Dean Ford Remembered

Remembering Dean Ford (1946-2018)

Leader of The Marmalade

By Dale Nickey

(The Hollywood Times) 1/14/19 – New Year’s Eve past me and the missus were watching the telly waiting for the ball to drop. Out of the blue, apropos of nothing, I wondered out loud who would be the first Rock Star to leave us in the New Year (2019). Dean Ford passed on New Year’s Eve. I knew him by his birth name Thomas McAleese. He was one of the gentlest, most talented souls I ever met.

Ireland gave us Van Morrison, Wales gave us John Cale, and Scotland gave us Dean Ford. He was a proper pop star with the sixties rock band The Marmalade. Ford aka McAleese co-wrote and sang their number 3 UK hit Reflections of My Life in 1969 (top 10 in the US).

Ford second from right

When I met Thomas it was at the home of mutual friend and musician Dominic Bakewell. Thomas had rented the back cottage that I had previously rented when we were going through our “communal band house” phase. He was an affable gent, and I was a confirmed anglophile. I was eager to discuss the folk music of the British Isles that was my (then current) obsession. He politely told me that none of that interested him and that his musical heroes where black Soul artists. I had no idea of the musical pedigree Thomas possessed at that time, but he made an impression right off.

We were not close friends but we were warm acquaintances.  I would see him several times throughout the decades, and our conversations were always joyful and interesting. He loved to talk music and never seemed to grow tired of the subject. I knew him as a humble chauffeur who had conquered the evils of alcohol. I knew he had a daughter he adored but who lived at the other end of the continent.

Dean Ford (right) and your author 1991

Memories abound. One time Dom played me a home recording of one of his tunes we had performed together in our old band. I recognized the song, but when the vocals came in I was taken aback by the soulful, angelic tenor, with perfect intonation and vibrato. It was Thomas of course. The track was a textbook example of how a great singer can mine out the greatness in a song. Dom played me another song that featured a tasteful saxophone solo; again Thomas. Another song had a honey sweet harmonica break. Guess who?

It was around this time I connected the dots between Thomas McAleese, Dean Ford and The Marmalade.

One time in the 90’s, I showed up at some tatty open mic in Northridge. There was Thomas, Dominic and Pat Allen, slumming for a performance fix just like me. I brought a little baritone ukulele that Thomas fell in love with. He played and cradled it the whole night. I was thinking about just giving it to him. God, I wish I had. I went up and did my song. Thomas really loved the bridge and was generous with his praise. I always cherished that compliment because it was so specific and I knew how genuine Thomas was with his words and opinions. Of course, when Thomas went up to do his numbers, it divided the assembled throng into two groups. There was Dean Ford, and then there was the rest of us.

One night Thomas invited me to a gig he was doing at a little club in Santa Monica just down the street from McCabe’s. I brought a female companion who showed little interest in going but went along anyway. Thomas was on his game and sang like a bird as usual. He knew all the tricks. He told me many times about his favorite piece of stagecraft while playing solo; which was to stomp his foot on the bandstand in time with his guitar to create a little ambient bass drum effect that would add a bit of oomph to the performance. This night I actually saw him perform his parlor trick up close. My companion was transfixed. I guess she had never been in close proximity to such an amazing voice. She complimented Thomas effusively after the set. On the way home she asked many questions about Thomas, his music and his circumstance; too many. Clearly, I occupied second place in her affections that night.

Once during the Holidays, I was invited to Dominic’s to sit around the fireplace, drink and yak. Thomas had just acquired a beautiful Taylor guitar he was showing off like a newborn. He even let me play it. By chance, I had just taught myself the standard Misty and started playing it. Thomas fell in easily, knew all the lyrics and sang it impromptu in a manner that would do Johnny Mathis proud. It was a buzz to accompany such greatness. Even for just one song.

The last time I saw him was at a memorial service for Dom’s sister Bimmy. We talked at length; mostly about music of course. It’s like we picked up the same conversation we started 30 years prior. I mentioned that I had attended too many memorial services in recent years. I had no idea the next one I would attend would be for Thomas. The world is a terrible place Thomas, but I didn’t want you to die.

Just before Christmas past, I received his latest work (My Scottish Heart) in the mail for review. I had profiled his previous album (Feel My Heartbeat) and my review was a love letter to his wonderful songwriting talent, voice and the Scottish soul imbedded in the grooves. I did a double take when I realized this was a double (2 CD) set; being of a certain age, and knowing that Thomas was now into his seventies, I had to wonder if the abundance of music on offer resulted from the lengthening shadow of mortality and a desire to put out as much music as possible just in case. A scant few days later, I had my answer.

Thankfully, I have my certitude about what comes after this world. My certitude tells me Thomas is just fine and waiting for the rest of us to show up. Farewell Thomas, I wish we all had more time.

David Lewis – “Among Friends” (Album Review)

Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

David Lewis – Among Friends

Wow Records – Release Date 6/25/20

Nice to listen to music without context sometimes. My first scan of this music suggested a very young, precocious artist. The second coming of Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame perhaps. Lyrics ahead of the artist’s years; a gentle, youthful voice offering his bouquet of epiphanies with humility. Comparisons to Al Stewart and Nick Drake are easy to draw and impossible to ignore. Then I read the bio. The real story behind the artist is quite surprising.

David Lewis is a college professor, PhD and academic. Somehow, he’s also found time to develop into a skillful singer/songwriter recording artist. He is currently a professor at the London School of Economics who did his graduate studies at Cambridge University where he met the man who would later become artist John Wesley Harding. The 80’s would find him busking and collaborating with Harding, placing three of his cowrites on various Harding albums. Lewis finally put out his own debut in 1996 (No Straight Line) with such luminaries as Robert Lloyd and Peter Buck.

David Lewis

Now in 2020, David Lewis has released his new long player “Among Friends”. The album was produced by lifelong friend and collaborator Wesley Stace (AKA John Wesley Harding) at Danielson Studios in the New Jersey countryside; and the album is reflective of that pastoral setting. The musical foundation is predominantly soft, well recorded acoustic guitars interrupted by the occasional neo-psyche/folk/prog Amuse-bouche. Lyrical gems aplenty are to be found on “Among Friends”. David Lewis is clearly an artist who likes to read and think about things. However, his existential musings come with a spoonful of sugar rather than vinegar; and are easily consumed by the casual listener.

click here to buy Among Friends

What follows are some of the highlights on “Among Friends”: 

“Fixed Star” is the obvious choice as the gateway track to the album, with a sprite guitar riff hooking together the verses, one thinks of The Cure battling a rare bout of optimism. 

“Unswept Leaves” dips its big toe in the pool of Psychedelia with flanged guitar pushing forward Lewis’s unthreatening vocal style. 

“Three Sides” gets a little darker, blusier and noisier with a Booker T. organ riff and some splashy/messy drum work that somehow remains in the pocket. 

“Whisper to Me” – Nice rolling acoustic guitar arpeggio whose similarity to Nick Drake’s Three Hours is self-evident. The opening suddenly breaks into a neo-prog interlude that could pass for a Yes outtake circa 1968, then back to a recapitulation of the guitar/voice opening. 

“What’s True” – a two time beat, and a loping guitar rhythm brings to mind John Hartford’s “Gentile on My Mind”, and shares that song’s wistful aspect.

“Softest of Years” – This song stands as the lyric tour de force of the album. A reflection on youth with a static arpeggiated guitar and a series of lines that anyone of a certain age will nod in agreement to. Key line “Life reimagined, but how much is true?”

“Close the Circle” is a song of amends and owning the mistakes and harm we inflict on others. Could serve as the Alcoholics Anonymous step 9 theme song.

“Time to Dream” – Light folk confection about the passage time and getting on with it.

“Temporary King” – Rare piano statement that might have been exploited more often on the album. Key line, “Who knows what fate can bring to a Temporary King who hides behind an old illusion”. Standard descending chord progression done nice. 

This writer will admit to a personal bias in favor of the album format as a 10 song (or less) artistic statement. With the signature voice of David Lewis and the musical policy of “Among Friends” firmly set as acoustic guitar driven Folk-Rock, the twelve songs on “Among Friends” flirt with being too much of a good thing. However, one must consider how few albums Lewis has put out over the decades. Clearly, the New Jersey sessions found Lewis and company on a creative roll, so the desire to ‘put it all out’ is justifiable.“Among Friends” has a lot to offer across all generations with lyrics deep enough to engage souls who’ve ‘been there’ and a youthful aspect that can reach tweeners, Gen-X’rs, and indie-oughters. David Lewis is a unique artist who presents as both older and younger than yesterday.

JANDEK – New Orleans Monday (CD Review)

Authored by Dale Nickey: 

New Orleans Monday – Corwood Industries (0822) Audio CD (2016)

Originally reviewed in 2016

Jandek Revisits “Ghost Passing”

Jandek has just released his newest work “New Orleans Monday”. This is a recorded live performance on CD. It will also see release on DVD relatively soon. 

Jandek breaks with tradition here and gives us a live rendering of music previously conceived in the studio. In this case, we have a piano fantasia with eerie electronic accompaniment. We get the same instrumentation and format as his last studio release (the 6 cd box set) “Ghost Passing”. On that record, we were treated to six separate hour long piano fantasias paired with the relentless electronic noodling that had all the charm of a dentist drill run through a studio sound processor. Imagine Eric Satie composing a score for a B-list horror flick.

On this record, (limited to one CD and one hour) the sonic experiment is far more sustainable and listenable. Without the benefit of artist credits or visual evidence, the identity of the electronic musician is open to conjecture. However, Sheila Smith would be the prime suspect; and her weapon of choice seems to be a theremin or ribbon controller of some sort. 

Jandek’s skills as a pianist are modest. However, he delivers his walking basslines, filigree and note clusters with audacity and elan. The fantasia is a nineteenth century compositional form roughly analogous to what we would call New Age. Heavy on improvisation and imagination, light on orthodoxy. The form was a response to the mathematical precision and unforgiving strictures of the Classical/Romantic period as practiced by Beethovan and Brahms. In Jandek’s hands the fantasia has been bent and twisted into a barren Salvador Dali landscape, at other times both pianist and accompanist descend into a maelstrom of crashing bass notes set against an electronic squall. Ironically, these dissonant, chaotic moments are the most interesting and most faithful to the Jandek ethos. 

Jandek’s piano performance is solid throughout. Missteps are few; and, all in all Jandek reveals himself on “New Orleans Monday” to be a far more confident, nuanced instrumentalist than he was on his magnum opus “Song of Morgan”. One wishes the relentless electronic nattering would lay out a few minutes here and there as a palette cleanser if nothing else. Less surely would have been more on this record, and that goes sixfold for the aforementioned “Ghost Passing”.

No way around it, “New Orleans Monday” is a makeweight release. No new ground is broken conceptually or musically. It’s hard to make a case for its existence except as an affordable alternative to “Ghost Passing”. If you are a Jandek completest and acolyte, “Ghost Passing” is a must own, as it gives you all the above described in gluttonous portions with a high-gloss studio finish. However, for the less committed, this Reader’s Digest version (New Orleans Monday) will do just fine thank you.

FABULOUS FIRSTS: Debut Albums That Shook My Little World – Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd (Piper At The Gates Of Dawn) :

Gee, I wonder where The Beatles dreamed up all the weird and wonderful psychedelic ideas that gave us Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane? I guess it was just a coincidence that Pink Floyd was recording their first album just down the hall at the same time The Beatles were entering there most musically adventurous phase. I’m sure Paul McCartney’s visit to The Floyds session for a listen had no influence at all on what The Fabs were doing….yeah sure…..Pink Floyd entered EMI studios with LSD addled leader Syd Barrett and recorded an album of wacked-out yet tightly focused ditties and acid jams that changed music forever. Anything was possible after this paradigm shifting debut. Pink Floyd not only established its brand; but it created a whole new genre and gave us a Rock and Roll icon for the ages (Barrett) in one shot. Pretty good for a rookie combo.

Top 10 Greatest Rock Covers #4 (The Clash “I Fought The Law”)

The Clash – “I Fought The Law“

“I Fought The Law” was originally a bracing but unthreatening rebel squawk by The Bobby Fuller Four (composed by Sonny Curtis). The Clash sunk their rotting teeth into it and made it belch flames. The guitars squalled, the drums thundered and Joe Strummer’s sandpaper n’ Drano rasp gave the song its soul and menace. Ultimately, The Clash became a haircut band of a different stripe; generating boatloads of record sales and MTV airplay. But, they always talked a good game (and yes) ‘The Law’ ultimately won.

Jandek – St. Louis Friday (DVD Review)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

More Jandek? Click>>>> morgan / LAlive

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ST. Louis Friday (DVD)

Recorded Live at The Billiken Club St. Louis Missouri – (March 21, 2014)

Corwood Industries (0816)

Stamp Out Reality…..

In 2004 Jandek crawled out of his carefully maintained crypt of self-imposed obscurity. Gradually, like a racehorse revving up to full gallop, he has released a dizzying catalog of DVD’s documenting his live performances throughout Europe and North America. It is doubtful Jandek’s globetrotting is supported by his record sales. So we are left to wonder how The Representative of Corwood Industries underwrites his cacophonic crusades.  Jandek peels off layers of mystery only to add others. 

I was bestowed a review copy of “St. Louis Friday” recently. Jandek’s live performance DVD’s do not serve the same function that they would for a more conventional artist. His live performances do not document or codify his accumulated repertoire. They are simply field recordings of new (mostly improvised) music with the added stimuli of moving images of the man in holy communion with his muse. 

On “St. Louis Friday” Jandek continues a methodology that I first witnessed at his live performance in Los Angeles a couple years back. Which is, assembling a cast of local musos to play improvised free music without a net. All under the watchful eye of free-radical poet/performance artist Sheila Smith. 

Sheila Smith is now Jandek’s muse, collaborator and onstage foil. She can be found behind the drum kit, at the keyboard or in The Representative’s face; taunting, seducing and speechifying.  For this writer, comparisons to Yoko Ono are probably as unfair as they are unavoidable. 

The cinematic aspect of “St. Louis Friday” is puzzling at best. The video quality is a colorless wash of underdeveloped whites and grays. There are two explanations possible. The videographer pooched it by hitting a wrong button on the camera, and Jandek said “screw it, put it out anyway” or Jandek decided the music performed was best represented with snuff flick production values. Yet another unanswered mystery.

Our hero opens the proceedings parked in a wooden straight-backed chair with an acoustic guitar, fiddling around trying to find an open channel to that peculiar, inexhaustible muse that he mines so consistently. At the doorstep of his seventieth year, the subjects of mortality, aging and entropy are clearly front and center in his mind. Indeed, his lyrics right out of the starting gate declare, “My body is wasted”. 

On the second song, “The Capsized Boat” Jandek is clearly more preoccupied with narrative as his guitar playing is far more absentmindedly percussive. Jandek seems entranced with the reverb effects produced by the partially plucked steel acoustic guitar string. 

At the beginning of the third number, the woman we presume to be Sheila Smith takes her place behind the drum kit and contributes some off kilter fills in support of “Fishing Blues”. Jandek tosses out lines such as, “Throw your dead bait out again” and “this ain’t no pleasure cruise” which would seem an obvious allegory to the vicissitudes of everyday life, or (then again) the piece might be about a rough day at the ocean. 

Smith switches to keyboards as a bassist and drummer take their respective places on stage. Jandek lays down his guitar, commands the microphone, and barks out verse in the manner of a circus ringmaster. What follows is a nuanced and involving improvisation, with Smith contributing some atmospheric noodling and note clusters set against an alternately hyperactive and meditative rhythm bed. Jandek bellows, moans and entreats nobody in particular for unconditional love while stating his determination to …”raise my head above it all”. 

“Shadow life” sees The Representative strapping on an electric for one of his signature guitar, bass and drums freak-outs. After a couple minutes of dissonant improvisation, Sheila goads him on with some up close and in your face dirty dancing. Jandek turns in an impressive performance on guitar; letting his expert rhythm section do their share of heavy lifting while Jandek’s shifts his focus to single note work reminiscent of early 60’s garage/surf music run through a wood chipper. Sheila takes the mic and starts throwing down a spoken word rant against her man who has ‘no shadow’. The piece goes 10:33 but feels shorter and grinds down to a cogent and surprisingly coordinated conclusion. 

“Where Were You Born” continues with the same instrumental format as “Shadow Life”. However, the improvisations have shifted from a solid rhythmic foundations to something more stuttering and abstract. Smith interrupts her verbalizing intermittently to slink across the stage and get up in The Reps face. Smith is either smitten with The Representative or she’s taunting and teasing him as one would a laboratory rat. Half way through, the rhythm straightens out and Smith’s inquisition continues. “Where were you born, Where are you from. Let’s get married.”  

And so it goes….

It’s hard to predict or imagine where Jandek will land in the pantheon of artists that have strapped on a guitar and displayed their wares on stage, on record and film. As Jandek hurtles into his seventies, he is immune to the paralysis of perfectionism, and oblivious to the opinions and expectations of the listener. Jandek is an archetype; as such, he stands in rare and exclusive company. You can expect only pure undiluted art from Jandek; and like any concentrated mixture or potion, the taste is sometimes bitter and overpowering. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not good for you.

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Click here to visit the Corwood Industries catalog >>> http://corwoodindustries.com/

Jandek – Live at The Bootleg Theater (8/5/16)

By Dale Nickey:

jandek and sheila

He Returns…

(LOS ANGELES, CA – August 5, 2016) – Nestled in the outer frontier of Downtown L.A.’s ever expanding tent community is The Bootleg Theater – a funky but chic performance complex that houses both a first rate community playhouse and a concert hall. On Beverly near Alvarado; this was the chosen site of Jandek’s return to Los Angeles on Friday night.

Jandek’s current level of popularity means that he can pack out a 300 seater in any major city in the Western Hemisphere whenever he wishes. It’s a good place to be. The Representative of Corwood Industries and Poet/Spoken word artist Sheila Smith now comprise Jandek ‘the collective’. They’ve mind melded. They dance and writhe together, exchange verse as a married couple would morning chit-chat. Sheila appears to be everything to The Representative; muse, collaborator, manager, mother superior and daddy’s little girl all wrapped into one. Our Goth Princess of the pre-apocalypse wears angelic concern and adoration on her face every second she’s in the orbit of The Representative.

Arriving early, I grabbed an orphan set sheet that was amusing in its mis-information. Rap, Hip-Hop and Country Blues were listed as stylistic signposts though none of those styles were in evidence on this Los Angeles Friday. The list also indicated there would be some harmonica playing by both The Representative and Sheila, but that never transpired.

Jandek and his ensemble emerged from the backstage area and took the indigo blue-lit stage. Some discreet dry ice provided the requisite graveyard ambiance. The Representative of Corwood Industries sat in a strait backed wooden chair at stage right, facing stage left where Sheila Smith sat opposite and gazed back; swaying in thrall to the vibes, the beats and periodically swigged from a corked vial of some mysterious potion. Jandek had an identical bottle which resided in the briefcase at his side. Neither Sheila nor The Representative would be playing instruments this evening. And their positions on stage reminded me of two boxers eyeball wrestling each other from their neutral corners. However, tonight; instead of trading jabs, they would be exchanging love, verse, and sweat. Moreover, instead of throwing haymakers and round-house rights, The Rep would stand in the center of the ring and howl at the moon from the depths of his soul.

sheila

The set begins with The Representative seated. Eventually he would rise slowly and tentatively from his seat and unfurl his lanky frame in the manner of a 6 foot 2, black-clad Praying Mantis performing its morning yoga. The Representative was in a dancing mood as he stomped, stretched and shuffled all over the stage. Music stands with neatly typewritten text occupied prominent positions on the stage, but there was plenty of freestyling on offer. Being a nerdy Rock scribe, I dutifully took notes to document the concert. However, it soon became a moot exercise. I moved to the edge of the stage to open an unobstructed portal to the energy source, and that energy was pure and powerful. For the audience’s part, they stood, stared, swayed and were generally mesmerized the entire set. Sometimes the collective energy of the band would flag, but they would always rebound with a second wind and more inspired free playing. After a long and winding closing piece where The Representative tore open his soul with primal urgency, he calmly sat back down, then telepathically signaled to Sheila the set was over. The Jandek ensemble left the stage en mass to a lusty ovation.

Maybe it’s just the post-gig pheromones talking, but the band assembled for this show probably ranks as Jandek’s finest. Drums were absent and replaced by a beatmaster working knobs and faders at the back of the stage. Flanking the rhythm desk was a bassist and guitarist Will Toledo. Toledo deserves special mention in consideration of how much responsibility rested on him to provide harmonic structures and atmospheres consonant with the ethos of Jandek. Echo and delay were used liberally and effectively by both Toledo and the bassist. Moreover, the dynamics and tempo ebbed and flowed organically despite the metronomic strictures of the ever present beatbox.

Call it the ’emperor’s new clothes’ if you wish. Jandek will always sound like an incoherent din to the moral majority. But, for those willing to be hypnotized, A Jandek gig is a mega-decibel baptism of sound.  Jandek prays out loud with guitars, bass and beats at full volume; and we get to evesdrop. Often he just clenches his entire body and howls in rapture.  The Representative soaks up our adoration and then flings it into the heavens. But make no mistake, he’s not he’s not playing for us. It’s a ritual he would perform regardless. He was creating before the cellphone, CD and home computer. He played before you were born. He’s played sitting on a chair beside a window. Now he’s playing for time. He’ll be 71 in October. There’s no time left for anything else.

jandeksitting

Visit Corwood Industries >>>> http://corwoodindustries.com/

Cover Girls – Cheesecake Delight

Cheesecake –  Emerging sub-genre attracts vinyl collectors with an eye for the ladies.

By Dale Nickey:

Mary Tyler Moore

We have all seen them at one time or another in a junk shop or in our parents (or grandparents) ancient record collection; a long lost vinyl LP with a purdy girl on the cover and insufferable easy listening music within.

Objectification or high art?  Probably a little of both.

Context is everything. Imagine a time before cellphones, music videos or color television. Recorded music was an emerging power and the beast demanded product. Audiophiles had to make choices between mono, stereo or quadraphonic. We’re talking the 1950’s and pre-Beatles 60’s; a black and white world that grabbed it’s visceral thrills where it could. Enter The Cheesecake record cover.

In the main, the fledgling record industry was run by ugly white guys. Many of them on the wrong side of 30. Many of the pre-Beatles recording artists not named Elvis or Bobby were session men, film composers, TV composers, studio arrangers and producers. They all made music that was good, bad or indifferent. However, one reality was clear; sticking a bald, bespectacled studio mole with nicotine teeth and goatee on the cover was box-office suicide.

In a marketing move that presaged the MTV era’s obsession with female eye candy, record companies started contracting models for fashion shoots to create album covers that would stop any red blooded American male hot in his tracks and start him reaching for his wallet. Mary Tyler Moore paid the bills as a first call record cover model on at least half a dozen titles.  Sometimes you got a twofer when the dish on the cover was also the main course on the vinyl platter (Julie London, Doris Day, Peggy Lee). Often the cover girl would have a tenuous connection with what was going on inside the cover. Other times, the outside cover would capture perfectly the atmosphere of the music on offer.

What follows are some classic examples of The Cheesecake cover during the genre’s heyday, and also some entrants from later decades that were faithful to the original spirit.

Esquivel – Other Worlds Other Sounds (1958)

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Ten years prior to 1967’s psychedelic summer of love, artist’s minds were in expansion mode courtesy of the space race. Cowboys Vs. Indians were replaced by The Invaders from Mars vs. The U.S. Army. The Russians first entered space with the Sputnik satellite on October 4, 1957 and our heads were never the same. Everything seemed possible and the last unknown frontier seemed sexy as hell. This cover is a classic example of Cheesecake appeal crossed with otherworldly allure. Oh yes, the music inside stands the test of time as well.

Tabu by Ralph Font and His Orchestra (1958)

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Musicians and artists have always had a bit more license to push the buttons of puritanical mainstream culture.  In the 50’s inter-racial lust was beyond comprehension in straight white America. On this cover, its very easy to see the hot vibration between the two characters portrayed. However, musically speaking, Arthur Lyman owns the Taboo sub-genre.

Julie London – Julie (1960)

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Here is an example of the Cheesecake in question being the artist in the grooves. Julie London was a top notch pop singer and a actress of some note. Here we have a big budget cover that is a perfect example of Cheesecake appeal provided by the artist herself.

Jackie Gleason

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Jackie Gleason was a huge (sic) talent and his mainstream success in the 50’s and 60’s allowed him to venture into music making. Not a trained musician, and only a passable singer, Gleason acted as executive producer and artistic Svengali on an avalanche of chill records that were mostly excellent and easy on the nervous system. His album Lonesome Echo was a chill masterpiece sporting the only record cover ever designed to order by Salvador Dali. Most times however, Gleason’s cover of choice was an expensively staged Cheesecake cover that illustrated whatever mood the rotund visionary wanted to convey.

The Cha Cha Covers

Mary Tyler Moore again

Sometimes Cheesecake cover art ventured into sexual exploitation (and many times) soft core pornography. The term “sex sells” started during the 50’s and early 60’s when it was discovered that discreet pheromone manipulation could flog anything from cigarettes to dish detergent. Cha Cha was a hugely popular form of Latin dance music that pushed forward spicy rhythms and smoldering sexuality. Most Latin flavored albums of the period relied on Cheesecake for subliminal outreach.

Whipped Cream and Other Delights by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass (1965)

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For the record, there was no Tijuana Brass, just Herb Alpert rattling around in A&M Studios Hollywood multi-tracking platinum selling light instrumentals for Radio, TV and the world. This album sold north of 5 million and was a common sighting in the used bins in every thrift shop and record store. Now it’s a rarity due to the recent interest in Cheesecake covers. This cover is considered classic. And in case you wondered, the model is covered in shaving cream. Fun fact, model Dolores Erickson was three months pregnant at the time of the cover shoot.

Roxy Music (The Kari-Ann Cover 1972)

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As we moved into the seventies, music became heavier and more serious; consequently artists assiduously avoided any marketing strategy that was arch, crassly capitalistic or that carried the odor of “sellout”. Roxy Music didn’t care. They were cutting edge glam-prog musos of the first order, but also worshiped high fashion and 50’s kitch. Hence, this homage to the golden age of Cheesecake. They would continue to display Cheesecake on their covers for the first five albums. Most notably, Siren – featuring a future Mrs. Jagger – Jerry Hall.

Deborah Harry – KooKoo (1981)

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Generally, the idea of Cheesecake was to glorify the beauty imbedded in womanhood. To make something attractive and alluring. Blondie bombshell Deborah Harry took a different tact. The New York punker decided to enlist modern artist Giger to desicrate the form and add some shock and awe. That he did. This cover served to puncture the idea that Cheesecake only existed for the hollow pleasure of the purchaser, and the objectification of the woman.

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Bjork – Vulnicura (2016)

We come full circle with latest record from this century’s Cheesecake mutation. Forget Lady GaGa, it was Bjork that shattered the kaleidoscopic ceiling of Cheesecake. She appears on each of her records in different incarnations of herself, but always shielded by a character and a concept that seeks to express the mood inside the record: the epitome of the Cheesecake ethos. However here, Bjork morphs womanhood into an existential hybrid who wears her vulnerability courtesy the gaping wound in her chest, but protected by spikes emanating from brain and embrace.  Moreover, with her extraterrestrial, Icelandic aspect, Bjork closes the Cheesecake circle with 1957’s Other Sounds Other Worlds.

Austin Power – Jandek Live (DVD Review)

Austin Tuesday – Corwood 0823 (DVD)

Filmed live at The Austin Library (Carver Branch) February 16, 2016

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Discography

“The Doves are calling and lifting their wings”

Jandek has just released two works back to back that indicates an uptrending third act positioned to crash head-on into civilization’s accelerated, downward trajectory. In case you haven’t noticed, humanity is walking around in a Zombie state of  ennui, fear and loathing. But we all stagger onward, grabbing fistfuls of joy and comfort like unattended fruit on a street cart. Nothing means anything and what’s the point of art anyway? Is Jandek the voice of this generation?

Austin Tuesday is the most recent work to hit the Desk of The Hollywood Times. It predates his most recent work Dallas Thursday. Like Dallas…, Austin Tuesday documents a fairly recent  performance.

“I feel strangely serene, the sun feels so nice this time of day.”

Austin Tuesday is a live performance DVD shot with one camera. The optics are up close and bare ass naked. The facilities at this venue did not include stage lighting, so utilitarian floor lamps were employed.  The effect of this overabundance of light is a prosaic clarity that seems a driving force in the performance. One camera scans the stage searching for close ups of band members, instruments, ceiling tiles and other inanimate objects. However the majority of face time belongs to The Representative of Corwood Industries. The backdrop is a brick wall that is home to the building’s shielded electric wiring, a fire alarm, and a hanging, unused projection screen that people my age remember as standard equipment in grammar school.

“To be a cadaver in the midst of a party is what no one wants”

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When you strip away the atmospherics, all that remains is Jandek. Black clad, intense and old. His younger self intermittantly lights up the bones of his face, but it soon returns to its ghostly aspect; noticing and cataloguing trivial daily events and elemental feelings because the ghost Jandek (in waiting) is already starting to miss the  sensations associated with life.

“The light is dimming so early today, there were some things I didn’t want to see.”

The band is top notch and assembled with an eclectic hand of a casting director. Concert Harp, Clarinet and Bass Drum. Jandek and Sheila Smith take turns artfully scraping the open strings of a violin. Sheila and The Rep also play some very attractive “happy accident” piano as well.  Music casts an odd spell when performed by interesting musicians unencumbered by the concept of right or wrong notes.

“… brown leaves walking in the air, brown gray houses, white trim windows, I can see everything I want to see…”

The musicians skillfully shadow both The Representative and Sheila and their verse. Too often spoken word is merely words scatted over the top of a rhythm bed. On Austin Tuesday we get both extrapolated free verse as well as more conventional poetry reading. Gluing it all together is the intensity of Jandek. Body tensed for every syllable. Very little was thrown away on this Austin Tuesday.

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“I succumb to it all, just like you…”

Unlike some of the previous Jandek works, Sheila Smith does not dominate with her presence on Austin Tuesday. Now, after watching her perform unadorned by atmospherics on Austin Tuesday, it can  be said, Smith is one of the most unique front women in Rock with no obvious point of reference. Sheila’s polar opposite and namesake Patti Smith was passionate and poetic, but sold us a bill of goods thinking that poetry mattered. Conversely, Sheila seems to know it’s game over for Western Civilization, and all that is really matters is the next mundane experience, or the simple miracle of a quiet walk.

“I found a hollow, empty space and I called it home…”

One time on a business trip I found myself on a shuttle bus to the Oklahoma City airport. I remembered that J.J. Cale was a native Oklahoman. I grabbed my IPOD and earbuds and immersed myself in J.J.’s muse. As the dry, earth toned landscape swept by, the epiphany was swift and immediate. Elemental art isn’t about technique or intention, it’s a reflection of where you came from. And (many times) it suggests a certain topography. I’m not sure we can condemn Jandek to any fixed location; however,  Jandek’s muse evokes something Antarctic; cold, foreboding, occasionally beautiful, yet barren and melting away at an undermined but relentless speed. And like Antarctica, Jandekland is a place most normal people will never go.

“I caused a ruckus, disoriented everyone…that was my plan.”