STEPHEN KELLOGG – ROAD DIARY AT 40

Aquarian Weekly
Feature

11/15/17

STEPHEN KELLOGG – ROAD DIARY AT 40
Songwriter Marks Time Making Timeless Music

Gonna be a good friend
Gonna be a family guy
Gonna pour my heart out
Till the day after I die
And when I am an angel
Looking for a landing
Gonna be the last man standing

– Stephen Kellogg, “Last Man Standing”

“Hang on, man, I got to pull over.”

Talking to singer/songwriter, Stephen Kellogg as he works his way up the Hutchinson Parkway from New York City through Connecticut. “Wait…there’s a parking lot off this exit,” he earnestly reports. His cell phone is scrambling his sentences. Missing them could be dangerous. You see, Kellogg can be downright quotable when on the road, as his new record, Tour De Forty: Greatest Hits (So Far) Live will attest. It is a musical diary of sorts that captures his recent TD40 tour, which transformed the notable occasion of his turning 40 into a traveling review of his life in song. It also introduces new material that duly reflects this milestone while breathing new life into fan favorites.

“I always feel as though I’m singing to my contemporaries and singing to my peers and singing to people who are living through experiences like my own,” he says, as the engine hums along beneath him. “It feels like, ‘Hey, if you’re anything like me, here is a soundtrack for you.’”

Kellogg is bringing his soundtrack to the Bowery Ballroom this week to complete this year-long journey looking back and peering ahead. “This particular show will be a celebration,” he says, as it will also mark the official release of Tour De Forty. “I got some special guests sitting in, but it’s not a nostalgia show. It’s more like ‘Hey, we’re all still here everybody!’”

Kellogg sounds like a content man, who has happened upon a place he can now fully comprehend. As pulls his car off the road into “some sort of Mastercard headquarters” in Harrison, New York to get a clearer signal, I admit to him that it may be the first time I’ve literally interviewed a traveling musician talking about the road while he’s on the road.

He laughs knowingly; “I like to keep it real.”

And that makes sense too. Listening to Stephen Kellogg’s songs can get you back to “the real” with concussive rapidity. Each is an exercise in stripping away all the sheen that can sometimes be white noise to a composer. Artifice is something Kellogg cannot fathom. Listen to the first two minutes of “Open Heart”, which begins the new record; a probing ballad about being inspired to inspire, to pass on the fruits of the song; to live it and then tell it. And Kellogg is nothing if not a storyteller. He works from experience and sees the universal in the personal and uses inner dialogue as pronouncement.

“These songs hound me and they force me to ask, ‘What cosmic place am I…?’, he says. “And if I don’t write them down, don’t somehow share them, get them out, then they just follow me around and kick at my door and I start to feel so much that it becomes overwhelming.”

You can tell right away, Kellogg loves to talk about art as communication – between the muse and his mind; how it goes from there into the hands and through the guitar and out into the ether where the audience absorbs it and brings it back to him ten-fold. And this is where his traveling the nation over the past year has created a new beginning for him, while simultaneously wrapping up a profound chapter. You know, the storyteller thing again.

If you have a calling then you had better live it out, otherwise if you don’t it’s going to be a very frustrating existence.

Speaking of which, I first met Stephen in New York City while working with Counting Crows’ front man and songwriter, Adam Duritz on my current book project, to which Kellogg began picking my brain on his own attempt at penning a memoir of the road. “Counting Crows were always the blueprint of something I felt I could actually do,” he told me. “I always thought, ‘This makes sense to me. I can see how it works. I understand where that comes from.’ I cannot under estimate the importance of the Counting Crows to me personally.” And although he admitted to the difficulties of using his poetic muscles to tackle prose that night, one has to marvel at his dedication to communicate once again. It has indeed been an interesting run for him, as Tour De Forty dutifully documents. From the infectious “Fourth of July” to the sheer vulnerability of “Almost Woke You Up” to the sensuality in “Gravity” to the episodic grandeur of “Thanksgiving Day”, this is Stephen Kellogg as Homer setting sail.

“I thought maybe I would just start sharing more and more and more in an effort to really show people behind-the-curtain, so they could understand hopefully themselves and what they’re going through even more,” he says. “Sometimes I go out solo and I share a lot of stories and I talk about crazy shit my kids say and all that, but I know from being 40 myself that sometimes you just want to go out and you want to feel music that is meant to rock you and you want to remember that you’re still young. When I go a concert that’s what I’m looking for now. I want to sing along. I want to feel like, “Yeah! It’s okay to be 40! This is great!”

That is three times now that Kellogg has said “feel” as if he it was something tangible, like currency or a neatly packed gift, all ribbons and bows.

Here’s what you need to know about Stephen Kellogg, husband of his high school sweetheart, Kirsten, and father of four girls, Sophia, 12, Adeline 10, Noelle, six and Greta, five; he fronted a rock and roll band called the Sixers for eleven years and found himself a solo artist in 2012 with seven albums and thousands of fans in the rearview mirror. He had to get back up and re-invent himself and begin to examine his craft in a new way. “That was a rough period for me,” he remembers. “The Sixers were very much my Heartbreakers, my Crazy Horse. It was always my vision, but we were a band and we played like a band and we made a lot of those decisions together and then in this one year that goes away and you’re 35, which is still very young in the macro sense, but you’re also not a kid anymore and you say, ‘Damn… what happens now?”

What happened is Kellogg kept writing songs; some country, some folk, others rock and still others with a pop or Indie flavor. All of these styles ended up together on his last studio album, South, West, North, East, released in 2016 after being recorded in those four regions of the U.S.A.

“I gave myself permission to not have to always choose a lane because people want you to,” he says. “This way I got to be all the things that I actually am but it didn’t feel disorganized and jumbled because that was the whole concept of the record. South I did in Nashville, and that’s kind of the Southern rock part. West I did in Boulder, Colorado, and that’s more of the folk element. North I did in Woodstock, New York, and that was a little more of the Indie rock thing, and then East was a little bit of the pop thing and I did that in Washington, DC. Then I ended up calling the touring band South West North East, because I wanted some way to signal that this was a band effort and not a solo acoustic type thing.”

And that is where Stephen Kellogg feels most comfortable; at the intersection of the American invention; re-invention. The second act F. Scott Fitzgerald said could not be. But we so love the man who does not lie down on his sword at the first sign of adversity. The comeback is our shiny city on the hill, our better angels, our little pink house.

Of course none of this matters when a man sings, “If heaven and family and children / Are what’s left of the race that I ran / Then I’ll quietly slip to the slumbering peace / Of the sleep of a satisfied man” from another song included on Tour De Forty, “Satisfied Man”, arguably the most articulate expression of the significance of love and fatherhood and growing into one’s self as you could possibly hope to hear. You would not be blamed for thinking that comebacks only happen to those already not where they need to be, but that is far from Stephen Kellogg.

“I have kids that I love and adore and a wife I’m still crazy about after twenty-four years,” he says. “But I continue to do what I do because if you have a calling then you had better live it out, otherwise if you don’t it’s going to be a very frustrating existence.”

In filmmaker, Peter Harding’s short, Last Man Standing, which went on to become an Amazon exclusive film last year, Kellogg is seen both at home and on the road, and although his personality remains constant – upbeat, preternaturally hopeful and always philosophical – there is something that overcomes him there. And you get the feeling watching it that it is home where these songs come from, if not composed in repose, at least conceived, imagined and expressed. He brings his home into the art and the songs onto the road.

“I am taking a certain world view and message out into the world and trying to do some good with it,” he says, when I bring up the delicate balance of the road and family. “I feel very much called to share this message of letting people know they are not alone and this idea of forgiveness and perseverance and things like that that have been big themes in my own life.”

And this returns us to the aforementioned elegiac “Thanksgiving Day”, which sounds like a long handwritten letter in the age of emails and texts, with building stanzas deeply reflective of what this year has meant to Kellogg. This weird young man’s legacy to the maddening pursuit of art as memory and foresight. He sings in its opening verse; “The trees were blowing in the breeze all high above my head / When a cavalcade of memories appeared to me in words I wished I’d said / From that point on a song stayed in my thoughts most of the time / But when I tried to sing it out loud it would always leave my mind / Like the things you know are true, but never can explain when you get asked / A melody floating just within your grasp…”

“What has allowed me to be sort of an optimistic person and have a generally bright and happy life has been my ability to write the melancholy down and to share and to explore what’s causing that and where it’s coming from,” insists Kellogg. “And the same is true of other emotions, not just melancholia, but joy and anger is a big one for me. I feel so much anger, but by writing it down it has allowed me to not be an angry person.”

All these feelings, all these songs, all the miles down the road and many more to go; Stephen Kellogg is finishing up one journey in New York City on Thanksgiving weekend; a place where the song and the road can indeed become one. “We’ll play some football during the day and then go do a couple of shows that weekend and whenever possible I like to do New York City, because it’s the best. You know?”

Then he bids me ado, pulling out of that parking lot and heading back on the road…going home.

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THOMAS EARL PETTY – 1950 – 2017

Aquarian Weekly
10/11/17

Cover Tribute

James Campion

THOMAS EARL PETTY – 1950 – 2017

Comedian Marc Maron has a bit in his most recent Netflix special in which he struggles with bridging the gap between Trump voters and Trump haters which centers on the universal appeal of Tom Petty. “People who voted for Trump are just like you, man,’ the character in Maron’s piece argues. “We all listen to Tom Petty…” It was Maron’s way of saying that despite great divides Tom Petty is our American connection. Well, of course, who doesn’t love Tom Petty? This immediately came to mind when word of Petty’s death at age 66 from cardiac arrest came down this week. Of course, I’d imagine that there are probably a few people out there, maybe you, that don’t “love” Tom Petty, but at the very least there doesn’t appear to be much if any disdain there. Sure, I’ve been confronted by a few contrarians who can wax poetic about how the Beatles are overrated or what is wrong with the Rolling Stones or why Michael Jackson fails at this and that and on and on. Somehow Tom Petty escapes this.

How is this possible?

Beloved is a tough chore in entertainment, especially for rock and roll, and specifically for four decades, as Petty and his indestructible band the Heartbreakers recently celebrated with a six-month tour that ended mere days before Petty collapsed and never recovered. Tom Petty seemed to just go on being loved, until the end.

For this, I have a few theories.

Firstly, and most importantly, Tom Petty is one of the great American songwriters of the latter part of the twentieth century; working in all of the genres that make it universal; rock and roll, country, folk, blues, (he even occasionally dabbled in funk and punk when feeling frisky). Not that any of the artists mentioned above failed to do so, but there was something about Petty that swerved around pretention or artifice or marketing or promotion or all the things that plague any act that becomes a household name. You got the feeling when listening to Petty’s songs that he wrote them to make himself happy or say something to himself and if you could share in this experience that’s great. Otherwise, have a nice day.

This also spread to his complete inability to get political, something the purported voice of his generation, Bruce Springsteen has done repeatedly, in both ideology and comportment. And while Springsteen arguably wrote some of the most striking inner-dialogue personality songs of his era, his penchant to expand his voice to that of the “everyman” made him too universal. Petty did not play in that sandbox. He built his own, thank you very much. And again, if you dug it, great, if not, well…have a nice day.

And speaking of songs; anyone who has tried their hand at laying melodies over chord progressions and trying to get the words to rhyme in all the right places totally gets Tom Petty. There is no “figuring” with these gems. And that is not to say they were not as complex or deep as say some of his contemporaries who were lauded as such; Tom Waits, Jackson Browne or Randy Newman, but listen to Petty’s very first hit, “Breakdown”, a strangely arranged but simply compiled little ditty that has more atmosphere and attitude than most of what was going on at the time. It doesn’t rush to curry your favor and it doesn’t even bother to hang a hook on you with the vocal, it’s the damn guitar line that makes you hum and leaves you with a slow, sexy fade. It’s simple, but not really.

This is another reason why everyone loved Tom Petty; he did not try and reinvent the wheel. Petty understood something given to him by Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers and the Byrds and the Beatles and Dylan and Sam Cooke and Muddy Waters; it’s all in the foundation. There is no sense fucking with a good thing, and this is evident every time you listen to a Tom Petty song, especially the earlier band-oriented work that seems to come from so many familiar corners of your musical taste buds you think you’ve eaten every sandwich conceived by man. “Free Fallin”, perhaps his most hummable tune, captures this marvelously. Although to be fair so does “The Waiting”, “American Girl”, “Even the Losers”, you get the point.

Petty was indeed a musical short-order cook with the genius of a top-shelf chef, he could make you taste the backbeat of Gene Krupa and the wit of Jimmy Reed and spice of Keith Richards and the pain of Billie Holiday and the anger of Johnny Rotten and the pathos of Johnny Ray and the tender mercy of George Jones and the spit and vigor of Robert Johnson. And he did this in usually three to four minutes…tops. Put some brass on there, sure. Sweep in some Hammond and toss in a harmonica and sprinkle in the background singers and a smattering of riffs and you get it, right away.

Tom Petty made songs that spoke to you and made you tap your feet and recognize their lineage without effort. Making that happen took finding the best band, and the Heartbreakers were that and more. Some of them went on to play with almost anyone who was anyone – above and beyond backing up Bob Dylan in the 1980s. Benmont Tench is the keyboardist’s keyboardist, and guitarist Mike Campbell became the finest accompanist to the simplicity and ingenuity of Petty’s songwriting method as could possibly be offered. Understanding musical compatibility was a primary instinct for Petty. He famously said, “No one cares how you make it…does it sound good?” I use that one all the time for everything.

Petty was indeed a musical short-order cook with the genius of a top-shelf chef…

In 1985 Petty created, in my estimation, his masterpiece; Southern Accents, a penetratingly honest, excruciatingly tempestuous and exceedingly funny look at his childhood, his roots, his oeuvre and his place in the world. Many will point to his breakthrough 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes, produced by the guy who claims to have invented music, Jimmy Iovine. And while it is chock full of hits (my senior year of High School was plagued by “Refugee”) and a fantastic record, it is only a prelude. Others will cite the 1981 follow-up, Hard Promises, an album so perfectly constructed it seems silly (“Insider” is the height of understated fierceness; a rarely lauded element in rock and roll). I saw Petty for the first time during this tour and he and the band were sublime and the songs, again, were stunning, but it still sounds as if it is leading somewhere. Still others will bring up his monster solo effort, Full Moon Fever from 1989, wherein he reinvented the idea of the aging rock star and made it super cool to edge into middle age and not simply choose between Neil Young’s burning out or fading away (almost every time I’m privy to an electric guitar my hands I cannot help but move in the direction of the opening riff to “Runnin’ Down a Dream”). But that never happens without Southern Accents.

If I do nothing else with this tribute to the beloved Tom Petty I hope to get everyone to listen to the eerie pulse of that album’s opening song, “Rebels” just once, as it brings you deeper into Petty’s psyche, something he rarely did with such fervor. It ended up making him crazy and pushed the limits of his band, but it accomplished something none of his other albums did; it defined him. When I first heard it the day it arrived in the record store where I worked I could not stop listening to it. It helps to unfold this airtight narrative of a man in search of the search. It was as if the magician was letting you peak into how that rabbit got in the hat. For just a second, but then turn away because here comes “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, which may be my favorite non-Prince / non-R.E.M. / non-U2 song of the decade. This needs its own celebratory piece that I am not about to dive into here.

But I digress from my letting you know why Tom Petty was so queerly beloved.

The main thing may be that Petty was a big enough, rebellious enough, cool enough rock star not to fall into any of its clichés. He did not have a rock star wife. He did not make a rock star spectacle of himself. He did not flaunt it or piss on it or sell it to the highest bidder. The most decadent thing he may have done was punch a wall and shatter all the bones in his chording hand during the making of the aforementioned Southern Accents. Doctors said he was through playing guitar. He wasn’t. Pretty cool. He also took on record companies who wanted to out-price his competitors when the Heartbreakers were the hottest commodity in the biz and won. Very cool. And one time he put a lyric about rolling a joint in a single (“You Don’t Know How It Feels”), which MTV and the radio garbled to save us from ourselves. Super cool. Even when someone did something otherworldly around him, like the oft-viewed video of Prince going off on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, there’s Tom just grooving along and singing the song as if he just rolled out of bed to lean into the microphone. Damn cool.

Really, I think, that is what made Tom Petty so endearing. He eased into it and never took it for granted, like how we all want to approach something we love, that we find we’re good at and are glad we can do, because it simply makes life worth living. It is what we would do if we could do it, which Tom Petty always seemed to be saying to me in song. And because he was such a seminal songwriter it is what he leaves behind; a legacy of fine, pure, relatable music that he shared. And if you’re into it, cool, otherwise, you know…have a nice day.

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LOVE…TO…TURN…YOU…ON

Aquarian Weekly
5/31/17

COVER PIECE

James Campion

LOVE…TO…TURN…YOU…ON
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at 50

It was fifty years ago today…

June 1, 1967, to be exact; the day the cultural axis of the Western hemisphere is altered by a singular artistic event. The Beatles, the most celebrated, imitated and dissected entertainers on the planet, release their eighth studio album.

It is true that anything released by The Beatles is a momentous event, especially an album, which used to mean a bunch of desperate songs thrown together for forty or so minutes around one hit single to wrest money from impressionable teenagers. The Beatles turned it into a cohesive collection of musical and lyrical insights into the artists and their times. However, this one is made far more significant due to four (as in Fab Four) key elements that will indelibly mark its dramatic impact and widespread influence; timing, arrogance, creativity and grandeur. It is those ingredients that make Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band unquestionably the most important aural, visual, and especially cultural rock…ahem…artistic statement of its time.

In the decades that follow June 1, 1967, Sgt. Pepper’s will be heralded, with very little protest, as the greatest artistic endeavor of the twentieth century. Enough of this hyperbole eventually results in a serious backlash of “highly overrated” and for a time it is hardly considered even The Beatles best work, just the fawning reverberation of sophistic Baby Boomer miasma. Yeah, enough of goddamn Sgt. Peppers, what about..?

Yet what is missed by those who insist on Top Lists and the unofficial results of critical bar stool geek spats is the historical space the album carved for itself above and beyond the music found therein or the musicians who wrote, performed, produced and released it. Simply put, after Sgt. Pepper’s what once existed in the art form and its genre could no longer do so without acknowledging it. So incredibly dense and concussive was its force and meaning it would spawn an entire age of replication, homage and satire. It would place interior dialog, social commentary, psychedelic hippie fashion, Indian spirituality, and a mash-up of generational call-to-arms meets mind-altering self-expression into to-do list for poets, musicians, performance artists, painters, graphic designers…(gasp for breath) and such and so forth for evermore.

And it is especially important to remember that unlike other seismic shifts in, say, literature, Moby Dick, or film, Citizen Kane; both considered horrendous failures upon their release but are now accepted as signature expressions of their art forms, there would be no gradual recognition of this fact. It happens on June 1, 1967. The day Sgt. Pepper’s made the world anew.

Timing

Like its birth in the opening years of the 1960s, a magical, turbulent, youth-infused era of revolution, experimentation and liberation, and its arrival in America, smack in the middle of the century it dominated, The Beatles instinct to capture the moment is unparalleled.

Consider that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band arrives ten months after the band plays live for the last time, closing the book on an unparalleled level of global mania to begin an unprecedented era for a performing act to, well, not have an act, but instead retreat into art for art’s sake; no more showbiz in the showbiz – no more mop tops, fancy boots, matching suits, screaming girls, Ed Sullivan, Shea Stadium, Hollywood Bowl, Queen’s Command Performance. For the first time in popular music it will be the music and its packaged presentation that becomes the impetus, execution and result.

In those months away, the band would exhale from its achievements over the past three years of miraculous popularity and creative evolution, the evidence of which is found on their previous two albums, Rubber Soul and Revolver that explored maturation and alienation, spirituality and drug-induced mind expansion sending musicologists to the thesaurus and contemporaries like The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys to the woodshed. Every rock artist (the roll part would be discarded as some middling kiddie form in the wake of the new guideposts The Beatles had built) would be shaken to the core. All of them almost immediately began experimenting frantically to keep up. Beach Boys Svengali, Brian Wilson would infamously descend into near madness creating a masterwork he called Pet Sounds, which then made dizzy the two main composers in The Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

By late 1966, McCartney is immersed in London’s growing avant-garde underground, while Lennon is entranced by a portentous Japanese performance artist, and lead guitarist, George Harrison is lost in the hills of East Bengal and its hypnotizing Hindustani rhythms. While for his part drummer, Ringo Starr is just happy being Ringo Starr, they had all moved swiftly from marijuana to LSD to escape the crushing effects of celebrity and become creative individualists; helping them come to grips with the emerging world bazaar of like-minded egalitarian hedonists they’ve inspired.

The time has come to distill this into an imprint, and with the coming year of war, assassination, and indistinct revolution, it would be a welcomed moment frozen in time.

Arrogance

The entire Beatles universe squeezes into Studio B of EMI’s Abbey Road complex in the form of six supremely talented and motivated men at the peak of their abilities.

John and Paul, whose prolific compositions continue to soar beyond scope, George, whose own songs have found transport in their comet’s tail, the dutiful and wholly underrated drummer, Ringo, the band’s producer and musical Sherpa, George Martin, and an instinctual sonic worker-bee engineer, Geoff Emerick fill the magnetic strips of the Studer J37 four-track reel-to-reel with sounds never before heard. And I write that with no trepidation, as I defy anyone to find anything that sonically resembles the spastic calliope tape-looped instrumental break in Lennon’s “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” or the sitar/orchestral call-and-response in Harrison’s “Within You Without You”. The eradication of monetary, time-frame or creative parameters means that no one can stop The Beatles but themselves.

Freed from the hindrance of having four instruments present their vision on stage, they deem the whole Beatles thing too narrow a framework from which to work. They will be something else, literally and figuratively. The alter-ego of Sgt. Pepper and his band (complete with uniforms and fictional characters like Billy Shears and Lucy in the sky with her diamonds, the voices of troubled parents and the drone of chanting mystics), which comes with an introductory theme song in case you were expecting something else, allows them to be anything they wish.

The transformation begins with musical memoirs. “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”, which share their humble beginnings draped in psychedelic notions. Every heroic epic needs an origin story, and this ground-breaking double-A side single would act as precursor for the Pepper experience with its eerie Meletron openings and Bach trumpets, boldly declaring “behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout” that “nothing is real”.

Its spectacular success, supported visually by promotional films (perhaps the first ever music videos) reveal the band’s new look – facial hair and vivid clothing with long coats and flowing scarves – obliterating the monochromatic ensemble that conquered the planet and replacing it with trippy avatars that provide the group free reign to turn the studio into both palette and stage.

It took The Beatles ten hours to record their first album. It would take 700 hours over six months to bring Sgt. Pepper and his band of lonely hearts to life.

One wonders if something from 1917 had remotely mattered as much on June 1, 1967.

Creativity

It opens with the tuning of a quaint orchestra beneath the murmur of an expectant crowd and ends in an apocalyptic hum. Along the way there are stops on a river with tangerine trees under marmalade skies, a traveling carnival, and a glimpse through the walls of illusion; penetratingly illuminating slices of life as seen by extraordinary commentators – a little girl who runs away from home, a young man ruminating on love in advancing age, an insecure soul whose machismo has kept him from true happiness, and still another who witnesses a fatal car accident that somehow makes him laugh.

On Sgt. Pepper’s The Beatles will introduce thematic cohesion (concept album, anyone?) to pop music. A song cycle that connects exploration to an understanding of humanity through the use of global instrumentation and sophisticated melodies that soar above the drudgery of their subjects’ loneliness, confusion and insecurity with an eye (and ear) aimed at a higher meaning; achieved, by the way, in merely 39 minutes and 52 seconds of listening. Not bad for an epic.

According to both Emerick and Martin in their memoirs – Martin would pen a detailed account forty years later and tour his lecture, “The Making of Sgt. Pepper’s” in 1999 that I would attend at New York’s prestigious Town Hall with my long-time friend and colleague, Chris Barrera in which he plays naked tracks and duly explains the team’s numerous intricate recording techniques – the mission for Sgt. Pepper’s is to push every possible boundary; technically, lyrically, and, of course, musically. It is, in the end, the sound of the album that shakes the foundation of the rock esthetic. It is also crucial that the songs will have little to no breaks between them; they flow, as if a singular statement. Thus, The Beatles achieve a soundtrack worthy of the demigods they’ve become – bigger than Jesus and all that – signaling not only The Summer of Love but a road map for Prog Rock that will dominate the next decade.

It seems redundant to list the songs again, but suffice it to say, whenever you listen to Sgt. Pepper’s, no matter how many times you may have already done so there is still something at which to marvel. For me it is always “A Day in the Life”; a remarkable feat of songwriting (Lennon being Lennon in his detached surrealism while McCartney is soooo melodiously McCartney), performance, (this may be the finest effort of expressive rock drumming ever), production (the reverb on Lennon’s voice alone set against the sheen of the acoustic guitar and the percussive piano flourishes is enough to induce chills, but the dissonant orchestral crescendos…come on!), and mood (a central dynamic for the entire album). Sgt. Pepper’s forever sets the standard for a great album; a memorable opening to an engaging final song of Side One (remember sides, kids?), a stark open to Side Two, and a startling coda.

The first time I would hear Sgt. Pepper’s in its entirety, as intended, was at around ten pm on June 1, 1977 on its tenth anniversary. New York’s rock station, WPLJ or maybe it was WNEW, played it at the top of the hour all evening. I caught the last playing. For the first time (even with all the music I had heard up to that point, most of it sparked by The Beatles) lying in bed with tightly snug headphones I could see this music, not just listen to it. It was like a great film that I could relive in my head. In other words, I think I got it.

Grandeur

Everyone gets it. Well, nearly everyone. There is some bitching from the odd reviewer who thinks this is all a bit much. This again recounts Sgt. Pepper’s greatest achievement; it hits the ground running.

Much of it thanks to its design; the first album to print the lyrics, the band dressed in their Pepper military garb, and the colors, ooh-boy, the colors. The cover, art-directed by Swingin’ London trend-setter, Robert Fraser and photographed by the omnipresent Michael Cooper, is not merely iconic; it literally celebrates the concept of iconicity. The Beatles surrounded by their heroes, the faces of the century, artists and athletes and dignitaries and characters, even their own wax figures. It is hard to imagine the impact of this until you spend a little time perusing album covers of the day; it is like Dorothy wandering out of her Kansas black and white into Oz. It is three-dimensional sensory overload.

The release comes with communal overtones. For the first time labels in both the UK and America launch a Beatles album at the same time (June 2 in the States), with no difference in the track listing, alternate titles or covers. Suddenly it is Sgt. Pepper’s. Period. Right now. The sights and sounds of something new and exciting. Fans and other artists play it simultaneously through open windows, blasting it over rooftops and into the streets while pouring over the lyrics and singing along to the infectious tunes; “I get high with a little help from my friends!” – “It’s getting better all the time (It can’t get no worse!)!” – “Lucy in the sky with diamonds!”

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band debuts in the UK at number one – where it solidly remains for 22 consecutive weeks – selling 250,000 copies during the first seven days. Soon it would eclipse everything that came before it in terms of sales and impact (Beatles or otherwise). It will sell nearly three million by year’s end in the U.S. and eventually top 11 million. On June 6, Jimi Hendrix, who has exploded onto the British music scene, opens a concert with the title track as The Beatles and seemingly the whole of the hip, young, tuned-in glitterati look on. It is a triumph, an alchemic achievement in art, fashion, music, influence, statement, and homage. And it will not have to wait to be understood as such. It is immediate, like a storm. More like an eclipse.

Legacy

Sgt. Pepper’s becomes something like the ’27 Yankees; so uniquely magnificent it is used as a demarcation of sorts, as in, “It’s not like it’s Sgt. Pepper’s or anything” or the obligatory “this is Michael Jackson’s Sgt. Pepper’s”. It would make the record album so important it would render the single release to merely a prelude. It would cement rock music as an indelible link to the other musical movements of centuries past. It would refine the entire culture into a single resonant day. And it would begin to erode the band that made it happen.

On May 19, Beatles manager, Brian Epstein hosts a release party packed with the beautiful people, hangers-on and journalists, as the album blasts forth stunning everyone. John, Paul, George and Ringo arrive decked out in their 1967 best; psychedelic ties and fur coats and ruffled shirts amidst an absurd shower of balloons and confetti as fancy drugs and drink flow. Paul meets American photographer, Linda Eastman, whom he would marry in due time and announce in the British press that he is dissolving the group in a torrent of lawsuits. Before this, John would disappear into Yoko Ono and reduce The Beatles to some kind of existential prison. George trades the trappings of fame for Eastern philosophy. Ringo keeps being Ringo.

Before the end of the year they would lose their beloved manager, Brian Epstein (apparent drug overdose), produce their first flop, the opaque Magical Mystery Tour film, follow a lascivious mystic, put out a series of solo efforts crammed into a double album that inspires ritualistic murders, and before imploding, play an afternoon concert on a roof of their offices that is shut down by police. They would still make some pretty damn great music, but it appears that Sgt. Pepper’s would not only be The Beatles’ apex, it is their swansong – at least in terms of solidarity between its members, its support group and its fans, all of which on June 1, 1967 figured it would go on like this infinitely.

After all “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is more than a seminal Beatles album or the creative height for the rock and roll elite; it is a pristinely captured moment of hope. This, above all, is why it matters 50 years hence. One wonders if something from 1917 had remotely mattered as much on June 1, 1967.

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CHARLES EDWARD ANDERSON “CHUCK” BERRY – 1926 – 2017

Aquarian Weekly
3/29/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

CHARLES EDWARD ANDERSON “CHUCK” BERRY – 1926 – 2017

E=Mc2 – Albert Einstein

Rock and Roll – Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry invented rock and roll.

Whatever it was before him, some analogous, coagulated pre-form that would come to be known as rock and roll, is ultimately irrelevant in the hands of Chuck Berry, because as a cultural, iconic, lyrical, American force, what happens in, say, the first thirty seconds of “Johnny B. Goode”, is the very foundation for all that came after it. Six decades of a genre, a movement, a youth zeitgeist fused together in volume, rhythm, sex, greed, freedom, slashed together in 1955 and wood-shedded along the Chitlin’ Circuit through Jim Crow and out the American Bandstand tiny mono speakers and flickering black and white televisions in 1958 has had some legs. Duck-walk, two-string bending, riff-laden rapper delight is a celebration of all things. It is, he is, the symbol of that most cherished American institution; excess.

Yes, Virginia, there is no Aquarian Weekly or Rolling Stone or certainly no Rolling Stones or The Beatles or The Beach Boys or The Velvet Underground or Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix or AC/DC or MTV or The Sex Pistols or Madonna or Jam Master Flash or Beyoncé or whatever the hell is smoldering in some garage somewhere around your corner without Chuck Berry. The thread leads back to the further reaches of lurid New Orleans brothels and the primordial sweat of Mobile swill and the smoky whiskey-stench of a Chicago South Side juke joint, but it really begins in a shape that forms this thing, this huge, unstoppable thing; filled with rebellion and seduction and speed and drugs and death and rebirth and subversive poetic fashion rebuke in the slender, dark, smooth tones of a Chuck Berry song.

Elvis Presley wanted to be black, and those who were not black got that. Mostly. And those who didn’t were fooling themselves. This is all you need to know about the import of the purported King of Rock and Roll. You see, Chuck Berry had no interest in being white, but he was interested in their ears and eyeballs and their greenbacks and he knew how to get in there, like a generational virus. And he did not need Ed Sullivan or the Colonel or some ostentatious Memphis mansion between Bluebird and Craft to prove it. This is what the twelve-bar, I-IV-V, four-on-the-floor fat-back boogie woogie shuffle gets you. It’s a fever, man, and it spreads.

There can be a strong case that none of it has not improved a whit from the moment it emerged came from those amplifiers when Chuck Berry got the screaming Gibson hollow-body ES-335 turned up, a piece of eminent machinery built by some enterprising guitar engineer that could not have imagined what the hell he had wrought.

If he is known for nothing else, Charles Edward Anderson Berry was an alchemist. He transformed Mississippi mud-water and mid-west exhaust-pipe fumes into gold. Grits and burgers, bobby socks and pig-tails, souped-up engines and Army jocks and testosterone fist-fight, slick-talking pool hall jail-cats and apple pie, baseball, corner-store egg-cream slicksters dr-rrrrroppin’ the coin right into the slot. Hail, hail, little sweet sixteen, the middle class pimple-faces are taking over and it’s time to give them a lesson in the street-walk jive. Make no mistake, Chuck Berry was first and foremost a capitalist; his rise to fame and his individualist nature along with an uncompromising attitude permeated his life and his art reeked of it.

Chuck Berry became in many ways both the figure and bane of the American edict; his subversion of the button-down, conservative 1950s and its bursting sexual rage of rock and roll eased neatly into one of the most profitable, conglomerate showbiz industries known to the Western world. You could not undo Chuck Berry. He made damn sure you could never go back. It was his little invention that made the American way the choice over every other way, as it also assisted greatly in dismantling its hypocrisies.

Berry was deeply and richly mid-America, like the car and the microwave and the step one-two-three soldier boy after the second war to end all wars. Born in St. Louis, Missouri as a blues trope – the fourth child out of six; you make up the rhyme if you wish. He grew up in the snooze of the kind of mass wealth that is accumulated when you stomp the conquerors of Europe and carve the world up for amusement. His daddy was a builder and a Baptist deacon, who could preach about concrete and Jesus and his mamma, a school principal, was smart and beautiful, and took shit from no man.

It was when he may have heard those scratchy J& M 78’s of Caledonia Inn’s Professor Longhair and Fats Domino that he picked up the instrument that would make him the first guitar hero. Right around the same time he was sent to the rather auspicious Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men after a botched car robbery that may or may not have included a gun. He would not botch the guitar. It was far more lethal and lucrative. He would wield it as his weapon of choice for another 70 years, turning an entire movement into his plaything in the process.

The two best things Chuck Berry would ever do would be to join a rhythm and blues outfit called the Jonnie Johnson Trio and then stumble into Muddy Waters, whose acquaintance would lead to his signing with the legendary Chess Records.

Johnson, arguably the finest and certainly the most influential boogie-woogie pianist of the era, provided a stage for Berry to expand on his T-Bone Walker moves; slide, spin, split, and ramble, whilst riffing wildly beneath a torrent of foot stompers. Johnson would also be the template for the songwriter he would become; many of the best of Berry’s work is heard first from the piano, what those who would play with him quizzically understood as those “strange keys”; all flats and sharps that would keep pace with what was first the realm of the 88 keys to salvation. Ain’t no coincidence what is sometimes considered as the first ever rock and roll song, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats set the tempo of the instrument in 1951. Soon to follow would be freaks and madmen such as the likes of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

It was Berry’s unique combination of piano phrasing and the horn riff that he clipped from Louis Jordan’s 1946 romp, “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman (They’ll Do it Every Time)” that provided him a signature guitar intro for nearly all of his rockers, and most famously, the aforementioned “Johnny B. Goode”, which is without question the most recognizable rock and roll song from its inaugural period and covered in more styles of music than almost anything written from the era. Johnson’s contributions to Berry’s work is paramount and helps to better understand his signature beat-turning guitar solos that shift and toss the rhythms inside-out, a device so imitated but never duplicated it is almost criminal.

For his part, Muddy Waters, who had already invented the rock band with his electric Chicago outfit of bass, drums and guitar, would be all that the young guitarist needed to gain the favor of Leonard Chess. In a little room on South Michigan Avenue, Chuck Berry would record a song called “Maybelline”, a thrasher version of some bumpkin ditty he turned into hot-rod metaphor heaven. With all its V8 Ford/Cadillac Coupe DeVille scatting and chug-chug guitar raunch, it is pure Americana and yet it isn’t. It is what would later be attributed to epiphany songs like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “She Loves You” and “When Doves Cry” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that are at once familiar, but on a more primal level come on disturbing in the best sense. “Maybelline” shattered the glass before anyone knew it was there to be shattered.

You could not undo Chuck Berry. He made damn sure you could never go back.

The car/girl thing was Chuck’s raison d’être, and subsequently the very core of the rock and roll ethos. The engine of the nation and the engine of your loins and the engine of the music and the manic state of fury that comes from good times; this is where Chuck Berry splits from the black blues experience. Even in his most famous blues number, “Wee Wee Hours” there is a tenderness not found in the braggadocio or steamy sexual threats that could never have found a place on mainstream radio in 1955. There are no snake-moans or painful yawps associated with anything in his reliably formulaic canon. Joy and youth and a love of fun reached beyond the racism that plagued the nation.

Chuck did something unique; he did not fight or comment on or bludgeon the great racial divide, he ignored it. “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Sweet Little Sixteen”, and “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” obliterate lines and would define the latter half of this decade and the first wave of rock and roll by attracting those who would make it the billion-dollar concept, as it would become in the hands of whiter and in many cases non-American faces.

In the glare of The Beatles, his “Rock and Roll Music”, a clever mashing of musical styles made to bend to Chuck Berry’s will, became a mantra. Lennon and McCartney both understand the inner couplet rhyming of “use it/lose it/music/if you…want to dance with me” that they nicked it for dozens of songs. And in the hands of The Rolling Stones “Round and Round” becomes a sinister caterwaul against insipidness. Watch something truly horrifying as Mom & Pop Lunch Pail sit agape while digesting the Stones on national TV rip their way through that song and usher in the next half-century of satanic debauchery. Watch them use the 1960s to invent the ‘70s while giving us Berry’s 1950s.

Perhaps this lineage can best be described in two seminal Chuck Berry compositions, “You Can’t Catch Me” (1956) and “Back in The U.S.A” (1959); both set a dizzying course from The Beatles “Come Together” to The Beach Boys “Surfin’ U.S.A.” to The Beatles again in “Back in the USSR” to Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper”, which ends up in some circular parody of itself and still out-shines the bunch with lyrical gems like “I put my foot on my tank and I began to roll / Moanin’ siren, ’twas the state patrol / So I let out my wings and then I blew my horn / Bye bye New Jersey, I’ve become airborne.”

By the time this was all happening, and the 1960s happened, and all those bands and their offspring were pouring so much syrup on Chuck’s pancakes you could hardly taste the damn things anymore, Mr. Berry was done. Or sort of done. At least done as an American institution. Or a perceived American institution. As much as an African-American man can be. But he became again the first in a long line of rock and roll miscreants, outlaws, and nose-thumbers.

The lore goes like this; at the end of the 1950s, before all the noise from England when the pop charts were thrust into an opaque dissonance of Pat Boone blahs, the second most important singer/songwriter of the first rock and roll wave, Buddy Holly died in an airplane crash, Little Richard became a preacher, Jerry Lee Lewis went off and did the Southern thing and married his 13 year-old cousin, and Elvis went into the army. Chuck Berry, as a prelude to the coming decades of anti-social, anti-authoritarian acts, went to jail.

The official records state he made a mockery of the Mann Act, when he allegedly had sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old Apache waitress, whom he then transported across state lines to work as a hatcheck girl at his club. After several appeals on the grounds that (clear thy throat) the judge’s comments and attitude were racist and prejudiced the jury against him, he went to prison for 17 months.

For all intents and purposes that would be the end of the glory years for the man who gave us the music, the guitar hero, the outlaw rocker, and the mantra-poet that everyone from Dylan to Nas has since liberally borrowed.

But, of course, Chuck Berry would hear of none of it. He toured and toured and did more touring, in caravans and festivals and by himself, grabbing only his guitar and a hat and coat and meeting reverentially confused young musicians along the way from Bruce Springsteen to Keith Richards to my dear friend and once band-mate, Barry Geller. And for good measure as last resort to piss off and endear all at once, he oddly had his only #1 record in 1973 with a double-entendre tour-de-force called “My Ding-a-Ling”, which you needn’t be Fellini to deconstruct.

What followed were, to put it mildly, “the mean years” in which “dealing” with Chuck Berry became something of a Herculean chore; whether promoters or musicians, the press, the fans, whomever. For a great example of his prickly-to-outright-bitchy demeanor check out the 1987 tribute concert film, Hail, Hail Rock and Roll which illustrates clearly that this is a man who trusted no one and listened to less. The aforementioned Keith Richards, who looked at Berry as nothing less than a messiah, spends the entire journey from rehearsals through the show fighting with him. This makes perfect sense since Keith’s best feature, beyond commandeering the guitar and staying alive, is social combat. The first time these two met Berry punched him in the face.

I can say, for my part, I have played and sung Chuck Berry songs my entire adult life and enjoyed every note and syllable, and for some time, in the 1980s – during which in a one-year span early in that decade I would see both Chuck and Muddy perform on separate occasions – I would make it a prerequisite that anyone worth his weight had to at least get through one of those tunes to make the grade.

The very DNA of this thing that has enchanted me viscerally and intellectually for my entire life begins and in many ways ends with Chuck Berry.

He may not have invented freedom and rebellion and seduction and mischief and rollicking fun, but he distilled it into a goddamned raucous art form.

Good work, if you can get it.

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VIEWS FROM THE ROAD: THE ADAM DURITZ INTERVIEW

Buzz Feature
8/9/16

James Campion

VIEWS FROM THE ROAD: THE ADAM DURITZ INTERVIEW
Counting Crows Frontman Reveals the Band’s Unique Performing Secrets, His Love of Creative Spontaneity, and Remembers David Bowie and Prince

Over the past eight years now Adam Duritz and I have spent some quality time just talking; much of it has ended up in this paper. Each time Counting Crows comes into town, which is quite a bit, we chat. And each time it is engaging, informative, intimate, and analytical. In all my years doing this I have rarely found a more insightfully honest subject.

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This time is no different, as the band readies another swing around the U.S. this summer; a perfect opportunity for Duritz to share his views on his organically emotional live performances, playing with Springsteen, the passing of David Bowie and Prince, and “normal” life versus that of “the road”.

jc:A Counting Crows show always features unique versions of your songs, as the band often follows your lead on stage, which always appears to be extemporaneous. You get into an emotional state and you take a song into different directions, which is remarkable when considering how many musicians you work with.

AD: Oh, yeah. That’s exactly how it happens. The first time you try something it might not be all that good, but as you work it through more and more you get better at finding your way. But they’re good. It would be impossible if we weren’t. Listening is really everything for us. It’s a big thing in our band. It’s like they say about jazz and soul music, it’s more important what you don’t play than what you do play. I would probably phrase that more like, “It’s more important how you listen on stage than what you play on stage,” because no matter how good you are as a player, if you’re not listening to the other guys, it’s a train wreck, especially in a band like ours, where there’s so much improvisation. It’s not like solo improvisation, more like necessary group improvisation. You really have to listen and that’s the thing we really kind of beat into each other’s heads for a long time.

jc:I always get the feeling that you are kind of leading the band down the proverbial rabbit hole, and once the song gets in there, now it can go anywhere.

AD: Yes. It makes it a little dangerous to not listen for me too because people will do things and on top of it, it’s messy. That’s the one thing in our band that everyone will call you out on, just not paying attention. Also a lot of things that may seem like me leading down the rabbit hole, might have been me hearing something cool someone else did that was a small thing, maybe too simple for anyone else to have heard or for the audience to have noticed it, but that might have given me an idea. It’s not like I’m the one coming up with the ideas every time. It probably sounds like it is, but probably a lot of times; it’s someone else doing something kind of cool that I hear and then I start something different and then that’s the part you hear, or the audience hears because it’s a little more obvious when the vocal does it. I suppose I’m the one making the decisions to take everyone down the rabbit hole with me, but I’m often inspired by just something little someone else did – or not so little. Little is the wrong word. Just something cool that someone else did.

jc:That reminds me of your putting “Thunder Road” in the middle of “Rain King,” and I remember you doing it back in ’97 in Jersey and I thought, “This is perfect. It’s a homage to Springsteen.” But then it became part of what you did with the song, and after we did our first interview in 2008 you played that Apple show downtown in Soho and you did it again, but this time it was a different way of utilizing it. When you include a verse or even a chorus of one song, maybe yours, maybe another’s, how predetermined or organic is that idea?

AD: Could be a little of both. It could be an idea that comes while I’m on stage. The “Thunder Road” thing is a perfect example. I just started doing it one day, and granted, “Thunder Road” is one of those songs that without thinking about it we kind of know it from start to finish. It’s so dynamic in the way it builds that you kind of know most of the words. Even if you didn’t bother to learn them, they’re in your head. I was never really in cover bands very much. I never played “Thunder Road” in a band, but I started singing it that day. The first time I did it I only got about a third of the way through. No matter how well you know “Thunder Road” I’m singing it to the music of “Rain King” and that can get confusing.

jc:(Laughs) Right.

AD: You know? The next night I got a little further through it and eventually I put almost the whole thing in there. But it took a few days to do that. And sometimes you just get an idea while you’re singing something, like just a melody from another song will seem really cool in there, but the first time you do it you might not have the focus or the wherewithal to think of that melody in the context of the different song and also remember the words. The funny thing is a lot of times when we remember songs we remember them because of their melodies too, so when you try to sing them over a different song it can make your head spin around a little bit.

jc: How much post mortem do you guys do on that? Do you guys get together after a show and say, “Oh, that one part of ‘fill in the blank’ we went there and I could see it going there”? Is there any way you can verbalize it?

AD: We talk about it a lot, especially in the middle of a show. If I hear something that we keep doing wrong or something, I’ll go to the mike at the back of the stage where I can talk to my monitor guys and my stage manager and I’ll often just give them a note, like, “Can you just tell Charlie this later or tell Immer this about ‘Good Night Elizabeth’?” I will make quick notes, so I don’t forget. We’ll also talk a little bit about it the next night at soundcheck and work on it.

A good example is the Teenage Fanclub song, “Start Again”. We really love playing it and we didn’t stop working on it even two years after the record (Underwater Sunshine – 2007) was already out. I still kept feeling like it didn’t work right. It starts with just an acoustic guitar and then it’s an acoustic guitar and a mandolin, and there’s some piano that comes in and then more vocals and then the twelve string comes in at one point, but all that’s about two thirds of the way through the song, and for the last third of the song I really felt like it was a song we established through dynamics by slowly building things, but nothing happened for the last third of the song. Then we came up with an idea, I guess it was the last chorus of the double-chorus, to drop all the instruments out and have it just be vocals. I think it happened because someone forgot to play something in one show and one of us noticed it and we talked about it the next day and sort of then tried to do it on purpose. So eventually we then kind of came up with a way of doing it where everybody dropped out except the twelve string, which kept playing.

I really wish we had that when we recorded it, but we didn’t. Even though the recorded version is the ultimate version to me, it’s great if you can come up with all that stuff. But sometimes you just don’t, so why not make the song better if you can?

jc: And the happy accidents only happen if you keep playing. There is no way to get a happy accident or something that’s organic like that unless you’re playing all the time and constantly listening, as you say.

AD: And also being willing to see something as not just a mistake, but possibly an improvement; seeing a happy accident as happy as opposed to just an accident. Because the fact is that music is that way, so people do things because of some gut instinct and often that seems like a mistake and it is a mistake, but the jazz of playing together is that you can hear something and it just gives you a different way to look at the song.

Just the same way that my being in a different mood on any given night might cause me to take a song in a different direction, it’s the subtle stuff that takes it to another level. We’re playing every night for twenty-five years, so, like I say, why not keep getting songs better?

It’s more important how you listen on stage than what you play on stage

jc: The last time we spoke it was probably the day after or two days after Robin Williams committed suicide and then I think that when we first spoke about Somewhere Under Wonderland, Lou Reed had passed while you guys were recording it. And since then David Bowie and now Prince have passed. I’m just wondering if you had some thoughts about Bowie’s passing and certainly Prince’s, who is a little bit closer to our generation.

AD: Well, Bowie was really big for me, because I came to Lou Reed probably through Bowie. I think I got to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground and all that music through the experience of Bowie, to Transformer and then backwards to the Velvets, probably with a big dose of R.E.M. covering Velvet songs to push me into that too. I mean, I had probably heard “Walk on The Wild Side” when I was a kid, but I don’t think I really understood Lou Reed until I had really gotten into Bowie. He is really the thing that draws all that together; what a song like “Palisades Park” is especially rooted in. It comes from Bowie and Mick Ronson. I obsessed over Bowie bootlegs when I was younger.

That was hard. That was really weird and upsetting. It seemed so sudden too. You’re not part of their lives, so you don’t realize that they’re sick or something. You don’t really know about it. So it seems like there’s someone you have been with your whole life, and then all of a sudden, it’s just on the news that they’re dead and that’s it. It’s hard to digest that in that way because you don’t really get prepared for it. It’s almost like when people die in accidents. It just happens very suddenly and there’s no prep for it because even though this isn’t that, weren’t not living with the lives of our idols, no matter who they are we don’t really know them that well, so when they do pass away it’s, for us at least, without warning, which is strange.

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jc: When Hunter Thompson died or Kurt Vonnegut died, I looked at it in terms of how many more years do I have left to ply my craft? It put my own mortality into perspective. I don’t know if the same happens to you when an influential musician dies.

AD: The interesting thing for me with Prince, because, you know, when I was a little kid my first concert was Jackson 5, and soul music was a huge part of the American rock and roll experience for white and black people. There was no real division there. But sometime in the ‘70s, and especially in the early ‘80s, it separated again. It was like there was R&B music that black people listened to and some white people, and then there was rock and roll that white people listened to and it wasn’t like when there were bands like Sly and the Family Stone or the Jackson 5 or whoever, where there were just black people who played rock and roll and it was funky and it was still rock and roll. There seemed to be a real racial divide in music. The only person crossing over it was when Michael Jackson put out Thriller, but even that was a little later. I really remember pretty vividly Dirty Mind. The first thing I heard about him was that the Stones were going on a tour and this guy Prince was opening for them.

jc: They threw shit at him and booed him off the stage.

AD: Yeah. That’s what I mean about there being a real separation between white and black music. He got booed off the stage! But I remember hearing “When You Were Mine” and some of the other stuff on Dirty Mind, and thinking, “No man, this is the Ramones. This is like punk music. It’s new wave music.” In the same way in the midst of all the dinosaur progressive rock music that people were playing in the 70s’ the Ramones came along and just put guitars and basses on and played very simple chord patterns and melodies. “When You Were Mine” is just like that. It’s a little cleaner, but it’s just a black guy playing a very melodic rock and roll guitar to a very straight drumbeat and a great melody. That could be a Motown song. It could be a Ramones’ song.

And I remember hearing the rest of the album and how vulgar some of it was and thinking it was kind of cool. I didn’t really start to love him until the next record Controversy, which is way funkier than Dirty Mind. Controversy’s got all these long funky jams on it and it really reminded me of like some of the Earth Wind and Fire, Commodores stuff when I was younger, but with this whole other edge to it, and also was still the new wave stuff like “Ronnie, Talk to Russia.” And I remember thinking at the time, “This guy is Sly Stone. There is no color here. He is a black guy playing music for everybody that draws from everything and he is really different.”

jc: You’ve been off the road for a few months now. How are you feeling about getting back out there again?

AD: I think it will be good to get back on the road. I think this much time at home isn’t really all that healthy for me, honestly. It took me about three or four months to realize I was just sitting around. Not talking to people. Not seeing people. I was so relieved to get home in a way that all I did was sit here in my room. Then I started going to the gym again, started working out, and started talking to people and getting out of the house. But I get in such bad habits when I get home after awhile. I’ve been trying to like cure myself of them recently, but it will be good to be on the road again. Not so much for the touring but just because it’s a real community. It’s a family. You’re forced to be social every day, because you’re simply around people every day and that’s good for me.

jc: So you’re going to Europe first and then you come back here?

AD: Yeah. Between the European tours last year I went over to Europe with our tour manager and our manager and I called up a bunch of promoters and we asked to meet with promoters in different countries and apparently no one had ever done this with them before, because the agent comes and talks to them and people talk to their agents, but no one had ever traveled around talking to different promoters. I went to all these promoters in all these different countries and I said, “Look. I really like coming here and I understand that you only get us like once in a while and it’s kind of like whenever we’re coming, and so it may or may not be a good time for you, but do we build Counting Crows in Italy or how do we build Counting Crows in Holland? I really liked Claudio, the promoter over in Italy. He was talking and said, “I’ve got some ideas for gigs, but would also be good is you should open for Springsteen.” And I said, “Well, Claudio, Springsteen doesn’t have openers.” He goes, “I know, but he did it for me once over here. I think he would do it for me again for you.” I was like, “Okay, well…whatever; that doesn’t sound like the most promising idea I’ve ever heard.” But then Claudio called and he said, “I got Springsteen touring in Italy this summer. I want you to play with him at the Circus Maximus.” You know, the big Ben-Hur arena in Rome?

jc: Sure.

AD: So we got a gig with Springsteen in Rome. So we put some other gigs around it, but that’s what happened. Claudio came through.

jc: First time you’re playing with him?

AD: Yeah. At a Springsteen show. I never even heard of him having an opener before quite honestly. It should be cool.

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WHY NOT ALICE?

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Cover Feature
9/21/16

James Campion

WHY NOT ALICE?
As Chaos Reigns: The Coop Launches Late Run for the Presidency

“A Troubled Man for Troubled Times!” reads the banner unfurled on main streets and town squares everywhere across the fruited plains. A rendering of a recognizable face adorned in disturbing deep-black eye make-up grins like the Cheshire Cat beneath the quaint tip of a top hat – his long, ebony locks drape the shoulders of his alabaster tuxedo. He is impish and defiant, a past filled with triumphs, resurrections, and a whole lot of rocking.

Alice Cooper wants your vote for president this fall.

“Do you know how un-political I am?” he chuckles down a phone-line from Nashville, Tennessee, somewhere along the campaign trail. “I can’t imagine why anybody would want to be president!” A welcomed sentiment for an electorate whose majority not only sees corruption and failure in government, but a foul distaste for the current front-running candidates from both major parties.

Why not the Coop? Why not now?

“Yeah…why not me?” he exclaims with the strident glow of a contender. “I have tee shirts to sell!”

The man who defined shock rock, parody, satire, and non-de-plume celebrity has been married to the same woman for 40 years, stone-cold sober for over 30, and still humbly travels with his beloved pet snakes. Hell, he plays more golf than Barack Obama, and that’s saying something.

After a stilted but lucrative run back in 1972 (If we elect Alice, no Watergate, right?) on the fuel of the raucous, campaign-ready release of the iconic single, “Elected”, which was noteworthy for being the most expensive single in Warner Bros storied history ($10,000 – about 57 grand today), for reaching #26 on the U.S. Billboard charts and #4 in the UK, and later to be included in the international #1 album, Billion Dollar Babies, he is once again primed and ready to go.

“The kids need a savior, they don’t need a fake!” he shouts above the din of raunchy electric guitars and the pounding of tribal drums, as salient an observation today as ever.

There is a wonderful promotional (campaign?) film from the period that depicts a visibly soused Cooper stumbling from a blood-red Rolls Royce, pompously adorned in his signature top hat and tails (sans shirt), clutching a cane and later a can of Budweiser, shaking hands and raising his arms in mock victory. He cavorts mischievously, surrounded by secret service and swooning women. Later he is joined by members of the original Alice Cooper group and a chimp in a tux smoking a cigarette while pushing a wheelbarrow full of cash, which the band tosses around like confetti.

It is hard not to see these images as nothing but prescient in these times when nothing less than a billion dollars can get you a sniff at the White House and unchecked funds pour from anonymous sources to peddle influence all over our body politic.

So this ain’t Alice’s first rodeo, as they say. In fact, it was an honor to tell him personally that in 1988, faced with a similar dilemma of rancid candidates and the restlessness of fleeting youth, I actually wrote in his name…well his given name, Vincent Damon Furnier as my candidate of choice.

Now, tanned, rested and ready – out on tour with a smoking band, a wonderfully bombastic remix of “Elected” – and a show that features a finale of fisticuffs between Madam Hillary and the Trumpster, The Coop takes time out from his busy campaign schedule to discuss his role in America’s political landscape, his bizarre but well-framed platform, an endearing friendship with Groucho Marx, the blessings of image over the banality of substance, and dining at Castle Dracula with Tim Burton.

james campion: Why Alice, and why now?

Alice Cooper: You’ve got some guy that keeps shooting himself in the foot every time he opens his mouth and then you’ve got another candidate that nobody trusts. Alice Cooper is probably more trustworthy and less chaotic than all of them. But of course I would hate the job; I couldn’t take the pay cut for one thing. Plus, I want to keep my hair dark not white. Every guy goes in with dark hair, comes out with white hair, because they’ve got the burdens of the world on their back.

There are so many people out there that want to be involved in how the political system works and how the game is played and the chess moves and this and that and to me that is the most boring thing in the world. It looks great when Kevin Spacey does it, but in reality it’s just the biggest chess game of all time and I’m much more interested in writing new songs. So to me politics is so much on the back burner that I believe I may be the most viable candidate.

jc: You’ve released a remix of the 1972 single, “Elected” to kick-start the 2016 campaign, as you did in 1972.

AC: That song is so satirical, and of course, we had such a great target for satire in ’72; Nixon. Who is more evil, Alice Cooper or Nixon? At the time that was kind of what the point of it was. Who was more absurd; myself or the President of the United States? And so now every four years it raises its politically ugly head and here we are this year in one of the most absurd elections of all times.

jc: The story behind recording the song and getting it ready for the election in the late summer of 1972 is fantastic: Produced by the legendary Bob Ezrin, your partner in crime, there are sixteen horn section overdubs on it, took you guys weeks to record it, you ended up doing the vocals in front of a mirror, as if you were giving a speech, and then you guys spent a record 80 hours mixing it. Tell me about “Elected” in 1972.

AC: The pure idea behind that song was a tribute to The Who, because it had those big Pete Townshend power chords. (sings) TA-DA! BA-DUH-DUN-DUN! DUH-DUH-DUN! We were kind of tippin’ our hat to Pete Townshend on that whole thing, and my natural way of writing songs is to tell a story. I always loved the way Chuck Berry told a story or the way Ray Davies told a story and I wanted to tell a story. Bob is the one that really turned it into the epic that it was with the (sings descending guitar riff) DUN-DUN-DUN-DUHN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN! It sounded like an American anthem, something that should have been written by Sousa, and yeah… it was way over-produced compared to anything else we’d ever done, but it just sounded so great on the radio.

I remember John Lennon came to our office in New York City on 13th Street and he listened to the demo tape of it like three days in a row. Finally, I passed him in the hall and he goes, (in Lennon voice) “Great record,” and I went, “Oh, thank you.” Then he took another two steps and he looked back and he goes, “Paul would have done it better.” And I went, “Well, yeah, of course he would have. He’s Paul McCartney!” But John loved that record, because it really had that power and it was satirical and it was something that he totally got. He was very cynical about politics and he understood the musical satire of it.

jc: It does sound like a big, sweeping band is ushering you on stage to make a political speech. Like everything you and Bob did, and still do, it’s very cinematic. You get the whole picture from that song. It’s brilliantly done.

AC: We always treated the studio as if it were a theater. When I sang “The Ballad of Dwight Fry”, they put me in a straight jacket and put a door on top of me, so I sounded even more stressed out. We always experimented on how to make this sound real. This guy really wants to get out of there. And for “Elected”, we asked; “How do we make this sound like a political speech and really make it sound convincing and take it up a notch?” Bob was not against bringing people into the studio as an audience, because I played better in front of an audience. From my remembrance of it, it was just a matter of let’s just sell this like a Southern diplomat. I mean, let’s just make this guy sound like he’s ‘top prime cut of meat’.

“Yeah…why not me? I have tee shirts to sell!”

jc: The remix sounds even larger, if that’s possible.

AC: And for this stage show, we actually have Hillary and Trump come out, except that they look like zombies. We kind of tapped into Walking Dead and I said, “We can’t just have them come out. They’ve got to kind of look like they’ve been through hell.”

jc: Which they have.

AC: They come out and shake hands and she turns over and he can’t help himself; he pinches her on the butt and then she turns around and smacks him and then he smacks her back and then they look at each other and she falls into his arms with this gigantic kiss and the audience just dies laughing. Of course after that there’s a fist fight and I just order them off stage and I get up in the podium and point to myself like, “See?! I’m the guy!”

jc: This harkens back to when Nixon resigned and you guys did the ’74 Muscle of Love tour, and the band ended shows with you beating Nixon up on stage.

AC: Right. We beat up Nixon on stage. We beat up Santa Claus on stage. At the very end of the show anybody that should never be beaten up was beat up. The funny thing about this is, in all honesty, and like I said, I’m not politically correct, I’m politically incoherent; Nixon in 100 years will go down as one of the greatest presidents because of his foreign policy. He brought Russian and China together. He brought America into that. He was actually the best foreign policy guy I think we ever had. He wasn’t very good at home or around Watergate, but internationally the guy was pretty good at what he did. And he just happened to be involved in the Vietnam War. That was the thing where the kids were so angry with him. Our government was all wrong and everything. I think that started out as a righteous war and became an unrighteous war.

jc: I want to discuss some of your platforms that I received from the campaign. My favorites are “a snake in very pot, getting Brian Johnson back in AC/DC, adding the late Lemmy from Motorhead to Mt. Rushmore, a total ban on talking in movie theaters, mandatory cup-holders for airplane seats, and a moratorium on taking selfies, except on Designated National Selfie Day”, but the one I wish to address is putting Groucho Marx on the $50 bill. I know that you knew Groucho personally. Tell me a little bit your relationship.

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AC: A lot of people don’t realize this, but Groucho, as much as he pretty much ran the Marx Brothers and was the quickest guy ever – I mean, he couldn’t go five minutes without doing three one liners, eighty-six years-old and he was still sharp as a tack – he would actually consult Presidents of the United States. They would write to him and say, “Groucho what is your take on this guy Tito? What is your take on this guy Castro?” He was a Kissinger kind of character to presidents. He wasn’t just a humorist. He was actually a pretty good judge of character. He could be used to feel people out. I read some of the letters to Groucho from heads of state and you could tell they knew this guy’s serious.

jc: He was a brilliant man.

AC: He really was. To be a good comedian you really do have to be very bright. You can’t be a dumb comedian. I don’t think there are very many dumb comedians, because you have to get what’s going to make people laugh. You have to understand how to set people up for the laugh. I think comedians are some of your most intelligent people.

jc: Speaking of which, we’ve previously discussed the humor and subtext of Alice Cooper, but here you have Groucho, who is a comedic character using makeup hanging out with Alice, a satirical character in makeup. I think it’s fantastic. You’ve always displayed great humor behind your work, so there was always the kind of intelligence behind it you’re talking about here. You’ve always been my hero for exploiting the guise of the anti-social behavior Alice Cooper was accused of incessantly.

AC: Yeah, I think it took a while for the public to get the fact that there was sense of humor behind Alice Cooper. In the beginning, it was just all Satanic. “This is Satanic! This is Un-American!” and “Blah! Blah! Blah!” on and on. We couldn’t have been more American! Three of the guys in the band were four-year lettermen. We were jocks. We came from really good homes. We didn’t come from broken homes. We were just All American, and maybe it was from associating with Groucho and (Salvador) Dali that we leaned towards the satirical artists, and we considered how to make Alice Cooper that also. We were already judged as being something that should never have happened and yet it took a while. Maybe it took me being on Johnny Carson a couple of times before people went, “Oh, wait a minute. This guy plays Alice Cooper.” It was like playing Dracula or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It took a while for them to understand that Alice Cooper was a character that I created.

jc: Well, people naturally conflated Chaplin with the Tramp or Bela Lugosi with Dracula. Bela Lugosi couldn’t shake that throughout his life as an actor.

AC: Yup. I’m like that. I didn’t want to see William Shatner in anything except Captain Kirk.

jc: Right!

AC: You know what I mean?

jc: I sure do.

AC: I never wanted to see Errol Flynn without a sword in his hand, because they were so good at that character that you just didn’t want to see them in any other part. I’m kind of like that with the guy that plays Dexter. I don’t really want to see him in anything except Dexter.

jc: Last thing; I know that you’re in Nashville now and you’re going to be working with Bob Ezrin on new material. I worked off-and-on with Bob for a year on my last book (Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon) and I know how much he means to you. Give me a little taste of what you guys might be doing for a new record.

AC: Well, we already started. Last night was the first night that we actually talked about direction. And we’ve already come up with 25 great ideas and you know today is going to be one of those days where it’s a lot of, “Oh, that’s a great idea, but wait a minute!” That might be over the top! But there’s no such thing as ‘over the top’, ‘Oh, right!’”
This is the fun part for me, because this is the creative edge where you do a lot of laughing!

jc: Well, I know it’s going to be interesting and cinematic and all those things, because it always is. I love when you guys get together.

AC: It will be! It’s cool, because I know that we’re a hard rock band. It’s going to be a guitar-rock thing. That’s always what it’s going to be and I know what the lyrics are going to be already and I know what direction it’s taking already. Now it’s going to be fun to shape it.

jc: You said the last time we spoke that you and Bob are like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.

AC: I was actually at Castle Dracula with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton this year! When the Hollywood Vampires tour had a day off we were in Romania and we had dinner at Castle Dracula.

jc: Perfect.

AC: And Tim Burton came along with us. It was the perfect threesome. We had the whole band there, but you know if you’re going to be there, be there with Tim Burton and Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp.

jc: Before we part ways, I wanted to ask you about Joe Perry, who had the medical scare during your Hollywood Vampires tour. How is he doing?

AC: Joe is great. You know, five days after this happened he was on stage with us in San Francisco and finished the tour out and I never heard him play better. I never saw him look better.

jc: That’s good.

AC: I don’t think it had anything to do with his heart. I think it was just exhaustion. You know, what we didn’t realize was I’m used to doing five shows a week, full out. I think he’s used to doing two shows a week with Aerosmith. I mean, they had a pretty hard life early on, where as I quit everything 35 years ago. I didn’t really take into consideration; this was our eighth show in 10 days in Brooklyn. He might have just been dehydrated or exhausted or whatever it was. We found out later on that it was definitely not his heart. He’s fine. I think he’s already gone to Australia or South America with Aerosmith.

jc: And you keep on running…

AC: Bye-bye!

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THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT THE ROLLING STONES

Aquarian Weekly
6/22/16

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT THE ROLLING STONES
In Praise of The Sun and the Moon and The Rolling Stones & A Candid Discussion with Author, Rich Cohen

There must be hundreds of books written about the Rolling Stones. Conservatively, I have read about twenty to twenty-five, half of which I would deem good, and less than a third great. Rich Cohen has managed to write a spectacular one. It is aptly titled; The Sun and the Moon and the Rolling Stones, taken from something Keith Richards told the author in 1994 when he was covering the band for Rolling Stone. You see, like me, Cohen, and a preponderance of humans inhabiting this spinning sphere, we don’t know a world without the Stones. What we’re talking about here is the abiogenesis of rock and roll; the subatomic atoms of modern pop and rock, the DNA of global youth culture.

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Here is Cohen’s remarkable achievement; he explains this phenomenon in a most novelistic way; deconstructing the characters and framing the period dominated by the Stones with great care. His is a story of many Rolling Stones; the blues cover band, the British avant-garde, the neo-American hybrid, the faux-celebrity-junkie-chic marauders, a reinvented, reconfigured reflection of rebellion, and, of course, rock star excess. It is throughout all this explaining that Cohen dives into personal experiences with the band, as a kid, as a teen, as a reporter, as an historian. Each expression is a unique one, and some even deal in contradictions; like all great heroic literature.

It is a fascinating read; treading the difficult balance of appealing to the casual observer and a rabid fan.

How the hell did he do it?

“I had to basically pretend I was writing fifty years from now and everybody’s dead and worry about the consequences later,” Cohen explains over the phone from his Connecticut home, the enthusiasm in his voice quite evident in the pace in which he recalls the journey. “I thought, ‘It’s such a huge story and every book is right in the middle of it, but if you can sort of step back and write about it like you would write about World War II or Winston Churchill, then you can see what things meant and how things happened and see the whole picture.’”

To drive this point home, Cohen casually notes the inspiration of a Wallace Stevens poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. “If you can get a lot of different angles on something you can ultimately get something that’s alive and in-depth,” he continues. “So if you can see the Rolling Stones from the point of view of a kid, from the point of view of a rock journalist, from the point of view of an older guy, and then from the points of view of Maryanne Faithfull, from the point of view of reporters covering Altamont, and you can put all that together and you can get a complete picture of them.”

The Sun, the Moon and the Rolling Stones puts an epic into tidy perspective, another pretty impressive feat, all boiled down to the two figures at the eye of the storm, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – childhood friends, confidants, combatants, and co-conspirators; growing up together in the cauldron of infamy. “To me, what’s interesting about Jagger and Richards is that it’s the completely typical friendship we’ve all had,” says Cohen. “You have these friends when you’re young and you want to be together all the time, you live together, and then at a certain point, you grow up and you’re not together anymore. And so much of their music came from them being together; hanging out for hours and hours and coming up with these songs, and once they grow up, they’re not together any more, and the music changes.”

Cohen captures two seemingly insignificant slices of life that act as lasting portraits of the two men; Richards playfully lecturing a business man on an airplane about life and Jagger chasing corrupt manager, Allen Klein, wanting to beat him up. I wondered if he had found these characteristics – Keith, the libertine braggart, and Mick, the myopic pragmatist – prevalent when he met them in the 1990s. “Absolutely! But exaggerated,” he says. “All of the trouble that they’ve had, it’s all there from when they first meet. It’s just two completely strong personalities that are complementary, but clash. It is calculating in a good way and necessary for the survival of that band.”

Pressed further, Cohen provides deeper insight into the gears that makes the colossal machinery rumble along mostly unimpeded for five decades: “If Mick was going to go in a swimming pool, he would go look at, figure out the depth, and then take off his bathing suit and jump in. Keith would just run and jump in without looking… in all of his clothes. It’s like two totally different kinds of guys. And right at the beginning, when I first met them, Keith’s got his doctor’s bag. He’s taking whatever he’s taking. He’s playing the guitar. He’s saying crazy, cryptic things. He’s laughing. He’s smoking. And Mick is sitting in the trailer on the phone talking business. And you need that guy. That’s why the Rolling Stones are still playing. And also I don’t think Jagger gets enough credit for insisting, right from the beginning when Brian Jones only wanted to hire him, “I don’t go in without Keith.” He’s always brought Keith along in that way.”

The book’s most poignant moments centers on a uniquely Stonesian trait; the absorption of people and places to fuel their music and enhance their image before blithely casting them asunder; the cold brilliance of which cannot be ignored when discussing the band’s lasting influence on the whole of Western culture for half a century. “They have to make this decision,” he says. “What are they willing to sacrifice for what they want, which is basically wealth, fame, and to be rock stars?”

This begins, according to Cohen, when the band decides early on to jettison original member Ian Stewart on the premise that “he doesn’t fit the image’, as put down by young hipster manager, Andrew Loog Oldham. It is a ruthless moment Cohen says causes the Stones to “lose their soul”, which happens again and again with such influences as original roommate, James Phelge, Jagger’s girlfriend, Maryanne Faithful, the band’s witchy matriarch, Anita Pallenberg, and the feeble but talented Graham Parsons. Eventually it would happen to Oldham, and tragically to founding member, Brian Jones, who would be kicked out of the band after years of deteriorating drug abuse and eventually drown in his pool at the age of twenty-seven.

“It’s very obvious what happened to Brian Jones,” Cohen recounts to me in a matter-of-fact tone. “He had this idea for a band and the band became more successful than he planned on and he lost control it. Not because of any evil thing, but because people identify with the singer. It’s just the way it works. You know, you go to a Frank Sinatra concert; you’re looking at Frank Sinatra. You’re not looking at the Count Basie Orchestra. So the singer becomes the star.

“Then Mick and Keith write ‘Satisfaction’ and that’s it. And Brian Jones is sort of now a second tier figure in his own band. And then you mix in all the other stuff, which are Anita Pallenberg and the LSD and his paranoia and his own probably pretty bad personality. Now you got a guy, who doesn’t actually kill himself, but he basically puts himself in a situation where he can easily die, over and over again, and then one night he does die. And what the Stones did was they realized at a certain point that they couldn’t hang onto him, they couldn’t save him, and he was just dragging them down… so they got rid of him.”

Once again, the fascinating aspect of The Sun, the Moon and the Rolling Stones is its intriguing compartmentalizing of the Stones career through its early incarnations of blues, psychedelia, country-rock, stadium rock, and on and on, that is broken up in two stages by one tragic event; Altamont. The chapter, which the author calls the book’s anchor, is riveting, and puts in motion Cohen’s perspective style; as it gets beneath the surface of the tragedy of a myopic counterculture disaster rife with drug-addled violence that ends in the fatal stabbing of a gun-wielding kid by the Hell’s Angels.

Stirring first-hand accounts from stage manager, Sam Cutler, doctor, Robert Hyde, who carried away the mutilated body of the twenty-two year-old, Meredith Hunter, the late Albert Maysles, whose film cameras imprinted the carnage forevermore in the seminal, Gimmie Shelter, and many others provide new insights into what is arguably the mythical epoch to not only the Stones story, but that of the 1960s and the latter half of the twentieth century. “After getting all these stories you wind up with what I saw as this kind of kaleidoscopic scene at the end of the 1960s that was so intensely covered at the time, and now when it’s written about it’s either written about too closely or not at all,” Cohen reasons. “It’s like there’s no stepping back and looking at it like, ‘What really happened?’ and what it really meant without getting emotional about it.”

The book’s most poignant moments centers on a uniquely Stonesian trait; the absorption of people and places to fuel their music and enhance their image before blithely casting them asunder

Another device Cohen uses wonderfully in the storytelling is his trips to the places that “created” the Stones, like the original, putrid Edith Grove apartment, where Mick, Keith and Brian dreamed up their destinies, and most notably the infamous Villa in the South of France called Nellcôte, where Richards convened the band in tax exile to record arguably the Stone’s, and the genre’s, finest statement; Exile on Main Street. The author describes his impetuous trespassing, as he jumps the fence and sets the haunting mood of this once mystical hub of rock debauchery, camaraderie, and creative discovery. It is something Cohen believes is ingrained in the entire Stones legacy.

“One of the great things that’s key to the Rolling Stones is they have great taste,” he says. “They started out copying really good music, and that’s what they did for everything. If you look at Mick Jagger, and the art that he would have around him, in his house, its great art. Like years before you’d hear of painters, he knows this guy’s a great. That means when they would go work, they’d do it in great places.”

Cohen knows about those kinds of places, as he, Jagger, and master director, Martin Scorsese hit it out of the park with the dynamic and spot-on depiction of New York City’s smoldering hot-bed of musical reinvention for HBO’s Vinyl. Just as in the series, the characters of The Sun, the Moon and the Rolling Stones are at once inspired and later possessed by their surroundings, coming to define them forever.

I pressed Cohen on whether he felt intimidated to give the Stones a pass on some of the wincing points of their careers, which he most certainly does not, in the glare of the friendships he had built with drummer, Charlie Watts or especially the working relationship with Jagger.

“You have to decide, are you loyal to Mick Jagger, or are you loyal to the reader?” he says. “I’m going for the big thing here. I can tell you everything I know. And the fact is if you really love these guys and love this music and get deep, deep into it, you just come across these things you have to struggle with. Not going to Brian Jones’ funeral; I just can’t understand that. Even if you hated him, how could you not go to his funeral? And there’s no way I can’t look at that and not comment on it. It’s like the Tom Wolfe line; ’A man in full.’”

This is what Rich Cohen has brought to the lexicon of the Rolling Stones; a uniquely first-hand account of fawning fandom and hard journalism, a place for the clamor to be silenced and the mass of gathered information to be digested.

“It’s the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he tells me in conclusion. “It’s not a portrait of a saint, and they wouldn’t say they’re saints. So you got a lot of sin in there too, and if you don’t write about the sin, then it just becomes bullshit. It becomes propaganda and then it’s not good.”

The Sun, the Moon and the Rolling Stones is not merely good; it is, again… spectacular.

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PRINCE ROGERS NELSON – 1958 – 2016

Aquarian Weekly
4/27/16

Cover Feature

James Campion

PRINCE ROGERS NELSON – 1958 – 2016

I do not want to write this shit.

Not now. Not ever.

This is personal.

But it’s either this or continue sitting around enduring this sick feeling of inertia on the edge of a loathsome face-off with mortality.

So…whew…here goes…

During the most prolific musical period of my life, my early twenties, when I wrote and played music for a living, more or less, there was only one artist that mattered; Prince Rogers Nelson.04-27_prince_cover

This was a dark time of transition for me from the late ‘70s Punk movement into New Wave and then a lot of stuff I did not relate to on any level beyond a strange imbalance of apathy and abhorrence. There was U2, the Violent Femmes, a little later, Jane’s Addiction, REM, the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, but mostly, I was lost. But one thing that could always be counted on was a new Prince album that would snap me back into coherence and make me love new music again, as I did when I was a kid and wore out all my 1960s to early 1970s stuff.

From 1980 to about 1998, Prince was a motherfucker. He wrote, produced and played on more songs than any living human. Period. In a time when major artists put out an album every three to four years, Prince dropped one, and in some cases, two annually. He once released The Black Album, pulled it, and replaced with another one (Lovesexy) in two months, then leaked the former on bootleg. He bootlegged himself! The 1996 album, Emancipation had thirty-six (36!!) really good, really interesting songs on it. In ’98, Crystal Ball had fifty-one incredibly disparate and engaging tracks. On the bulk of these seemingly endless and brilliantly devised discs, the majority of which were huge hits with even bigger hit singles on them, he played every instrument, frighteningly well, and sang all of the parts; some five-part harmonies worthy of the Temptations meets Brian Wilson on a funk jag.

Prince lived in the studio. Literally. He built the damn thing where he lived. Turns out, he died in it. He did not drink. He did not use drugs. He did not attend gala industry parties. He rarely did any interviews or appearances. Hell, he barely ate or slept. He wrote, played and recorded music. When he left the studio to tour the world, he would jam with locals and members of his band in clubs in every city. He played the bass, drums, guitar, piano, and sang back-up and lead, or whatever was needed. He played every kind of music expertly. He listened to and absorbed every kind of music copiously. He was a sponge and he was a spigot that poured forth inspiration.

Those who sessioned for him swore he would force the best from musicians, because he was better than any of them. For a mind-numbing spurt in the mid-to-late 80s, Prince wrote, performed, and produced major hits for many artists; The Time, Sheena Easton, Chaka Kahn, TLC, The Bangles, Sheila E., Stevie Nicks, to name a very few. He started “mask” bands like The Time, The Family, Mazarati, Vanity 6, so he could put out four or five albums a year. Two years running he put out jazz albums under the name Madhouse and created characters to sing and produce other works, Camille and Jamie Starr to name just two. Later he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol just so he could record anywhere and everywhere to escape the confines of a music business that could not handle him.

Every single he released during this time came with an adjoining twelve-inch extended version with completely fresh B-sides that were often superior to some of the tracks on the albums. Time and space precludes me from making a very strong argument that “Erotic City” is the best side of anything anyone put out in the 1980s, and it was the B-Side to “Let’s Go Crazy”, which is the fifth best song on his monster album/film, Purple Rain. And Purple Rain, which won Prince an Oscar, Grammy’s, et al, and has sold a stunning 22-million copies worldwide to date, is not nearly as good as 1987’s Sign ‘O’ The Times, which I still believe is by far the finest, most diverse and experimental pop record of the decade.

Here’s one for you; I maintain that the best song Prince ever wrote is one he never even recorded as Prince or the symbol-thing, “Nothing Compares 2 U”, which Sinead O’Connor’s gorgeously heartrending version turned into a smash hit. I first heard it performed by one of his aforementioned “mask” bands, The Family on its only album in 1985; no doubt with a backing-track played entirely by the composer. If there is a more painfully framed slice of love-loss than “All the flowers that you planted, mama, in the backyard…all died when you went away”, I’m waiting to hear it. The thing floors me every time. Every time.

That kind of freedom is power and it led him, and us, to some pretty cool places.

Prince songs are genre-less. It was Prince – everyone else. There was rock, funk, punk, pop, jazz, fusion, reggae, ska, rap, classical and a collection of aural oddities that brought a dynamic charge to each successive listen; songs about sex and love and race and sex and God and loss and sex and power and dreams and sex and pain and joy and…yeah, sex. Sex was Prince’s gateway to the spiritual (orgasm as transmogrification), the political (seduction as liberation), the revolutionary (transgender identification), with all those substitute word/symbols thrown in to give it all a literary spark. Listening to Prince back then was a lesson; sit up, take notice, learn the craft, be the music, dig the vibe. It was the experience you looked forward to, because you would not be disappointed.

Maybe it’s because he controlled everything; his image, his fashion, and of course his music. It led to the outstanding and the outlandish. No one was there to say no to Prince, from the first album when he was barely 20 years-old and somehow convinced Warner Bros to allow him to produce his own records. There was no Quincy Jones or George Martin for Prince Rogers Nelson. He was the one who decided to pull the bass out of “When Doves Cry” or create an entire alternative-concept album around a Batman movie or direct a black-and-white French film that bombed so badly it is hard to believe he wasn’t ruined (for the record I like Under a Cherry Moon better than Purple Rain, so there), and certainly no one counseled him to demand everyone stop calling him Prince and release instrumental jazz-rock fusion records after multi-artist compilations and then shun the entire record industry altogether. Nope. It was all Prince, for good or ill. That kind of freedom is power and it led him, and us, to some pretty cool places.

My favorite Prince musical memories, beyond the dozen or so times I saw him play live with some of the best musicians I have ever heard/seen anywhere, is all that wonderful first-time stuff. You know, first time I heard “Purple Rain” at three in the morning driving home from some gig; letting the opening chords and the first verse sink in, then turn it up a little for the second, and by the third, where he shreds his vocal chords and the goddamn fret board, let it blast away. The first time I cracked open the shipping box for Around The World In A Day, still sort of my favorite Prince album, two days before it was to be put on the shelf (I was working at Record World in Westchester at the time), and running home to play it; the weird Indian raga and the screeching wail of a guitar into vocal, then all that stuff afterwards that runs into “Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life”, and that weird shit at the end where he is fucking and talking to God or whatever the hell is going on there. Hearing “Kiss’ for the first time; the bare, stark, air-sucking naked compression of everything that thump-kicks you in the face and the gut and the balls; ushering in that pinch-chirping falsetto; “You don’t hafta be beautiful…” My first listen to Sign ‘O’ The Times; his masterpiece; his Exile on Main St., his White Album, his Blonde on Blonde – Fuck it; go listen to Sign … right now…do it!

I remember the friends and lovers too. We were the special ones, the ones who dug Prince before he was the shit and after he stopped being the shit when the shit came down on him. You know who you are, but I have a special place in my soul for my dear friend and drummer, Anthony Misuraca. Shit, Anthony and I would listen to Prince everywhere; the car, the house, the studio, the roof, the basement, the street; morning, noon, night. We’d pick out chords and riffs and lilts in his voice; You hear that? No? Listen to this…man! We drove from Raleigh, North Carolina to Madison Square Garden on August 2, 1986 to see The Revolution ply its trade. I remember it because it’s my brother’s birthday, and because we did it. It was my first Prince gig. I chased down Prince concerts after that; every single one better than the next – although for my money the Lovesexy Tour 1988 beats all-hell; in the round, a tour de force. I caught it three times.

That was the thing about Prince; it was personal for those of us who dug him. We got our copy of Uptown magazine every month at Revolver Records on West 8th Street and argued about the alternative mixes and studio outtake/live bootlegs and after-hour show tapes and how each song referenced the other song and it coalesced into this other thing entirely. It was a 70s kid thing for a lot of us, who grew up, like Prince, on imagination, amalgamation, and organic clout in our music. We understood when Prince released a B-Side at 45 rpm, but if you slowed it down to 33 rpm it is a tribute to the third track on the fourth Sly and the Family Stone album. We knew when he referenced James Brown in “Get Off”; “Some like ‘em fat…” or rolled into Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” in the bridge of “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” or that odd Stones riff he hides in “Ronnie Talk To Russia” or the Hendrix feed-drenched guitar-screams in “All The Critics Love You In New York” or the Black Sabbath-esque foreboding intro to “1999”, or the blatantly obvious Marvin Gaye homage suite in “Do Me Baby”. We got it, man. We loved it. He understood what made us tick. He gave us a soundtrack to our soundtrack.

For the longest time, there was a Prince album and Woody Allen film every year. Like clockwork. And they were always challenging and engaging and inspiring. This was what I counted on. Like Christmas or birthdays for others. The other day I thought about a time when the 80 year-old Allen would no longer be able to tell his celluloid stories. This I get. It’s going to suck, but I get that. But Prince? He is 57. I am 53. We hail from the same post-Boomer/pre-X generation that produced a shitload of really cynical, wise-ass jerk-offs, who cannot believe there are still illogical, racist, sexually-repressed assholes running around using the same tired bullshit to tell us what we can listen to or eat or fuck or wear; that we thought we had somehow changed things by merely living on and making it to the future; it is what Prince meant when he wrote in the liner notes of every record, “May U Live To See The Dawn”.

Suddenly you wake up and the future is the past and your present is the dumb shit your parents and their parents had to deal with. You sleepwalked through all this proposed revolution. You expected something new and vibrant, because you imagined it. Maybe it was all just marketing. But you come to accept it. It’s fine. It’s life. And then with no warning and no reason Prince up and dies and dredges it all up. A wild, eccentric crazy man, whose art was life, is gone – who wore nothing but garters, silk-stockings and panties on stage and ass-less pants on Arsenio Hall and stuck the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of a funk song about interracial homosexuality and turned songs about Armageddon into a party-pop hit you could roll out on MTV with his interracial, cross-gender rock/funk/pop band, conflating images of Jesus, smack, slavery and cunninlingus into a song about flowers.

I was reminded today of that little nugget from Toure’s 2013 treatise on Prince, I Would Die For You – Why Prince Became An Icon, which I reviewed for this paper and truth be told, inspired my own foray into such an investigation on KISS in my last book, Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon. “Toure writes of “emerging adulthood” this way: “Sociologists say people fifteen to twenty-five are in active identity formulation mode, as opposed to thirty-somethings…part of why we like certain artists is that we like the other people who like them, we enjoy being associated with or attached to those people, we want to be in a tribe with them. After thirty that social transaction is less valuable.”

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Today, as I write this, those words ring true. I already knew all this, it’s obvious, but when that touchstone, the focal point of a tribe long gone dies, it can unsettle the odd illusion. I have to admit, it triggered something deeper in me than mere fandom. My friend, Anthony must have felt it too. I had not heard from him in about five or six years, yet he emailed me within minutes of the news of Prince dying. He just wrote, “Wow.” Yeah, wow. It is, I think, a real sense of something else dying; the youthful exuberance of discovery and a revolutionary spirit that always seems to be fading.

But that’s the nut. You see, Prince stopped becoming that interesting to me by the turn of the century. There were moments when I was pulled back by a random album or single, and I caught most of his tours through here, although I sadly missed the last one. It’s as though, over this past decade and a half, I’d been already mourning his passing as an influential artist in my life, but really that passing was that of time, this period of life when music could shift my entire being for more than an afternoon or evening, where it took me places, redefined me, set another course, a more dangerous one. It fueled me. It scared me. It soothed me.

Ahhh, but once that’s awakened in you, then you look for it everywhere. It’s a curse. And I think what became glaringly apparent with the passing of Prince is the curse can’t be lifted. Nope. It’s there. Always. And because Prince was visual and theatrical and worked on many thematic levels and played with perceptions and got Tipper Gore all hot and heavy over Darling Nikki “masturbating with a magazine”, it reminded me of it. It’s humor. It’s sedition. It’s exuberance to test parameters unseen. It reminded me that it makes all the rest of it worthwhile. I need to be reminded. We need to be reminded.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…”

Preach it, brutha

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SIR GEORGE HENRY MARTIN – 1926 -2016

Aquarian Weekly
3/16/16

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

SIR GEORGE HENRY MARTIN – 1926 -2016

The Beatles: the cultural axis for a generation, whose music, style, language, and political impact was seismic, fueled by a hypnotic influence unrivaled in the pantheon of art. The Beatles invented a paradigm and then shifted it, over and over and over again. It is impossible to imagine there being a thing called rock and roll, arguably the most lasting global movement of the twentieth century, without it. Beside the four men who made up The Beatles; John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, there stand two others most responsible for this; Brain Epstein and George Martin. As manager and mentor, Epstein created the visual revolution that charmed a planet while Martin, as producer and creative Sherpa, did the heaviest lifting of all; he cajoled, conducted, re-imagined and realized the music that shook the very foundation of human spirit. He made songs, glorious songs; perhaps the best and most revered music of the modern age.

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You want to begin to comprehend George Martin’s genius and immense contribution to all this? Simply listen to the music. Do it now. Go ahead. You have heard it a million times, but do it with fresh ears and a pure heart. Deny it is not nostalgic and fresh, bold and endearing, an eruption of joy. I dare you. It is Mozart meets Chuck Berry meets Jackson Pollack meets Abby Hoffman meets vaudeville, theater, sock-hop and cathedral.

Then do yourself a huge favor and read Martin’s 1979 memoir, All You Need Is Ears, Here, There and Everywhere by Geoff Emerick, one of his partners in studio magic, and Mark Lewisohn’s brilliant and seminal, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions.

I can write ten thousand words about George Martin. I may still do it. But for now I’ve asked some very talented friends from all ends of the music business to weigh in on his passing this week. But most of all, I needed to hear their musings on his wide-ranging influence. It is in the following words that the resonance of the man remains, as in every note he arranged, produced and then captured for posterity.

George Martin is the legacy of now. His lasting gift has no time or era; it continues, and will continue, as long as people can make the music wink.

Bob Ezrin, legendary producer of Alice Cooper, KISS, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Taylor Swift, Rod Stewart, Deep Purple and much more is a direct descendent of Martin’s elaborate studio creativity. Classically trained, as was Martin, Ezrin’s “thematic” and aural storytelling continues to expand the scope of rock music’s oeuvre.

“He is the father of the entire modern recorded music industry. It is his genius and imagination that changed the recording studio from a place for the rigid and faithful reproduction of live performance to an instrument of sublime creativity and endless possibility. He saw in recording the ability to tell stories and create worlds through music and sound using techniques created for radio drama – many by him personally. He extended the “stage” of recorded music past the four walls of the studio out into a whole new universe of sonic imagery. Though it all seems almost commonplace now, this was truly revolutionary stuff in his time. And all of us who tell stories in sound and music owe our craft mostly to him and the Beatles.

At the same time, he was the archetypal refined English Gentleman; a soft and well spoken, brilliant man of profound principle and respect for the world in which he lived. He was warm, humble, impish and imposing all at the same time. And he was, above all, ethical and totally genuine in his dealings with others. He earned his title in every way and I’m sure many called him “sir” even before he was knighted.

I have a funny George Martin story. So many of us do. But right now, as I head to the studio in the same way I have for decades, I can only think of him and his wonderful story, and of my profound gratitude for his historical life and work – and for the wonderful life and career that he (and the late, great Jack Richardson) made possible for me.

And the answer to your question about the making of KISS’s Destroyer without Martin’s influence: Absolutely not. We used the studio as an instrument during the making of Destroyer, trying hard to create a ‘cinematic’ experience for each song. No one even knew that was possible before we heard Beatles records.”

Jay Messina, legendary engineer/producer of Aerosmith, Patti Smith, Miles Davis, Peter Frampton, Krishna Das, Supertramp, Cheap Trick, Ravi Shankar, and more not only worked with ex-Beatles, but many of the artists directly impacted by Martin’s talents. Messina has and still works today with the bedrock laid down by the innovations of the Abby Road edict.

“I can only recall one time I had the honor to meet and work with him. It was to record Aerosmith, doing “Come Together” for the Sgt. Pepper’s movie. The thing that impressed me the most about him, besides his calm and peaceful aura, was that he really didn’t give Jack Douglas (producer/engineer of John Lennon, Aerosmith, New York Dolls, The Who, and more) or myself any particular direction other than to do what we usually do. I was impressed with the confidence he displayed, in himself, by just being able to sit back and observe the session as it unfolded. I miss him.”

Robert “Corky” Stasiak, legendary engineer/producer of Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, The Raspberries, Jim Croce, KISS, The Clash, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, and more came as close as anyone to a Lennon/McCartney reunion before it was curtailed by happenstance that led to Elton John recording the #1 hit, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” for Lennon’s 1974 album, Walls and Bridges. Stasiak’s love and honor as the consummate sound engineer put to the test much of Martin’s best-loved techniques during the classic era of rock.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to George and his family. I am gutted by the news of his passing. We did three albums together (Neil Sedaka, Jimmy Webb) and I was lucky to have worked at his studio in Montserrat (Air). He was a great inspiration to me, and the music universe. It’s hard to imagine a world without this Gentleman, musical Genius among us any longer. Anyone who has ever met him knows exactly what I mean. Our loss is Heavens gain. Rest in peace, Sir George.”

“He is the father of the entire modern recorded music industry.”

David Thoener, multiple Grammy winner and legendary producer/engineer of Carlos Santana, John Mellencamp, Heart, Meatloaf, Bon Jovi, AC/DC, Willie Nelson, J. Geils Band, and more works the world over continuing to spread the international musical flavor of Martin’s work with the Beatles that introduced several and varied styles to the world.

“2016 has brought us the unfortunate passing of such amazing music talent. As a Baby Boomer I guess we can expect more reading that our heroes have died, but the passing of George Martin was a tremendous loss for all of us in the music industry. His contributions have touched millions and many who don’t even know how they were indirectly affected by his genius. My direction in life changed the day I heard The Beatles “Love Me Do”. It sounded like nothing I had heard before. I was instantly not only a fan of the Beatles but was curious how they created such an amazing sound. I was 12.

Moving forward to “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields” was transforming. At 15, I had decided my future; I was going to become a recording engineer and all, because George Martin changed my life forever. I had the opportunity to work with John Lennon in 1974, a memory I will never forget. 42 years later I am still making records, over 400 at this point. I have had a very satisfying journey through life and I owe it all to George Martin.
RIP, Mr. Martin.”

Rod O’Brien, engineer for Grand Funk Railroad, Edgar Winter, Blood Sweat & Tears, Talking Heads, Cindy Lauper, Patti Smith, Ozzy Osbourne has plied his trade in studios everywhere with every style of music, all of which has some connection to George Martin’s incredible body of work.

“I never met the man but like everyone in music I felt his influence and have the highest regard for all his work.”

Dan Bern, singer/songwriter/artist/author (albums include New American Language, Fleeting Days, Drifter, Breathe, among others, and books, World Cup, Quitting Science, 10,000 Crappy Songs) was and still is an avid Beatles freak. He speaks and writes adoringly about his time as a youth being awakened to the beauty and majesty of song through the recorded tapestry commandeered by George Martin. Dan’s hilarious tribute, “The Fifth Beatle” is one of his most beloved songs.

“George Martin did a great job producing Peter Sellers. And some other guys too. It’s hard to imagine The Beatles without George Martin. The Dave Clark 5 comes to mind. OK, that’s not fair. But the Beatles and George Martin went together like Muhammad Ali and Angelo Dundee, the Michael Jordan Bulls and Phil Jackson, Thomas Wolfe and Maxwell Perkins. OK, you get the idea. Three Beatles are gone and two are left. RIP, tall stodgy English man who talked like a schoolteacher and rocked like Amadeus.”

Eric Hutchinson, singer/songwriter/deejay (albums include Sounds Like This, Moving Up Living Down, Pure Fiction, Eric Hutchinson is Pretty Good, among others) is a songsmith and music nerd above all else. In the dozens of lunches and interviews we have had over the years not one failed to include some mention, deconstruction and celebration of Beatles music. We are still trying to formulate an increasingly difficult “Worst Beatles Songs Ever” list. How can we do it?

“Calling George Martin the 5th Beatle always felt a little too easy for me. To me, he was the father figure, the moral compass and the sophisticated class that made The Beatles come to life. Without a doubt his musical vernacular and knowledge enabled the group to grow and grow so quickly. Growing up, George Martin’s name was spoken in my house with the same reference as the president’s. He was that important.”

Nick Howard, singer/songwriter (albums include Something to Talk About, When the Lights Go Up, Stay Who You Are) and proud New Yorker by way of Britain, has carried on the Beatles tradition of pop sensibilities and a unifying message playfulness sometimes lost in today’s music environment.

“George Martin probably had a greater impact on popular music than any producer in history. Less we forget too that he SIGNED the Beatles when everyone else turned them down (something I remind myself of daily in my own quest for success)! In an age when bands and artists were signed on talent and not Instagram followers, he signed the best one of them all and allowed them to grow as men and musicians (to great effect!). To me he is a Beatle, and therefore has helped shaped my life in ways unimaginable.”

Eddie Trunk, radio and television personality, Megaforce Records executive, and author; (Trunk Nation, Sirius XM, That Metal Show, VH1 Classic – Books: Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Volumes I and II) has seen the music business from every angle and as a learned and well-traveled music historian, his voice heralds the many ages of rock music which begins in earnest with the dedication to growth exhibited by George Martin throughout his decades-long career.

“As someone who works in the world of hard rock the influence of George Martin may seem like a stretch. But consider this; almost every single rock and metal artist I’ve ever interviewed sites The Beatles as their primary influence and clearly George Martin had a huge role in that. Let’s also not forget he also produced some great albums for bands like UFO, Cheap Trick and others. The man was simply a giant in the landscape of music in so many ways.”

Scott Shannon, legendary record promoter and radio personality and member of the National Radio Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, watched the world turn upside down by the Beatles phenomenon and then turned its machinations into gold records for dozens of artists, not the least of which earning one of his own from Ringo Starr by breaking his 1974 hit, “No, No Song”.

“I really don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said by more important people than me. He was a genius and a gentleman.”

Ken Eustace, songwriter/producer; whose work with me as a recording artist lo those many years ago, had us scrambling to steal all of George Martin’s tricks with then modern equipment that dwarfed what the Beatles created masterpieces on. Hey, we tried.

“He was the context that gave meaning to Lennon/McCartney’s content.”

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MUSIC FROM THE ELDER: Explaining the KISS Album Everyone Hates

ROCK Magazine
2/18/16
James Campion

MUSIC FROM THE ELDER: Explaining the KISS Album Everyone Hates

KISS hates it. The fans hate it. The band’s late manager and its label hated it. Everyone hates Music from The Elder.

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Time, almost 34 years now, has healed some of the wounds. You can find a loyal geeky contingent online and in the darker regions of KISS-dom that sing its praises. It even received nostalgic cheers from fans a decade after its release when the band would deign to play a song or two from it at KISS Conventions. There is even a British film-maker who is attempting to decipher its concept for a movie and an upcoming book from Tim McPhate and KISS historian non-parallel, Julian Gill called Odyssey, which will dissect every corner of it. But the general consensus is that KISS’s 1981 concept album was a monumental disaster and by far the band’s worst.

Guitarist and founder, Paul Stanley has called it “the biggest misstep of our careers” while his partner Gene Simmons described it as “pompous.” Former founding member, Ace Frehley, who thought it “offensive”, once threw a tape of it out of the window of his car while speeding down the Major Deegan Expressway. “It’s an abomination,” says its producer and mastermind, Bob Ezrin.

So why did KISS conceive, record, and release an album that was originally part of a trilogy, conjure a major theatrical tour, and consider an accompanying feature film for a project almost no one had much faith in and almost immediately disowned as if the entire episode was some kind of sophistic mirage?

Many a rock act has suffered the “whoops” moment, starting with a bevy of crappy Elvis movies to the mighty Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour television show fiasco to U2’s almost inconceivable Pop Mart Tour and, of course, Madonna’s Sex book, Garth Brooks becoming someone else, and a Bob Dylan Christmas album. But none could seriously compare with the story of Music from The Elder, which confuses the hell out of just about anyone coming in contact with it to this day.

This is an attempt – try and stick with me here – to explain it, not excuse or defend it, necessarily, just explain it. And for that we must go back to the final dark days of KISSmania, when the walls were closing in on our heroes…

THE END IS NIGH?KISS79b

It is March of 1981 and KISS is fading. Fast. The theatrical, image-driven, merchandising colossal band that once ruled the better part of the 1970s has endured faltering record sales, dwindling concert attendance, especially in the U.S., and depending on which party is consulted, the expulsion or defection of a founding member, drummer Peter Criss. The band’s original label, Casablanca Records, which had bet broadly and benefitted spectacularly on KISS’s success, came apart at the seams with the death of disco, a fad that it had wagered its considerable funds would last. It would be absorbed by Polygram Records, which boots its founder, Neil Bogart and negotiates a lavish contract with the band that it would hardly recoup in record sales. Aucoin Management, led by innovative marketing genius, Bill Aucoin, who guided KISS into the rock stratosphere, was also in dire straits. He had failed at every turn to duplicate his band’s once-in-a-lifetime meteoric rise with another act – he famously passed up one of the biggest bands on the planet, Van Halen for something called Piper in 1977.

Fading…

All around pop culture, signs of shifting fortunes are closing in. For perhaps the first time since the late 1960s’ hard rock is disappearing from the charts. The concussive rise of Punk, and its kinder and gentler cousin, New Wave in the late ‘70s has reset the agenda, torching the recent past. The latter is still going strong with hit albums by the Cars, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, the Pretenders, all competing mightily with the English New Romantic sound as it sweeps across America in the form of Duran Duran, Adam and the Ants, and Spandau Ballet. With the advent of MTV the following summer these acts and many more will usher in a new age.

Fading…

KISS is becoming a dinosaur; the make-up, costumes, theatrics, and the relentless merchandising that had attracted fans of all ages, now mostly children, has rendered the band somewhat of a joke. It didn’t help matters when in May of 1980 KISS releases Unmasked with its comic book self-mockery of the more infantile side of the band’s image on its cover – there is actually a frame of a kid announcing “I still say they stink!” – to its unbelievably soft single, “Shandi” accompanied by a video of what looks like a middling imposter of the once mighty KISS vamping poorly through a foggy lens.

Fading…

KISS is lost. Its image has taken all the hits it could withstand. Its music was never particularly experimental or groundbreaking, but is now failing to at least be fun. And when a band makes no bones from its outset that its only aim is fame and riches and suddenly both are rapidly going down the tubes, then what?

KISS is unsure of what that answer could be, but the band, its management and its label know one thing; this has happened before. Sort of. And when it did, in that fateful spring of 1975 with the band at a creative, financial and career-defining crossroad, KISS turned to Robert Alan Ezrin to pull them from the abyss.

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Long before selling out stadiums, seducing millions of dollars from merchandising, earning several platinum albums, and even starring in a hit television show and a popular Marvel comic book, KISS was a struggling rock oddity looking for footing in a rock world that had mostly ignored it. Paul Stanley (Star Child), Gene Simmons (Demon), Ace Frehley (Spaceman) and Peter Criss (Cat Man) had recorded three less than stellar efforts (KISS, Hotter Than Hell, Dressed To Kill) with little to no recognition or sales. The label and management were at odds on royalty payments and touring costs, and beneath a torrent of lawsuits the desperate result was to record a live album to salvage what was left of the record contract and regroup.

That regrouping included the recruiting of Bob Ezrin, who was riding high as the 26 years-old wunderkind who “created” the Alice Cooper group’s signature cinematic sound; producing, co-writing and conceiving the themes for each outlandish Cooper show and managing to also top the charts slowly but surely with Love It To Death, Killer, School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies, the final one cresting at #1 in the U.S and U.K. Soon Alice would go solo and Ezrin would work his magic to unleash the innovative album, film, and tour, Welcome to My Nightmare.

Always one to grab onto talent with a definably odd charm, Ezrin was intrigued by KISS as early as 1974, something he shared with David McGee of Rolling Stone in 1976; “I could hear a rumble from the street, and I’ve always had a very good sense of that. I knew KISS was having a profound effect on people already and they weren’t even home yet. No airplay. No singles. No real big headlining tours.”

Ezrin met with the band in the spring of 1975 and broke down its issues; “I told them, ‘You’re super heroes of rock with a singular power and that’s it. There’s no depth to you!’ I just wanted there to be layers. I didn’t want to peel off the make-up and costume and find that there was nothing there.”

With the band yearning for direction and a legitimate producer, Paul, Gene, Ace and Peter willingly sublimated themselves to the will of Master Ezrin, who pushed them through a “boot camp” for weeks of music theory, song structure, signature composing, and relentless rehearsing. “We absolutely pulled out a blackboard and started introducing them to the very basics of music theory, just enough so we were speaking the same language,” recalls Ezrin.

Stanley concurs in his 2014 memoir, Face The Music, “For a bunch of guys who thought they were hot shit, it was initially jarring to go into a studio with somebody who treated us like children.”

Heading to New York City’s famed Record Plant, then the state of the art recording facility on the planet, the band spent a month cutting what would become its sonic manifesto, Destroyer, with its booming drum sounds, wall of guitars, backwards tracks, choirs, orchestra, calliope, and a one-minute and twenty-eight second radio-drama opening. It spawned one of the first ever power-ballads with the band’s biggest hit “Beth” and, with the ensuing unexpected popularity of Alive! that autumn, would catapult KISS into a world-wide phenomenon; crossing cultural and economic barriers rarely traversed by mere rock bands.

I spent hours speaking with the now legendary Bob Ezrin for my new book, Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon, and throughout our many discussions, we always returned to how much Bob had “altered” KISS’s “sound” with Destroyer. However, Bob would have none of it: “KISS have proven that there’s no such thing as a KISS sound. They’re an incredibly versatile group with a KISS attitude and a KISS style of lyric writing since the band is comprised of characters.

Ezrin never accepted KISS as being a two-dimensional act, appealing only to those “15 year-old pimply boys”, as he described them. With Destroyer, Ezrin added a pathos to the KISS ethos, and a third dimension of vulnerability, teen angst and critical character development that assisted in taking the band into new audience territories, expanding the act into something transcending rock into pop culture and transforming them into icons. This was the mission of KISS from the band’s origins, but it took a few months with Bob Ezrin to realize it five years earlier, and there appeared no better time than to hand themselves over to him once more.

Turns out when Ezrin is chosen to lead the new project, he has not seen anyone inside the KISS camp since the release of Destroyer, when Bill Aucoin, taking a lead from his panicked charges that the album was too much a departure and began hearing from the press and fans that the “experiment” had eradicated the band’s hard rock credibility, sent the young producer a letter officially stating that he had missed the mark in getting the elusive “KISS sound”. Ezrin was shocked, dismayed and pissed off, telling his protégé, Jack Douglas, whom the band had already contacted to perhaps remix Destroyer and quickly record a back-up without him, to tell everyone associated with KISS to “…go fuck themselves!”

KISS indeed would follow up Destroyer by going in the completely opposite direction and rode the crest of Destroyer’s massive success with Rock and Roll Over, Love Gun, Alive II, Double Platinum, and Dynasty without him. And even though none of them hinted at the amazing aural imagery of Destroyer or the musical vastness provided by a classical trained and professionally astute artist like Bob Ezrin, there looked to be no end to this gravy train, until, of course, there was.

The way the KISS inner sanctum figure it now there are two ways the band could go at this crucial juncture; the same old route back to the cock rock, floor-on-the-floor assault of the early days, which is quite obviously out-of-touch with a ravaged rock landscape, or completely torch the thing and pass the smoldering ruins over to Ezrin for another “experiment” that could provide the band an end-around to all of its troubles.

Music from The Elder is the result.

Released in early November of 1981, the new KISS album was not only a complete departure from whatever the band had attempted before, including Destroyer, it appeared to many in the business, and more pressingly fans, despite the recognizable KISS logo, to not even be a KISS album. There were no photos of their famous painted faces on the cover, only a single hand reaching for an ancient knocker on a giant door. The gatefold image opened to a medieval setting of candles and a long wooden table. The music was also a curious mélange that separated the band from its glorious past; Paul Stanley singing falsetto, Gene Simmons crooning, an orchestra, wonderfully overwrought as a backdrop on Destroyer, now dominated the sound. Even the album’s title whispered bewilderment; if this is music from…, then what exactly is The Elder?

LET’S GET SERIOUS568A7D0F-kiss-new-odyssey-book-to-offer-definitive-examination-of-1981s-music-from-the-elder-album-video-trailer-image

Gene Simmons, a huge fan of comic books, horror films and sci-fi, had whipped off a short story/screenplay for a concept he developed around a single line scribbled in his notebook; “When the earth was young, they were already old.” It was to be a classic tale of good versus evil told over several worlds, not unlike the wildly popular Star Wars, which had just released a box office record-smashing sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. There is a council of elders called the Order of the Rose in search of a “chosen one”, ala Luke Skywalker and the Jedi Knights, trained by a mentor, Morpheus, ala Obi Wan Kenobi, to fight the evil villain, Mr. Blackwell ala Darth Vader, evoking a medieval to futuristic mash up of myth and mystery. It was anything but fleshed out, but evokes something in the cinematically motivated Ezrin, who puts the kibosh on a series of demos KISS had recently been working on to return the band to its harder edge.

In fact, earlier in the year the KISS newsletter had informed the disillusioned fan base that the band’s new material was “hard and heavy from start to finish” with “straight ahead rock and roll that will knock your socks off.” And so they were. Demos from the period with new drummer, Eric Carr, with his massive double-bass kit and tank-division style, had begun to breathe life back into the band. Although pictured on the cover of Unmasked, original drummer, Peter Criss had not played a single lick, as he had only played on one song, his own, “Dirty Livin’” on Dynasty. Session drummers filled in, as did players for Simmons on bass and Frehley on guitar for a few songs on Unmasked, which helps to explain the record’s poor attempt at flimsy pop and New Wave rip-offs. The new KISS demos sounded more like KISS, because members of the band were actually performing them.

But manager Bill Aucoin believed strongly that doing the same old thing was no tonic to the band’s decreasing popularity and had other ideas. He told KISS biographers, David Leaf and Ken Sharp in 1996, “I had a meeting with Bob (Ezrin) and said, ‘How about some sort of album that can tell a story?’ Bob’s very bright and we got into this mythological thing and it got way out of line.”

This one statement subtly encapsulates the aura surrounding KISS that Aucoin himself had built from day-one; against all odds and against all reason, this is the biggest band in the world and it will do whatever it wants without consequence. As much as Ezrin was a strong and lasting musical influence on KISS, Aucoin was its father figure. It was he who had developed a grab-bag glam rock outfit into a roaring image and stage machine. His word was sacrosanct in the KISS inner sanctum.

This singular notion of invincibility manifested in several ways, not the least of which was the notoriously wild spending on shows and costumes, and with greater fame and fortune it expanded to cars, houses, drugs, women, and the usual rock excesses; by 1980 they were all far from dealing in anything close to reality. “We were delusional,” Paul Stanley recalls. “We were at a point, individually and as a band when we were becoming complacent and very comfortable in our success. I think we got caught up in the Emperor’s new clothes.” Gene Simmons, a man armed with a monstrous ego even when he was a pauper, had gone completely Hollywood, dating Diana Ross (after a stint with Cher on his arm), and flirting with the movie business. “I blame me,” said Simmons in the same account. “I really believed in the vision. ‘Yeah, I am great!’ I take full responsibility for pushing it (The Elder). I wanted credibility, which is really stupid if you think about it. If you’ve got everything else, who cares?” Ace Frehely, a party animal from the day he joined the band in ’73, was now a full blown addict; coke, pills, and a spectacular run of uninterrupted alcohol abuse. His only ally in the band, Peter Criss, was gone, so he was outvoted routinely by Stanley and Simmons, and although he loved Eric Carr as a drummer, he knew he was merely nothing more than a hired musician and could offer no real fulcrum against the tide of the band he now decided was losing its edge.

Bob Ezrin, as is his wont, ignores the wining and over analysis and enthusiastically runs with the idea of a KISS concept album filled with fantasy. He is coming off the massive critical and commercial success of Pink Floyd’s conceptual opus, The Wall, in which he went deep into the terrifying psyche of its composer, Roger Waters; coming to grips with his past, his disassociation with stardom, and his constant battles within his band. Throughout the sessions that trudged on for months, Pink Floyd was splintering – original keyboardist Richard Wright was summarily sacked by Waters during its recording – and it is something of a miracle that such a seminal piece of rock art could emerge from this swirling turmoil. Ezrin takes charge of KISS in the same manner and forges ahead undaunted.

And so KISS, now summoned to Ezrin’s home country of Canada, abandons all of its earlier “returning to hard rock” ideas and in May of 1981 begin to embrace Simmons’s fantastical story of youth overcoming the evils of the universe one song at a time.

Well, at least half of KISS embraces it.

Ace Frehley is certain that this is not the band he signed up for and quickly rekindles his well-practiced “I’m out of here!” routine he had begun as early as 1976. As with the Destroyer sessions when he was replaced on several tunes by brilliant studio guitarist, Dick Wagner, Frehley rarely shows up. As Ezrin works out songs with Stanley in his home studio and fleshes out snippets of song ideas with Simmons, Frehley decides that he would hole up in his Connecticut home in his newly erected basement studio, Ace in the Hole, to work on his tracks separately.

For his part, Eric Carr is merely a bystander. Barely in the band a year, Carr started out powering the KISS sound back to its ‘70s rock roots, but with the fits and starts of trying to transition into the 1980s’ with struggles to keep up appearances as one of the top bands in the world, he is cast adrift in the “new concept project’ shuffle and is ordered to play in styles that he has hardly considered, much less conquered. Ezrin, who had driven former drummer, Peter Criss to near madness meticulously pushing him to play exact parts to click tracks during the making of Destroyer quickly tires of Carr’s inability to master the new material and eventually replaces him with studio drummer, Alan Schwartzberg.

Still Stanley, Simmons and Ezrin press on with vigor. It’s this triumvirate that poured their hearts and souls into Destroyer five years earlier when Frehley and Criss wilted under the pressure. Ezrin believes this was something of a cultural, almost familial connection he parlayed into this new challenge.

“You cannot diminish the kind of kindred sense of connection between Paul, Gene, had myself” Ezrin told me in 2013. “The three of us growing up in Jewish households with that same sort of Eastern European ethic of trying to push the kid to be great and putting an emphasis on education and the arts; having to take piano lessons, learn to dance, doing all this stuff we had to do as kids, we had kind of a common ground. So when we all got together we felt like long-lost cousins in a way.”

The “cousins” start the painstaking process of creating The Elder story by taking segments of songs already fleshed out, along with newly penned pieces, and attaching them to Simmons’s vague plotline. These include an old pre-KISS Gene Simmons tune from a 1970 demo tape called “Eskimo Sun”, reworked as “Only You”, a character back-story for the theme’s protagonist. A new Stanley/Ezrin composition, “Just A Boy” describes the young man’s reticence to take up the mantle of champion. Stanley’s “Every Little Bit of Your Heart” or in some bootleg circles titled “I Want You Only” slowly becomes, with embellishments from Simmons and Ezrin, the central ballad of the piece, “A World Without Heroes”, which provides the youthful hero to imagine an apathetic future with nothing to fight for and no one in which to fight.

Years later, Ezrin told reporter Chris Alexander; “At the time we were all looking for bigger and better things… we thought it would be the beginning of many projects to come out under the name Elder. Paul and Gene were very into it, and put everything in it. They both had to step out of their personas, and was really daring for them to do that. They were attracted to the classic rock, almost Beatle-esque style of the album – they were seduced by that.”

And as he did with Destroyer in January of 1976, Ezrin once again brings in outside material and writers. A key song to the plot ends up being a souring ballad called “Odyssey” written by a music-business veteran of nearly thirty years, Tony Powers. The New York based singer-songwriter-actor had pioneered the short-form video storyline later used by Michael Jackson to great effect during the height of music videos with a 1981 trilogy that included the song. It caught the eye and ear of Paul Stanley, who cornered Powers in an Upper West Side café in NYC and asked him if KISS could use it as a key theme for the piece. Another veteran of the New York music scene, Lou Reed, with whom Ezrin had worked in 1973, producing his dark concept album, Berlin, is brought in to add lyrical and theatrical flourishes (it is Reed who scribbles the title “World Without Heroes” on a pad in the studio, which prompts Simmons to move the song in that direction). These include the villain theme, “Mr. Blackwell” in which Reed wields his now famous use of tense-shifting/first-person to third-person storytelling to unveil a truly demonic presence.

However much fleshing-out the story of The Elder would thematically and musically take KISS outside its bubble, there is something strange happening that had not occurred since the Destroyer sessions of late 1975, early ’76; the members of KISS are indeed writing together. There would even be time for Eric Carr to contribute, as he did with a riff for the rocking “Under The Rose”, which introduces the listeners to the world of council and “Escape From The Island”, a thunderous instrumental conceived from a Carr/Frehley jam with Ezrin on bass, marking the first time since “Beth” that neither Stanley nor Simmons appear on a KISS track. And for the first time since Destroyer’s Stax-laden “Shout It Out Loud”, an attempt to recapture the verse-trading that worked to perfection on the band’s signature tune, “Rock and Roll All Nite”, Simmons and Stanley contributed the penultimate track of the album with “I”.

LET’S GET PRETENTIOUSelder-outtake

All of this “creative output” took an insane amount of time to get down; seven months all-told, of which most of it was to everyone’s memory spent jacking around and messing with sound effects and over-orchestrating in four different studios (Ace in The Whole, A & R, Record Plant, Ezrin Farm Studio & Sounds Interchange) in four cities and two countries, with a co-producer (Brian Christiansen) and seven documented engineers. Ezrin, the master of ceremonies, now comes clean about his serious drug problem throughout, which prevented him ceasing the over-indulgence, which pleased Simmons, since this was his story they were telling. He had designs on a feature film and a sequel to accompany the massively planned tour and all of it stemming from this simple tried-and-true idea of the power of good triumphing over evil; Biblical, Grecian, Shakespearean. But it is ultimately the power of these two men’s intimidating egos that looms large over the proceedings and lends another air of fantasy to what is being created; in their rather skewed estimation, a masterpiece.

“They wanted to make a record to combat the criticism of the last couple of records,” Ezrin recalled. “I had just done The Wall, so The Elder was a victim of The Wall and our mutual desire was to do something ‘different’.” The key ingredient to connecting the storytelling in The Wall and The Elder was a series of sessions adding extended narration to the music, furthering the album’s cinematic grandeur. “The idea of the narration was supposed to bridge some of the songs together, with some orchestral and choir underscoring,” recalled engineer Kevin Doyle to KISS FAQ’s Tim McPhate. “In keeping with the idea of The Elder as a goal of being a seamless concept idea, almost kind of like Dark Side of the Moon where side A is not really a bunch of songs, it’s one continuous play with no ending.” Canadian-based actors Robert Christie, Chris Makepeace and Antony Parr, (Makepeace and Parr having made it on the album as the final voices of the Council Elder and Morpheus) are brought in, as well as the services of the American Symphony Orchestra and the St. Roberts Choir. “It was antithetical to what KISS was about,” Ezrin continues. KISS was never pretentious or precious, and never took themselves seriously. They were always about fun, sex and power, and always were, in effect, horror cartoon characters, so to suddenly make a concept album, which had something of ‘consequence’, was an idea anti-KISS. It was a flawed concept from the beginning.”

“You should never go for respect,” Simmons told his biographers in retrospect. “On the day that critics and your mom like the same music that you do, it’s over.”

Although not a motivating factor at its origins, perhaps beyond the illusions of manager, Bill Aucoin, who is also battling his own mounting drug issues, building the mystique that Music From The Elder is a conceptual masterpiece seems to grow with the months sunken deep in the project. The band, specifically Simmons and Stanley, fueled by Ezrin’s Herculean creativity, believe that if they had lost credibility by selling out to merchandizing and appealing to children with the KISS Meets The Phantom TV movie produced by children’s cartoon mavens, Hanna-Barbara and being turned into superheroes by Marvel Comics, then it is time to seduce the critics, who had not only ignored KISS for most of its existence, but had been openly hostile.

Thus, the first ten minutes of the original track listing of Music from The Elder is filled with Broadway-style, sing-song tomfoolery and an opening instrumental, “Fanfare”, written and arranged by Ezrin and Stanley and played with medieval-period instruments, followed by the flowery falsetto of “Just a Boy” (originally adorned with Bach-style “Toccata & Fuge” organ), and the epic piano-drenched Powers’ ballad, “Odyssey”. This ethereal beginning gives way to Simmons’s psychedelic phrasing of “Only You”, the lyrical changes from the 1970 demo of “Eskimo Sun” hardly echoing hard rock or KISS, nor does “Under The Rose”, replete with Genesis-esque keyboards and a chorus of monk chants. Not until Frehley’s only full contribution at the end of side one, “Dark Light” does this represent anything close to a KISS album.

Upon hearing the mixes, which also take an extended time to complete, Polygram freaks; completely dismissing it as trippy claptrap and begins hacking up the track list with no attention paid to the oddly formed storyline, slapping “The Oath” the heaviest number by far, but the eighth in the plotline, at the beginning of the record, followed quizzically by “Fanfare”, clearly an overture, then “Just a Boy” with “Dark Light” shoved in to keep up hard-rock appearances.

None of this deters the KISS camp from bringing to Polygram the curious but intriguing gatefold cover designed by their trusty Art/Creative Director Dennis Woloch, who had put together every KISS album after and including the breakthrough, Alive!. “The whole visual concept came out of my head,” Woloch says today. “I didn’t even listen to the album to tell you the truth. I don’t know what they were singing about.”

Woloch commissions New York photographer, David Spindel to photograph a pre-teen boy reaching for the ancient knocker in the middle of a prop-door he builds, but the band rejects it. Strangely, they believe this is too eclectic and confusing. Paul Stanley volunteers his hand for a reshoot. “I hated the whole idea,” concludes Woloch. “Not a concept album, per se, this concept; it just seemed so cliché and over done; wizards and ‘seeking the truth’. But they’re still doin’ it; The Hobbit and Star Wars, all that stuff.”

To complete the transformation, all the members of KISS shear their hair and reveal new, streamlined consumes with 80s pastel colors, then appear on the ABC Saturday Night Live rip-off, Fridays to perform “World Without Heroes”, “The Oath” and “I”, but with the album getting lambasted by confused and outraged fans, summarily bag the entire thing and return to rock form the following year with Creatures of the Night. Just like that, the entire enterprise, months of work and planning, disappears without a trace. It is almost as if The Elder or for that matter, the Music from…never existed. No tour. No film. No sequel. Nothing.

A side note of some irony is that Rolling Stone magazine, which had mocked KISS for a decade, gives Music from The Elder a rousing review. Go figure.

IN RETROSPECT…download

It was the KISS album that should not have happened, well…

Looking back, Gene Simmons has said more than once that Music from The Elder is a good album, just not a good KISS album. And maybe he has a point there. Maybe after years of being KISS, the band needed to be something else – hell, the Beatles did it with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Perhaps KISS just needed to blow off steam and dive completely into the self-indulgent deep end and swim in the conceptual waters with Bob Ezrin in order to reach the other side with a renewed spirit.

“Without all the ups and downs and following trends and taking chances, KISS would not have as interesting a career,” Michigan DJ, Steve Ponchaud told me recently. “All their albums would sound the same like AC/DC.”

Perhaps it was simply hubris that created Music from The Elder, but that would be an unfair final analysis, for wasn’t it a sense of unremitting pride that lifted KISS from queer notoriety to one of the biggest bands in the world?

“Regardless of its lack of commercial success or the artistic validation they had sought, Music from The Elder remains a critical part in the band’s recorded output and should never be shunned,” says Julian Gil. “Its failure set the stage for wholesale change and reinvention that would drive the band for the rest of the decade; and only through that abject failure could the passion continue to be discovered.”

After all, KISS survived the album everyone hates to literally reinvent itself without the iconic make-up, ingratiating its image into the 1980s hair-band craze, then later in the ‘90s when reuniting the original members and breaking concert attendance records all over the world. This “return” to the tried-and-true rock roots that bore them may have finally been the correct business, if not artistic, move, but truth be told none of it would be this interesting again.

“Believe me, I understand when it’s your career on the line and you do something very brave and very different and put your nuts on the line you hope that the world accepts and appreciates what you do,” says Bob Ezrin today about his work with KISS on both Destroyer and Music From The Elder. “But then there’s always that little voice in the back of your head that says, (sings) ‘Do you love me?’”

In the end, the album everyone hates may indeed be the last KISS album of merit.

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