Archive for the ‘Essay’ Category

(A recent response of mine regarding the classical music works of Paul McCartney…)

Classical music listeners AWAKE!  If you can’t find “it” in the works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Stravinsky, and all the artists before, after, or in between those I just listed, you probably won’t find “it” at all.  One thing is for sure – you will NEVER find “it” in the over-indulgent, “classical” works of rock artists – not even in the works of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (who I greatly admire).

And now, for a bit of a diatribe…

Unfortunately, when many artists become well-known, famous, sell a lot of wares (whatever those wares may be), they sometimes become a little too over-confident that their gifts will automatically transcend into ALL areas of the fine arts.  Across the board, actors become musicians, musicians become actors, painters become authors, and authors begin to paint.  There are WAY too many examples of this to list here.

It also happens when successful artists in one area of music try their hand in another.  One of the most infamous examples was when Garth Brooks released that Chris Gaines album.  Was it successful?  Eh…yes – financially.  But the album came out at a time when people would have paid money to see Garth Brooks stand alone on stage, reading from a dictionary.  Artistically, the album is tripe.

How about that foray Harry Connick, Jr. took into the world of rock?  That worked out about as well as Pat Boone’s heavy metal album.  Ouch.

How about the current trend of talented legends performing old standards.  Come on, guys – really?  Double-ouch.

This happens even in the sports world.  Remember when Michael Jordan woke up one morning and decided that he was a great baseball player?  Triple-ouch.

My beloved Beatles are not immune.  To this day, there are people who absolutely believe that John Lennon was a great artist in drawing and painting.  He absolutely WAS NOT.  To say otherwise would be like saying that artist/painter Stuart Sutcliffe was a great bass player!  Drawing on your own, in your spare time for fun or as a stress release is one thing, but to pretend even in your own mind that you are rock and roll’s answer to Picasso is just plain silly.  It’s just about as silly as the Merry Widow authorizing lithographs of your noodlings to sell to the masses at overly inflated prices.

Paul McCartney, who stated to Musician Magazine in 1980 that he would never “bore myself stiff” writing a classical piece of music seems intent on doing just that.  Only it is the public who he is boring, not himself.  To quote another fairly famous musician remarking about McCartney’s quality of work when he wasn’t really trying, “The sound you make is Muzak to my ears.”

One last thing –

Paul, dear Paul:

  • Stop feeling the need to constantly justify yourself publically regarding your role in the music world.  All those efforts are not needed, and are a huge waste of your time.  You’re one of the greatest artists of the last half century, if not all time – act like it;
  • Do what you do, and do it well;
  • That doesn’t mean that we want you to write or re-write us another Band on the Run, or Venus and Mars, or Tug of War, or even another Hey Jude.  We don’t need new ones – we already have the originals, which are perfect.  Just keep writing and recording what you do best.  It’s okay – get back to where you once belonged.  The well isn’t dry yet, is it?;
  • For the love of God, will you finally stop obsessing with misplaced anxiety over your errant thoughts of believing that the public feels that it was always LENNON and McCartney, and never McCARTNEY and Lennon?!  We’re not idiots.  We all know who did what, and other rabid Beatle fans like me probably know those things better than you remember them happening!;
  • Last, and most importantly, BE HAPPY!

 

The above represents only my opinions.  I reserve the right to be wrong.

I mean, what do I know?  I’m 47 years old and still struggling through my own Hamburg days to get to the next level.  But, hey – I’m having a blast doing it!

Respectfully submitted,

With Peace and in Love,

Tim McCarthy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Danny Seraphine, the bandChicago’s co-founder and drummer extraordinaire from 1967 to 1990, has written the first book by any current or former member about the 70s and 80s iconic band.

Seraphine, born in Chicago’s New Little Italy, received the bulk of his education on some of the toughest streets in the city.  As a high school dropout, Seraphine had two choices in life: become a low-level, mafia street thug; or become a professional drummer.

His selection as a replacement drummer with Jimmy Ford and the Executives introduced Seraphine to future long time playing partners, saxophonist Walt Parazaider, and tragic guitar legend, Terry Kath.  When their services in that band fell through, the three joined a local cover band called, the Missing Links.  Eventual dissatisfaction with the type of music they were playing, as well as the shoddy performance venues they were forced to put up with, motivated them to form a new kind of horn band.  This project would feature no “front man,” be 100% about the music, and be comprised of the best players they could find in Chicago.  Membership in this new band of brothers, which was soon to known as the Big Thing, additionally included trumpeter Lee Loughnane, trombonist Jimmy Pankow, and piano/organist Robert Lamm.

After signing a management deal with James William Guercio, and also securing bassist Peter Cetera, the band made it’s way out to California.  Renamed Chicago Transit Authority, then simply Chicago, the band endured many hardships before acquiring fame.

However, it could be strongly argued that Chicago’s toughest hardships occurred after they attained the success they longed for.  As Seraphine describes – sometimes broadly, while at other times in great detail – the mental breakdowns, jealousies, infighting, physical altercations, infidelities, minor scandals, mismanagement, serial writer’s block, financial blunders, one band member’s defection, and the untimely death of their guitar genius all point to one major contributing factor: drugs.

I always wondered why there was never a book written by Chicago about Chicago, and now I have my answer:  Who in the band would WANT their story told truthfully?!  There are many sad and dark tales hidden behind that silk-screened, Coca-Cola lettered logo.  It would be easy to condemn Seraphine (who was fired from the band for reasons that depend upon which side of the issue you ask) for writing this autobiography if it wasn’t for the fact that he seems to assign blame to himself as much as anyone else he writes about, and keeps all the who-had-affairs-with-whom discreetly out of his story, unless he is speaking about himself.

As much as I have admired Chicago, which goes as far back as when “Make Me Smile” and “25 Or 6 To 4” were new songs, my biggest gripe with the band has NEVER been about their inability to replace the irreplaceable Terry Kath.  No, my beef involves how they switched from being the innovators of their craft to being the followers of trends, like the period immediately following Kath’s death (disco, and their fading use of quality horn arrangements).  By the 1980s, Chicago was no longer simply following trends but rather chasing after them (drum programming, rock/power ballads, and little to sometimes no use of the horns)!

Sure, their musical performances from the very beginning of the band’s career have pushed the envelope at times (Walt Parazaider’s unique solo in “Movin’ On” from Chicago II comes to mind), and yes, I wish I had a dime for every time they said the words, “I don’t know,” in their lyrics.  But the instrumentation, band and horn arrangements, vocal leads and harmonies, song and chord structuring, album production, and sheer drive (that they possessed at least once upon a time) made Chicago a fascinating, fantastically exciting band to listen to THAT DOES warrant inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

Okay, okay – end of sermon.

Seraphine delivers here an intriguing retrospective about his time withChicago.  Well written and possessing a good storytelling sense, this interesting look into the inner workings of a band that was never fully as respected as it should have been, makes Street Player an excellent read.

In 2001, I read an article in Rolling Stone magazine about a band called the Raveonettes.  I liked what the article said about them; that they were a young, fresh duo that toured as a full band and had a raw, edgy sound reminiscent of the 60s – very retro, but with a fresh approach.  Hmm, I thought.  I should check them out…

The problem, I discovered, was that I couldn’t seem to find them on the radio (terrestrial radio – remember, it’s 2001).  I couldn’t find them at all, not at all.  That figures.  Typical, commercial radio:  Either they play the same top 40 songs over and over again, or play the same 300 “oldies” songs over and over again – with both types of stations breaking in with no fewer than 8-10 annoying, unoriginal commercials after every 3 to 4 songs!

Later, in another article from that same issue, I read the Raveonettes name again.  This time, they were listed as a featured band on a syndicated radio show called Little Steven’s Underground Garage.

Little Steven?  Isn’t he Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist?  He’s got a “cool” radio show?  I thought he was busy playing Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos.”  Okay, what’s all this about?

In reading the article, I was impressed.  Roots Rock and Roll?  Punk?  60s Garage Rock?  Hey, this sounds pretty good!  Yes, this was a syndicated show on commercial radio, but syndication itself was never the problem.  It was always what the powers-that-be were syndicating!  I checked online as to which local affiliate station was syndicating the show, and made a commitment to myself to listen to it that weekend…

The show was incredible!  I discovered then, and in following weeks, that the show had: it’s own form and style; a different show theme each week; a new “Coolest Song in the World” each week; sprinkles of movie sound bites; an odd poetry reading or commentary here and there; a cool biography and trivia about that week’s “Freak of the Week;” and few commercial breaks (with cool sponsors whose products you WANTED to purchase!).

And the MUSIC!  I was shocked.  Every one of these songs I was digging…and most of them I had never heard of before!  Songs generally have to grow on me before I like them – even new ones from artists that I like.  I also experienced a terrifying thought as well:  How is it that I had never heard of some of these songs?!  And darker yet, what if I had NEVER heard these songs!  My God – what a chilling contemplation!  I was shook to the core!  This music reflected what was in my heart, in my spirit – the spirit that I grew up with.

As defined by Little Steven, Little Steven’s Underground Garage plays:

1.)   The music of the Ramones;

2.)  the music that influenced the Ramones;

3.)  the music that the Ramones have influenced – up to and including today.

Before, this great music seemed to be dished out to me by the radio stations like emergency lifeboat rations.  Now, I was at a banquet!  For two hours each week, I was in heaven.  Little Steven’s Underground Garage was sacred to me.  It was a religious experience.  I never missed it.  Nothing was going to make me miss that show.  And nothing ever did.  Then along comes satellite radio – a whole channel of Little Steven’s Underground Garage?!  My cup runneth over…

I immersed myself in Garage Rock.  The term, “garage rock,” IS NOT a derogatory term.  It was never meant as a meaning for hapless, unprofessional wannabe Beatles, bands incapable of getting out of their parents’ garages because they performed rotten songs containing faulty playing.  “Garage Rock” means fresh sounding, raw music – no whistles and bells, no pretensions: Straight ahead Rock and Roll!

I understood the Ramones from way back, but now I REALLY understood them, and what they were truly about.  I heard the parallels between Joey Ramone’s vocal phrasings and that of his inspirational heroes of the 50s.  I found a new appreciation for Dee Dee and Johnny’s styles.  I understood that CBGB’s was the 1970s version of the Cavern, Lenny Kaye is more than Patti Smith’s genius guitarist, the New York Dolls were more than a “glam-punk” gimmick that commercially failed, Lester Bangs’ record reviews were poetic essays, and that Nuggets and Nuggets II are required listening for every garage rock enthusiast.  Also, as you listen to the show, someone, usually Little Steven himself, announces at the end of each set that set’s song titles, performing artist(s), composer and producer credits, and most importantly, where and even how you can get the songs!  I began making my lists of NEED-TO-GET songs immediately!  I began researching bands like the Chesterfield Kings, the Caesars, the Dictators, the Contrast, the Cocktail Slippers and the Boss Martians.  I read book after book about garage rock, punk rock, and music as of yet unnamed.

I have to say, that in every way, this music, this…Garage Rock, has meant the most to me since I first heard the Beatles at the age of six.  THIS is what I was missing the most in music.  This great, great music!  It is a music that has passion and fire.  It was what music was always supposed be about.  It is true Romantic music.  It is pure.  It is decadent.  It is Rock and Roll!

The reason why I express this music using the word “is” is because it is very much alive.  People are fed up with the music that’s being pushed at them by the labels and by commercial radio.  They’re willing to take a chance and give a listen to some band that has no reason to expect any breaks because they “don’t fit” what the suits feel people should like.  People have had enough and they’re pissed.  Pissed because, like me, they know there is better music out there needing to be heard, needing to inspire just as it is itself inspired.  This is a movement that has already taken fruition.  And thank God, it’s growing upward and outward.

I must tell you that this music honestly saved my life.  And that Little Steven’s Underground Garage, this simple little rock and roll show, has everything to do with me surviving some very difficult times.  It gave me a reason to keep going.  It fueled me with energy, and when I needed it the most, it was also an escape from all the hell that was going on around me.  I could tune in (and drop out) using its radio signal as a lifeline back to the life that was and still is my life: music.  Music has always been my great love.  Back then at times, I felt abandoned and/or let down at one time or another by everyone and everything – and I mean by everything.  Friends.  Family.  God.  Everything.  [People I know will strongly and vehemently disagree with me on this point, and to save argument, I will repeat that I “felt” abandoned and/or let down.]  But, coming directly to the point, music NEVER made me feel that way.  Never.

True music doesn’t lie.  It doesn’t cheat you and it never lets you down.  It’s there at a moment’s notice and it is always there for you.  I have tried to treat it just as well as it has treated me.  So when I reestablished this connection to Garage Rock, and rediscovered all this great music that has been made by these great musicians and composers, it was like finding myself right in the middle of heaven, and not the hell I was mentally in at the time.

Somehow, somewhere, sometime, I would like to meet this great crusader, Steven Van Zandt.  I hope that I can, in words, express to him even a little of what his efforts have accomplished in the life of this formerly broken-spirited drummer, and how, in an atmosphere of chaos, he gave me hope.