The InsiderOne Daily Report Archive

  Thursday, December 14, 2000

U.S. Supremes Vs. Cartoon Network

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: I think of myself as a clear-thinking, intelligent man who is not prone to buying into conspiracy theories and crank philosophy. And yet, in the weeks since the election, I have come to believe that nothing short of a coup has taken place in America. Last night, Al Gore, with nowhere left to go, stepped aside and conceded the presidency to W. The Republican party, utilizing Republican sympathizers in no less than the Supreme Court, as well as the Florida legislature, have put a man into the White House who, it appears, did not actually win the election. Each time vice-president Al Gore seemed to be on the verge of seeing the Florida election votes manually counted, he was foiled. First by the Florida Secretary of State, who for all intensive purposes is on the Bush payroll, then by a small-time judge who, it turns out, was reprimanded time and again by the Florida Supreme Court. And, finally, by the U. S. Supreme Court justices (some with clear conflicts of interest), who intervened this past Saturday and stopped the vote count that the Florida court had ordered. (And then, of course, there is the Florida legislature, which has picked a team of electors who will, with certainly, cast their votes for Bush.) On the night of Dec. 12, the U. S. Supreme Court shut Al Gore down. I would have hoped that the U. S. Supreme court would have issued a bold decision, reinforcing the fact that the right to vote, and to have one痴 vote counted is at the very core of our democracy. But no, instead, this partisan court, this court that has made so many wrong decisions over the past few years (against women, against minorities), offered a confusing, even contradictory decision. All I can think of is W., in his jeans and short "I知-an-old-cow-hand" jacket, swaggering along the path near his ranch, telling himself over and over, "I知 the President of the United States. Really! I知 the President of the United States. I知 gonna pinch myself! I知 the" On December 11, while the Supreme Court justices heard the arguments, W. was holed up in the Texas governor痴 mansion. I figure he was glued to the Cartoon Network.

Datastream: In addition to Johnnie Johnson, the piano man who, with Chuck Berry, helped create rock 創 roll in the mid-50s, guitarist extraordinaire James Burton will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the "Sideman" category this coming March. Burton added his trademark country-rock riffs to classic records by Elvis, Merle Haggard, Ricky Nelson and Jerry Lee Lewis. And he played on both of Gram Parsons amazing solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel. Also worth nothing is the coming induction of Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, the man who brought reggae (including Bob Marley and Toots and the Maytals) and African music to America. While Blackwell is known for the hitmakers he discovered including U2 and Traffic (and for releasing some of Tom Waits best work), I think he should also be applauded for signing both Nick Drake (all of the late British singer/songwriter痴 work was done for Island) and John Martyn, whose Solid Air remains a truly amazing album — 27 years after it was first released. Nice to also see the still subversive Steely Dan being inducted

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Teaching The Weeping Willow How To Cry

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: A month or so ago, I bought a new Johnny Cash album, American III: Solitary Man. As often happens when an artist I haven't listened to in a while releases something new, I got to digging up all my old Johnny Cash CDs, including Up Through the Years, 1955-1957, a really cool collection on Bear Family Records of Cash's original recordings for Sun Records. Those were some years for rock 'n' roll and for Johnny Cash. Right off you're into the bedrock — "Cry Cry Cry," "Hey Porter," "Get Rhythm" and "Big River," which starts off: "Now I taught the weeping willow how to cry/ And I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky/ And the tears that I cried for that woman are gonna flood you, big river/ And I'm gonna sit right here until I die." The first time I heard "Get Rhythm" and "Big River," I wasn't listening to Johnny Cash — I was in the downstairs practice room of this big ol' house in Mill Valley, Calif., shared by a long-lost band called Stoneground. The other day, after listening to Cash's original recordings, I searched through my records until I found Stoneground's Family Album, the one with "Get Rhythm" and "Big River." Stoneground meant a lot to me when I was a teenager. Their leader was the great Sal Valentino, the voice of '60s hit-makers the Beau Brummels ("Laugh, Laugh"). Also in the band were the honky-tonk singer Lynne Hughes, who had sung on occasion with another San Francisco legend, the Charlatans; the femme fatale Deirdre La Porte (on whom I had a serious crush); the soulful Annie Sampson and Sal's girlfriend Lydia Moreno. Add tasteful lead guitarist John Blakeley and a powerhouse rhythm section, and you had a rather amazing post-hippie rock 'n' roll combo that actually had seven great lead singers! Valentino being in his Dylan period at the time, his versions of both "Get Rhythm" and "Big River" were slowed down and delivered the way Dylan might have done 'em — if Dylan had been backed by an eight-member band with four female harmony vocalists who sounded like they'd just come down from Virginia City, circa 1920. Standing less than 10 feet from Sal, wearing a black beret over his long dark hair, as he sang that opening verse of "Big River" was one of those life-changing experiences. I already knew from the records I'd listened to how emotionally powerful music could be, and I would later learn firsthand about the pain Cash and Sal sang about. But being in the same room as the music was being created was a whole other thing. Stoneground was one of the first bands I was a fan of that I actually got to know, and they let me hang out at their rehearsals. When they headed to L.A. to do some overdubs on their second album, the two-record set Family Album, I hitchhiked the 500 or so miles from Mill Valley to L.A. so I could watch them work in the recording studio. Being in the studio for the first time was like being let behind the Wizard of Oz's curtain! To actually watch as a record was being made -- it couldn't get much cooler than that.

Datastream: Piano man Johnnie Johnson, who recently filed a lawsuit in which he claims to have co-written over 50 classic rock 'n' roll songs with Chuck Berry, including "Maybellene," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Rock & Roll Music," will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame early next year. Johnnie Johnson hired Chuck Berry in 1953 to play guitar and sing in his Sir John's Trio. Ultimately, the band became Berry's, and Johnson continued to back Berry for years. It is believed that Berry's distinctive approach to rock 'n' roll rhythm guitar, which influenced generation upon generation of musicians, was based on Johnson's piano style. In his lawsuit, filed in St. Louis Federal District Court, Johnson is seeking both writing credits and royalties.... Radiohead will release Amnesiac, the follow-up to Kid A, next spring, members of the band told a Radio 1 DJ. The songs were recorded during the Kid A sessions, according to SonicNet.... Spoon's long-awaited third album, Girls Can Tell, will be released in March, as will Creeper Lagoon's second album. Spoon's second album, A Series of Sneaks, is a masterpiece of power pop-rock, easily equal to the first two Big Star albums...

Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Where's The Magic, Sam?

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Sam Shepard is the playwright/ movie star that everyone loves. He looks cool, and he's a real, rugged man's man who writes "meaningful" plays. Debuting last month at San Francisco's Theater on the Square is the latest production of Shepard's play "The Late Henry Moss." It stars some heavy hitters from the film and TV world -- Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, James Gammon and Cheech Marin -- and reunites Shepard with the Magic Theater. The other night (Wed., Dec. 6, 2000) I spent a few hours in Sam's world. It's not a pretty place. He's got two hard-drinking brothers (Penn as Ray; Nolte as Earl) and Henry Moss (Gammon), their abusive, longtime alcoholic father, now dead. There's a lot of yelling and bickering. The acting, particularly by Penn and Nolte, is powerful. It's really something to see these particular stars, up close, walking the tightrope of theatrical performance without a net. Despite some sharp dialogue, though, in the end the play left me wondering about the point of this. After all, we know that a family with an abusive, alcoholic father often ends up dysfunctional and, well, fucked up. And that the sons of the father often follow in the father's footsteps. So where's the revelation? Where's the magic Sam Shepard twist, the new insights to make this more than just a rehash of the same old same old? Uh oh! Sam didn't have 'em! It seemed like maybe the cast had also realized that this wasn't the kind of play that will go down in history. Sure, they delivered professional performances, moving at times, but they seemed to be holding something back. It was as if they were participating in something hip and edgy because Sam had asked, and because of the cred for their careers, but their hearts weren't really in it -- 'cause it's a pretty good play, but not great. All the star power in the world can't hide that.

Datastream: Just when I'd pretty much given up on tribute albums, along comes Rage Against the Machine's Renegades, in which one of the great rock bands of our time covers songs by the MC5 ("Kick Out the Jams"), Eric B & Rakim ("Microphone Fiend"), Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force ("Renegades of Funk"), Bob Dylan ("Maggie's Farm"), Devo ("Beautiful World") and a bunch more -- and they make every one of the songs their own. In addition to the 14 studio tracks listed on the back cover of the CD, there are two live tracks recorded during the group's performance outside the Democratic National Convention this year: "Kick Out the Jams" and "How I Could Just Kill A Man" with Cypress Hill guesting. Members of the band, along with producer Rick Rubin, talk about the songs at the Rage Web site. Here's guitarist Tom Morello, who explains that when he moved to L. A. in 1986 he had to work a "shitty Job," on "Maggie's Farm": "'s a real anthem for everyone who has suffered in a soul-crushing job with a cruel boss. Sometimes I'd be painting in an office with no ventilation for months at a time with just a cruel, cruel boss and you spend like your 15 minutes of your break just in the restroom just shaking, going, 'I am a man, I am a man.' You know, it's a song for everyone who realizes that they are more than the shitty job they are stuck in. Much like the character, the thing, you know, I had a lot of ideas in my head and it was a shame the way they were making me scrub the floor. So this song is both -- is sort of a personal vindication as well as a great rocking track."

Monday, December 11, 2000

Workin' On Maggie's Farm

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Oh the horror! Rage Against the Machine woke up the other day to discover that their new management, Q Prime, along with the corporate record company they're signed to, had demanded that Napster ban music fans who have been "sharing" Renegades, the group's new album. Rage guitarist Tom Morello immediately called the ban "this horrible mistake" in a message he posted to the group's site, adding: "[The] move to take action against Rage fans was taken completely unilaterally by our new management. In their zeal to keep the record from getting out before the release date, they did not consult the band before instructing Sony Music Corp. to institute the Napster ban." Once he found out about it, Morello said, he called Q Prime and the label to see what could be done to "get our Napster-using fans reinstated as soon as possible." SonicNet reports that "a spokesperson for Sony Music said the company has no comment on the Napster ban" -- what a surprise. Wake up, Tom. When you're in bed with the corporate beast, this kind of thing happens. Who's fooling who here? Sony Music, one of the five mega-corporations dominating the music business, has joined other companies in suing Napster. They're not going to help music fans use the file-sharing service. Rage have always struck me as, well, schizophrenic. On the one hand, they've consistently been out there fighting the good fight. Inside the Renegades jewel box, under the heading "Action," they offer a long list (complete with URLs and phone numbers) of organizations they help support, including Amnesty International, Women Alive, National Commission for Democracy in Mexico and the International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. All well and good. But what is a band that stands for fighting injustice doing working for the corporate man?

Datastream: R.E.M. have finished recording their next album, according to a post by their manager, Bertis Downs, on their Web site, R.E.M.HQ. "Last night, several sequences were tried out, tossed aside, and rejiggered, and the process will continue for a few more days," Downs wrote in a post dated December 6, 2000. "It is difficult to describe in words the sound of this record, but I'll stick with my original thoughts of 'lush, atmospheric, and melodic.' After repeated listenings I would add things like 'layered' and 'dynamic.' " The group worked on the album in Athens, Ga., and Miami, as well as Vancouver, B.C. and Dublin, Ireland; it will be released in the spring, according to Downs... There will be many more Smashing Pumpkins albums, Billy Corgan told SonicNet's Gil Kaufman. "There's tons of stuff -- we can live posthumously for a long time. We recorded a lot...The band's archives are pretty deep," Corgan said during an interview the night before the Pumpkins' final show. "From a fan point of view, the variations on how the band played the songs live give us a lot of leeway," he said. "It's not like we always played one version of 'Bullet [With Butterfly Wings]' -- we have five different versions of 'Bullet,' seven versions of 'Silverfuck.' The band's sound and the band's attack always changed from year to year, so we can go pretty deep into our live catalog." Corgan plans to release the demos for Gish and 28 additional songs recorded during the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness sessions. The final show, which took place at the Metro in Chicago on Saturday, December 2, may also be released. And when Corgan gets to work on a solo album, he said, it wouldn't sound anything like the Pumpkins. "It will be a completely different deal," he told Kaufman, "a completely different part of my person -- I want to look at my music with different eyes."