Friday, September 28, 2007

Satire: St. Louis Music Scene Found Dead; Several Suspects Under Investigation

In a startling development, the St. Louis Music Scene was found dead this morning, near the Pageant concert nightclub on Delmar Boulevard. Although the cause of death has yet to be determined, authorities speculate the death was possibly caused by St. Louis' appalling number of frustrated male concert-going go-go dancers, the number of bloated 1980s hair bands and androgynous male bands targeting pre-pubescent kids that thrive in the city, or finally, Richard "Dick" Reamer of Creve Coeur, MO.

Homicide detectives are currently pursuing the St. Louis male concert-going population as their strongest suspect. "We've received numerous substantiated reports that this suspect has engaged in various illicit and disgusting activities, including grotesque seated pelvic dancing thrusts during the recent Richard Thompson acoustic concert," stated Detective Fuller Johnson, lead investigator for the case. "For chrissakes, how can you justify a seated wiggly-wig dance routine during "How Will I Ever Be Simple Again?" No wonder that show was nothing but single men wearing berets."

"We also suspect that this contingent's propensity to dress like the performer has caused premier acts to avoid St. Louis in abject horror," Johnson continued. "I saw more wide-rimmed glasses at the Elvis Costello concert than I would at my optometrist's office. Shit, if I was on stage and looked at the audience to see me looking back at me, I'd run like hell from this city also."

While the bulk of the St. Louis Police Department's resources are focusing on this suspect as their primary lead, other suspects have not yet been eliminated. Another promising culprit remains the glut of washed-up acts, primarily those of the classic rock or hair metal variety, that have turned St. Louis into a veritable hotbed for artists last seen on Behind the Music.

"Sammy Hagar could go on a tour where all he does is fart on stage and primp his hair, and it would sell out within minutes in this town. Then a second show would be added, and it would sell out even faster than the first," lamented one seasoned concert veteran who wished to remain nameless.

Detective Johnson does not dispute that this suspect could have played a role in the tragic demise of the St. Louis Music Scene either. "Nothing could kill a music scene quite like the recent White Lion/Poison brutal double bill. What did the cat drag in? How about a whole lot of hairspray, questionable hygienic practices, and enough botched boob jobs to last a lifetime - and that was just the men."

Others are eager to point out that the recent rash of androgynous bands who appeal to the angst-ridden kids of affluent suburbia has not yet been eliminated as a co-conspirator. "Panic At The Fall Out Disco Boy High School Gym Stars — or whatever they're called — sold out the Pageant with ease," one local indie concert promoter stated.

"All that mascara and eyeliner, coupled with a disturbing audience demographic of pre-teens whose wardrobe makes Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie seem downright butch, has taken its toll on the Scene. Some of the girls at the show wore makeup too."

Still a very small segment of the city's detectives are quietly pursuing one last suspect at the behest of Johnson himself: Richard "Dick" Reamer, a retired auto mechanic who has lived in the city for 60 years.

"Why Reamer? Because he's a bastard sumbitch who must be guilty of something. I just feel it in my police bones," Johnson was quoted as saying. "His porch has four barbeque pits and six wind chimes, and he soaks his feet in Epsom salt while listening to Benny Goodman. He's hiding something — I'm sure of it. I wouldn't be surprised to find a stockpile of mullets and worn-out copies of Frampton Comes Alive in his basement."

Regardless of the guilty party, St. Louis music fans are nearly unanimous in agreeing that the Scene's death did not come as a complete surprise. "We got Yo La Tengo, the Decemberists, and Andrew Bird all in one week in April. But send Twisted Sister, Hanson, and Sebastian Bach with their Inquisition-grade brand of torture to your town and see if it survives," one local music fan stated dejectedly. "Poor baby Scene, she never had a chance."

There is talk of an upcoming charity concert for the Scene. Proceeds will be distributed evenly between the Scene's closest relatives (Kansas City and Chicago, which have been getting the quality acts that have skipped St. Louis for years anyway), and among those traumatized by the recent senseless and deadly James Blunt concert.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Satire: Neil Young Returns to St. Louis; Fans Secure Second Mortgages to Buy Tickets

Tickets for Neil Young’s upcoming concert in St. Louis go on sale Monday, September 24. Young will perform his Chrome Dreams, Continental show on November 18 at the Fox Theatre, and the show will include both acoustic and electric sets. Ticket prices range from $58 for upper, upper, upper (bring a Sherpa) balcony seats to $184.50 for posh, orchestra pit seats.

Some of Young’s fans could not be more excited.

“I can’t wait for the chance on Monday to gladly shell out $184.50 for a ticket to see a performer who hasn’t released a classic album in about 30 years,” said Franklin Greenback, an investment banker from Chesterfield, an affluent suburb of St. Louis. “Triple-digit ticket prices seem more than fair for a performer whose sound or subject matter hasn’t really evolved since 1976. The service charges are reasonable as well; in fact, it’s only $23 for the moderately priced $184.50 orchestra pit ticket. The tickets are practically being given away, with such low prices.”

Other fans do not share Greenback’s opinion. “The farkin hell you say,” Robbie Poorman of Valley Park eloquently lamented, in between sips from his can of Pabst Blue Ribbon as he imbibed at a local pub on Friday morning. “If I wanted to get reamed like that, I’d go see a proctologist. I love Neil, but daddgummit, that’s a lot of Blue Ribbons.”

Still other fans are finding creative ways to support their Neil Young habits.

“My wife has agreed to cut our three children’s meals down to two a day, and my wife, the little angel, is stopping her medication for a few weeks. Lupus isn’t that serious, right?” said Jessie “Slappy” Pellegrino. “With these steps, I can afford two of the $79 middle balcony seats, and only have to shell out $22 in service charges. Plus, from the middle balcony about 50 rows back, Neil will look like a closer blur than he will for those shlubs in the upper balcony section. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with such a musical legend; there is nothing more inspiring for an audience than seeing an artistic genius through squinted eyes and binoculars.”

In general though, many of Young’s fans are sorely disappointed at the high cost of tickets for the show; from various Internet checks, it is also not readily apparent whether any of the proceeds will go to charity. VC Almond, a college student from Florissant, confirmed that he was unable to find any information indicating that at least a portion of the ticket revenue would go to charity.

“Don’t get me wrong," Almond said. “Neil’s done great things with Farm Aid and the Bridge School, so maybe some of the revenue will go to charity but it’s not being publicized. And if that’s true, anyone who writes a satirical article criticizing Neil would surely be the biggest asshole ever.”

The bone being thrown to fans in the form of a free copy of Chrome Dreams II if they purchase via the phone or Internet isn’t soothing the disappointment either. “A free album that I’d download for free or steal from a friend anyway? Big deal,” said Almond.

Greenback, however, remains bewildered by these complaints.

“It’s a bunch of potheads, poor liberals, pseudo-artists, and college kids pissing and moaning about the prices. And those aren’t Neil’s type of people, anyway,” Greenback stated.

The investment banker is likewise unapologetic that some fans of the musician view the ticket prices as crass exploitation of Young’s fans.

“Let those bums fight it out in the upper balcony steerage section. I’ll be enjoying the show from my orchestra seat, along with the lawyers, doctors, trust funders, and other corporate VIPs, as we listen to Neil’s songs about political injustice, personal desperation, doomed junkies, and other things we’ve never experienced. After all, isn’t that what music’s all about?”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Music Review: Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True (Deluxe Edition)

By my count, this is approximately the 54th time My Aim Is True has been reissued. Rykodisc reissued the CD a number of years ago, followed by Rhino’s 2001 two-disc reissue, which seemed to close the book on Elvis Costello’s debut album. The 2001 reissue, besides being loaded with vintage-era photos, posters, and promos, included liner notes penned by Costello himself, which were both funny and informative. They were also the closest thing to a Costello autobiography fans might ever get. Plus, they placed the album in the context of Costello’s life at that time. In short, it had all the makings of the final word for this album.

Then, in 2007, Hip-O reissued the album, in digipack format with “original packaging” but without any bonus material. So when I later read that Hip-O was planning to issue a “deluxe version” of the album, I approached the news with quite a bit of skepticism. At a time when album sales are steadily declining but sub-standard reissues flood the market, it’s a fair question to ask whether another release of this album is necessary. After all, between the Rykodisc and Rhino versions, coupled with the My Aim Is True outtakes and live material that have floated around on bootlegs for years, what rock has not yet been turned over?

To my surprise, the Hip-O reissue in most cases surpasses the Rhino reissue, and makes it (hopefully) the last necessary reissue of this album. With two discs and around two hours of material including outtakes (the Pathway studio demos and an early Attractions performance from August 1977), Elvis’ army will find plenty to like. That will likely reward them for shelling out more baksheesh for another reissue.

New Costello fans who have not yet purchased the album should consider themselves lucky; they can buy only this version and find Costello’s liner notes from the Rhino version online. Then they should hope and pray another reissue with better material doesn’t hit in the next couple years.

To be sure, the reissue is not perfect. Its biggest drawback is the complete lack of liner notes that offer a fresh, or any, interpretation or appreciation of the album. I am not advocating the sycophantic-praise approach that plagues so many reissues, but either a new introduction by Costello or others associated with the making of the album (or bloody hell, a reprint of Costello’s notes from the Rhino reissue) should have been included.

The other shortcoming is the actual packaging, which becomes increasingly important as a selling point as music labels try to compete (or cooperate) with iTunes and other similar outlets. Most of the booklet included with this reissue consists of the lyrics to the album and reproductions of 1977-era posters, buttons, and other promotional materials that for the most part already appear in the Rhino reissue. However, the fold-out photo of the band onstage, along with the two photos of Costello in concert on the actual digipack, are very cool.

Nevertheless, this reissue is an essential purchase for a few reasons. The wealth of bonus material crushes the Rhino version like a grape. Whereas the Rhino version’s bonus disc contained less than 40 minutes of material, most of which was pretty dull and also widely available on bootlegs like Our Aim Is True or Flip City Demos, both discs on the Hip-O version are packed full of goodies. Two of the outtakes on Disc One were included on the Rhino version, but the other two demos were not. In addition, the Pathway Studio demos are now available on CD for the first time (with the exception of “Welcome To The Working Week”). The demos far surpass the Rhino material in showing how the songs took shape and evolved; the demo version of “Miracle Man” in particular rivals the version that would eventually find its way to the album.

Even better is the second disc, which consists of a 17-song live performance in London from August 7, 1977, as well as the earlier sound check from that show. Despite having begun playing live as a band a little more than two months before this show, the Attractions are remarkably tight and the show itself is blistering. Though not as manic, frenzied, aggressive, or confrontational as the wild live shows from 1978 that can be heard via unofficial channels, it’s the perfect document of Costello and the Attractions in their earliest days. Shades of the musical hysteria and savagery that would follow as the band toured Europe and United States in 1978 can be heard in the live versions of “Lip Service” and “Night Rally.” The recording quality of the show is also perfect; even the most critical ears will be hard-pressed to find something to criticize about the performance.

Other artists and labels looking to reissue their classic albums should use this reissue as a blueprint for satisfying even the most hardcore fans. At no point does this reissue come across as a cheap cash grab (like, say, the baffling and truly unessential Springsteen We Shall Overcome reissue, and from a blue-collar man of the people, no less). The demo and outtake material go a long way in creating a definitive overview of Costello and the Attractions circa 1977, and the Nashville Rooms concert is as good as any other 1977 show that has been traded over the years. Similar treatments for Costello’s other great albums would be very welcome, especially for This Year’s Model, Armed Forces, and Get Happy!

However, I’m drawing the line at any further reissues of Punch The Clock or Goodbye Cruel World.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Bronx is Burning - 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler

Never judge a book by its movie, especially if that book has been brought to the small screen by ESPN. Jonathan Mahler’s The Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City offers a sweeping and ambitious study of 1977 shithole-era New York that the ESPN miniseries could only hint at. Whereas the miniseries’ primary focus was on the dysfunctional Yankees and the season-long pissing contest between outfielder Reggie Jackson and manager Billy Martin, Mahler instead focuses on the broader social and cultural climate of the city, including the mayoral campaign runoff between Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch, the blackout and the looting that followed, the city’s financial crisis, and the Son of Sam killings. It is far more than just another book about baseball (or worse, another baseball book about the Yankees).

Mahler vividly paints a descriptive portrait of 1977 New York without getting bogged down in extraneous details - the writing style is always straightforward and direct, and oftentimes humorous. Sufficient (and interesting) biographical background is provided for key figures like Jackson, Martin, Cuomo, and Koch, which allows the reader to gain an understanding of these figures and how their backgrounds influenced their actions. Mahler also shows how these backgrounds played out against the backdrop of the struggling city, most notably in the mayoral election runoff, where both Cuomo and Koch could both cynically be accused of running campaigns that were precursors to the negative campaigns frequently seen today.

Mahler raises several interesting social questions throughout the book, which for the most part failed to come across in the ESPN miniseries. The most thought-provoking, and sensitive, is the issue of racial tension and specifically how it played out during the blackout and the massive looting that resulted, since the looting by and large occurred in poor, predominantly African-American areas of the city. The question Mahler raises is whether the looters were exercising some sort of sophisticated form of violent social protest, or whether the looting was mostly led by a criminal element that saw an opportunity for free merchandise and took advantage of it. Ultimately it is difficult to argue with Mahler’s conclusion that the looting was probably motivated more by opportunity than by an enlightened form of political or economic revolt.

The obvious implication throughout the book is that the Yankees represented a baseball version of the social and racial issues that troubled the city in 1977. In some ways, this is hard to dispute. Billy Martin was accused in the past of making racist comments, even demoting or benching players because of their skin color, and his handling of truculent superstar Reggie Jackson could be seen as racially motivated. At the same time, Martin was pretty much an ornery bastard who conflicted with lots of people, such as whiter-than-white Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Mahler also shows that some of the Yankee players, such as catcher Thurman Munson, disliked Jackson, though in Munson’s case this appears to have been motivated not by race, but by Jackson’s higher salary and perceived threat to Munson’s role as team captain.

In other ways, however, it is difficult to view such tensions as realistic barometers for the New York social climate in 1977; instead, they most likely were little more than the usual clubhouse politics, cliques, and conflicts of personality that occur within any team. Perhaps the hindsight we now have to look back at the 1977 team, and all the baggage New York in 1977 brought with it, has given a greater significance to that team’s internal tension than should actually be given. Mahler’s study of the team and his attempts to draw parallels between the Yankees’ culture and those of New Yorkers in general is interesting, though for me at least it is still difficult to view that team in such a broader context.

This is one of the few squabbles I have about The Bronx is Burning. The only other complaint I have with the book — and it’s only because I’m a sick musicholic well past the point of recovery — is Mahler’s reductive explanation of the 1977 music scene. It’s pure Intro to Music History 101, with the New York punk scene covered in only a few short paragraphs and with only the most obvious bands briefly mentioned. But this too is a minor complaint.

Anyone familiar with baseball history knows how the 1977 season ended, with the often-maligned (which was sometimes self-created) Reggie Jackson hitting three first-pitch home runs in game 6 of the World Series to lead the Yankees to victory. It was a rare bright spot in an otherwise bleak year for New York (and even then, Jackson had to run like hell to get to the locker room as celebrating fans stormed the field). Far more than the miniseries could hope to accomplish, Mahler’s works is a great study of 1977 New York and the athletes, politicians, looters, and everyday New Yorkers (and one serial killer) who lived through it.