About Me

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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Happy Birthday, Dad




Today is October 1st. It would have been Dad's 97th birthday. Happy Birthday, Turnaround Bob--you're still with me every day. And I bet the Yankees win a lot more games where you are now.


 


LOST IN THE GROOVES: TELL AMERICA by FOOLS FACE




I wrote here about my contributions to a 2005 book called Lost In The Grooves, a collection of short essays billed as a "capricious guide to the music you missed." We've already seen what I had to say about The Ramones' Subterranean Jungle album; this was my other entry in Lost In The Grooves:

FOOLS FACE
Tell America (Talk, 1981)

Based in Springfield, Missouri, Fools Face earned raves in the pages of Trouser Press and Creem, but remained criminally unnoticed by the general public. Even interested parties have had a hard time actually buying a damned Fools Face record. To this day, I own the only copies I've ever seen of the group's three elusive LPs, plus a bootleg CD-R of the final cassette-only release, The Red Tape.

Within the pop underground, however, Fools Face is renowned. For me, the moment of revelation came via the first track on the group's second album, Tell America. "American Guilt" is an acid-tongued critique of both gung-ho Reagan-era jingoism and mushy-headed neo-hippie naivete, lyrically as incendiary as a testimonial from The MC5, but with a perfect pop sheen. When the chorus soars with the lines, "When push comes to shove/All you need is love," the transcendent effect of the Beatles quote nails everything into place.

By turns confident and vulnerable, Fools Face was always literate, intelligent, musically accomplished, rooted in '60s songcraft but forged in the crucible of '70s punk and new wave. The individual tracks make the case: "Nothing To Say" is the best break-up song ever, encompassing casual heartache (or heartlessness?) and a matter-of-fact recognition of the need to just move on; "Land Of The Hunted" and "Stand Up" compress paranoia and determination into an irresistible 1-2 punch; "L5" even manages a compelling pop tune about space colonization.

Many fans prefer the group's third album, 1983's just-as-wonderful Public Places, though few will speak on behalf of Here To Observe, the merely okay 1979 debut. As a happy postscript, the original quintet returned for a splendid reunion CD in 2002, an album that lives up to the promise of Tell America and Public Places. Tell...someone!

2016 POSTSCRIPT: That eponymous 2002 reunion disc was joined on the retail shelves by a vintage live performance, released under the title of Live At Last. Good luck finding any of it. 

While you may not be able to track down any Fools Face albums or CDs, you can still get a copy of Lost In The Grooves via Amazon. Watch this space for one more unpublished Lost In The Grooves piece in the near future. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

THE EVERLASTING FIRST, Part 7: My First Exposures To Some Singers And Superheroes


Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock 'n' roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it's the subsequent visits--the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time--that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

TODAY'S LETTER IS G:


 

THE GO-GO'S

In the early '80s, I had a co-worker at McDonald's of Brockport who called herself Ramona. It wasn't her real name, but she wanted to be a punk, so Ramona became her preferred nom du bop. Ramona had an odd habit of walking up to me at work and giving me a kiss on the cheek. I don't know if she was interested in me or just trying to see what reaction she could provoke, but since I reacted each time with the neutral equivalent of a shrug, nothing ever threatened to progress beyond those chaste little pecks. I already had a girlfriend, and I was serious about that.

Sweet, sweet little Ramona. Illustration by John Holmstrom, from The Ramones' Rocket To Russia LP
Thinking back to my introduction to The Go-Go's makes me think of Ramona, even though she had nothing whatsoever to do with me becoming a Go-Go's fan. In fact, Ramona didn't care for The Go-Go's at all--The Go-Go's image was nowhere near as hard-edged as the punk persona Ramona was trying to develop and project--but Ramona and The Go-Gos are still linked in my memory.

Oh, and my nickname at work was "Sid"--I was the only Sex Pistols fan anyone there had met circa 1981.

Like Ramona, I was a self-professed punk; unlike her, though, I was also an avowed pop fan, equally happy listening to The Clash or The Rubinoos. And The Go-Go's' chosen image--early '60s girl-group filtered through new wave--was both welcome and already familiar to me. The Go-Go's looked and sounded an awful lot like one of my late, lamented Syracuse Fave Raves, The Poptarts.

It's not The Go-Go's, but an incredible inspiration: The Poptarts!
We've already covered The Poptarts in several previous installments of Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) (notably this Poptarts review and this interview with Poptarts guitarist Cathy VanPatten). In the late '70s, The Poptarts created a working prototype for the approach The Go-Go's would take to the Top Of The Pops in the early '80s: a self-contained all-female quintet, dressed in bright colors, cute but not pandering or overtly sexy, playing mostly original tunes, influenced by pre-Beatles girl groups, but also by everyone from The Turtles to The Ramones. The Poptarts broke up in obscurity, undiscovered; The Go-Go's had hit records (four Top 20 singles, and a # 1 album with their debut LP, Beauty And The Beat). I mourned (and still mourn) the lost opportunity of The Poptarts, but I still loved The Go-Go's immediately.



I can't recall the specific circumstances, but I'm certain the first Go-Go's track I ever heard was some version of "We Got The Beat," a version predating the hit version on Beauty And The Beat. A Buffalo FM-rock station called 97 Rock (which could be heard in Brockport) had a Sunday night program called Power Rock, devoted to tracks that were (in theory) edgier than the station's usual AOR fare. I may have heard The Go's-Go's original Stiff Records single of "We Got The Beat" on Power Rock. I most definitely heard a live version of "We Got The Beat" on the soundtrack album Urgh! A Music War, a double-LP set that also included live tracks from The Fleshtones, XTC, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cramps, and a host of other left-of-the-dial superstars (before "left of the dial" was even a thing). I played that Urgh record a lot, and "We Got The Beat" was my favorite among favorites.




I bought Beauty And The Beat upon its release, and I also picked up the "Our Lips Are Sealed" 45, specifically to get its non-LP B-side ("Surfing And Spying," a song The Go-Go's wrote for The Ventures). "We Got The Beat" sounded different without the backing vocals ("they're walkin' in time") I knew from Urgh and (maybe) the Stiff single, but I still adored it anyway. I developed a quick crush on bassist Kathy Valentine, and really fell hard for the music itself. This was such a terrific album, just loaded with unforgettable, hook-filled pop tunes and unconscious rock 'n' roll swagger; it was far and away my favorite album of 1981. (At least it was at the time; I didn't discover Tell America by Fools Face or Drop Out With The Barracudas until a year or two later.)

And I was stunned that so few people seemed to agree with me. A writer in Circus magazine--and yeah, I shoulda known better than to read Circus--dismissed the absurd notion that The Go-Go's could possibly be considered among the best of anything, and everyone seemed to think they were a novelty act. Ramona certainly didn't see their appeal, as she sang along sarcastically when "Vacation," the title tune from their second album, came on the radio at our company picnic in '82. Ah, silly Carl and his pop music....



Screw it. I was used to being outside the mainstream--even the alternative mainstream--so why should things change now? I'd been a fan of The Monkees in the '70s and early '80s, and I'd already learned not to back down from my convictions. I'd put up my Bay City Rollers poster in my dorm, right alongside my Sex Pistols, and KISS, and Suzi Quatro (and, um, Suzanne Somers in a swimsuit) as an act of defiance; I'd argued with a Deadhead on behalf of Shaun Cassidy; I'd preached the virtues of The Ramones while everyone wanted to listen to The Eagles. I knew I was right about all of these (with the possible exception of Suzanne Somers). And I knew I was right about The Go-Go's.
Don't give up on me, Carl!
"We Got The Beat" and "Vacation" have remained among my all-time favorite tracks ever since their release. I do still prefer the Stiff single version of the former, but any version's great. The Go-Go's did one more album--1984's Talk Show--before splitting, acrimoniously. They've reunited on several subsequent occasions, usually just for live appearances, but they did a very nice new album called God Bless The Go-Go's in 2001. They are, I believe, currently on a farewell tour, albeit without my girl Kathy Valentine. I regret I never had a chance to see them live. I still play the recordings, though.



I haven't seen or heard from Ramona in over thirty-four years. In spite of her repeated kisses on my cheek, and her stated interest in collaborating with me to start a new, arty girlie mag she wanted to call McErotica, I still don't think she had any physical designs on li'l ol' me. I think she saw me as a friendly foil, someone to bounce off of and riff with about stuff she thought would be too cool for the crowd. She hated The Bongos; I loved The Bongos. We both liked The B-52's. And she wanted to keep that dynamic going, even though I was technically one of her bosses. Each time her lips brushed the side of my face, she wasn't making a pass, but reminding me that You could never push me around, Mr. Boss-Man, sir; I wore the tie, and she wore the uniform, but we were both just young punks, and I'd best not forget that. The last time I saw her, we were both on a bus heading out of town; she was going out for a night at a Rochester punk club, and my girlfriend and I were leaving Brockport for good, intent on starting a new life in Buffalo. We exchanged greetings, but didn't speak otherwise. After all that, our lips were sealed.

THE GREEN HORNET & KATO

 

Another challenge for The Green Hornet, his aide Kato, and their rolling arsenal, The Black Beauty! On police records a wanted criminal, The Green Hornet is really Britt Reid, owner-publisher of The Daily Sentinel, his dual identity known only to his secretary and to the District Attorney. And now, to protect the rights and lives of decent citizens, rides The Green Hornet!



Oh yes--the 1966 TV series was absolutely my introduction to The Green Hornet and Kato. But first, a little background information is in order.

The Green Hornet was originally one of the most successful radio heroes of the 1930s. Created as a contemporary follow-up to the success of The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet's modus operandi was to make everyone--the public, the authorities, the underworld itself--believe he was the biggest, baddest supercriminal of them all. The Green Hornet and Kato would move in on some crook's evil scheme, ostensibly to cut the Hornet in on a piece of the ill-gotten profits, but really to work secretly in smashing that scheme and bringing the crook to justice. The parallels between The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet were many: just as The Lone Ranger was often mistaken for an outlaw because he wore a friggin' mask, fercryinoutloud, The Green Hornet posed as an outlaw to accomplish his crimefighting goals; each had an ethnic assistant--The Lone Ranger's faithful Indian companion Tonto and The Green Hornet's Asian chauffeur Kato--but neither was really played as the comic relief or stereotype that could have been expected in Depression-era pulp entertainment (Tonto's broken English speech patterns notwithstanding); both had distinctive modes of transportation--The Lone Ranger's fiery horse Silver and The Green Hornet's supercar The Black Beauty; both eschewed killing, obeying a strict moral code, even when dealing with a murderous criminal element; and both had telltale signature weapons (The Lone Ranger's silver bullets and The Green Hornet's nonlethal gas gun). It was even revealed that the two characters were blood relatives: John (The Lone Ranger) Reid's nephew Dan, who appeared in some of The Lone Ranger's adventures, would grow up to be the father of Britt (The Green Hornet) Reid.



While The Lone Ranger's success survived the demise of the golden age of radio, leading to a classic TV series (and a pair of feature films) in the late '40s and '50s, The Green Hornet could not duplicate that success in other media. Both characters appeared in movie serials, and both appeared in licensed comic book series, but The Green Hornet was really long gone from the spotlight by the time he returned in 1966.

The Green Hornet's return was prompted by the success of Batman, the campy, twice-weekly ABC TV show that had been the breakout hit of '66.  Batman producer William Dozier wanted to return to the four-color well, hoping for another comics-related hit. He shot an unsold pilot for Dick Tracy. He shot test footage for a legendarily awful sitcom approach to Wonder Woman. And he sold The Green Hornet series to ABC.

Actor Van Williams was cast as crusading publisher Britt Reid and his alter ego, The Green Hornet. A then-unknown Chinese-American actor named Bruce Lee became Kato. And they were both just outstanding in their roles. We all know of Lee's subsequent fame and acclaim as a martial arts expert and movie star in the early '70s, and much of his raw talent and charisma was already evident here. But one shouldn't ignore Williams' easygoing charm and believable authority as the titular hero; this show wouldn't have worked without the talents of both Williams and Lee.

Unlike Batman, The Green Hornet was played relatively straight; there were few truly outlandish villains, very little campy humor, and a sense of action and adventure that was never really present in the exploits of our Caped Crusaders over in Gotham City. It was a crime drama, a detective show, where the leads happened to have secret identities and high-tech crimefighting gear. Even when the shows crossed over, as The Green Hornet and Kato tangled with Batman and Robin on a two-part episode of Batman, Williams and Lee still seemed to play things straight amidst all that campy silliness (versus the exaggerated, comedic "straight" required of Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin).

Where Batman was a colorful, incandescent explosion of self-conscious pop-art exuberance, The Green Hornet was cool. Taking a partial cue from Peter Gunn, each episode was propelled by jazzy, uptempo music, with Al Hirt's "Green Hornet Theme" (itself a jazzed-up version of "Flight Of The Bumblebee") setting the tempo at the beginning of each show. Lee's impressive skill with gung fu was simply dazzling, and the show delivered tight-lipped thrills with panache and style.

It was doomed from the start.

Batman's mass popular appeal had been as a self-aware joke. The American viewing public was not in the mood for super-heroics played straight, and The Green Hornet lasted but one season. After Bruce Lee's death, as anything he'd done became a potential box-office bonanza, three episodes of The Green Hornet were badly stitched together, fattened up with extraneous and nonsensical Bruce Lee fight scenes from other, unrelated episodes of the show, and released to movie theaters as a feature film in 1974. The film has been variously referred to as The Green Hornet and as Kato And The Green Hornet. I saw it (as Kato And The Green Hornet) at The Biograph Theater in downtown Syracuse, an old-time movie house (originally called The Eckel) that was in its death throes, and would be a parking lot before long. A DVD version of Kato And The Green Hornet remains the only legitimate home-video release of anything from The Green Hornet TV series.




     


During the show's original run, there were a handful of tie-in products. Gold Key Comics published three issues of a Green Hornet comic book, the hero's first comics appearances since a one-shot in 1953.  There was a set of Green Hornet playing cards, a paperback novel called The Infernal Light, a Green Hornet Halloween costume (which my Dad tried to get me to choose, insisting it would be more distinctive than the Batman costume I went with instead), a Green Hornet costume for the Captain Action action figure, and a Green Hornet Better Little Book. Al Hirt released an LP of (mostly) TV theme songs, The Horn Meets "The Hornet," with a proud cover of Hirt standing next to Van Williams, in costume and in character.

The Green Hornet largely faded from pop culture after that. There have been sporadic attempts to license the character for comic-book revivals, and there was a simply horrible feature film version starring Seth Rogen a few years back. I'm thankful that didn't catch on! I've heard some of the original radio episodes, and I've watched the first movie serial from the '30s, and enjoyed them. But my Green Hornet remains Van Williams, with Bruce Lee at his side, charging forth in The Black Beauty with gas guns, Hornet's sting, and gung fu, set to kick the bad guys' asses and elude the police while jazz plays in the background and foreground. Another challenge for The Green Hornet? Yes, please.
Quick Takes For G:




GENERATION X: Bomp! magazine's epic power pop issue in early 1978 was the first I ever heard of this British punk (sorta) group. I may or may not have heard them on campus that Spring--there was a Punk Night at our on-campus bar The Rathskeller, and occasional punk/new wave records played on our radio station, WBSU, and either of those sources could have served up some Generation X--but I can say with certainty that I bought two Generation X import 45s by the end of that summer. The singles were "Ready, Steady, Go" and "Your Generation," and I loved both of those loud 'n' vibrant records beyond rational description. "Your Generation" was also included on an album called Geef Voor New Wave, a freakin' fantastic compilation that no home should be without. But I never got around to owning any Generation X albums. I bought one more single, "Dancing With Myself" (billed under the truncated name "Gen X"), and remained resolutely unmoved by lead singer Billy Idol's subsequent solo success. Local faves The Dead Ducks used to cover Generation X's "King Rocker" in their live set, and just recently opened their 2016 set at Bright Lights! The Syracuse New Wave Rock 'n' Roll Reunion with a rendition of "Ready, Steady, Go." And while I never got any Generation X LPs, I do have the Perfect Hits best-of CD. And I want it fabulous!



GHOST RIDER:  Some time in the early '70s, I received a grocery bag full of fairly recent comic books. I have no recollection of who gave them to me, but I think it was probably a friend of someone in my family, just passing on a bunch of funnybooks they had and didn't want. These contained a number of Marvel Comics titles, including some outside the superhero genre that was my main interest. So this was a great opportunity to try out a bunch of titles I might not have seen otherwise. I remember an Amazing Adventures starring The Beast (whom I'd previously known in his original, less-furry form in The X-Men), an issue of Sub-Mariner (featuring some of the last work from the character's creator, Bill Everett, and inspiring my immediate affection for Subby's nubile young cousin Namorita), and an issue of Marvel Spotlight, introducing a new character called Ghost Rider. (I was..what? 12 or 13? Forgive me that Namorita made a more lasting impression than Johnny Blaze, his motorcycle and blazing skull notwithstanding.)

 

THE GRASS ROOTS: Sometimes I find that my vivid memories of discovering specific pop songs don't jibe with any real-world chronology. I remember listening to "Sooner Or Later" by The Grass Roots on the radio when it was a hit in 1971. I also recall their hits "Midnight Confessions" and "Temptation Eyes" later being cherished staples of my AM radio heyday...but both of those predate "Sooner Or Later." Looking back, I can only presume WOLF or WNDR was still mixing those latter tracks into their hits lineup well after the fact, and I was too stupid to realize they weren't current hits.



GREEN ARROW: It's possible that I saw Green Arrow's young sidekick Speedy guest-starring in an issue of Teen Titans before I ever saw The Emerald Archer himself. My first G.A. sighting was near the end of Justice League Of America # 55 in 1967, where he was one of a quartet of JLA members (along with Superman, The Flash, and Green Lantern) brought in to meet a crisis. Those four made the cover of the next issue (pictured above). Green Arrow and Speedy had been created in the 1940s as a copy of Batman and Robin; by '67, Green Arrow was the only JLA member without his own ongoing solo series--even The Martian Manhunter had a back-up series in House Of Mystery, but G.A. was a free agent. Green Arrow was also featured prominently in the next issue ("Man, Thy Name Is--Brother!" in JLA # 57), and was the center of attention in "Operation: Jail The Justice League!" in JLA # 61, my favorite issue of JLA for a good long time after that. Green Arrow was given new life with a costume redesign by Neal Adams in a Batman team-up in The Brave And The Bold in 1969, and given a lasting shake-up in the early '70s by Adams and writer Dennis O'Neil in their headline-making series Green Lantern/Green Arrow.




WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: H is for

   

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Virtual Ticket Stub Gallery: BRIAN WILSON, HERMAN'S HERMITS, AND THE PET SOUNDS OF THE SOUL




I had hit another rough patch. That happens sometimes.

I circled the date on the calendar as soon as it was announced: August 29th, 2016. Brian Wilson was bringing his band to the New York State Fair for a show at Chevrolet Court, free with admission to the fair. Advance sale fair tickets were a mere six bucks. For twelve dollars, lovely wife Brenda and I would get to see The Brian Wilson Band perform Pet Sounds--likely the greatest pop album of all time--in its entirety, along with a selection of The Beach Boys' hits.  Brenda was off work on that day anyway, and I was due for some vacation time. It would be a date: a day at the Fair.

Pet Sounds is pop music's greatest contradiction: fragile but indestructible, delicate but strong, frail but immortal. Gossamer and granite. It is a wisp of emotion, heartbreak, love, and hope, a precarious house of cards that will still stand long after we're all dust. It is pop, and it is art, but it is not pop art. It is mature, and it as giddy as a teenager in love with the unattainable. The opportunity to witness a live performance of Brian Wilson's masterwork was welcome and irresistible.

I guess I just wasn't made for these times. In high school, a girl I knew (and considered rather cute) wrote in my yearbook, "Carl, you've got to be the most happy-go-lucky person I've ever met!" I could only stare at what she'd written, and say to myself, That's not me. I have always been a square peg, and that doesn't seem likely to ever change. Some days, I'm okay with that; on other days, my freak flag flies at half-mast.

August 29th was one of those days. I hadn't slept well; by morning, my emotions had plummeted into an unpleasant morass of unease and hapless futility. Nothing could nurture a delusion of adequacy. I wasn't good enough. I knew I wasn't good enough. No amount of hard evidence could convince me otherwise. Nothing felt right. Nothing was right. Yeah. That kind of day. I know there's an answer. Seeking higher ground, Brenda and I headed toward the great New York State Fair.

Of course, we listened to Pet Sounds on the drive from the Northern suburbs into Syracuse. The intricate, precious magic of pop music's masterpiece enveloped us, blanketed us. Comforted us? No, I wasn't quite there yet. But I could feel the music's gentle caress, and its unspoken (but devastating) reminder that other folks have troubles, too. And the music still loves us, I heard from somewhere within. The music loves us anyway.

Partial salvation came first via The Kinks. I'd worn my Kinks T-shirt, which is my favorite T-shirt because a) people always notice it and appreciate it, and b) it's The Kinks! Upon entering the Fair, the gatekeeper asked me the name of my favorite Kinks song. I could never pick just one, and settled on my usual dual answer of "You Really Got Me" and "Waterloo Sunset." He nodded in acknowledgement, and offered "Celluloid Heroes" as his choice. We all agreed there aren't a lot of bad choices in The Kinks' catalog, and Brenda and I walked onto the fairgrounds.

At Chevy Court, the afternoon show had already begun: Herman's Hermits, starring Peter Noone. I love '60s music, but I don't generally like oldies acts. The difference is in presentation: The Monkees, The Rolling Stones, and Paul McCartney (for example) aren't oldies acts in my mind, even though their live sets are dominated by older material, simply because each presents its cavalcade o' hits as a matter of fact--This is the show, let's GO!!--rather than mealy-mouthing about taking us back to yesteryear. An oldies act is laid-back and inoffensive; a rock 'n' roll act is confident in its material and self-assured, even aggressive in its approach. I love rock 'n' roll acts, and can usually do without oldies acts.

But Herman's Hermits put on a fun, fun show. Peter Noone is a consummate showman, an unrepentant pop idol who embraces his role as cute 'n' cuddly 'Erman--and you can call 'im 'Erm, if you like. Noone pays lip-service to the conventions of an oldies act, but does so with a wink and a playful smirk, letting everyone know he's in on the joke, and we're in on it, too. Herman's Hermits played the hits, including a couple of hits that weren't theirs--The Monkees' "Daydream Believer" and Freddie & the Dreamers' "I'm Telling You Now"--and it was all so cheerily and winningly executed that even a curmudgeon like me had to enjoy it.

(As an added bonus, when Peter Noone addressed his guitarist as "Vance," I realized it was Vance Brescia, formerly of a fab New York garage-pop group called The Mosquitos, and the author of The Monkees' 1986 Top 20 hit "That Was Then, This Is Now." Kinda wish the Hermits had performed that song rather than "Daydream Believer," but the latter song is undeniably the bigger crowd-pleaser.)

Brenda and I still had several hours to kill before Brian Wilson's show that evening. My mood had improved slightly (albeit only slightly). Let's go away for awhile. We moved on to lunch from Las Delicias, and explored the midway for a bit. As one who grew up in the Syracuse area, the State Fair was an annual tradition for me, riding all the rides, playing all the games, and eating all the junk food the Fair had to offer. Brenda was born in Brooklyn, but has become a de facto Central New Yorker, and she's certainly a veteran Fairgoer by now. We've seen so many shows here: The Beach Boys (with Carl Wilson), Tina Turner, Ray Charles, The Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Gene Pitney, Don McLean, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, The Four Tops, Alex Chilton, and more. We brought our daughter Meghan here to see a Radio Disney concert, an American Idol show, Little Big Town, and Lady Antebellum; Brenda and Meghan also saw Sugarland at the Fair. Just as I did when I was a kid, Meghan delighted in the midway, and the rides, and the 25-cent chocolate milk, and the entirety of the New York State Fair experience.

Meghan's a senior in college now. She still loves the Fair, but family trips to the fair are now just fondly-remembered echoes of a time gone by, a nostalgic pang, no more a part of the here and now than a Deep Purple cassette tape or Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. Where is the girl I used to know? Still, this was not the cause of my melancholy. Brenda and I walked the midway, our hands touching occasionally. The touch was a comfort. Love and mercy.

By 4:00--still four hours before show time--we'd grown tired and decided to go back to Chevy Court and find a seat. Many seats had already been taken; a lot of intrepid pop souls had staked out space for the Herman's Hermits show, and maintained that space for what was certain to be a packed concert area before too long. Brenda and I found our own spot, and took turns over the next few hours making food and bathroom runs.

Four hours is a long time to sit, waiting. But the weather was pleasant, and we saw so many people we knew, all there for the common purpose of communion. The time passed. I grew...not more comfortable, per se, but less uncomfortable. Again, Brenda's hand touched mine. The warmth of the sun. It was 8:00. The Brian Wilson Band took the stage.

Years ago, singer-songwriter Gary Frenay asked me, "Did you ever think Brian Wilson would be the last Wilson standing?" The story of Brian Wilson's emotional turmoil and trauma has been everyday legend for decades: the tale of this boy genius, this dumb angel, his mind frayed and tattered from abuse, drugs, and inner demons, withdrawing from the spotlight, retreating to his sandbox, lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did; a nervous breakdown, leading him to leave The Beach Boys' touring group in 1964, and retreat to the studio to reproduce the unique celestial sounds in his head; "In My Room;" Pet Sounds; a "pocket symphony" called "Good Vibrations;" and another potential masterpiece, a "teenage symphony to God" called SMiLE, left unfinished, abandoned, as Wilson's world closed in and shut down. Brian Wilson was pop music's saddest living casualty.

Yet somehow, he survived. His younger brother Dennis Wilson drowned in 1982, and the youngest of the three brothers, Carl, succumbed to cancer in 1998. Like a surfer-boy Harry Potter, Brian became The Wilson Who Lived. His voice was ravaged by time and torture, his demeanor a reflection of one who'd spent a season--several seasons--in Hell, but Brian Wilson returned to the spotlight nonetheless. He toured, playing with an incredible band that could recreate his perfect sound live. He completed SMiLE, and he saw that it was good. He did a well-received reunion album and tour with the other surviving members of The Beach Boys. And, commemorating five decades since the release of his enduring masterpiece, Brian Wilson embarked upon a 2016 tour billed as his final performances of the complete Pet Sounds. I'm waiting for the day. The day, and the time, had finally arrived.

The Brian Wilson Band opened their show with hits-hits-hits:  the live sound of "California Girls,""I Get Around,""Shut Down," and "Little Deuce Coupe" filled the jammed-beyond-jammed Chevy Court as if it were a Hawthorne beach in 1964. Wilson's band also includes former Beach Boy Al Jardine, who is still a terrific performer, and whose presence adds even more gravitas to the proceedings; the band, including members of The Wondermints and my Facebook pal Nelson Bragg, is as magnificent as advertised, but their secret weapon is Al's son Matt Jardine, whose soaring vocals did whatever heavy lifting Brian Wilson needed done. Blondie Chaplin bounded on stage to join in for searing renditions of "Wild Honey" and "Sail On, Sailor." Brian was in the center of it, but oddly apart, disconnected. One suspects the days of Brian Wilson actively engaging in a live performance are long, long gone.

But still, he was there: a (presumably) benevolent spirit holding court over a display of some of the beautiful things he created.  His voice creaked, almost croaked...but it too was still there, no longer the impossibly sweet trill of saints above, but weathered, earthy, earthly. Barely there, perhaps--but there.

As the show moved into Pet Sounds, Wilson seemed nonplussed by the very reason we had gathered before him. "We'll get back to rock 'n' roll in a bit," he apologized, "we're gonna do Pet Sounds now." He apologized again a couple of times during the performance of Pet Sounds. Did he really think we just wanted to hear songs about hot rods and surfin'? Was he really afraid we'd tap our feet and look impatiently at our watches throughout a performance of Pet Sounds, anxious for him to get that stuff over with awready and get back to the beach? Could he really think we were an audience comprised of 20,000 Mike Loves?!

I was struck by a notion: is it possible that Brian Wilson himself doesn't realize that Pet Sounds is a pretty big deal?

Unthinkable. How can an artist be so far removed from his own brilliant work that he doesn't even appreciate it?

On this day, as my own doubts and recriminations had tethered my sense of worth to the bottom of the ocean, the irony of me questioning Brian Wilson's self-confidence made me feel both stupid and liberated. I'm no Brian Wilson--I'm not even Mr. Wilson from Dennis The Menace--but there's something good inside me. Something clever. Something engaging. Something worthwhile. I know it. I forget it sometimes. But I know it.

The music of Pet Sounds played. The shackles holding my soul began to fall away.

Wouldn't It Be Nice. You Still Believe In Me. That's Not Me. Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder). I'm Waiting For The Day. Let's Go Away For Awhile. The pacing was thrown off by Wilson's insistence on introducing each song individually (and by his apologies for not rockin' out). But the band was brilliant, translating Wilson's original transcendent work into live music, augmenting Wilson's now-mortal voice with tasteful care, but still letting Wilson be heard, as he is now. Our cherished works of genius can survive and thrive, even in our flawed, impermanent hands.

As "Sloop John B" swelled with its doomed, seafaring tale of woe, I felt the sting in my eye begin its journey; as "Sloop John B" gave way to the majesty of "God Only Knows"--perhaps the most beautiful song that has ever graced our human experience--the sting gave birth to those few stray tears yearning to breathe free: tears of gratitude, tears of joy, tears of appreciation for this chance to feel the music and its power. I held Brenda's hand more tightly, and told her once again that I love her. The cloud was gone.

I Know There's An Answer. Here Today. I Just Wasn't Made For These Times. Pet Sounds. Caroline, No. The performance of Pet Sounds concluded, leaving Brian Wilson free to get back to the uptempo hits. And those hits are indeed wonderful: "Good Vibrations," "Help Me Rhonda," "Barbara Ann," "Surfin' U.S.A.," and "Fun Fun Fun" are great pop songs that should be played again and again, for as long as there are pop songs. But Pet Sounds is special, sublime; hearing it performed, as a whole, was as moving and vital as a concert sensation can be. You still believe in me. Clutching Brenda's hand, my arm around her shoulders, we exited the Fairgrounds and made our way home.

I've often said there are only three things in this world that ever really bother me: the past, the present, and the future. There are long, fulfilling moments of respite--moments of love, family, friendship, art, music, camaraderie, and creation--but the road behind us, the road ahead of us, and the small patch of ground upon which we stand in the moment, all contain perils that can strike at any time from any direction. We carry with us that determination that we can outrace our shadows, we can navigate this uneven path, and we can face whatever the hell that big, gray thing is around the next corner. Love is here today. Maybe it doesn't have to be gone tomorrow. Maybe we can be made for these times.

Wouldn't it be nice?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

SONGWRITING 000: Easy To Say (I try to write a love song)

Songwriting 000 collects some of my sporadic attempts to write pop song lyrics. This ain't an easy task when you have less musical acumen than, say, Spiro Agnew, but we do what we can. I figure I need to get good (or at least passable) at this someday, if only so I can use the name Carlgems Records as my publishing company. (Why Songwriting 000? Let's face it: these don't rise to the level of Songwriting 101....)




This is a pop love song I started writing in college, and returned to finish recently. It's about a guy who meets a girl, and struggles with what to say to her without moving too fast: the words of a lover trying not to commit too much, trying to avoid misleading the girl, trying not to break her heart, because love is so easy to say.  And then he falls for her anyway, the big lug! Just needs a power pop melody, harmonies, and some Rickenbacker (and tambourines!) to complete it. Apply heart to sleeve...now!

EASY TO SAY
Lyrics by Carl Cafarelli

I remember the first time we kissed
A hint of a promise I couldn't resist
I never suspected how much I had missed
Our story begins with a kiss

Every film we see, every TV show
Every song that plays on the radio
Weaves a tapestry of pure fantasy
A fairy tale, as we ought to know

Maybe love can be real
But I'm not trying to steal
Any part of your heart
To play any tricks, or make a big deal

We can be much wiser
We don't have to surrender to each other's charms
Wouldn't it be nicer
To just see what will happen in each other's arms?

But then

Our eyes meet
Our lips repeat
The words of some song we heard long, long ago
Our hearts pray
Our minds can stay
Strong enough to save us from just letting go

'Cause it's so easy to say love will last forever
It's so easy to say all you need is love
But the feeling is right
And you're with me tonight
And love is so easy to say

I get this feeling that we should wait
Why rush when it's better to hesitate?
Let's skip the lies that "True Love" supplies
And investigate before we say that it's fate

But you look so pretty tonight
I have to wonder what's wrong with me
Maybe love songs have it right
You can't ever win unless you're willing to fight

It's so easy!

Is it a trick of the light
Or the heat of the night?
You've chased away all of my sorrow
And in the light of the day
I'll still want you to stay
Oh, will you still love me tomorrow?

And so

As lips meet
A kiss so sweet
Our minds recognize what hearts already know
Because as of today
It's so easy to say
All doubts melt away in a lover's glow

And it's so easy to say love will last forever
It's so easy to say all you need is love
This feeling is right
You're with me tonight
And love is so easy to say

Maybe love isn't easy
But loving you is easy
And it's easy to say you belong with me

I remember the first time we kissed
And the tenth time, and the hundredth, and each kiss on my list
Kiss me again, I could never resist
A story lives on with each kiss

It's so easy
It's so easy
It's so easy to say, my love



Monday, September 26, 2016

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 842




This week's extravaganza served up a new 45 from the ever-fab Frodis Records label: a limited edition single by our friends, The Bradburys! We played both sides, because you can do that when you have your own radio show. We also offered the long-overdue TIRnRR debut of Dressy Bessy, and let our rampagin' whims guide us through yet another unerring example of The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin' Planet!

Think you could do as well? Well, you have the opportunity to prove it with our WHO NEEDS DANA & CARL? fundraising gimmick! Intrepid philanthropists who donate $100 or more to Spark Syracuse qualify to program all the music for one future episode of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio. Furthermore, all Guest Programmers who send in their Franklins before October 22nd will be entered into a drawing to program an additional show: the randomly-selected winner also gets to program This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 850. Hey, we're givin' away the rights to one of our milestones! Don't let us down; give today at http://sparksyracuse.org/support/, and start tweakin'! And this is what rock 'n' roll radio sounded like on a Sunday night in Syracuse this week.

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl streams live every Sunday night from 9 to Midnight Eastern, exclusively at www.westcottradio.org

And get your copy of The Bradburys great new single on Frodis Records: http://www.frodisrecords.com/the-bradburys--marilyn-45.html

TIRnRR # 842: 9/25/16

THE RAMONES: Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? (Rhino, End Of The Century)
--
THE BRADBURYS: Hello Hello (Frodis, single)
TROLLEY: The Kids All Sing (Easter, Caught In The Darkness)
T. REX: 20th Century Boy (Crimson, The Very Best Of T. Rex)
THE MONKEES; Me & Magdalena [Version 2] (Rhino, Good Times! [digital version])
CHICAGO: Feelin' Stronger Every Day (Rhino, Greatest Hits)
TODD RUNDGREN: I Saw The Light (Rhino, Something/Anything?)
--
DRESSY BESSY: Just Once More (Kindercore, Dressy Bessy)
PUFFY AMIYUMI: Love So Pure (Epic, Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi)
THE SMITHEREENS: Strangers When We Meet (Enigma, Especially For You)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: I'll Be Your Mirror [live] (Polydor, Peel Slowly And See)
THE SOUL CLAN: That's How It Feels (Rhino, VA: Beg, Scream And Shout!)
AL GREEN: I Want To Hold Your Hand (The Right Stuff, Green Is Blues)
--
KEN SHARP: Let's Be Friends (616406, New Mourning)
THE BEACH BOYS: Darlin' (Capitol, Good Vibrations)
LYRES: Love Me Till The Sun Shines (Matador, On Fyre)
THE ROLLING STONES: She's A Rainbow (Abkco, Their Satanic Majesties Request)
PRINCE: I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man (Warner Brothers, The Hits/The B-Sides)
THE BANGLES: Going Down To Liverpool (Columbia, All Over The Place)
--
GARY FRENAY: Moonraker (n/a, VA: Songs. Bond Songs)
THE HOLLIES: The Air That I Breathe (Epic, Epic Anthology)
REDD KROSS: Annie's Gone (Atlantic, Third Eye)
BIG STAR: Thirteen (Ardent, # 1 Record/Radio City)
GENE SIMMONS: See You Tonite (Mercury, KISS: Gene Simmons)
THE FACES: Glad And Sorry (Warner Brothers, Ooh La La)
--
MAD MONSTER PARTY: Can't Stop Loving You (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3)
COURTNEY BARNETT: Aqua Profunda! (Mom + Pop, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit)
THE KINKS: The Village Green Preservation Society (Universal, The Village Green Preservation Society)
THE SPECIALS: Ghost Town (Chrysalis, The Singles)
COCKTAIL SLIPPERS: St. Valentine's Day Massacre (Wicked Cool, Saint Valentine's Day Massacre)
THE ZOMBIES: Time Of The Season (Big Beat, Zombie Heaven)
--
THE BRADBURYS: Marilyn (Frodis, single)
THE CHARMS: Top Down (Red Car, Charmed, I'm Sure)
THE GO-GO'S: The Whole World Lost Its Head (IRS, Return To The Valley Of The Go-Go's)
THE GROOVIE GHOULIES: Carly Simon (Lookout!, VA: Lookout! Freakout!)
FLEETWOOD MAC: Second Hand News (Warner Brothers, Rumours)
SUGAR: If I Can't Change Your Mind (Rykodisc, Copper Blue)
--
ROBB BENSON: The Tree Mind (Roam, The Tree Mind)
COCKEYED GHOST: I Hate Rock 'n' Roll (Big Deal, The Scapegoat Factory)
THE CHARADES: Who Wanna Dance Now (Pop Madrid, When Shining Blue)
AMY RIGBY: Dancing With Joey Ramone (Signature Sounds, Little Fugitive)
THE RAMONES: Oh Oh I Love Her So (Rhino, Leave Home)
WRECKLESS ERIC & AMY RIGBY: Do You Remember That (Southern Domestic, A Working Museum)
--
THE TOYS: May My Heart Be Cast Into Stone (Sundazed, A Lover's Concerto/Attack!)
SHAUN CASSIDY: Hey Deanie (Curb, Greatest Hits)
THE EVERLY BROTHERS: Since You Broke My Heart (Varese Sarabande, The Complete Cadence Recordings 1957-1960)
THE CRICKLE: Place In My Heart (ROIR, VA: Garage Sale)
THE ANDERSON COUNCIL: Girl On The Northern Line (Jem, Assorted Colours)
NICK LOWE: Cruel To Be Kind (Yep Roc, Quiet Please...)
THE GRIP WEEDS: Every Minute (Rainbow Quartz, The Sound Is In You)
THE SINGLES: He Can Go, You Can't Stay (Rainbow Quartz, Better Than Before)
PERCY FAITH & HIS ORCHESTRA: Little Bells And Big Bells (Columbia, Passport To Romance)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Tonight on THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO!

The Ramones approve of tonight's choices!
Once again, the ol' CD case is packed with delight and wonder, including a new 45 single release from our pals The Bradburys, and the TIRnRR debut of Dressy Bessy! We'll also spin a track from a certain Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame act that we have played before, but not very often. The rest? To be decided in progress! Each week is a new set of possibilities, a unique alchemy that results in The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin' Planet! Witness our combustible results Sunday night, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org