If you’re looking for a patch of deep red in the ocean of blue that is California, the town of Atascadero is your place. Texas without the twang. Cowboy boots, Trump regalia, utilitarian architecture, and churches as ubiquitous as Starbucks. Diversity comes by way of “Larry Elder for Governor” signage on front lawns and car bumpers.
If you’re a digger, the thrift shops offer no relief; unless your meat is tacky, white gospel albums on vanity press, bad country western and (up trending) Bill Cosby vinyl.
However, there is a cultural oasis in the center of town; Traffic Records, on Traffic Way; conveniently accessible by taking the “Traffic Way” offramp on US 101. And yes, Traffic albums are available. Look hard though, their neon open sign is barely visible, and their storefront signage is curiously located a couple doors down from the actual shop.
Traffic is a neat and clean, open space run by an affable owner who eschews the aloof, superior vibe given off by too many record store personnel. He seemed to appreciate our company as much as our patronage. A comfy couch offers safe haven for long suffering spouses and girlfriends of vinyl junkies. Traffic offers reasonably priced new vinyl, a gem strewn five dollar used section and a ‘worth your effort’ budget vinyl area where I found a near mint dollar copy of “The Unforgiven”. We also picked up a DVD copy of Leonard Cohen (Under Review) for a fiver. Me and the missus were so happy, we gladly parted with a hefty chunk of petrol money for a Traffic Records tee shirt.
Safe to say there is no other locale in Atascadero that proudly displays the painted visage of Ziggy Stardust front and center in their brick and mortar. Also available are strings, books, some electronics; as well as a couple of Frankenstein guitars languishing on the wall in consignment purgatory. I rescued a nice one for two bills that had a Music Man Albert Lee body, and a viable replacement neck with locking tuners; a birthday gift from the missus – I married well.
Apologies to The Chamber of Commerce; but Atascadero is a culturally barren patch of civilization I’ll likely never visit again. However, if you’re on your way to somewhere else, Traffic Records on Traffic Way, off US Highway 101 is well worth the detour.
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 6/22/21 – Sometimes incongruity is nice. This was my first time out to a movie with the missus since the attack of the Covid Monster. So, we trekked out on Father’s Day to an empty theater in an empty mall that – in bygone days – would have been choked with consumer mayhem.
With the onset of Covid, band documentaries began littering the ground like falling leaves. In an era of non-existent record sales and an indefinite embargo on live performances, music junkies were left stranded in a wasteland of streamed concerts performed in virtual bell jars and half-baked rockumentary curios; all designed to keep the non-essential commodity of popular music in the brain stream.
Binge watching the rock music of my youth on YouTube had become my happy place when I caught wind of The Sparks Brothers documentary. Another band bio to toss on the heap; except this one was directed by highly regarded filmmaker Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of The Dead). Moreover, knowing Sparks as an uncompromising band, I expected a well-crafted, sincere work. I wasn’t disappointed.
Remarkably, the movie earned theatrical release and was playing at my local AMC mega-plex in the hard right country music enclave of Thousand Oaks; a happenstance too strange and irresistible to ignore.
Sparks is a band that boomer-aged music fans might remember from the early 70’s as a blip on the Billboard radar screen. Another in a line of American acts too creative or offbeat to blossom in their homeland (see Scott Walker, Jimi Hendrix, The Stray Cats, Chrissie Hynde etc…). Sparks left America and two failed LP’s behind to become glam sensations in Britain; climbing to Number 2 on the charts with the epic 1974 single, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for The Both of Us”. The band got a big push from Island Records and could be spotted stateside on shows like Don Kirshner’s “Rock Concert” and American Bandstand. They made an impression and critics either hated them or were intoxicated by them. Very view understood them.
For the hard-core Sparks fan (there is really no other kind), the film is a banquet of witty interview spots, archival still photos, creative stop-action animation and long forgotten video bites from an era when music was good and still mattered. Fame was earned the old-fashioned way – by relentless touring, publicity junkets and good records. Edgar Wright’s film brings this era gloriously to life by saving the color cinematography for the band and its music; consigning celebrity talking heads (Michael Myers, Patton Oswalt, Jane Weiland, Weird Al Yankovic…) to black, white and gray. Somehow, all 25 Sparks albums are referenced in the film.
For those not familiar with Sparks, the film is an opportunity to view the case study of a workaholic band who wouldn’t compromise or go away quietly. Front-man Russell Mael is a certified Rock idol possessing God-given charisma and the only voice on planet Earth capable of handling brother Ron’s jittery anthems of self-deprecation, rancor and humor. Ron Mael writes the songs, plays keyboards and famously sported a Charlie Chaplin mustache that will forever be conflated with Hitler’s; two likeable oddballs glued together by blood and fate, navigating a world changing faster than art can imitate.
There are ultimately no happy endings in life, but The Sparks Brothers gives us one for the moment. Ron and Russell are two opposite sides of the same coin. Living good and consequential lives; eschewing the comforts of marriage and children to fully immerse themselves in music, art and agreeable routine. Ron has taken the same morning walk through his neighborhood park for 20 years. Russell frequents the same coffee house and orders the same thing every morning 7 days a week. They make records at their Los Angeles home studio oblivious to the rest of the world and its inhabitants. Now, they’re having a third act renaissance complete with top ten records and a lovingly rendered, Oscar-worthy documentary feature. The whole world needs a happy place right now. The Sparks Brothers movie provides one. Maybe music is an essential commodity after all.
(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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gee, I wonder where The Beatles dreamed up all the weird and wonderful 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 their 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 musical dialect (psychedelia) and gave us a Rock and Roll icon for the ages (Barrett) in one shot. Pretty good for a rookie combo.
“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.
(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.
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.
Cheesecake – Emerging sub-genre attracts vinyl collectors with an eye for the ladies.
By Dale Nickey:
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 or stereo. 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, Frankie or Bobby were session men, film composers, TV composers, 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 poison.
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)
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)
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)
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 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
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.