Thursday, December 23, 2010

REPOST: Joe Strummer Is Still Dead, And I Don’t Feel So Good Either....

Joe Strummer: "That heart of his always did work too hard...." - Pete Townshend upon the occasion of his death

TIM SEZ: An old classic I trot out every year, initially written and posted to commemorate the 4th anniversary of Joe's death. (Well, except for this year, due to the internet being disconnected at Napalm HQ - greetings from the Public Library! Sorry it's a day late, Joe - such is life....) I do have to say one thing, however: Everything remains true that I wrote in this blog. But I'd like to think the spirit in which I deliver this has now changed.

As I noted last year when I reposted this at the old MySpace blog, I would normally be very sad today. And yes, Joe Strummer no longer being here is a loss. Much of my life, I have been a negative, pessimistic person. I'm sure punk rock reinforced that. In the last two years, I have worked hard to reverse many of the natural tendencies which have held me back in so many ways. I think, for all his anger, Joe Strummer was an optimistic, idealistic, forward-thinking man. He may have had his moments, but he was not about destruction and blind thrashing. He was about
life, not death.

I think all of us touched by Joe's words and music were touched enough to act upon what he taught us. I don't think he'd want us mourning him. It occurred to me today that I have several friends whose birthdays are December 22
. Perhaps instead of mourning a loss, we should celebrate life? Including Joe's. I get the feeling Joe would prefer that.

still want a life that burns. Joe helped instill that in me. And while he may not be a physical entity any longer, Joe's life is still burning through all of us touched by The Clash. Here's to you, Joe Strummer. And to all my friends fortunate enough to be born today. Here's to life lived passionately. Enjoy.

It was two years ago today that I awoke in a world where Joe Strummer no longer lived. I don't like that idea. The way I found out was bad enough: The clock radio going off, on the horrid Top 40 station which was the only thing I could pick up on the poxy device. The idiot deejay went on to prove how little he knew or cared about Joe or the Clash in the manner in which he delivered the news: "The band pretty much died with the punk movement in the late '70s….Here's 'Rock the Casbah'!"

I bawled. I bawled like I've bawled for few. This was no stupid rock star death: A man walks his dogs, sits by his fire, then succumbs to a heart ailment few have and which is never discovered until it kills you. But Joe Strummer was no stupid rock star, nor was he merely a rock star. The Clash were just like that. They went well beyond entertainment, and once you heard them, you expected all the other music you listened to, to live up to that standard, to actually Say Something. Otherwise, it was (as an obituary that ran in the NME put it) just "pathetic, patronizing noise."

I'm lucky enough to have seen the Clash when I was young. Very young – I was 14, and it was London Calling time. And that night had a major impact. That night was what made a musician out of me. Everything else paled next to this band onstage. There was so much passion, so much conviction pouring off that stage. And I'd dare say 75..f that came from Joe Strummer. In a band that had not one frontman, but three, Joe was still the most riveting. This was a man bursting to explode out of his own skin, wanting to reach every last person in the theater that night, wanting to physically grab them, and scream, spittle flicking from his mouth, 'WAKE THE FUCK UP!! CAN'T YOU SEE WHAT'S GOING ON OUT THERE?!! THIS WORLD HAS GONE FUCKING MAD!!! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?!!"

That was it. I was a punk rocker. I was a rock 'n' roll musician. I wanted to play guitar with as much beautiful ferocity as Mick Jones, look as cool and move with as much animalistically sexual grace as Paul Simonon, and attack with as much heart and passion as Joe Strummer. I basically wanted to be the Clash. I wanted to reach hearts and minds like the Clash did, disseminate all the essential information about Life And How It Works like the Clash did, be as important as the Clash were. And still are. I still do.

They just don't make bands like that anymore. They don't make men like Joe Strummer anymore. I will never forget reading a Rolling Stone profile of the Clash around the time I saw that show. It began with Strummer smoking and swearing at the management of the theater they were playing in San Francisco, insistent that the first ten rows of seats be removed.

"We can't do that! People have bought tickets for those seats!"

Strummer insisted that anyone there to see the Clash wanted to dance, and wouldn't want to be seated. "Don't you see? Our audience will RIP those fucking seats out!" Then he said if anyone complained, he'd personally reach in his pocket and refund them, and said he would get on his hands and knees with a screwdriver himself and remove those seats if he had to.

That anecdote says almost everything you need to know about Joe Strummer. Would Nikki fucking Sixx do this? Would he be so committed? Would Fred fucking Durst? I don't think so.

If Napalm Stars have a 116th of the impact or importance of the Clash, I would be a very happy man. The Clash are still reaching hearts and minds to this day, although I sometimes wonder on what level: I know young Clash fans who voted for Bush and said they'd go to fight in Iraq. If Strummer were alive to hear such a contradictory thought stream coming out of such supposed fans, I know he'd be giving these kids a death stare and asking, "Have you been fucking listening to anything I've sung?"

I could go on a lot longer. Instead, let me leave you with the words to a song I wrote days after Joe's death, about the power he and the Clash had on lives like mine. It's called "(I Come From) A Place Like Any Other."

I knew what I wanted
But I didn't know how
To make a noise that made some sense somehow
I heard somebody singing
It made all the difference
He showed me where all the answers were hidden
And when the world said no
Rock 'n' roll said yes
And when the world said go
Rock said, "Go west, young man!"
Go west, young man….
I come from a place like any other

I wrote endless poison
About my lack of power
Practiced all my moves in front of the mirror
I bought my first Fender
Used off some beggar
And went off in search of the perfect error
I want to hear that sound
Burns louder than a guitar army
I want a life that burns
Burns louder than a guitar army
A guitar army….
I come from a place like any other

I want a life that burns
I want a life that burns right now
I want a life that burns
I want a life that burns right now
Now and forever….
I come from a place like any other
I come from a place like any other

TIM ADDS: And now I shall leave you with the man in his prime, with one of my fave instances of his art, "White Man In Hammersmith Palais," taken from The Clash film Rude Boy. Joe, your words still ring true: The new groups are even less concerned with what there is to be learned, still are turning rebellion into money. One look at the Warped Tour will tell you that. Enjoy!


Monday, December 20, 2010

This Ashtray Heart Is Still Beating

Reader CJ Marsicano wrote of my blog post from yesterday that I was using the occasion to "eulogize Captain Beefheart" (or words to that effect). Actually, I was more eulogizing "RADIO NAPALM" as it's entered suspended animation, and wishing to reanimate it to pay radio homage to Beefheart!

Honestly, I've been reluctant to write about Don Van Vliet upon the occasion of his death. He and his music meant, and still mean, a lot to me. And it seems an impossible task to sum him up in death. There's others infinitely more qualified than I. Such as Lester Bangs, as I noted yesterday (click here again for St. Lester's 1980 Village Voice profile). Or even Magic Band alumnus Gary Lucas, who posted a wonderful appreciation for his former boss in (of all places) The Wall Street Journal(!!!)! Or dig the painterly homage one of my former editors, ex-Jet Lag wag Tony Renner, posted on my Facebook wall the other day:

T. Renner, "Portrait of Don Van Vliet (After Anton Corbijn)," 2010, gouache on paper, 4.25" x 5.5"
The one thing I can do is recount an anecdote I used to caption a Beefheart video I posted the other day, which I think succinctly sums up two of my favorite artists of all time, including Beefheart: Former New York Dolls manager Marty Thau once told me of an early '70s bill in Boston which paired the Dolls with Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band. Beefheart sent a note to the Dolls' dressing room, for David Johansen. Upon opening it, Johansen saw that Beefheart had scribbled a solitary word:


Johansen took a pen to the note, crossed out Beefheart's scribble and added his own scribble beneath it:

"Andy Warhol."

Johansen then sent it back to Beefheart. No word on if the good Captain replied.

Don Van Vliet
AKA Captain Beefheart

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Post-"RADIO NAPALM" Depression

Captain Beefheart: "Tim, I'm having tea here in the afterlife with John Peel. Can you please un-retire, so I can get a proper radio tribute?"

Good morning. Just polished off a plate of Texas french toast (so-called because I saw loaves of Texas toast at the 99 Cent Store, which caused me to think, "Hmmm, that would make great french toast....") and sausage links, and I'm working on my 2nd cup of good, strong coffee. (French roast. Am I seeing a theme here?) The coffee was hard-won: The roommate moved out two days ago, taking much of the kitchen supply stash with him, including the coffee maker. Thankfully, The Freecycle Network yielded someone wishing to pass on some plates and cups and a Braun coffee maker that's missing the filter basket. (All of which I collected after a two-hour total journey via Metro Bus in one of Los Angeles' periodic bouts of "Blade Runner"-style weather, which is always rendered more miserable in cold times. But I digress.) This, of course, makes coffee making an adventure until I can locate a filter basket: This morning, I managed to jury rig plopping the filter into a wire mesh strainer basket that was also in the box of dishes and coffee maker, and sitting that assembly atop the carafe, propped up by a paper towel dispenser. Mind you, I only had to mop up a small amount of coffee overflow....

(BTW, in case you're curious about the egg wash for the french toast? Two small eggs, 1/4 cup milk, a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of sugar. Trust me - it's nirvana on a plate.)

I should thank all of you who tuned in, in such large numbers, to the final-for-now "RADIO NAPALM" netcast the other night. It was (as I hope I'm not overstating) the 2nd Anniversary show, made more special by the presence of Ronn Spencer in a scripting and acting role. He reprised his long-mothballed radio persona of Art Fraud, co-host of '80s Boss-Radio-cum-absurdist-comedy program "The Cool And The Crazy," a one-time staple of Los Angeles-area NPR outlet KCRW's Saturday night lineup. The show was a lot richer for his presence (as well as the cameo from his Cool Show partner Vic Trip, played by Gene Sculatti, who is still Vic every Thursday at 6 PM West Coast time on Luxuria Radio's "Atomic Cocktail"), and for the lively company we had in the Woody Radio chatroom. We had many first-timers in chat, either O.G. Cool Show fans or actual cast members on the show! It was a beautiful night of radio, and I couldn't be more pleased to have left on this note. Thanks to you all.

(Incidentally, for those who missed it or want to listen again, the show is archived for streaming or download at this link right here.)

Ronn, who has grown to be one of my best friends, warned me when we spoke by phone right after we got off the air that I'd experience some "post-partum depression" once the dust settled. He was speaking from experience, having shut down "The Cool And The Crazy" himself after two years, for similar reasons to my own. Boy, was he right! No sooner had Don "Captain Beefheart" Van Vliet died (the very next day!) than I was thinking, "Oh, shit! Fire up the generators! Call Scooter and Ed! We've gotta unshutter The Garage for the good Captain!"

Paying radio tribute to Beefheart will have to wait. I seriously need a long rest from this show, and to figure out a new production methodology to keep the damned thing going. As it is, this fershlugginer program is taking up so space in my life, I would seriously need to start getting paid to do it. Mind you, a life in punk rock has prepped me well in the art of working a shit job and doing your band and your writing and your everything else around (barely) making a living. But in this age of making even more bare of a living than before? The current Napalm Show production methodology is ridiculous.

Despite what a certain dear friend is urging of me, "RADIO NAPALM" is only temporarily gone, so far as I can see. I, at least, need a couple of months away from it, for my sanity's (and pocketbook's) sake. And I'm sure Beefheart will get his proper "RADIO NAPALM" salute upon my return. Meantime, may I suggest this 1980 Lester Bangs profile of the good Captain, originally in The Village Voice and represented online by the L.A. Weekly? I shall also re-present the recently-much-blogged "Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments Of Guitar Playing," a list initially presented last year at the WFMU website.

Thank you for indulging all this jive. I'm now off for cleaning the house and cleaning myself. Enjoy!

Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments Of Guitar Playing

1. Listen to the birds. That's where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren't going anywhere.

2. Your guitar is not really a guitar. Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you're good, you'll land a big one.

3. Practice in front of a bush. Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush dosen't shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. Walk with the devil. Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the "devil box." And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you're bringing over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.

5. If you're guilty of thinking, you're out. If your brain is part of the process, you're missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

6. Never point your guitar at anyone. Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.

7. Always carry a church key. That's your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He's one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song "I Need a Hundred Dollars" is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf's guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty-making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he's doing it.

8. Don't wipe the sweat off your instrument. You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

9. Keep your guitar in a dark place. When you're not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don't play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

10. You gotta have a hood for your engine. Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can't escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"RADIO NAPALM" 2nd Anniversary Special To Air This Thursday On Woody Radio

Art Fraud (Ronn Spencer, left) displays his excitement at co-hosting the "RADIO NAPALM" 2nd Anniversary Show, in this famed snap with his "The Cool And The Crazy" co-host Vic Tripp (Gene Sculatti, right). (pic: Scott Lawrence)

Greetings. It's 3:34 AM, and I can't fucking sleep. Just popped a Benadryl, hoping it will kick in soon. So I figured, since I'm doing nothing else, I'd post the blog I need to post this week.

For those who've been wondering, yes, "RADIO NAPALM" has been placed on hiatus. And yes, there was supposed to have been a program commemorating the show's second anniversary last month. I committed to completing the show, and producing it as the final show for the year. After that? I have to consider whether I will continue to do the show.

Plain and simple, "RADIO NAPALM" has grown beyond me playing some records I like. It's now a production-heavy beast that has required time and attention I can't really give it. It has even required me to miss work to meet the production schedule, and I can't continue making that a practice, obviously. The show is a one-man operation, but it's growing beyond my means now.

If I continue it, it will be a return to a live show, with various pre-taped production elements interspersed. But at this point, I have to consider if I even want to continue doing the show. My focus, right now, is on getting my life back in order, and on concentrating on a return to playing music and on my writing (especially this fershlugginer novel I've been working on intermittently since 2005), and on a relationship entering a new phase.

I must admit, after finishing production tonight on the anniversary show, I have the bug again. Yeah, everything I've just complained about regarding the show has reared its head, especially its appetite for my time. But I've got playlist ideas rotating in my mind, so I'm sure I'll be coming back to the show sooner than any of us suspect. But I have to work up a new, more efficient methodology.

Meantime, I do hope you'll join me for the 2 1/2 hours we'll be celebrating "RADIO NAPALM's" anniversary this week. I'll have some stellar (if aggravating) assistance this week, in the form of Art Fraud (Ronn Spencer), supreme Boss Jock and co-host of '80s KCRW staple "The Cool And The Crazy," a key formative influence on "RADIO NAPALM." (His Cool Show partner, Vic Tripp [Gene Sculatti], also makes a cameo appearance.) In addition to the wacky hijinks which ensue from this stellar team-up, we get the usual editions of "John Peel's Record Box" and "Crampsology," a special Artist Of The Week (whose identity shall be kept secret until broadcast), and a playlist drawn from a selection of favorite tracks I've for the most part never played in the show's history (including hits from PiL, The Muffs, The Flesh Eaters, Suicide, The Pretty Things, an entire set of Rolling Stones obscurities, and brand new music from OFF! and Motorhead). All in all, this is sure to be more fun than humans should be allowed to have.

So please join me this Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010, to help observe the 2nd anniversary of "RADIO NAPALM." It may be the last time. Tune in at the usual time - 9 PM Eastern, 8 PM Central, 7 PM Mountain, and 6 PM Pacific - at the usual channel, Woody Radio Dot Com. I'll be live in the chatroom, as should be Art Fraud, and I'll be tweeting the playlist live at the "RADIO NAPALM" Twitter page.

Meantime, the Benadryl feels like it's finally doing its' job. So I'll knock this on the head. Thanks for reading this. And come this Thursday, I'll see you in The Garage.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Non-Birthday, Mom

It is bizarre, hearing today (of all days) of Elizabeth Edwards' losing her battle with cancer. Especially when it was only announced this morning that she had ceased treatment and returned home to die among family and friends. Why? Well, today (for most of you) is Pearl Harbor Day. But for me, even though her birthday was really Dec. 4th, it's my late mother's birthday. Why? It was a long running joke: I'd call on Dec. 7th to wish her a happy birthday, and tell her I always remembered her birthday because "Tora Tora Tora" was on TV, and that it was "a day that will live in infamy." (Yes, I was a horribly irreverent son. Sorry. *smirks*)

What you see above is a product of necessity: A photo of a photo, because I don't have a scanner. But it's a special photo. It is the last photo my mother and I took together, three years before I lost her in 2006. Blurry and poor quality, but I think you can see the love there.

Anyone who knows me knows how close my mother and I were, and how deeply her loss has affected me. This time of year is always especially hard, as this is the time during which the events unfolded leading to her death. The day before Thanksgiving of 2006, she had just entered the hospital with an elevated white cell count, after months of feeling awful and doctors not knowing what was wrong. (This was why I had moved back to Austin, to be closer to her, as I had initially been planning to leave Las Vegas for Los Angeles. Something told me, when she got so ill, that I needed to be closer to home.) She had insisted that she wanted to be home for her 67th birthday.

It was not to be. Two days later, she had a massive stroke which impaired her speech and her thought processes, and succumbed to pneumonia. I had returned to my hometown and quit my job in Austin with 15 cents to my name, to be there with her and deal with her doctors and my family. She would never leave the hospital. They discovered a few days after her birthday the massive tumor in her colon that had not been there six months before. Then they discovered the cancer that was now widespread through her system. They could not treat her without curing the pneumonia. Even then, the cancer was so strong, treatment would have only kept her alive for a few months.

She would never get better. Eventually, she was on a food tube and life support. December 14, 2006, I had to call a meeting of the family and her doctor, and have the doctor lay out the truth as honestly as he had been letting me have it. Ten minutes later, I signed the order to take her off life support.

She would die December 17. The family, because of the proximity of her death to the holidays, has never celebrated Christmas since. And I can't go through these days every year without remembering the anniversaries connected with her death.

I always hope I carry on the best of Mom: Her big, open heart. Her generosity. Her ability to make friends with literally everyone she met. (I know I don't do so great, on that score. But I try.) Her love of literature and language - I know I got those from her. She even passed on my extreme love of rock 'n' roll to me, whether she realized it (or approved of it) or not, when she let me watch Elvis Presley in his 1968 comeback special and gave me her teenage record collection the next day: Elvis, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Little Richard, all the classics of the era.

I don't think I'm romanticizing it to say Mary Judith Mullen Stegall was truly better than most of us. She was certainly better than me. She was the true definition of a Christian, and not the judgmental, hypocritical standard of that religion today. Not a day goes by that I don't think of her. Not a minute passes that I don't miss her terribly.

I now take it really personally whenever I hear of cancer affecting anyone. I suspect this was a reason my girlfriend kept me away as she (successfully) battled cancer this past year. It breaks my heart to hear of Elizabeth Edwards' passing. I know exactly what her family is going through. It's what I'm still going through, even four years later.

I love you, Mom. Always will. You and I were all we had in this world, most of the time I was growing up. And you managed to bear it with grace and dignity and great humor. And love. An endless supply of love. You had the hardest job in the world, raising me. I hope you can see that you did well at it. Thank you.

And by the way, Mom: Happy birthday. "Tora Tora Tora" is on TV. *smirks*

Mary Judith Mullen Stegall
December 4, 1939 - December 17, 2006

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Keith Richards' Memoir, LIFE: Can't Be Satisfied....

Keef in the kitchen, clearly not making his famed bangers and mash recipe from the end of his book (pic: Ken Regan)

I was initially looking forward to reading Keith Richards' Life (hardcover, 576 pages, Little Brown & Co.) and reporting back. Having read it, I wish I still felt the same.

No, dear readers, Life isn't a bad book. I honestly couldn't put it down, once I'd started. But maybe if it hadn't arrived couched in so many expectations....

See, Keith had many years and many bookshelves' worth of competition. For one thing, anyone writing a book about the Rolling Stones would have to compete with Stanley Booth's amazing, definitive The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones, even if it does leave off with Altamont. But as inextricably tied with Keith's life story as the Stones have to be, this isn't a book about the Stones. Still, it's lacking on that score.

Essentially, Life is an extended version of one of Keef's interviews, which have increasingly gotten less candid since the first Keef interview of note (in Rolling Stone magazine, August 19, 1971). Keith has his verbal riffs down now, all his stories, and they've gotten more polished and less revealing over time. And the tone is understandable, since "editor" (he really should be credited as a ghost writer) James Fox essentially transcribed and organized tapes of Keith talking for this book, adding in material from others when Keith's memory fails. Keith is a witty and wonderful interview always. But as stated: He's got this shit down pat now, and rarely deviates. Fox should have challenged Keith more. Then again, no producer the Rolling Stones have had since roughly 1980 has had the balls to tell them things they need to hear, like, "Mick, you need to work on those words longer than one hour the afternoon you cut vocals. Seriously, you wrote 'Sympathy For The Devil.' You can do better. And Keith? You wrote that riff in 1972. And you wrote it better a couple of times before now."

Precious little detail is added to Keith's recollections. He's at his best here talking about music: Learning how Jimmy Reed resolved his classic chord progression in an ingeniously lazy fashion, the art of 5-string open G playing, how legendary songs came together, life in the studio with Keef. He's great talking about his lifelong love of Jamaica, where he's basically lived for years, or his love of books, even sharing his kitchen tips (including that bangers and mash recipe that bloggers and reviewers alike love to reprint).

But yes, Jagger gets savaged, as has been written about endlessly and tediously in other reviews. What most reviewers fail to note is the undertone of heartbreak in Keith's churlish swipes at his longtime partner: He feels something has been lost between them, and he mourns that. The thing is, Charlie Watts ("the bed that I lie on" on Keith's words) and perennial Stones sideman Bobby Keys aside, he displays little affection for any of his band mates. Not surprising in the case of Brian Jones, whom no one in the Stones seemed to have any sympathy for, once his worst character traits overtook him as the Stones hit the top, eventually destroying him. But even Ron Wood, who was famously profiled as Keith's best pal and ultimate musical foil since the early '70s, seems to be dismissed as a spare tire for the Stones to keep their machine rolling upon. Which just seems downright nasty.

The Stones' early years are recounted in a swift blur. Was that how they seemed to Keith from the inside? Yet he goes on at length about Bridges To Babylon and its making, a fairly minor work, and not the stuff from which the Rolling Stones' legend was built. And boy, does he relish telling endless shaggy dog stories about his drug years - pages of those! But I would have been happier reading more about his admitted introduction to that world (i.e. - black performers on early Stones' tours letting Keith in on the time-honored tradition of smoothing out white crosses with a little weed, to keep sharp and together through the endless work rate). Or about the making of, say, After Math, or the "Brown Sugar"/"Wild Horses" sessions in Muscle Shoals - the sorta music which did build that legend. (Instead, the amazing, much missed Jim Dickinson chimes in from beyond the grave with his recollections of the latter sessions.)

It probably hasn't helped that, as a palate cleanser, I've been re-reading Bob Dylan's amazing Chronicle Volume One from a few years back, a book so well-done, I have to return to it periodically. It can be argued Bob's book suffers from similar faults as Keith's: Emphasizing certain periods in Bob's life that may not have been the work which made Dylan, Dylan; going off on tangents; etc. Yet Bob wrote so well, and was far more revealing and humanizing than he ever has been, that the book was a delightful literary monster and a bigger window into the man's mind and soul than we ever have had. Keith rails a lot about the difference between him as a man and The Keith Richards Myth, yet he doesn't seem to want to open up that much. (He does thankfully dispel some of the most ridiculous rumors about him, including the Swiss blood change one, which he admits he started with a sarcastic remark.) Ultimately, Life is a pretty decent fun read. It's just  that I am still left hungry. This could have been a lot more. Maybe I just need some bangers and mash....

Saturday, November 27, 2010

From The Austin Chronicle Archives: Willie Nelson at a crossroads....

Most assuredly NOT how Willie Nelson looked the day I interviewed him....
TIM SEZ: In light of Willie Nelson's recent pot bust (another great moment in Texas law enforcement stupidity), I bring you the article I did for The Austin Chronicle on Willie, published February 9, 1996. (BTW, Chronicle, why am I no longer credited for having written this in the archived version on your website?) Thus began a series of interviews with country music greats (Ray Price, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard) that I'm sure were initially a novelty to the paper's editors ("Ha! The punk rocker is gonna talk to Willie Nelson! Hilarious!"). They served to prove I could write about more than pogo music. Titled "Twisted Williemania: On The Bus Again With Willie Nelson," the article commences upon the release of the Twisted Willie tribute record of alt-rockers surveying Willie's back catalog, mere months after Willie's longtime label (Columbia Records) had dropped him. So let's jump aboard Willie's tour bus, as I'm seconds away from an unexpected meeting with Bruce Springsteen before I meet Willie....

Mother never said there'd be days like these. She never said that 12 years of professional rock journalism wouldn't be enough preparation for this spectacle: sitting in the driver's seat of the sort of deluxe tour bus strictly reserved for Nashville's royalty, waiting to do an interview, watching a near-Beatlemania crush of humanity outside on Sixth Street. Watching an audience waiting for at least a glimpse of the bus' cargo, 63-year-old Willie Hugh Nelson, son of Ira and Myrtle, native son of Abbott, Texas.

And the mob scene just a windshield away is nothing compared to the one that could be seen inside the Hang 'Em High Saloon, where Nelson had minutes earlier completed a set that was his usual updated and expanded version of Willie and Family Live, right down to the traditional fanfare of "Whiskey River" into "Stay a Little Longer" into his And-Then-I-Wrote medley of Nashville songmill standards a la "Crazy" and "Funny How Time Slips Away." So intense was that crush, that the cabbie taking me home would grouse about he and his wife sitting inside Hang 'Em High for several hours before the concert and getting pushed out into the melée once Nelson and Family took the stage some five-odd hours later, never to reclaim their seats.

Outside, part of that melée, young nubile women flirting hard with stony security, are hoping to god for a chance to share their dangerous charms with a man old enough to be their father twice over. Inside the bus, Nelson does have a visitor: Bruce Springsteen, in town to play a show of his own. He's come by with Joe Ely to pay his respects. The only sane reaction to this whole scene has to be, "What in Christendom's name was Columbia Records thinking, dropping any artist who can inspire this?"

What, indeed. Nashville's none too kind to its veteran artists these days. To listen to modern country radio is to believe the music's history started with "Achy Breaky Heart." Eighteen years' worth of remarkable songs, adventurous records, and music governed by nothing but sheer artistry that somehow manages to play with the masses... all that apparently means nil to Columbia, outside of a three-disc box set. Maybe radio is too preoccupied with hat acts to give Nelson some play, but surely anyone who can inspire such rampant Williemania can still sell records.

"You would think so," muses Willie Nelson, a man remarkably unaffected by 18 years of scenes like the one above. "You would hope that they would think that," he laughs. "But in reality, maybe they wouldn't. Maybe they still don't get it.

"But it's a fad, it's a phase," he reasons, graciously pouring another cup of strong black coffee for himself and his visitor. "It's... something that will pass. The good artists will survive, and the soundalikes... Somebody said the other day that country music, nowadays, sounds a lot like bad rock & roll." He laughs.

It sounds like the Eagles, a band that ruined rock & roll in the Seventies and is now ruining country music in the Nineties.

"A lot of it does sound like the Eagles," agrees Nelson. "But it's hard to water it down. It won't water down. Once you start watering a little bit, it's so obvious: to me, to you, to most people out there. But there's some point or other, I think, where if you water it down just enough, spread it out into each market, you might tag a few of these and tag a few of those, or you might fool some of the new folks coming in and tell 'em, `This is country music.' But when they come out tonight or whenever, they know better. They know what they like. They might not be able to hear it on this station, but they can hear it across the street at this other station."

Or they could go to Emo's. It's getting to where the best place for country legends to find some appreciation is the alternative rock scene. (Neighbor, can ya say "Johnny Cash?" I think ya can.) The honesty and spirit of the music appears to resonate with that crowd. And Willie Nelson cuts as punk rock a figure as anyone: the man has continually followed no master save for his own creativity and imagination, told any record company or anyone else who advised him to do otherwise to kindly go fuck themselves, and has been (oddly) commercially rewarded for doing so. Therefore, it makes total sense that Justice Records, the Houston indie that has released the most recent Willie Nelson records, has put together Twisted Willie, a collection of the man's stuff interpreted by several punk and grunge icons.

"I like the idea that it's happening," Willie says of the tribute record. "I like [the] idea that the young kids are into my music. It's flattering." He admits he hadn't heard much alternative music before hearing the record. "I'd heard some of the names of the bands, but as far as hearing them, I've never had an opportunity to. Now that I've heard 'em, they're bands that I'd go see. I'd go see the Supersuckers. I'd go see L7 or the Reverend Horton Heat. There's some good entertainers there."

"Why's Willie suddenly a hit with grunge bands and punkers?" a friend asked as we sat around his living room one night, giving Twisted Willie a listen. I replied that it probably wasn't an instant phenomenon. The selection of tunes is too much the work of a batch of connoisseurs: not just classics like "Time of the Preacher" (sung by Johnny Cash, backed by a band consisting of folks from Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains), "Shotgun Willie" (Tenderloin) or "I Gotta Get Drunk" (Gas Huffer), but ultraobscurities like "Three Days" (by L7 receiving an assist from Waylon Jennings) and "Hotel Motel" (X). There's such an innate familiarity with the guy's work present on Twisted Willie that Nelson's music had to be a daily fact of household life among these musicians in their youth.

Nelson agrees. "That's the only thing that I can figure out. They must have heard them a long time ago. Most of the songs -- all of 'em! -- are obscure songs that you just don't turn on the radio and hear. None of 'em really got a lot of airplay. `Sad Songs and Waltzes' (rendered by Jesse Dayton) is from the time I was living in Nashville, and sad songs and waltzes just weren't selling that year!" He grins.

"But I don't know where they heard some of these songs. Some of 'em, like `Bloody Mary Morning,' I do every night in my show. The Supersuckers, I know where they got that one. That song, `I've Seen All This World I Care To See' (Jerry Cantrell)? Where in the world did they find that one? I don't think that I ever recorded it, unless there's an old demo of it or something somewhere."

Which isn't to say old demos are where Nelson's music is currently residing. In point of fact, Nelson has just signed a three-album deal with Island Records. And true to form, he already has two records in the can, with a third in progress. There's a fairly straight CD's worth of music, titled Spirit, on the way, some of which was previewed at Hang 'Em High (including a title track featuring a long, flamenco-tinged intro). Hot on its heels is...

...a reggae record.

No, today's date is not April 1.

"It was [producer] Don Was' idea," Nelson explains as he reaches for his bus' sound system and punches in a cassette. What comes out is heavy, deep, classic, late-Seventies-style reggae, backing Nelson's unmistakable tenor sax-like vocals and the Django-toned bark of his battered classical guitar, Trigger. The versions of Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" and "The Harder They Come" that are previewed are easily solid enough that the man should consider releasing a companion dub version of the record.

Also in progress is an electric blues record, featuring the talents of Austin's finer blues players, including George Rains, Derek O'Brien, and Jon Blondell. "Actually," remarks Nelson as we listen to a crying, B.B.-like track from that project, "Island wants the third album to be a best-of or something, where I go back and redo all the old stuff. But since I have this blues album, I might try to talk them into putting that one out, instead. We can always go back and do a best-of!"

Nelson envisions the latter album as having new versions of all the old faves like "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," "On the Road Again," and the like, plus true and ancient artifacts like "Crazy," "Night Life," and "Funny How Time Slips Away." The record could work in ways such records rarely work, considering how Nelson continually reinterprets even his own material, all but sticking to the recorded arrangement. "That's mainly because I can't remember how it goes!" he jokes.

If that's not enough to keep the man occupied, there's his tour schedule. "I play 150-date[s]-a-year, between what I do with my band and what I do with the Highwaymen. Leon Russell and I are gonna be doing some dates together, just he and I. Gregg Allman and I are doing some dates together, just he and I. Merle Haggard and I are gonna be doing some dates together this year. We're just gonna go out with a couple of guitars."

That's a nice way to live your life: free to work with people you admire, free to work in ways that feel good to yourself, free from having to work for the marketplace. You have to wonder if Nelson will cut the 3,998,413th version of "Got My Mojo Workin'" for his blues record, as the man appears to have had a mojo working on his behalf since "Hello, Walls." And that mojo's made him impervious to the tax men, to Columbia Records, to sinking commercial prospects, to writer's block, and artistic bankruptcy. (Although, by all reports, it hasn't improved his golf game any.)

It also must have granted him the strength to remain realistic and centered enough to withstand mob scenes rocking his plush Country and Western Legend Tour Bus on Sixth Street in our town or any other. And Williemania's only a tenth as maniacal as the insanity that surrounded less hardy souls like Elvis Presley. Maybe Willie Nelson can earn a little extra pocket change loaning little pieces of that mojo to upstart legends in the making and help reduce the world's tragedy quotient. I know a few folks who could use some of that mojo now.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

And on this day of giving thanks (or of robbing the Indians of their land, however you choose to look at it)....

Professor John Harrelson, my distinguished rock 'n' roll elder, asked via FaceSpace if "some friends had the good sense to include (me) in some misadventure or something." As it were, things didn't work out that way, actually. Blame it on logistics, really. This doesn't mean I wasn't able to find misadventure of my own....

Thanks to an ex-nun I work with who knows every social services or charity function going on in this city, I was aware of a Thanksgiving feast with music being offered at a neighborhood rec center today. When it finally became obvious that the one orphan's Thanksgiving I was offered was gonna end up a logistical nightmare, I finally cleaned up and hopped a subway and a bus to get to the rec center about 30 minutes before the 'do was to wind down. As I walked up, I heard a massive African-American gospel choir backed by a tight, solid, rockin' rhythm section. Which was fine by me, black gospel being some of the finest music you can possibly hear, and as fiery as the best rock 'n' roll.

When I walked in, I realized the song they were wailing: "My Way."

Really? "My Way?" The most arrogant, self-aggrandizing anthem of ego ever? Done by a black Baptist church choir?!

I must have looked more lost than Chris Columbus when he hit these shores back in 1492. I soon found a gorgeous, exotic black woman wrapped around me. And believe me, I was thankful this day to have those abundant curves pressed against me.

She whispered in my ear, "Do you want to eat dinner too, baby?" Um, sure. What are you offering besides dinner and incongruous gospel, darlin'?

She led me and my leather jacket and now-tighter-than-before stretch jeans to a table and placed a wonderfully piled-up plate before me. I was very thankful as I huffed my food, which was amazing. But I was not so thankful she had disappeared, never to be seen again. "My Way" was followed by "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." I wasn't too thankful to hear Xmas carols this early. Damn.

35 minutes later, I was back on the subway, heading back to Napalm HQ West, to meet with one of the few things I miss about Austin. (I'm trying to convince her to move out here. Dunno if I'm succeeding.) (And no, it ain't like that between us, smutbrains! At least, it hasn't been since maybe 12 years back.)  And I walk into the subway car...and see a gypsy accordionist in full "Lady Of Spain" mode, orange soda-colored shiny silk shirt, black crushed velvet trousers and vest, accompanying gypsy woman in blue crushed velvet gypsy woman dress passing the cup. 

Black Baptist church versions of "My Way" and fleshly temptation all at once. Gypsies "Lady Of Spain"-ing their way across my subway car. How could a day get any more bizarre?

I'm thankful to be able to relate such oddities to you.

I'm also thankful to have a life bizarre enough to write about.

I'm thankful I have a roof over my head and a job, modest as they may be.

I'm thankful to have my first guitar in two years.

I'm thankful for the friends I have. I have lost way too many friends the last few years. Yet the ones who've stuck by me have proven to be golden and true. And I couldn't keep going without you.

I'm thankful to be able to tell a story and sing you a song, and maybe give you a little thrill or a laugh in the process. And I'm thankful to have all of you wanting to read or hear whatever I have to offer.

I'm thankful for what family I have left in this world. They've been getting awfully thin on the ground the last few years, too.

I'm thankful to have inherited the best qualities of one of those I've lost the last few years, my mother: Her wit, her wisdom, her huge and open and generous heart, her love of language and literature. I'm proud to be your son, Judy Stegall, as we enter the fourth anniversary of your passing. I love you, Mom. Por vida.

I'm thankful the woman who re-opened what I thought was a permanently cold and closed-down heart seems to have won the battle for her life she's been waging for the past year. And I look forward to being reunited with her in the near future.

I'm thankful to be alive. I wasn't always, and this life isn't always that easy. But the alternatives kinds suck. And they would suck more for those I'd leave behind, I now see. I just have to keep mindful of these things.

I haven't got a lot. But I do have a lot to be thankful for. And I'm especially thankful I finally learned to count my blessings, not just on this day. Taking that inventory every morning keeps me going, keeps me humble, keeps me mindful of all that's at stake. Guess it's never too late to learn that lesson.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all. And thanks for reading this

Soundtrack for this post: Best Of by The Q65, who are sorta how you say "The Pretty Things" in Dutch. Thanks to Mike Stax from the brilliant Ugly Things fanzine for turning me on to these '60s Big Beat snotrockers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sick Of Being Sick

Greetings, all. Been out for the count since Sunday night with some sorta weird alien stomach voodoo - couldn't hold down food or get out of bed all day yesterday, running a fever, simultaneous chills, complete lack of energy. Doing much better today, but I'm still taking it easy. I appreciate all the well-wishes I got at Facebook. Thanks.

Meantime, I thought I'd present the one thing that'll cure anyone's ills: Some vintage Damned footage. Film or video of the original Brian James lineup is more scarce than a stray hair on Rick Perry's head. Capt. Sensible once told me that we have then-manager Jake Riviera to blame for that, as he'd ask anyone like Don Letts who approached with a film camera for insane sums of money, all for the privilege of filming his charges. Too bad - the existing footage displays a raw, powerhouse, chaotic world-beater of a band. It's no mistake they arrested the interests of so many of us.

First up, a version of "Fan Club" mistakenly mislabled at YouTube as being from 1978 - were that the case, we'd be seeing short-lived second guitarist Lu Edmunds and no Rat Scabies behind the traps. This looks to have been filmed at the Marquee, and I love it for the claustrophobic feel of band and audience squashed together in tight quarters as The Damned rip the shit out of this 1st LP highlight:

Next we have two parts of an NBC TV news report that was America's first real exposure to English punk. It was broadcast on a great Saturday night news show called "Weekend" which ran once a month in what was usually "Saturday Night Live's" slot. This footage is incredible, as we not only get to see the band onstage at a few different venues, but at a mixing session for "Neat Neat Neat" (complete with a cameo from producer Nick Lowe in the control booth), at the photo session for the single's cover, and overall takes a less sensational tone than UK media coverage of the time.

Okay, enough from me for today. Enjoy these blasts from the past. Thanks for reading this.

POSTSCRIPT: Rat Scabies himself wrote me at Facebook with the following info on these clips: "Hi Tim, thanks for the link, I've never seen it all before, but now that I have, I'm certain it's not the Marquee, but could possibly be at the Roxy ~ if it's not the Roxy then it must be some dodgy shithole somewhere in the north ;-)"

Let my fave British punk rock drummer-cum-grail hunter have the last word. Amen.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Deniz Tek Music: Deniz Joins Klondike's North 40 On Stage

From Radio Birdman great Deniz Tek's blog: My buddy and (Tek's fellow Birdman) Chris "Klondike" Masuak is fixin' to up stakes from Australia and move to Spain pretty durned quick. He's currently in the process of playing a series of farewell-to-Oz gigs with his band, Klondike's North 40. And look who drops in for a few songs at their October 12th gig at the Sandringham Hotel in Newtown? Yep, Dr. Tek, M.D. himself! Is that a metal body Telecaster you're sporting, Deniz?

 Here's early Birdman fave "Smith & Wesson Blues" from that gig:

And not presented in Deniz' blog, here's that other Birdman fave "Aloha Steve & Danno" from the same gig. BTW, I believe this is the first time I've ever seen Klondike look at his fretboard!

Glad to see this happen!  Go to Deniz' original blog post here: Deniz Tek Music: Deniz Joins Klondike's North 40 On Stage

Saturday, November 6, 2010

And don't forget the joker....

Yes, to my right is a drunk-and-bored-looking Lemmy Kilmister, the man who basically, for all intents, is Motorhead . To Lemmy's left is a very goofy-looking Tim Napalm.

Yes, I'm a dork.

Which leads me to an old story....

1997 or thereabouts. I'm in NYC on assignment, I think for CMJ New Music Monthly. I'm at the late, great Coney Island High - I forget who's playing. I look up from my drink...and Lemmy is playing pinball just yards away.

I grab my friend's arm and probably leave big, red welts with my fingernails. "Look!" I hiss at her. "It's Lemmy!" Now she's leaving claw marks in my arm, before turning to her friend and alerting her to Lemmy's presence.

"Go talk to him!" my friend urges me.

"No! You go talk to him!"

We do this for about five minutes, Lemmy obliviously pounding the flippers. Finally, I look at my friends and inform them, "You realize we have just proven to ourselves we are nowhere near as cool as we think we are!"

I'm still not. Thanks to Patti Johnsen for making the introduction and taking the photo last Sunday night at the Rainbow. I'm soooo not worthy.


That last post was tapped out to the sublime strains of Grinderman 2. Nick Cave and his boys know a punishing riff when they write one!

"Tea Party Tidalwave?" More like a tempest in a tea cup....

So, America went predictably Red in the mid-terms, handing the keys to the House Of Representatives while letting the Democrats keep the Senate, which seemed an odd goodwill gesture. The West Coast went almost universally Democratic, surprisingly. Harry Reid got to keep his seat, which was more a sign that Sharron Angle scared the bejesus outta Nevada as much as she scared the rest of us!

 Sharron Angle pressing the flesh: "I'm a lil' teapot, short and stout...."
Jerry Brown has been returned to California's governor's mansion nearly 30 years after he left, and Barbara Boxer's been granted another term. Also, against most predictions, the marijuana-legalizing Prop 19 didn't pass, yet neither did the energy-industry-sponsored anti-anti-climate change bill Prop 23.

What does it all mean? It looks, from many angles, like America was letting the Obama White House and Congressional Democrats know they'd banked on 'em, felt they weren't being listened to, and were disappointed. Change was desired, but the American public seem to feel the bill they're having to pay for it is too high. They're also confused as to what the Obama Administration has really done. (Might I suggest poking around this handy site?)

What it isn't, is the "Tea Party tidalwave" Rand Paul was crowing about in his cocky victory speech Tuesday night. Only 30 Tea Party candidates apparently passed approval at the polls, including Paul. In fact, the biggest, most vocal nutjobs the Tea Party backed - Angle, Carl Palladino, Christine O'Donnell - received a major smackdown from voters. (Palladino and O'Donnell especially got curbstomped!) If anything, America said "no" to loonbag extremism.

Christine O'Donnell will now hold her breath until you tell her she won!
The public clearly feels either over- or underwhelmed by Obama's activist agenda - not sure which. They're certainly cranky about jobs and the economy. They're hoping to be listened to, finally. And they're wanting reason and moderation. (Unless they live in Kentucky, in which case they want Rand Paul. And by golly, they've got him.)

If you live in California, witchy, extremely conservative women with several semi's filled with cash can't spend a semi or two to buy an office. California would prefer experience, it seems. They just don't wanna experience legal weed. And they also see through corporate assholism that attempts to block anti-global warming measures.

Meg Whitman appears to be taking her gubernatorial defeat with grace and dignity.

Now, where do we go from here? Well, the Los Angeles Times a few weeks back predicted the President would begin relying far more on executive orders than legislation to pass his agenda. That could go in either direction, depending on how quickly he gets results, and if the American people like those results. Obama could also pull a full Bill Clinton and pull to the center, working with John Boehner and the new GOP House majority. Somehow, that seems doubtful: Presumptive new Speaker Of The House John Boehner and his orange skin have let it be known the GOP will work with Obama only if he does what they want. (Besides, Clinton's not exactly a fave of mine. True, he balanced the budget and gave America its' first-ever budget surplus by the time he left office. But he also got us into a lot of poisonous crap like NAFTA in his time.)

"I DO NOT look like an orange toad!"
Mostly, though, America has just doomed itself to two years of House Republicans passing all manner of noxious horseshit that will never make it past the Senate. What does pass will most certainly meet a Presidential veto. And Rand Paul and his fellow Congressional Tea Baggers will meet the culture of Washington they so (rightfully) despise and find they can't topple it or change it, and their heads will pop off and orbit Mars.

In short, you think nothing gets done in Washington now? Then, America: You ain't seen nuthin' yet!


Yes, I finally had it. After years of MySpazz loyalty (and for why?!), I finally knocked my old blog on the head there and set up one of these newfangled Blogspot pages the kids are all goin' whacky over. I know this'll please many who now refuse to go to MySpazz since the ascendance and ubiquity of Facebook. But MySpazz finally lost me when their much-touted redesign seemed to lose all the features about the blog section I liked the most.

So, fuck 'em. I'll bring my musings about whatever the hell crosses my mind - life, love, rock 'n' roll, politics, books, movies, how little is in my bank account - to this site. Maybe it'll work better, and possibly become accessible to more people? Who knows?

Anyway, welcome. Now on to more important stuff. Like, for example....