Sunday, July 31, 2011

New York Rocker - My Life in the Blank Generation with Blondie, Iggy Pop and Others - Gary Valentine

Gary Valentine is best known for his time in the original Blondie (after Television stole their first bassist, Fred Smith) and for writing/co-writing songs such as "X-Offender" & "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear". His biography naturally concentrates on this exciting time in New York as the first bands who were part of what became known as the punk rock movement started making the scene. Obviously, the sounds varied wildly, from art-rock such as Television and Patti Smith to proto-punk like the Ramones, to the retro sounds of bands like Blondie. Gary talks of his remembrances of the many well-known tales of the times and of the many famous and not so famous bands that he encountered.

After recording the iconic Blondie album and touring with the group, Valentine left the band and moved to LA for a number of years and formed his own band, the Know. Most of the time he spent in LA was before I moved to town, but many of the clubs and people he talks about were still on the scene, so it is interesting to hear him talk about these from his perspective. He hated what punk became and especially the hard-core movement and he continued in his more new-wave/pop direction. I didn't realize that after he left town, the group continued for at least a couple of years and were reasonably successful, though he could never get another "real" record deal.

He toured with Iggy - which gives him plenty of material to write about - and then retired from music for 15 years before - very briefly - being involved in the Blondie reunion, which he was then bitterly booted from. Apparently, now he mainly writes.

Another good read of the early days of the punk & new wave movements and especially interesting as he contrasts the NY & LA scenes (though he is definitely East Coast centric). I liked this as a follow up to the Television book (which actually referenced a couple of Valentine's reminisces) and it is generally filled with youthful, r'n'r enthusiasm, tempered as it is with some unkind words to those he doesn't care for.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Slow Blues: Blues Play-a-Long Volume 3

I've already written about some of the other guitar instructional books that I have but I have to give a warning about this one - DO NOT BUY!

This is a complete rip-off and totally useless and a surprise coming from the usually reliable Hal Leonard series. The "easy-to-read, authentic lead sheets" are nothing more than the lyrics, melody lines and the name of the chords. Nothing that you could possibly use to learn the song, unless you want to sing it.

There is a CD that accompanies the book, but it simply allows you to play along with the song - just like you could do with the regular CD of the tunes. Yes, you can turn off a channel and turn off the guitar, but that doesn't do you a lot of good if you don't know what the guitar is playing!

Now I am no longer sure that I can trust any Hal Leonard book, despite having several very good ones. Very disappointing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Stones in Exile (DVD)

When I first started watching this documentary, the introductory footage of people like Don Was, Sheryl Crow, Jack White and one of the Kings of Leon basically saying "I don't know anything about this, why are you asking me?" made me worried that this would be another horrible MTV-esque doc where "stars" are interviewed who weren't even around at the time.

Fortunately, this was soon dispelled and there is tons and tons of period footage, interviews with the Stones and significant others (Bobby Keys, Anita Palliberg, etc) then & now and even some fantastic live footage. This tale is of a wild time in r'n'r and a fantastically creative time in the Stones' world with some extraordinarily talented extras. Yes, everyone knows the story of them having to leave England for tax purposes (hence the "exile") and ending up in France, where they recorded their first double album in the basement of a house that Keith was renting. But this shows the reality of it all and a lot of the day to day boredom and madness that made up their extravagant r'n'r lifestyles. Out of it all they managed to make one of the grungiest records of their careers, which was almost universally panned when it came out and is now considered one of the most significant records in rock.

I actually just saw the main doc part of this via Netflicks, so can't comment on the extras, but this is another fun, inspirational bit of r'n'r history and something that every music fan should see.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sonic Transmission – Television, Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell – by Tim Mitchell

This band bio gives an overview of Television’s career, from the rebellious school days of Tom Miller /Verlaine & Richard Meyers/Hell (where they met as teenagers and even at one point ran away together) through the later reunions. It appears that a lot of the information is taken from previously released interviews, but it is compiled in an interesting, entertaining and informative way. Mitchell seems to have done his homework well and tells quite a tale of these true characters that essentially started the NY punk scene and “discovered” CBGBs and turned it into a punk haven.

The men began their new lives in New York as poets (having moved there from Wilmington & Lexington) before deciding to attempt to mix their art with r’n’r, as peers like Patti Smith had begun to do. While they were consciously trying to create something different, I’m certain they had no idea that they be the progenitors of a new musical movement.

Richard Hell’s solo career is given in a simple outline form, as is Verlaine’s later work. This could have been fleshed out more, but, of course, the focus of the book is Television, the band, so that is excusable.

I enjoyed this enough that I have already ordered Mitchell’s book on Jonathan Richman – There’s Something About Jonathan. Hopefully that is as good as this was is!

Edgeplay – A Film About the Runaways – Directed by Victory Tischler-Blue

As the title states, this 2004 movie is a documentary about the Runaways (as opposed to the recent bio-pic about the band) directed by their 2nd bassist, Vicki Blue. She interviews everyone involved, other than Joan Jett and final bassist, Laurie McAllister (which is understandable as she was only in the band for a couple of months before moving on to another Kim Fowley project, the Orchids).

The flick spends some time on lyricist Kari Krome, which is interesting, as I have never seen her interviewed before and her contribution to the band is often forgotten. The rest of the women tell their tales pretty frankly, opening up about a number of emotional issues that I have never heard discussed before, although they demur about some topics. These are often brutally honest, from singer Cherie Currie talking about abuse from Fowley and affairs with Joan & Sandy, bassist Jackie Fox relating the story of her attempted suicide and eventual departure from the band, drummer Sandy West telling about years of drug abuse and time spent as a pusher’s enforcer and Lita coming off as a heartless bitch – literally laughing at the other’s horrific problems.

This appears to be a first attempt at direction from Tischler-Blue and it shows, from the extremely clichéd shots (Sandy attempting to “run from her problems” in slow motion being one of the most blatant examples), weird superimpositions, odd background music choices (she could not get the rights to use the Runaways’ songs, so, other than a couple of live covers – “Rock’n’Roll” & “Wild Thing” – most of the music is by Suzi Quatro – understandble, but not always fitting to the scene) and painfully shakey camera work, to the point of being reminiscent of Blair Witch Project.

Definitely not a fun rock’n’roll film, but a somewhat depressing tale of young girls who were taken advantage of, and in some cases, abused, but were able to live a dream that most people can only imagine and who left behind a legacy that to this day influences young women everywhere.

PS - Sadly, Sandy West succumbed to cancer in 2006 without ever getting her wish of being able to get the band to reform.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I was not familiar with his name, but certainly with his work

Jerry Ragovoy, Writer of Soulful Ballads, Dies at 80
Wow - Time is on My Side, Try (Just a Little Bit Harder), Piece of My Heart, Cry Baby, and many more. Another talent lost...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Charlie Watts by Alan Grayson

This is a nice little biography of the great Rolling Stones drummer, listing his accomplishments and projects before and during his time with the Stones. Not much juicy gossip here (even Watts' time dappling in heroin is almost an aside) but a cool overview of the man behind the beat. Not much to say besides that - it's a quite enjoyable read!

(PS - there's even a shout-out to Ugly Things/ Loons couple Mike & Anya Stax in the opening thanks section.)