The InsiderOne Daily Report Archive

  Friday, December 08, 2000

How I Discovered The Blues

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: In a dream last night I saw my childhood friend Toby Byron, with whom I lost touch some years ago. It was Toby Byron (along with the Rolling Stones) who turned me on to the blues. He helped me believe in the possibility of building a life based, one way or another, on music. These days, Toby is known for producing an acclaimed series of documentaries on such major jazz artists as Billie Holiday, and for some quite amazing books on jazz and blues musicians. We met in junior high school, and our love of rock music made us fast friends — and partners in crime. We concocted a rock-poster business (this was 1967, after all, when everyone wanted psychedelic posters for their walls) so that we'd have an excuse to visit the offices of Family Dog Productions, the San Francisco hippie promoters who put on dance-concerts at the long-lost Avalon Ballroom. I can imagine what those guys thought when two 13-year-olds showed up at their office to "talk business." In high school, we put on our own dance-concerts. Toby became friends with the late Michael Bloomfield, of Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Supersessions fame. Toby and I convinced Bloomfield, who lived in Mill Valley, to play at a show we put on at the Tamalpais High School auditorium. I was into rock; Toby was too, but he was already veering toward the more "mature" music: jazz and blues. He struck up a friendship with someone who had worked at Chess Records, and one day a big box of Chess blues albums showed up in the mail. I remember sitting in Toby's bedroom listening to Muddy Waters for the first time. I could tell that this blues music was really something, but it didn't have the cheap thrills of rock and pop. It was difficult. Also, it was hard to relate to these old blues guys — I dreamed of being John Lennon or Frank Zappa, not Howlin' Wolf or Sonny Boy Williamson. For a kid obsessed with everything rock 'n' roll, fantasizing about being a rock star went hand in hand with listening to the music. One summer, a few years after Rolling Stone had started up, Toby and I decided to start our own rock magazine. And we did. We called it Hard Road, after a John Mayall album. We managed to get Jerry Garcia to sit for an interview, and the blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite. Hard Road lasted one issue, but that's another story… Of note: Don't miss Oh Holy Fools — The Music of Son, Ambulance and Bright Eyes, due out January 22, 2001 on the very cool Saddle Creek label (hey, they put out the Spoon CD single "The Agony of Laffitte"). The album showcases two bands: Son, Ambulance and Bright Eyes. This is a kind of quiet pop music that reminds me a little of the Red House Painters. Get a load of this lyric from Bright Eyes' "Going for the Gold": "I know a girl who cries when she practices violin. Because each note sounds so pure it just cuts into her and then the melody comes pouring out her eyes. Now, to me, everything else just sounds like a lie."

Thursday, December 07, 2000

Pop 100 — The Untold Story

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Now that it's safely off the stands, let's consider that jaw-dropping media collaboration, a Rolling Stone cover story headlined "Rolling Stone and MTV Present Pop 100!" with the catchy subhead "Beatles to Backstreet Boys." You might assume that if Rolling Stone were putting its name on a "100 Greatest Pop Songs" list, it would poll dozens of music critics and historians to arrive at something with some credibility -- but no. That, apparently, would be too much work. Here's what happened, according to the feature's unbylined intro: "Five Rolling Stone editors and a crew of MTV programmers, producers and researchers traded lists, opinions, barbs and everything but blows in trying to narrow down a wide range of popular music to the final 100." Meaning a supposedly definitive list that names the Beatles' "Yesterday" (!) as the best song in the history of pop music was put together by perhaps a dozen staffers at Rolling Stone and MTV. Figures. Publisher Jann Wenner and MTV Networks CEO Tom Freston should have just gotten in a room together and figured the whole thing out themselves. You can imagine the conversation:

Jann: Let's see. "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Ticket to Ride," "She Loves You," "Paperback Writer," "Eight Days a Week," "Hey Jude," "Strawberry Fields Forever,"…

Tom: Jann, don't you think that's a few too many songs by the Beatles? We're only doing 100 songs.

Jann: Yeah, yeah, yeah. How 'bout "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Ruby Tuesday," "Miss You," "Let's Spend the Night Together," "Honky Tonk Women," "Brown Sugar." Oh yeah, we gotta include "Like A Rolling Stone," "Positively Fourth Street,"…

Tom: We got a problem, Jann. You know we do a lot of market research over at MTV, and our research tells us that our audience has never heard of Bob Dylan. And they only know the Britney Spears version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." And they know the Beatles 'cause their parents bought that new hits album. I think we've really got to include something by Britney. How about "… Baby One More Time." The little girls loved that one! Let's put in the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way." And we gotta include 'N Sync. Probably "Bye Bye Bye," don't you think? And something by the Eagles, or my friend Don Henley will get mad at me.

Jann: Hmm. Isn't all that teen pop going to hurt our credibility?

Tom: It's just a bunch of songs. It's not important.

Of note: The soundtrack to the Cohen brothers' new film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is an amazing 19-song collection of traditional-style country, blues and bluegrass songs mostly written in the '30s. The set includes classic recordings by the Stanley Brothers ("Angel Band") and James Carter & the Prisoners ("Po Lazarus") and lots of brand-new recordings by the likes of Norman Blake ("I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow") and Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch ("I'll Fly Away"). Produced by T-Bone Burnett, this is essential listening for anyone who ever dug country-rock (Uncle Tupelo and Neil Young fans will love it). The New York Times reports that legendary documentary-maker D. A. Pennebaker ("Don't Look Back") filmed last May's concert performance of the movie's music at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium; that film, titled "Down From the Mountain," may be released to art houses, The Times reports.

Wednesday, December 06, 2000

The Big Fix

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: When, many years from now, historians single out the moment when democracy ended in the U.S. of A., they'll pick the afternoon of December 4, 2000, when a small-time judge made a decision so blatantly wrong that you had to wonder if this was some nightmare that would end come morning. No such luck. It seems like such an obvious thing: You have an election. In one state, there are problems at the polls -- ballots that are confusing, machines that don't always work correctly. One candidate wins by a little over 500 votes. The other candidate wants the votes counted -- by hand, not by machines that, the very people who make them admit, are less accurate than a human being. It seems so simple. Just count the votes, goddammit. But no. Instead, you have one Republican clown after another lying on TV, as if repeating lies often enough makes people actually believe them. You have a Republican-dominated legislature talking of just taking over the whole election and picking electors who will cast votes their way. You have a Republican-dominated Supreme Court that can't even stand up and do the right thing and support a decision made by the Florida Supreme Court. George W. Bush is, clearly, a joke of a presidential candidate, who, it appears, is soon to sit in the White House. Hard as it is to imagine a man bringing a case to the Supreme Court and not bothering to listen to the proceedings, W. did exactly that. Judge N. Sanders Sauls of Leon County Circuit Court should know that the world was watching his kangaroo court, and saw him defer to the Republican lawyers while giving Gore's men no slack. Why the laws in this country allow this one man to essentially choose the president of the United States is beyond understanding. It evokes memories of early Bob Dylan songs -- "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," "Only A Pawn in Their Game." I wish I could just get lost in rock 'n' roll right now, but I can't. Listening to Sauls deliver his decision, you could feel the chill, you could see the dark clouds coming in, obscuring the light. And the worst is yet to come... Last Saturday night the Smashing Pumpkins played their last show, an anticlimactic end to one of the great rock bands. This past May leader Billy Corgan had announced that the group was disbanding. From where I sit, it looks like the system and his own bandmembers beat Billy into submission. With two core members -- drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and bassist D'Arcy -- sidelined at various points by drug abuse, and with the media and the public just not buying into an evolved Pumpkins sound, Corgan clearly felt it just wasn't worth the fight any longer.

Tuesday, December 05, 2000

Give Me The Gun

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: When she wants to, PJ Harvey sounds like she can change the world by sheer force of will. She is a small, graceful woman; it's as if her slight body conceals superpowers that she can use against evil. Or for good. Actually, it may be her voice that has the power -- it's amazing. Fragile and hesitant, high and light, hard and cold, sweet and loving, spiritual and soulful, bright and clear, dark and distorted, provocative and sexy. During "We Float," the final song on her recent album Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, when she shifts from monotonic spoken verses to the soaring chorus, it sounds like she's levitating herself and everyone who wants to take a chance on something new. "We float, " she sings. "Take life as it comes." That's how it ends. How it starts is something else again. With a bracing, droning rock guitar jangle, Harvey sings: "Look out ahead/ I see danger come/ I wanna pistol/ I wanna gun/ I'm scared baby/ I wanna run/ This world's crazy/ Give me the gun." Like Bob Dylan circa Blonde on Blonde, Elvis Costello circa This Year's Model, and Patti Smith, who some people seem to think she sounds like on this album, Harvey sings with certainty about her internal life and the world around her. "The world all gone to war/ All I need is you tonight, " she sings in "One Line," which also contains the amazingly romantic lyric, "And I draw a line/ To your heart today/ 'To your heart from mine/ A line to keep us safe.' " It's hard to keep from quoting lyrics when writing about Harvey and Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea because they're so good. But flat on the screen, the words don't convey Harvey's vocal nuances in a line like "And he's the best thing/ He's the best thing/ He's the best thing/ A beautiful feeling." The way she almost whispers a word, and then lets minimal guitar notes fill the air -- just a little longer than you might expect. Or sings "And when I watch you move," and then just holds that last word. Harvey says she was writing poetry -- which she calls "a new thing" -- while writing the songs for the album. "I'm finding that writing poetry is strengthening my songwriting, because you're learning to make a piece of writing work on a page with nothing else," she told Interview magazine's Hilton Als. "I was also finding within poetry I felt a lot more free to write about very different matters, to write about social issues or things that are going on around me." ... Morning Glory: The Tim Buckley Anthology will be released by Rhino Records on February 27, 2001. The album will include one previously unreleased track, a version of "Song to the Siren" recorded live in 1967 on the set of The Monkees TV show for Episode 58, "Mijacogeo (The Frodis Caper)." The late Tim Buckley is, of course, the famed, influential '60s singer/songwriter (and father to the late Jeff Buckley). Over the course of his short career, Buckley moved from fairly traditional folk music to a highly experimental jazz-rock. The two-CD set features 34 songs, including such classics as "Pleasant Street," "No Man Can Find the War," and "Morning Glory."

Monday, December 04, 2000

The Phony Historian Syndrome

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: I'm not sure how it happened, but music writer Anthony DeCurtis is now being described as a "rock historian," at least by Newsweek. We find one of the author's ridiculous theories featured in the "Periscope" section of the November 27, 2000 issue. "There's this rise and fall of music quality with the Dow," DeCurtis is quoted as saying. The evidence? Bear markets produce "punk bands like the Dead Kennedys in the late '70s, socially aware rappers like Public Enemy and raw-powered grungers like Nirvana in the depressed early '90s," Newsweek explains, apparently paraphrasing DeCurtis. Bull markets deliver "Britney Spears, 'N Sync the 'Thong Song'." Only none of that makes sense. Anyone who has actually been listening for the past few years can list dozens and dozens of amazing albums, from artists as diverse as Blackalicious, Guided By Voices, Grandaddy, Beth Orton, Lucinda Williams, Garbage, Modest Mouse, Yo La Tengo, Spoon, John Hiatt -- on and on and on. In fact, the last few years have been something of a golden age of rock, hip-hop and electronic music -- you just wouldn't know it from what's at the top of the charts. But then, perhaps the "rock historian" is too busy looking back at history (or getting nostalgic over his prized Mick Jagger solo albums) to pay attention to what's actually going on right now… Of Note: Come February 20, 2001 Kill Rock Stars will re-release the complete works of long-gone Zurich post-punk band Kleenex/ Liliput (the band was called Kleenex but changed its name to Liliput in 1980 when Kimberly-Clark came calling). Guitarist Marlene Marder, bassist Klau Schiff (who is the painter Klaudia Schifferle), vocalist Regula Sing and drummer Lislot Ha (AKA Lislot Hafner) formed Kleenex in 1978, just as the first waves of punk (U.S.- and UK-style) were burning out; they went through various personnel changes, released a mess of singles and an album, and were gone by the end of 1983. Greil Marcus has written that Kleenex/ Liliput were "the only female punk band -- maybe the only punk band of any description, save for the Sex Pistols -- to grow more extreme as they continued their quest to find out what it was they wanted to play [They] played with the possibilities of freedom; they practiced freedom as play" The reissue will include new liner notes by both Marder and Marcus.

Friday, December 01, 2000

Robots Attempt White House Coup

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Nothing like lying on your back for a week, blindsided by the flu, to realize how fragile and temporal our existence on this planet really is. CNN's Election 2000 coverage and the David Geffen bio might not seem like the best medicine to accelerate recovery (much as I dig Marilyn Manson's Holy Wood, you might not want it on the stereo at the moment when you feel like you're about to pass out of this life), but CNN and 300 or so pages of "The Operator" are an oddly compatible couple. Here's "Mini-Me" Bush, hiding on his ranch, letting his dad's bullying friends take charge to ensure that the Republican candidate gets installed in the White House - the populace be damned. James Baker has more in common with The Terminator than a human being, and the Republican operatives provided to media outlets were clearly programmed with a loop: "...there was a count and a recount and a recount and a recount and a..." Al Gore has taken the high road, but there's something a bit off about him. His obsession with counting every vote - at least as articulated incessantly on CNN - is scary, though not as scary as the Baby Bush disconnect. Power is hard to resist, and apparently those who get a little become insatiable. That's certainly the message that comes through loud and clear in the Geffen bio. As author Tom King, a Wall Street Journal reporter, tells it, Geffen clawed his way to the top, seeming to alienate just about every major figure in the music and movie business, from Bob Dylan to Steven Spielberg... Pianist and bandleader Johnnie Johnson hired Chuck Berry in 1953 to play guitar and sing in his Sir John's Trio. Did he also co-write hit songs such as "Maybellene," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Rock & Roll Music" - all part of the birth of rock 'n' roll? It will be up to the legal system to sort this out. Johnson, who claims to have written more than 50 songs with the legendary guitarist, sued Berry on November 29 in St. Louis Federal District Court; he is seeking both writing credits and royalties. While working on the documentary "Hail, Hail Rock 'n' Roll" in 1986, Rolling Stone Keith Richards found Johnson living in poverty and working as a bus driver. Richards has said he believes Johnson had a significant role in creating the Berry classics. I spoke with Johnson during the making of "Hail, Hail Rock 'n' Roll." At the time, he seemed to be reeling from his rediscovery, somewhat amazed that he was back onstage with Berry and the other rock stars who participated in the film. Johnson is a mild-mannered man who was never particularly sophisticated when it came to the music business - it's understandable that it took him over 40 years to finally decide to go to court.

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

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