Sunday, April 20, 2014

Vonnegut & Martsch

A handful of years back -- around 2006 -- I sent off a handwritten interview request to Doug Martsch, of Built to Spill. These are interviews I do where I send 10-11 questions to an artist, cartoonist, musician, author, etc. and ask them to respond in their own handwriting, because I'm a nut for handwriting.

I had met Doug outside the Fox Theater in Boulder and asked about doing one, he was game, and gave me his address to send the questions to, so I did. When I do these, I try to include a 'thank you gift' to the person doing it. I sent Joe Matt $5, I sent Seth the uncollected Salinger, and so forth.

I sent Doug an orange shirt with Kurt Vonnegut's face screened on it, with a bunch of questions & return postage, but never heard anything back. A couple years went by and a buddy of mine emailed to say she had just seen Built to Spill in Portland, and Doug was wearing a Vonnegut shirt. She didn't know I made the shirt, just that I was a Vonnegut freak. So I did some Google image searching and found a bunch of pics of Dough wearing my shirt. Neat-o!

Here's a nice video of the band, with my shirt heavily featured, six years after I sent it to him. I did a decent printing job -- it's holding up pretty well!


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Plan

I've been up since five, ostensibly to 'get stuff done', but that only counts if 'getting stuff done' is the same as 'farting around on time wasting websites'. 

Today I may have a baby swap with a friend of mine. She's a writer with an nine month old, and I'm trying to finish a documentary with a fourteen month old. We set it up this week to start doing a swap. One day I watch both babies, and she writes, and another she watches them so I can edit. Today's my day -- we'll see how it goes. Going to hole up in a Starbucks and see what I can get done. 

I scared the shit out of John P. the other day when I told him, excitedly, "I've got like six minutes edited!" I think I heard him swallow his own tongue. Then I explained that that's like having six pages inked, and it made a bit more sense. 

I'm trucking to get this damn thing done so that I can then go back and do actual post production work. Making sure the sound is good, lighting is balanced out, all that stuff. I'm planning on a debut at SPX in September, so my hope is to be done editing by the end of May. That gives a few summer months to tidy things up. 

I think today I'm going to focus on getting a couple outsider interviews in there, and then this afternoon when Oscar's down, get to scanning some stuff. If this comes off like it looks in my head, it'll be at least watchable. 

As Doug sings, 'The plan won't accomplish anything if it's not implemented'. Speaking of Doug, Built to Spill is coming back east -- nine shows in ten days. I'm in the works to catch two of them, and just this AM realized that 'Wilmington, DE' is a mere 100 miles away. Totally doable. 

This has been a pretty strange and challenging year in many ways, and I feel like I'm just getting my head together/screwed on right, and frankly, a few Built to Spill shows is just what the doctor ordered, so we'll see. 

It's funny, when I was 15-18, I'd drive hundreds of miles with my friends for a show. I remember driving three hours each way to see Tracy Chapman -- someone I only sort of liked. By the time I was in my mid-20's, I wouldn't catch a bus to Slim's if it was going take more than twenty minutes to get there. 

As I get older, I'm content seeing Built to Spill, Yo La Tengo over and over again with the random one-off special show thrown in for good measure (Neutral Milk Hotel, for example).

Wish me luck. 


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Neil Young 1968 -> mid 1972

Ok, I've spent a month or so with the first eight Neil Young albums, and have some thoughts.

Neil Young (December 1968) - C+
Meh. If you love Neil Young, this is a tough record. It's long-time complaint has been that it's over produced (which is true), but it's also just clearly an album written by a twenty-two year old. By a YOUNG twenty-two year old. Compare it to 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan' which came out in 1963, when Dylan was 22 and you'll see what I mean.

It's chock full of teenage pseudo poetry stuff. Even the titles of the songs point to a guy trying way too hard. There's not much subtlety in 'The Loner', 'If I Could Have Her Tonight', 'I've Been Waiting for You', or 'I've Loved Her So Long'.

There are a couple tracks I dug. 'The Old Laughing Lady', 'Here We Are In the Years', and even 'The Last Trip to Tulsa' -- but mostly I wished I could hear them as done solo on piano, or with Crazy Horse, around 1970-71.

This album IS notable, however, because it brought Neil together with Jack Nitzsche, the incredible (and tragic) keyboardist, and the man who would become synonymous with Neil Young albums, producing basically every Neil Young album until his death in 1995, David Briggs.


Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (May 1969) - A+
Released a scant six months after his solo debut, this album is to its predecessor what Neil Armstrong was to Orville Wright. Talk about one giant step for Neil Young. From the crunchy guitar and hand clap opening of 'Cinnamon Girl' to the winding down guitar solo of 'Cowgirl in the Sand', the seven songs in 40.5 minutes that make up this album are damn close to perfection.

This was Young's first album with Crazy Horse (formerly 'The Rockets', hence the title of 'Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)'), and you can tell the band really set up the sonic space they needed to let their sound hit the tape exactly right. Young's vocals are much more open, his guitar work is both more focused and more relaxed at the same time, and the addition of the incredibly Crazy Horse gives his song the direction they needed.

As a lyricist, Young seems to improve quite a bit on this album over his predecessor. 'Down By The River' a song where the singer kills his lover, and seems to relish in it, is amazingly counterbalanced by the plaintive almost-sobbing of 'Running Dry's' "I left my love with ribbons on, and water in her eyes. I took from her the love I'd won, and turned it to the sky'.

This is my most-listened to Neil Young album. If you don't have it, get it. It's really good. I think it's perhaps the perfect album to listen to when it's really hot, kind of dusty, and you've got a can of beer in your hand.


After the Gold Rush (August 1970) - A+
Two home runs in a row? Seems unlikely, but it's true. This is Young's first stab at the acoustic/ballad-y side that would gain him worldwide fame with 'Harvest' (released eighteen months after this LP), but is counterbalanced with plenty of 'Everybody Knows'-era fuzz guitar tunes. Of course, the album goes much deeper than 'it's half electric and half acoustic'.

At thirty-five minutes, ten seconds, the elven songs on this record pack a real punch. Kicking off with the the heartbreak trinity of 'Tell Me Why', 'After the Gold Rush' & 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart', side one takes a sharp left into the overtly political 'Southern Man' -- a rocker calling out racism in the south -- and lands on the jaunty piano ditty, 'Till the Morning Comes'.

Side two kicks off with the harmonica wail of Neil's incredible cover of the country tune 'Oh, Lonesome Me' and continues in the heartbreak vein right on through. This album may be the best break up album of all time, but it ends with the raucous sing-along of 'Cripple Creek Ferry'.

This album flows so wonderfully, that as soon as the first track starts, you know you're going to listen to it all the way through. And, somehow, this album which is full of heartbreak, loss, sorrow and anger leaves you at the end…..smiling? It's crazy. Great work Neil. Allegedly the project started as the soundtrack to an unmade movie written by the great Dean Stockwell, but even the script has been lost.

This album features an incredible line up of players. Nils Lofgren in his first released recording at the age of 19, the incredible (and incredible messed up) Jack Nitzsche, Stephen Stills, and then the folks from Crazy Horse are all here as well -- Bill Talbot, Ralph Molina, and in what I think is the last released studio work with Young, Danny Whitten, who would die of a heroin overdose in 1972, and send Neil on a strange three year musical journey.

Fun aside: Lynard Skynard famously sang 'I hope Neil Young will remember, southern man don't need him around anyhow' in 1974. Warren Zevon responded in 1980 (in 'Play it All Night Long') with 'Sweet Home Alabama, play that dead band's song, turn the speakers up full blast, play it all night long'.


Harvest (February 1972) B+ 
In the eighteen months between records, Neil had hooked himself up with the folks over at Crosby, Stills & Nash and put out one studio album (Deja Vu) and one live album (4 Way Street) and while there are many folks who love CSNY (myself being one of them), I wonder if it wasn't too much of a distraction for him, at (arguably) the height of his powers.

I think Harvest is a great album, but it's all over the place. While on Gold Rush, he was able to mix styles, themes and sounds seamlessly, 'Harvest' feels like a compilation album -- in fact, I'd argue it's the  logical predecessor to the next two NY releases which are SO all over the place, he's never bothered to released them on CD or digitally (Journey Through the Past & Time Fades Away).

Harvest has some great tunes, and was the best selling album of 1972 in the U.S. Obviously, 'Heart of Gold' and 'Old Man' are the two insanely popular songs from this record, but the other cuts are just as good -- however, the albums lacks cohesion.

He's got a couple tunes with the London Symphony backing him up -- 'A Man Needs a Maid' and 'There's a World' - which I can't stand at all. He's got the live acoustic 'The Needle and the Damage Done', his classic song about heroin abuse, which is great, but sonically is very out of place on this album.

Then there's the folk-country James Taylor blueprint 'Harvest' a pretty song, and his continuing battle with the south in fuzz rocker 'Alabama' (which I believe is the inspiration for 'Sweet Home Alabama'), and the piano rocker 'Are You Ready for the Country?'.

Personally, my two favorites are the opener 'Out on the Weekend', which kicks off the country/folk theme of the album, but is a great song of resignation, and the molasses dirge of the album's closer, 'Words', which I've always blown off until I dug into the 16-minute version that shows up in '72's 'Journey through the Past'.

The tunes are great on here, but as Neil said himself (paraphrased by me) 'With Harvest I was in the middle of the road. I can't stay there, and I can't go back'. It's his most popular album and the one I think he feels furthest from.


Next installment:
Journey through the Past (November 1972)
Time Fades Away (October 1973)
On the Beach (July 1974)
Tonight's the Night (Recorded Sept-Oct 1973/Released June 75)





Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Song Without a Home

I've been working pretty good on the discography. The 'Ditch Trilogy', as it's called -- (Time Fades Away, On the Beach, Tonight's the Night) are pretty intense, so I've let myself drift up to Zuma a little. Not that Cortez the Killer is a 'light' number, but it takes the edge of the previous three off.

I'll do a longer write up in a few days, but I wanted to share this song. It's called 'Journey through the Past'. It didn't show up on the album or in the film of the same name, but rather on 'Time Fades Away', the live album Neil put out but really didn't like. I don't disagree with him -- Time Fades Away is pretty disjointed, not that inviting and all-in-all a difficult record to get into, BUT every time I've played it, this sad gem has jumped out at me.




Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Discography

Working my way through the Neil Young discography. I've got the 48 albums he put out between 1968 and 2007 (when I finish I'll pick up the ones that have come out since 2007). One goal in 2014 is to give each album 10-15 listens and get a sense of what he's going for, artistically. I'm going to go, roughly chronologically.

I've been very familiar with Harvest, Everybody Knows this is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, Rust Never Sleeps, On the Beach, and Decade for many many years.  Given how much I love those albums, I've actually been pretty antsy to give too much else a listen, which is shitty of me. Also, I keep hearing about Tonight's the Night, Zuma and a few other 'classics' which are missing from my vocabulary. So, I'm going to rectify this.

I really respect Neil Young as an artist, and so want to give him his due.

I'm kicking off with:
Neil Young (1968)
Everybody Knows this is Nowhere (1969)
After the Gold Rush (1970)
Harvest (1972)
Journey Through the Past (1972) -- soundtrack to film of the same name, directed by NY, never released on CD
Time Fades Away (1973) -- first live album, never released on CD
On the Beach (1974)
Tonight's the Night (1975 - recorded 1973)

So far, I can say the following:
-- his first solo album is much better than I ever would have guessed -- not sure why
-- I've always disliked the tunes on Harvest with the London Symphony -- that hasn't changed
-- Journey Through the Past has a couple INCREDIBLE live cuts from a CSNY show in 1970. Southern Man and Ohio are frightening in their intensity.
-- Tonight's the Night is as good, if not better, than everyone has always said -- why did I wait this long to get into it?!?

If I created eight objects like these eight albums in just six years, well, I'd be pretty amazed with myself. Really excited about this project.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Time to make the donuts

Not a lot of updates -- have been working a lot the last couple weeks, but here it is, 5:32am on a Sunday and I'm gonna get cracking' on the film a bit more. Slowly but surely, I'll get there.

In the meantime, I've completely re-fallen in love with The Who. When I was a kid, they were one of my all time faves. I remember watching a documentary on them, then practicing the windmill and promptly breaking the light fixture in our low ceilinged living room. In 1989, my brothers came home from a road trip and said they almost bought me tickets to see them in Glens Falls but didn't. I was fourteen and I'm not sure if I've forgiven them yet for passing up the ticket line…..

Anyway, go here to check out their 1970 set at the Isle of Wight festival. So ridiculously good. It's not Leeds, but damn, it's incredible. Tthese four guys were something amazing and special. I saw an interview with Townshend where he talked about how they all viewed their instruments as means of releasing their aggression and rage.

It really seems they put every ounce into every show, which is what I love about 'em. Anyway, back to editing.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Support SAW

The Sequential Artist Workshop is doing their 2014 fundraising drive right now, and you should help 'em out. SAW is a pretty great institution down in Gainesville, FL which helps further comics in great ways. Classes, visiting artists, workshops, etc. These folks are on the ground getting their hands dirty, and are true angels.

While I may have mixed feelings about the term 'sequential art', and  some mixed feelings about comics 'classes', the folks at SAW are legit. And let's face it, donating to folks trying to make things and teaching folks how to make things is a better use of your money than any of the other 500 ways you'll piss it away today.

So, head over to the SAW funding campaign via Indiegogo. They're trying to raise a mere $7000 and have some nice giveaways as thank you's. They're at $4500 with two weeks to go, so, go ahead, make it happen.