Sunday, April 26, 2009

David Crosby

Sometime in 1991, I remember picking up a vinyl copy of David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name, his first solo album released a full twenty years before then. At that time, there could possibly be nothing uncooler than David Crosby (well, I guess Stills and Nash). But I'd always had a soft spot for Crosby, and frequently embarrassed for it. It was hard to justify to my friends who (like me) were into the Smiths, Pixies, Ministry, or Big Black that I also liked David Crosby (or, God forbid, Crosby Stills and Nash). But I did. I always liked his music. In fact, I loved it. His two acoustic contributions to the CSNY live album Four-Way Street ("Triad" and "The Leeshore") were incandescent, just gorgeous acoustic meditations that were, yes, very hippie, but at the same time, peculiar, strange, and deeply evocative of dreams.

David Crosby has had an extremely checkered career but luckily for his audience, was at the peak of his musical abilities between about 1965 and 1971. His sensibilities were an interesting mix: chamber folk, jazz, unconventional guitar tunings, hippie/utopian lyrics whose subject matter ranged from medieval myths, free love, politics, and nature. First with the Byrds and then with Crosby Stills Nash (& Young), he would write some wonderfully innovative songs, taking the folk (rock) idiom into new places. Some of these songs ("Deja Vu" and "Mind Garden," for example) followed no discernible song structure, i.e., no choruses, verses etc.

But nothing really prepares you for the solo album. From start to finish, this album is guided by the notion that music can be beautiful, experimental, and accessible, all at the same time. And (cough) transcendental. If you can get over the fact that this is David Crosby, inveterate hippie and member of the absurdly self-indulgent group, Crosby Stills & Nash, who have produced some of the most bland music this side of Dan Fogelberg, I urge you to seek this CD out. Yeah, it's a pot album, but it's much more than just that.

It would be tedious to go through the album track by track but it's worth it to offer a little background. A whole host of the usual California "soft-rock" cognoscenti dropped in on the sessions, including members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Crosby wrote the songs and played guitars but as he noted elsewhere, the guitars were tuned perfectly. You can hear the perfectly tuned guitars on the song "Laughing," one of my favorite Crosby songs of all time [mp3 posted below], as they strum in perfect unison through the song, a strum that builds into moments of sheer transcendence (that word again) as a steel guitar plays out the coda. The lyrics are even better. Like all the best lyrics, they are both general and specific. I have to excerpt the whole thing here because part of its beauty is its brevity:

I thought, I met a man, who said he knew a man
Who knew what was goin' on

I was mistaken

Only another stranger
That I knew

And I thought, that I'd found the light

To guide me through my nights and all my darkness

I was mistaken

It was only reflections of a shadow
That I saw

And I thought, I've seen someone, who seemed at last

To know the truth

I was mistaken

Only a child laughing
In the sun

In the sun

I love the fact that the song is called "Laughing." Nothing more, nothing less.

There are a couple of instrumental jams, one called "Tamalpais High (At About 3)" and the other called "Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves)" that are drop dead beautiful. You can hear the latter here at NPR which picked the track as one of its "songs of the day" a couple of years ago. There's also an eight-minute long "rock" track, "Cowboy Movie" which is a fantasy cowboys-and-Indians story written as if a movie was filmed armed only with several awesome rhythm guitars. An unreleased version featuring Neil Young on lead guitar is, as one might expect, totally ragged and crazy. The album ends with an acapella song that is not unlike something you might find on an early Dead Can Dance album (like Within the Realm of a Dying Sun, for example).

It's worth noting how deeply uncool this album was for decades. Famous rock critic Robert Christgau, later champion of all things punk and post-punk, gave the album a D- and called it a "disgraceful performance." Now you have uber cool people like Devendra Banhart and the Fleet Foxes referencing this album as a touchstone for the new(ish) "freak folk" scene.

So what can I offer today? A version of "The Leeshore" from a September 1970 performance with Crosby & Nash. Nash talks too much. Just ignore it. The song soars on its weird tunings. Sends chills up my spine. Amazingly, the song was never released in its original form until 1991.

A couple of mp3s. The first is "Laughing" in its album version. The second is "Kids and Dogs," a song recorded at the original sessions for the album but left off and not released until 2006. And the third is "Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves)," a version originally recorded for Deja Vu but left unreleased until 1991.

David Crosby -- Laughing [mp3]
David Crosby -- Kids And Dogs [mp3]
David Crosby -- Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves) [mp3]

For completists, there's a detailed account of the recording of If I Could Only Remember My Name here, focusing especially on the recording of the song "Laughing."

Monday, April 20, 2009


A long time ago, right after they put out Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, I wrote down some random thoughts on Spiritualized. I didn't know that since then, they would put out a series of good but not great albums and that Ladies and Gentlemen would remain, in many ways, their peak, perhaps one of the best albums of the 1990s. The band (well, Jason Pierce, basically), churned out some sublime music in the early 1990s, which I was woefully unaware of at the time. For some reason that I don't even remember, I showed up at a record release party for Ladies and Gentlemen at the Trocadero in Philly in the fall of 1997 and hearing the album from beginning to end for the first time blew my mind. Anyway, I've been on a Spiritualized kick recently (umm...a soundtrack to the spring of 2009...), particularly Lazer Guided Melodies and Ladies and Gentlemen. The former is beautifully sad and the latter is sadly beautiful. One track from Ladies and Gentlemen, "I Think I'm In Love," is superb. Here is an incredible 10-minute long live version recorded during the 1997 tour. Best listened at 3.30 am, tired, and alone....

And below are my thoughts on seeing Spiritualized on that tour, particularly that selfsame song.

Spiritualized -- I Think I'm In Love [mp3]

The following is from Fred (written in August 1999). Original here.

Well, apparently Jason Pierce of Spiritualized has fired the remaining members of the band (they received "formal letters of termination") only weeks after the band signed a contract for a new album. Rumour has it that doctors diagnosed ol' Jason as suffering from "nervous exhaustion" after the humongous project of the last live album. New album in the works evidently, although given the pace at which Pierce works, we should not anticipate a new album until about 2002 or something like that.

Listening right now to their last studio album, Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space, you kind of wonder at Mr Pierce's mental state. His words and tone of voice skirt both pathos and bathos, sort of transcendental and yet completely childlike. His music is all swirling organs, distant echoey guitars, soft lush drums, celebratory horns, and backup singers from church choirs, the kind of music that is seemingly several dozens of rows away at a record store from his antecedent drug-frenzy-fueled band Spacemen 3. It's all mixed perfectly, immaculately, nary a missed note nor an extra bar in any song. Ironically or not, among the best songs are the ones where he ups the bile and spits out vitriol and/or self-loathing at breathneck pace ("Electricity," "Come Together," and "Cop Shoot Cop...."). For those that like to sit infront of their stereo and nod away all alone in the dark without realizing that a song's gone on for over ten minutes, I highly recommend "Cop Shoot Cop...," the album's closing track, a 13 minute freakout extravaganza that pummels the mind into submission into an extended mush where you can barely breathe---it's all heroin nodding---without the heroin of course. The amazing thing about this year's version of Spiritualized (well, actually version 1997-98) is the amazing tenderness that Pierce is capable of amid all that cacophonous orgy of noise (Umm, talk about music-critic-speak there). His lyrics are so simple, that in Celine Dion's grasp, they would make great movie soundtrack material for a kiss between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. In the hands of Spiritualized, they're disarming, not cloying, almost beautiful. In the album's second centerpiece "I Think I'm In Love," a gorgeously beautiful swinging (and very long) ode to the indeciveness that plagues us at every moment we think we've got a clue about life, there is a call and answer pattern through the lyrics:

"I think I'm in love / probably just hungry
I think I'm your friend / probably just lonely
I think you got me in a spin now / probably just turning

I think I'm a fool for you now / probably just learning

I think I can rock and roll / probably just twisting

I think I wanna tell the world / probably ain't listening

I think I can fly / probably just falling

I think I'm the life and soul / probably just snorting

I think I can hit the mark / probably just aiming

I think my name is on your list / probably just complaining..."

And it goes on like this, while organs rise and fall, guitars come in and out, and you let your hair fall over your eyes as you sway your body to a beat that is irresistable. Well, it's a dream that doesn't exist.

Although flawed by its somewhat overpowering church organ ambitions, it was one of the best CDs that came out in 1997. Seeing them in concert late that year (I think it was November or December), the album came fully alive on stage. The sound was exquisite, the transcendence much more immediate, the guitars more ringing, and the church organs less overpowering. On their single "Electricity," Jason and Co. took their flying saucer and took off into the ozone on a power riff worthy of the best psychedelic garage band from the 1960s: "Eeee-lec-tricity / let it rain all over me." It was all 1966 and paisley pants with amplifiers and effects from 1996. Very few bands can pull off the loud / soft aesthetic successfully in concert. Amazingly Spiritualized did. On "Electricity" they were as loud as I imagine Spacemen 3 once were, yet on "Broken Heart," Pierce was a crushed figure on stage, a doll, talking through a broken megaphone about his pathetic broken heart. Broken heart indeed. Apparently after finishing the album, Pierce's girlfriend (and Spiritualized keyboardist) Kate Radley quit the band (and her boyfriend) and hooked up with Verve lead singer (Richard Ashcroft). The issue was somehow complicated by the fact that Pierce was living at Radley's mum's house (mum as they say in England). Evidently, Pierce continues to live at mum's house. Think of a Rumours of the 1990s. Except one that's much longer, and with heroin instead of cocaine.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Life (NIN)

People need to share. They need to share thoughts, opinions, things, and bodies.

I am in Lisbon now which is the capital of Portugal, a nation oddly lodged between the Atlantic Ocean and Spain. I went for a late lunch in Santa Apolonia on the Rio Tejo (or as they say outside of Portugal, the Tagus River).

Things that I found of particular interest today: extremely ugly people, apple tarts, Roger Moore, medieval Lisbon, how to pronounce the plural of the word "bidet," the FUCKING genius of Bill Hicks, Richard Seymour's The Liberal Defence of Murder, Indian girls who have unbelievably gorgeous skin, Tacoma (a city in the state of Washington) which, barring death, I will be visiting at some point in the future, and the following particularly erudite song by one of my favorite group of musicians, the long defunct Flipper. They sang:

"Life, I too have sung death's praises
But I'm not going to sing that song anymore
Yes, I've figured out what living is all about
It's life! Life!
Life is the only thing worth living for
Yes life! Life! Life is the only thing worth... Life! Life!

(I know it has its ups and downs)."

I will attempt to leave Lisbon tomorrow to return home. Home is a rather slippery term these days as I seem to have somehow dislodged (that word, again) myself, at least metaphorically, from the notion of an existence grounded in the realities of normalcy.

OK, here's the song for today. It's the b-side to Nine Inch Nail's 1990 single "Sin." It sounds oddly quaint these days. But I remember enjoying it back when it came out. Guy was ahead of the fucking curve, you know what I mean? It took a lot of balls to cover a song by Queen in 1990. Queen was not hip or cool or whatever in 1990. Queen was embarrassing. I mean, what the fucking fuck?

Nine Inch Nails - Get Down Make Love [mp3]