Altamont Turns 50

The infamous Altamont Speedway free concert happened fifty years ago last Friday.  Not many humorous moments on that harrowing day, but a priceless one occurs above at about 3:47 as a Hell’s Angel sizes up Jagger.

Todd Rundgren: “A Wizard, A True Star”

Love it or hate it, every serious music nerd should hear this strange album once.  A Wizard, A True Star was released in ’73 when I was 15,  and I soon became addicted (which might explain some things), although some of it annoyed me and still does.  This mash-up of prog, pop, and blue-eyed soul might be the densest, most overly over-dubbed album in history.  There is literally zero space unfilled.  Because of that, there is almost always something interesting going on, even if the song itself isn’t good.  Side one is a medley of song fragments, sort of like side two of Abbey Road produced by a crazier Brian Wilson with access to synthesisers (unfortunately, there’s not a gapless version on YouTube).  The medley sometimes gets cartoonish.  A portion of side two is a medley of Motown covers, which has always seemed a bit random to me. That said, there are plenty of addictive hooks throughout.  Highlights for me are “International Feel” (and its recapitulation, “Le Feel Internacionale,” which ended side 1), “When the Shit Hits the Fan/Sunset Boulevard,”  “Sometimes I don’t Know What to Feel,” and “Just One Victory.”  The anthemic quality of “Just One Victory” can get annoying, and it’s too long, but it has some great melodic and harmonic twists and turns.

I think Todd was trying to blow up his status as an AM radio pop artist.  The previous year he’d had a commercially successful album, Something/Anything?,  which was mostly straight-ahead pop ballads and rockers: it contained “Slut,” often covered by Big Star, as well as the power-pop classic, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You.”  Something/Anything also yielded a couple of big AM hits, the piano-driven “I Saw the Light” and “Hello It’s Me,” that made some people see him as kind of a male Carole King.  I’m guessing that didn’t sit well with him, so he went all-out weird for A Wizard, A True Star.  I’m sure there were hallucinogens involved as well.  It didn’t sell nearly as well as its predecessor.  Fun fact: the month after this album came out, he produced the New York Dolls’ first album.

So what to make of TR?  He was a highly talented multi-intrumentalist and producer, a true master of the studio, and a pioneer of power-pop and prog.  When everything clicked, he could be a very good songwriter.  But he lacked self-censorship.  Something/Anything? is a double ablum with way too much filler.  It could have been a much better single album.  As for A Wizard, A True Star, he really needed to rein in some of the self-indulgent goofiness.  He produced all his own albums, even playing all instruments on many tracks.  He just occasionally needed someone to say “no.”  In that regard, he was like an American version of The Move’s Roy Wood, who had the same issues.  That may not have been a coincidence.  The Move regularly covered “Open My Eyes,” originally by TR’s 60’s band, The Nazz.  And the first time I ever heard The Move’s “Do Ya” was TR covering it live.

This Is Excellent

If any of you bastards are into Audible books, this one is a must. I bought it a couple of years ago, making my second pass now. Riveting.

David Sedaris tells all in a book that is, literally, a lifetime in the making.

For forty years, David Sedaris has kept a diary in which he records everything that captures his attention-overheard comments, salacious gossip, soap opera plot twists, secrets confided by total strangers. These observations are the source code for his finest work, and through them he has honed his cunning, surprising sentences.

Now, Sedaris shares his private writings with the world. Theft by Finding, the first of two volumes, is the story of how a drug-abusing dropout with a weakness for the International House of Pancakes and a chronic inability to hold down a real job became one of the funniest people on the planet.

Written with a sharp eye and ear for the bizarre, the beautiful, and the uncomfortable, and with a generosity of spirit that even a misanthropic sense of humor can’t fully disguise, Theft By Finding proves that Sedaris is one of our great modern observers. It’s a potent reminder that when you’re as perceptive and curious as Sedaris, there’s no such thing as a boring day.

Um …

This is either the best or worst thing I’ve ever seen.

EDIT: Video won’t embed because they want you to watch it on YouTube so they can try to talk you into buying the song on iTunes. Diabolical.

Born To Lose

Say what you want about Sid being a shit bassist, he would have made a fucking great front man. Just look at him! And give the RUGGED MAN SONG OF THE WEEK™ a play over there while you’re at it. Horrible live recording, but he had the goods as a rock vocalist.

EDIT: Here it is again, for archiving purposes.

According to ancient punk lore, he actually came very close to fronting a band. Twice. The Damned asked him to audition when they were first getting together. Sneaky Dave Vanian had other plans, and sabotaged the rehearsal so he could try out first. Seems Vanian (or an associate) told Sid the band had canceled at the last minute, while Captain Sensible and the boys just assumed Sid no-showed.

Then one day, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood were discussing who would make a good lead singer for this new band Malcolm was going to manage. Vivienne suggested one of the Johns who hung around the shop all the time, because he had a great look. Malcolm assumed she meant John Lydon; she really meant John Ritchie – AKA John Beverly, AKA Sid Vicious.

Would the Pistols have had the same impact without Lydon’s brilliant, confrontational lyrics? Arguably not. Still …

BONUS: Here’s an interview Judy Vermorel conducted with Sid for her book, Sex Pistols: The Inside Story. Like most 20-year-olds, Mr. Vicious is in turns insightful and moronic.