvious relish, channeling everyone from Divine to Joan Crawford.  But his Frank isn’t a joke.  He’s the most human and humane character in the whole movie, in spite of his pettiness and jealousy.  He’s just as blinded as everyone else, but his blindness seems to be rooted in the need to be loved, to be seen for himself.  That’s the message of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: You can be square or freaky, uptight or unraveled, just be yourself.

I haven’t seen RHPS in a long time, but the joy and freedom of sitting in the dark with a bunch of my fellow freaks and weirdos, throwing rice and toast at the movie screen, shouting out semi-scripted ad lib lines, stays with me.  I know that no matter how it feels sometimes, I’m not alone.  I’m not the only one who’s ever felt like an outsider.  And there’s always a movie theater somewhere I can go to be a part of the show.

Don’t dream it, be it.

 

*The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of the best arguments I can make for keeping newspapers in business.  It just wouldn’t be the same holding computer printouts over our heads.

One Song, Three Versions

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I don’t like people who lie, although I tell the occasional lie.  My lying tends to be of the “dog ate my homework” variety.  Maybe I don’t want to do something unimportant, or I’m running behind on a deadline.  That’s when the “dog at my homework.”  Usually, I don’t have to pull that kind of lie out, because 99 times out of 100, there really is something else going on that keeps me from getting things done.  I used it occasionally in college, but not so much these days.  I also tell the occasional lie to protect someone’s feelings.  You know, when your friend asks you how their new haircut looks, and you say it’s great even if it looks hideous?  I don’t even count those as lies; that’s just keeping the peace.

Real liars are the people who habitually distort facts or make things up for personal profit or gain.  People who will tell you whatever you want to hear to gain power over you, and then stab you in the back.  People who’s only goal is to terrify you into thinking the way they want you to think.  People who pretend to be good and pious, but commit sins even atheists think are sins.

The old folk tune, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” rails against these kinds of people.  (Hypocrisy is evil.  Not quite as evil an apathy, but close.)  I first heard it because of Moby.

His whole album Play was full samples and covers of old blues and folk set to his interesting brand of electronica.  It added warmth and humanity to his music, which is what I think made this album so engaging to listeners.  But this song, which he called “Run On,” would be revived in a more traditional form by Johnny Cash on some of his last recordings.  It was released posthumously, and it sounded like the Man in Black was preaching at you from Heaven itself.  The thump and rumble of the arrangement gave gravity to this version.

This is a warning.  You may be able to get away with whatever shenanigans you get up to here in this world.  But someday, somewhere, someone is gonna make you pay for everything you did wrong.  The most traditional definition is of a Christian God, and not the forgiving New Testament version, either.  This “Sinners in Hands of an Angry God” stuff.  I believe in Karma, myself.  What you put out into the universe shall come back to you tenfold.  So you might want to think about putting some good things out there.

Of course, this song can also be the moment of epiphany.  The moment you realize that what you do matters.  “He put one hand on my head, great God almighty, let me tell you what he said.”  It’s an inspiration instead of condemnation.  This is Odetta’s version.  That’s really all you need to know about it.

“What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.”  Karma.

Repost: “See a Little Light”

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Note:  This is just a little repost from the early days of the jukebox.  Now with 100% more video!

Husker Du (sorry, I have never been able to figure out how to do umlauts and accents and things) is one of the legendary post-punk bands.  I like them, but I didn’t hear them until long after I’d heard Bob Mould’s post-HD music.

“See a little Light” is probably the first time I heard him (which makes sense, since it was the first single off his first solo album).  I was instantly hooked.  The acoustic strumming that opens it is undeniable.  There’s something in it, an emotion bigger than the chords themselves, I’ve never been able to put my finger on.  The whole song is like that.  I waver between sad and happy when I listen.  The chorus is extremely catchy.  I mean, I get why the song wasn’t a huge hit; it strikes me as a little too cerebral for the Top 40, possibly a little too bipolar, too (what with the mood swings and all).  But, c’mon: “When I see a little light, I know you will, I can see it in your eyes, I know you still care.  But if you want me to go, you should just say so.”  Tell me Kelly Clarkson wouldn’t kill for those lines.  Even though he knows the relationship is over, he’s still hoping to put it back together.

Hope.  That’s what I hear in those opening chords.  It’s the most hopeful opening riff I’ve ever heard.  It runs through the whole song.  Mould structures everything perfectly to create an atmosphere of hope radiating throughout what sounds like a hopeless situation.  After all, “I guess I should have known. . . you’re already saying goodbye.”  The guy in this song could be praying to Saint Jude just as easily as he’s begging his lover to stay.  But there’s no way he’ll stay (yeah, “he”; Mould is gay).  The end of this relationship is no mystery to the singer, probably why he’s so resigned to the inevitable.

I love this song.  It’s one of my two favorites by him (the other is Sugar’s “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”).  I don’t know if it’s a favorite because it’s so accessible, or because it’s the first one I heard by him (favorite TP & the Heartbreakers song is “You Got Lucky” because I heard it first).  Some of his solo and Husker Du work is less accessible.  Part of me thinks this is because it’s so personal there isn’t room for anybody else in the music.  I had a poetry teacher tell me once that I needed to make room for the reader in my poems.  If you write so personally, so self-referentially, that no one else understands the experience, then there’s no room for anyone else to experience the emotions you’re trying to get across.  I feel that way about Bob Mould’s work a lot.  He has acknowledged that he often wrote/writes from a place of anger, and while anger can be conveyed universally, it’s a little harder to open up to the world that way.  You really write for yourself when you’re angry.  The trick is conveying that emotion to other people, making them feel what you’re feeling.  And that is the difference between angry and other feelings.  It’s easier to access happiness or heartbreak. Or in this case, hope in the face of hopelessness.

“Turn You Inside Out”

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R.E.M released Green on election day 1988 (George Bush the First vs. Michael Dukakis).  That was the first election I voted in.  I won’t remind you to vote, because I’m just going to assume you already have.  And if you haven’t, shame on you.  Democracy only works if everyone plays along.  So if your one of the idiots who doesn’t vote, thanks a bunch!  You’re the reason the system is currently broken.  You’ve also lost the right to complain if you don’t like the way things are going.  Sucks to be you, huh.

Green was the first R.E.M album I ever bought, but I needed some convincing.  “Turn You Inside Out” is the song that convinced me.

I hadn’t liked R.E.M much up to this point.  I was still pretty young, and hadn’t yet developed my high tolerance for ambiguity.  And R.E.M were nothing if not ambiguous.  They were hardcore arty and obscure.  I still don’t understand what half of their early songs mean (or the lyrics, but I’ve grown to like it that way).  Of course, it didn’t hurt/help that they were the definitive college radio band: they put college radio on the mainstream cultural map.  (Seriously, R.E.M is probably a huge part of the reason that Billboard now has a separate College Radio chart.)  They were, simply put, weird.  And since I was still in my “The 60s and 70s were the only music that really Mattered” phase, R.E.M were too weird for me.

I’m so glad I gave it some time and learned to love them.  This video was the first time I’d ever seen them with instruments in their hands, working together as a band.  It flipped the switch in my head.  Suddenly, I got why they were popular.  This is what they did, and they did it really, really well.  It didn’t hurt that this song was so awesome.  But Michael Stipe dancing spastically around while Peter Buck, Bill Berry, and Mike Mills coolly play behind him brought them to life in a way all their other videos couldn’t.  I didn’t need any artistic imagery (although they tossed some in with the fish at the end), or clever visual ploys.  I just needed to see a rock band rocking.  (And am I the only one that thinks Mills is the hottest nerdy rock god ever?)

So this was my indoctrination to the cult of R.E.M.  I got to see them once, on the tour that had to be postponed because of Bill Berry’s aneurism.  They rocked even harder live.

“Cry Love”

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I’m a little brain dead right now.  Dad should be home tomorrow.  The medication and the adjustment to his implant seems to be working nicely.  (In case I didn’t mention it, this trip was necessitated by his internal defibrillator shocking him several times yesterday.  First time ever.  At least we know the damn thing can do its job.)  But I’ve got this song, for some reason.

It just popped into my head this morning.  That happens a lot in the years since I first bought an iPod.  It’s like my brain is permanently set to shuffle.  The songs don’t stick around usually; they just pop up, play a few bars, and disappear when I start doing something that requires me to think.  The mandolin is what stands out in my head for this song.  John Hiatt plays a fine rhythm guitar, but the mandolin is so strong here.  It’s the spine of the song, the heart that everything else radiates from.  The chorus is chanted like Whitman’s barbaric yawp.  “Cry love, cry love.”  And at the end, when the tempo speeds up, it’s freeing.  A release from the anger and sadness that carry the rest of the song.

I’d never seen this video before.  That’s no surprise; John Hiatt was never a favorite of either MTV or the Top Forty.  But other musicians listen to him; they cover his songs and play on his albums.  He got some attention when Bonnie Raitt had a giant hit with “Thing Called Love,” but mostly he’s on the fringes somewhere.  That’s okay.  I sort of like him there.

The video is very affecting.  I found myself moved by the women and children alone, reinforcing the songs questioning. “Did he say good-bye to you, or did you kick him out.”  Whatever happened, the men are gone.  And at first you think there’s going to be nothing but the empty faces of their grief.  But people can only be sad for so long.  Eventually, they let it go, “well one day that train of pain won’t stop no more.”  They heal.  They return to the world, to each other.  They smile again.

And the memories?  “If this is a lesson in love, well what’s it for?”  Hug the kids.  Call your mom.  Get a dog.  There’s more love in the world.

“King Tut”

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Happy King Tut day!

Today is the anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt.  I remember seeing the tour of his artifacts back in 1978 or 79.  We all went: Mom, Dad, Big Brother, and me.  I remember it being very crowded and dark (the lights were kept dim to protect/showcase the beauty of the exhibit pieces).  And it was beautiful.  My dad was always interested in ancient Egypt.  In an ideal world, he would’ve been an archaeologist.  Don’t get me wrong; he liked building rocket ships for  living.  But I think there was a piece of him that always wanted to go dig in the dirt for pottery shards.

I really wasn’t going to post today.  Dad’s back at the hospital again.  His internal defibrillator shocked his heart back into rhythm this morning, so we went in.  He’s perfectly fine otherwise; they just need to figure out why his heart speeded up.  I’m a little stressed, but I know he’s doing okay.  This song is a nice distraction, actually.

Steve Martin had a wonderful little novelty hit with this tune in 1979.  This clip shows him performing it on Saturday Night Live.  It’s always good for a laugh, poking fun at both the commercialism surrounding the huge King Tut exhibit and the shallow materialism of the late 70s.

So here’s to the boy king, whose tomb did not get raided, leaving us with an amazing legacy of art and culture.  I’m grateful I got to see that original exhibit (the second one a few years ago was not as good).  My dad is as big a nerd as I am, just for different things.  So here’s to having a nerdy dad, too.

“Welcome to the Jungle”

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Way back in 1987, before Axl Rose completely lost his mind, Guns & Roses roared onto the hard rock-metal scene like a breath of fresh air.

Okay, more like a whiff of smoke-filled smog with undertones of beer and sex.  But they were refreshing for rock fans.  If Metallica was too dark and heavy for you (and they were for me), your options for rock music were rather limited.  MTV and radio were dominated by Bon Jovi hair metal clones.  Def Leppard were back, but they’d gotten all polished.  Motley Crue were off the map at the moment.  So when Axl Rose’s primal scream rose up over the rumble of Duff McKagen’s bass, Steven Adler’s drums, and the guitar duo of Izzy Stradlin and Slash, it was like the sun coming out after a long cold winter.  The cascading riff that opens sounded like a descent into hell.

And hell seemed to be exactly where “Welcome to the Jungle” was set.  The video cuts scenes from police riots and war zones in between clips of beautiful women and the band performing.  There is a nominal story: Hick kid gets off the bus (complete with a straw between his teeth), gets corrupted, and turns into the crazy-haired, street smart singer in the band.  The lyrics are survival of the fittest, where “if you’ve got the money, honey, we’ve got your disease.”  This is the dark side of all those stories about coming to Hollywood to make it big.  This is drugs and lies and manipulation.  Welcome to the jungle, indeed.

I like this song, all of Appetite for Destruction really, although I never want to linger too long in its world.  The violence and misogyny and despair get to me after a while.  I tried to keep up with them on the epic mess of Use Your Illusion I & II, but the negative energy just wasn’t worth it.  I like this music, but I find myself terribly conflicted about it.  Because some of it is about some really vile stuff, and I’m not going to pretend that the misogyny, the racism, the homophobia, the violence isn’t there.  A lot of GnR’s oeuvre goes against pretty much everything I believe in.  But it’s damn good music, and I find that hard to deny.

I usually only listen to anything off of Appetite for Destruction when I’m angry.  It’s good music to rage along with.  Even if I’m raging against whatever it’s advocating.

Freaky Friday is Here!

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I’m so happy to be using these fine ladies as my first official Freaky Friday post.  Ladies and gents, I proudly present the sweet, funny, wonderful, and eminently freaky. . . .

Girls Together Outrageously!


Also known as the GTOs, they were a group of girls who were friends in LA/Hollywood in the late 60s and early 70s.  With the endorsement and guidance of the Godfather of Freak, Frank Zappa, the girls made an album called Permanent Damage.  They also appeared in Zappa’s film 200 Motels.  They weren’t musicians or singers.  Miss Christine and Miss Pamela both worked as nannies for the Zappa family, and all the girls had various odd jobs and bit parts on the fringes of the entertainment biz.  You might know them better under their somewhat derogatory title of groupies.

Groupies get a bad rap.  Sure, there are some out there that are just in it for whatever fame/notoriety/money/drugs they can get by leaching off of other people’s talent and fame.  I don’t think of those people as groupies.  Real groupies, like the GTOs or the Plaster Casters aren’t in it for the sex or the drugs.  They love the music, and they want to be around the men who make it.  (OMG, Cynthia Plaster Caster has an official website!  That is so cool!)  I make the generalization about male musicians and female groupies, mostly because that’s what the story generally is.  I’m sure the women of Rock & Roll have their fair share of boy groupies, and more power to all of them.  But the girl groupies are the famous ones, often famous in their own right.  See the movie Almost Famous.  Read the books by Bebe Buell and Pamela Des Barres (aka Miss Pamela).  Hell, I think Cynthia Plaster Caster had a gallery show of her work.  They might get criticized for following musicians around and living “immoral” lives.  But they still get to go to all the good shows.

Pamela Des Barres is one of my heroes.  Her autobiography, I’m With the Band, was released in 1987.  As a teenager obsessed with music and musicians, I had to read her book since I knew she’d been a girlfriend of Jimmy Page’s, who was my then-current rock star crush.  (I’m sure he was kind of an asshole, but all Hammer of the Gods did was make him seem sexy and mysterious to me.)  But when I read the book, I found myself falling in love with Miss Pamela instead.  She was so spunky and fearless.  I wanted to be her.  Not just for the groupie thing, but for her incredibly positive attitude and free spirit.  She’s been through a lot of hurt and heartache, but she has lived the life she wanted to live.  I wonder how many people can actually say that.

These days, Pamela still hangs out with musicians, but she’s interviewing them.  She holds writing workshops and various other events that capitalize on her past as a groupie.  When I was doing some research for this post, I was sad to read that most of the GTOs have died.  Only Miss Pamela and Miss Mercy are accounted for on their Wikipedia page.

What’s the legacy of the Girls Together Outrageously?  Be joyful and fearless.  Take some chances.  Love outrageously.  And never, ever be ashamed of who you are.  Now, that’s a freaky concept.

The Georgia Satellites

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I’ve noticed I get fewer views when I post about some semi-obscure act that I absolutely adore, but never achieved any real popularity.  I don’t care.

Back in 1986, this stupid video premiered on MTV.  It started with a handful of guys playing their instruments in the back of a flatbed, the singer lamenting about the fact that his girl wouldn’t put out.  He wasn’t angry or mean.  Probably a little frustrated, but he complained with a smile.  His complaints always fell on deaf ears, since she kept repeating, “Don’t hand me no lines, and keep your hands to yourself.”  Of course, the “funny” twist in the video was that she was obviously pregnant  (wow, didn’t see that one coming. . . and sarcasm really doesn’t translate to the computer screen all that well).  That, ladies and gents, was my introduction to the Georgia Satellites, one of the best mostly unheralded rock bands ever.

That’s all they did.  Rock, and rock hard.  They’d go acoustic once in a while, but they didn’t sing “ballads.”  The Satellites were hard-core Southern rock all the way.  Think Lynyrd Skynyrd and Little Feat.  They sounded like they ought to be in a bar behind chicken wire to keep the beer bottles from hitting them in the face.  They were four ordinary looking guys–Dan Baird, Rick Richards, Rick Price, and Mauro Magellan–who knew what they were doing.  I saw them once, out in Ventura.  My BFF and I got there nice and early so we could be right next to the stage.  I spent most of the concert flirting with Rick Price on bass.  The next day, I couldn’t hear out of one ear.  It was totally awesome.

I miss the Satellites.  “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” was fun and funny, but it shouldn’t have been their only hit (and it probably only hit because so many people thought it was funny).  There really isn’t a clunker on their eponymous first album.  Their second effort, Open All Night, is utterly forgettable except for the outstanding “Sheila.”  I think In the Land of Salvation and Sin was stellar, with Dan Baird showing off some real songwriting chops to go with his voice and fine rhythm guitar.  The pretty much faded away after that third album.  Dan Baird quit for a solo career, although Richards and Price still carry on.  Mauro Magellan moved to Wisconsin, but still plays with Baird sometimes.  They’re just working musicians, ordinary guys who hit it big for a little while and then disappeared.  But when I listen to their music, I still wonder why.

Thanks guys.  Your music still gives me a lot of pleasure.