The Drama You've Been Craving

Champale's "Hard to Be Easy" is like sitting in a lounge chair in the sun, like lying on your back in the warm water of a pool at some resort far, far away from your troubles.
David Byrne: Calls Eminem's music "corporate rebellion"
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Monday May 7, 2001

Rolling Stone Going Down? Tiffany Anders Moment!

Plus thoughts on David Byrne and Champale

By Michael Goldberg

With its frequent soft-core covers featuring scantily clad females, it's been hard to take Rolling Stone seriously for a long, long time. The May 10 issue features a photo of Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson — both topless — and a cover headline "Exclusive Sex! Love! Rock! Pamela Anderson & Tommy Lee Uncensored." Could this be a new low for a magazine that has previously run jailbait photos of Britney Spears? The article inside, an excerpt from the book "The Dirt" by Mötley Crüe with Neil Strauss, would be more appropriate in Penthouse, or, perhaps, Maxim publisher Felix Dennis' new lowbrow music magazine, Blender.

Blender is the first magazine since Spin to aggressively take on Rolling Stone, and Dennis seems intent on bringing the magazine to its knees. "Rolling Stone is so boring, so corporate," Dennis was quoted in the New York Times as saying. "Who really wants to read a magazine that is Britney Spears; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; and articles about starving Nicaraguan children?" Blender's editor, Andy Pemberton, added: "Shouldn't some of those stories be in Newsweek or something?"

If Blender succeeds by following the approach Dennis has taken with Maxim and StuffMaxim is currently the best-selling general-interest men's magazine in the U. S. — we may end up longing for the days when we could count on Rolling Stone, for all its problems, to occasionally deliver a solid article about a meaningful artist such as Radiohead or Tom Waits. Clearly Blender will be targeting "generation mook," those Tom Green/Limp Bizkit/Eminem-loving kids. I'm expecting the worst.

"Summer Gold" From Tiffany Anders

I bought Tiffany Anders' Funny Cry Happy Gift because it was produced by P.J. Harvey. That's as good a reason as any — it's hard to imagine Harvey working with an artist who couldn't cut it. My instincts were right. Funny Cry Happy Gift is a haunting album of songs about love, loss, relationships, loneliness and change.

Harvey contributes not only superb production but electric guitar, organ, piano, bass, tambourine and background vocals; J. Mascis plays drums. They provide the perfect support for Anders' lonesome sound.

"I See How Much Has Changed," one of my favorites, finds Anders and Joe Hurley trading vocals on a song that feels like mystery and sounds like a run along an unlit beach at midnight, the wild wind blowing strong. "Now girl, you see/ I have no good reason," Hurley sings. "All I can say is things just ain't the same."

Byrne's Return

David Byrne returns this month with a new album, Look Into the Eyeball. I haven't heard it yet, but apparently it's good enough that the New York Times Magazine felt obliged to devote many thousands of words to profiling the former leader of the Talking Heads. I like Byrne's take on Eminem: "I can never lose sight of the fact that his music is corporate rebellion marketed in a corporate way. He is said to have this threatening quality — but how can he be threatening if his music is sold by one of the biggest companies in the world? I think teenage fans realize that it's safe, a safe kind of rebellion."

What I don't like is the way author Marshall Sella makes Byrne out to be something of a weirdo. "Those who knew him in the 1970's still speak of him a bit like puzzled neighbors describing a serial killer." The writer describes how Byrne was very friendly and talkative when they met for dinner before attending a Los Amigos Invisibles concert, but by the end of the night "Conversation became halting, even painful." Perhaps Byrne simply got tired of answering the endless questions of a journalist writing a major magazine profile. What readers don't always understand, but journalists know, is that no matter how objective the portrayal may seem, it's only the view the journalist chooses to show.

Much of Sella's piece is informative, enlightening even. I spent a bit of time with Byrne over the years. Is he strange? No stranger than me, or dozens of other folks I know. Certainly no stranger than most of the other real artists — film makers, photographers, writers, designers, or visual artists — that I've met. Artists see things others sometimes don't see. A sign that most people take for granted may be a surreal commentary on modern life through artists' eyes. Does that make them oddballs?

Champale's Cool Pop

Champale's "Hard to Be Easy" is like sitting in a lounge chair in the sun, like lying on your back in the warm water of pool at some resort far, far away from your troubles. The disconnect is that singer/songwriter Mark Rozzo is singing "Never thought it could be so hard to be easy" and " You had your chance/ It ain't coming back again." But when he sings, "Just relax/ And this won't hurt," the music suddenly makes you feel like you're in a plane flying over land, and suddenly you pass over a cliff and the earth falls away and it's just dark, dark blue sea below.

The reference points are Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and Elliott Smith. When you hear "Motel California" you'll be stunned that music like this is still being made by someone, somewhere, let alone in Hoboken, N.J. It makes sense that Champale's album is called Simple Days and is on Athens, Georgia's Pitch-a-Tent Records. It makes sense that a label based in R.E.M.'s birthplace would put out music this magical and transcendent.

There's this beautiful, almost alt-country track, "Paducah" — only it's alt-country as sung by Elliott Smith, with an arrangement by way of, oh, maybe Neutral Milk Hotel. And then "Special Guest Star" twinkles and shines like some glorious lost power-pop gem. Rozzo sings, "She's the cause and she's the cure," a line that will resonate with anyone who has known real love. And you'll just float away when you hear "Change Your Life" — that is, until you focus on the lyrics: "Change your life/ 'Cause this one's killing you/ Change your life/ It's what you've gotta do/ Before you go down one last time/ Before you wear that Kool-Aid smile/ Say you will/ Find a better way/ Say you will/ Get some therapy."

Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

© 2001 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.