Kid Rock Rock N Roll Jesus

rocknrolljesus I’m going to keep this one short.  With Rock N Roll Jesus, Kid Rock crafted a record that incorporated every possible classic southern rock cliche in one place, and it hit #1, his only album to do so.  So there was obviously a big market for southern rock nostalgia back in 2007, before country music really assumed this mantle and became much rockier.  But even though this album did well financially (without being sold on iTunes, since Kid Rock was feuding with the service at the time), I don’t need to take a lot of time talking about it since you’ve heard it 1,000 times before.

Instead of going through Rock N Roll Jesus track by track and cataloging its legion of influences, I’ll use All Summer Long as a representative sample, even though it’s by far the most obvious one.  In this song, Kid Rock uses the chords, chord pattern and guitar tone from Werewolves of London, actually name checks Sweet Home Alabama and spins a tale straight out of the Bob Seger or Bruce Springsteen story book.  Once the song ends, and I admit that I tap my foot along with it every single time I hear it, I don’t go on to the next song on the album.  I always switch over to a Warren Zevon song, or a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, or a Bob Seger song or a Springsteen song.  And then I don’t come back to Rock N Roll Jesus.

I give Kid Rock props for keeping his concert ticket prices low and making his music accessible to the widest possible audience.  Hopefully some of the people who hear these songs will explore where they came from and move on from this lackluster tribute.


Bob Dylan The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

freewheelin Bob Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was a massive step forward from his debut effort.  It’s impossible to summarize the impact of Blowin’ In The Wind, Masters of War, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall and Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, so I’m not going to.  Instead, I want to take a personal journey back to the mid-to-late 1990’s and early 2000’s to discuss Bob Dylan’s Dream and Girl From the North Country.

Well, if you’re travelin’ in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine

Everyone who has been through a longish relationship that they didn’t want to end can relate to this song.  Unlike Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, which is angry while trying to sound aloof (and failing), Girl From The North Country is wistful, with the narrator asking his friend to give his best wishes to his old love.  In fact, the narrator is downright concerned about this person.  While Dylan was awfully worried about marginalized groups in society at this time (see most of the other songs on this album), it’s not so often that we hear Dylan voicing a genuine expression of worry about a specific person.

Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see if she’s wearing a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds

But now the narrator’s concern is subsumed by memories.

Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
If it rolls and flows all down her breast.
Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
That’s the way I remember her best.

And having briefly watched that idealized image fly, we arrive at the devastating part of this otherwise simple song.

I’m a-wonderin’ if she remembers me at all
Many times I’ve often prayed
In the darkness of my night
In the brightness of my day

Is she still thinking about me?  Obviously, the relationship here is over.  But the narrator can’t help but wonder, like we all do after a breakup – is that person still thinking about me?  Despite the concern for his old lover that the narrator has expressed at the beginning of the song, in the end it comes back to the self.  Does she remember me?  It’s self centered in a roundabout way.  But that’s the kind of introspection breakups generate.  What did I do wrong?  Why doesn’t she want to be with me?  What’s wrong with me?  Dylan’s not asking all of these questions here, at least not specifically.  But this verse hints at all of these other doubts – “I’m a-wonderin’ if she remembers me at all” doesn’t come from a person who knows these answers.  It comes from someone who is questioning if he meant as much to someone as they meant to him.  And he doesn’t know.

This song hit me hard back in 2001 because I broke up with a girlfriend who just happened to be from Minnesota.  So Girl From the North Country was tailor made for the six month pit of despair that followed (although most of the time, I was listening to the Johnny Cash version from Nashville Skyline, which is like taking a hit of whiskey instead of sipping a beer when you really shouldn’t be having anything at all).

Which leads us to Bob Dylan’s Dream.

If you want to talk about wistful, this the Dylan song for you.  In fact, it’s often dismissed for being overly sentimental and nostalgic, which is a perfectly valid argument if you hate songs about looking backwards, a la Glory Days.  But if you like them, get a load of this tune, which Dylan ripped off, lyrically and musically, from a traditional song called Lady Franklin’s Lament.  I’ll dive into the middle of it instead of starting from the beginning:

By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words were told, our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside

With haunted hearts through the heat and cold
We never thought we could ever get old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one

As easy it was to tell black from white
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right
And our choices were few and the thought never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split

Doesn’t this just sum up those late high school and college years?  Reading these lyrics brings back a flood of personal memories: car rides to nowhere, sitting around the tables in our friends’ parents’ kitchens, staying out late, eating at diners until the sun came up, running through the city with no destination, talking, talking, endlessly talking about ideas and dreams and expectations and politics and song lyrics and history and thinking (at least this is what I was thinking) that this could go on for a long time (probably not forever, but at least through our twenties).  And I, for one, thought those friendships would last, in some form or another, until today.

Except friendships aren’t like that, as Dylan points out in the next verse.

How many a year has passed and gone
And many a gamble has been lost and won
And many a road taken by many a friend
And each one I’ve never seen again

When I arrived back in my hometown (another wistful Springsteen song) having listened to Girl From the North Country too many times in the wake of that breakup, I ran into the end of a lot of those friendships I thought would be there forever.  Some of us were out of school.  Some of us were working full time (and some had been doing so for years).  People were moving away, moving abroad, moving into new relationships and that 18-22 year old feeling of invincibility (or just complete, heedless naivety) was slowly fading away and the hints of something new and not so raw and passionate were starting to become more obvious.  I wouldn’t say I was getting more cynical, and I don’t think my friends were either.  We were just being exposed to more and more of the world and it was having an effect on all of us.  By the end of the fall of 2001, I would move to Colorado and never use my hometown as my primary mailing address again.  And a lot (but thankfully not all) of those friendships that I thought would last forever withered away.  To paraphrase Girl From the North County, I was left wondering if they remembered me at all.

This next point is going to be obvious, but it’s important – when Dylan wrote these lyrics in 1963, the word “friend” had not been turned into a verb by Facebook and it was much harder to stay in touch.  Ten years after I left home, I suddenly “reconnected” with a bunch of my old friends through the usual channels.  We didn’t really get together in one physical place, but we caught up on the internet.  We now know, in real time, who has kids, who just bought a house, who lives where and what we do for a living.  We’re vaguely in touch.  And every once in a while someone will post an old picture and those memories come rolling back, the way I remember them best.

Then, a couple of summers ago, a very important teacher of ours passed away and all of a sudden a lot of us were back in the same place for the first time in years.

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that

Because of this teacher’s death, a lot of us got to experience something that was kind of like what Dylan was looking for, and I’m glad we had it, even if the circumstances stunk.  But here’s the difference between life and Bob Dylan’s Dream.  In the song, the narrator would give everything to go back to being young and passionate and with his friends without a care in the world.  In real life, if things have worked out for you, you don’t want to go back.  You carry those old experiences and memories and lessons forward and they are always going to be a part of you.  In some cases (and I know lots of lucky people like this), you’re still going to be really close friends with the people who you had those experiences with.  I sometimes (ok, if I’m being sentimental and in line with this song, I often) wish that I still had those friendships, and that they grew into something even stronger as time went by.  I’ve seen it happen to others and it’s a wonderful thing.  I wouldn’t give ten thousand dollars to magically make things exactly like they were in 2001 – not by a long shot.  But I’d sure pay a lot of money to get another crack at it.

Ryan Adams Rock N Roll

rocknrollAs its title implies, Rock N Roll was Ryan Adams’ attempt to put out a pure rocker of an album after the success of Gold and the non-success of Demolition, which was basically a collection of outtakes released as an album between Gold and Rock N Roll.

As far as the tone of the album goes, Adams succeeded with the “rock” vibe, but unfortunately slapping more fuzz on the guitars and picking up the tempo does not rescue the songs themselves, which are not nearly as well-drawn as on previous and later releases.  The conventional excuse for why this happened is that Adams was producing music at a frenetic pace, often recording three or four albums worth of material and then releasing it all as EP’s, compilations and, in this case, a full-fledged album.

I think Rock N Roll’s issues can be traced to the more common problem of the follow-up album.  Gold was a big hit and Adams, like a ton of talented songwriters before him, wanted to do something different on his next album.  So he changed the tone, wrote lyrics that weren’t nearly as heartfelt (or at least they didn’t seem like they were, which is part of the problem with Rock N Roll) and packaged it all as a massive change in direction when in reality, if you look at what he’s done since, Rock N Roll was really more of an anomaly.

However, Ryan Adams is a talented guy, and even though the album doesn’t work as a whole, there are some great songs on it, specifically the album-opening This is It and Burning Photographs, which features one of those lyrics I’ve always wondered about – “Everybody is so make believe, it’s true”.  Does this just mean “it’s true that everybody is so make believe” (probably), or “are they so make believe that they have become true”?  A question to ponder . . . At the end of the day, the good songs on Rock N Roll don’t come close to outweighing the mediocre ones, which means I don’t play this CD as much as Adams’ other material.

A Little Housekeeping and a Big Move

So things are starting to get a little crowded over here with all the daily Grateful Dead posts.

When I started this site, I envisioned writing more short album reviews, but I think that the current pace of one or two reviews a week is going to be the norm, and I’m afraid that the Grateful Dead shows of the day are going to swamp the site and make it hard to find the reviews of the other music.

So as of today, I’m moving the Grateful Dead stuff to a new site called The Daily Dose of the Dead.  The old Dead posts will stay here.  So if you’ve enjoyed the Dead material, please subscribe to the new site as well as this one, that way you’ll be covered for all your music needs, Dead and non-Dead alike.  And thanks for reading (all three of you)!

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 28, 1982 – Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco, CA

stealieOur second benefit performance in a row, this one was for Vietnam Vets.  The Dead shared the bill with Country Joe and Jefferson Starship and played the entire show with Brazilian drummer Airto Moreira.  More importantly, John Cipollina sat in on Not Fade Away and he and Boz Scaggs sang / played on Walkin’ Blues, A Mind To Give Up Livin’>Turn On Your Lovelight>Johnny B. Goode.  This was the only time the Dead played A Mind To Give Up Livin’ and they hadn’t played Walkin’ Blues since October, 1966.

This is a short show, but it’s action packed.  Tennessee Jed is very raw, which is a good thing, and the entire second set with Scaggs singing and Cipollina playing is a blues/rock excursion that is worth hearing.

Most of the commentators on the Archive and who were at this show complain about the sound quality in the pillared, low-ceilinged room, but this audience recording from an unknown source is really quite nice and sounds a lot better to me than the muddy soundboard version:

Pete Townshend Psychoderelict

KC Psychoderelict is Pete Townshend’s last original solo studio album to date and if he were to die tomorrow it should serve as a warning about the dangers of stretching a good idea past its breaking point.

In this case, the “good idea” is the narrative rock album / concept album / rock opera.  Townshend and the Who created two masterpieces of the genre, Tommy, released in 1969, and Quadrophenia, which came out in 1973.  But you don’t have to pay attention to those two classic albums in order to fully understand Psychoderelict .  Instead, you should focus on the years in between them, when Townshend suffered a nervous breakdown attempting to produce another concept album called Lifehouse.

To make an incredibly long story inappropriately short, Lifehouse was Townshend’s attempt to create a piece of music, utilizing synthesizers as well as the Who’s typical instruments, that would interact with the audience so that once everyone was dialed in, band, audience and, eventually, the world, would arrive at one perfect universal note that would cure humanity’s ills.  In the post-apocalyptic Lifehouse story, this comes to pass because almost everyone is hooked up to a mainframe called the Grid via Lifesuits that are designed to keep humanity alive in a completely polluted and inhospitable world.  Eventually, the Grid is manipulated by a proto-hacker named Bobby so that this perfect note, generated during a concert that he sets up to feed off of the attendees’ biometric data, is broadcast to everyone wearing Lifesuits, resulting in some kind of rapture.  Townshend fully intended to replicate this fictional concert, biometrics and all, in real life.

Needless to say, Lifehouse didn’t work out.  So the Who took a bunch of the Lifehouse songs and turned them into 1971’s Who’s Next and 1978’s Who Are You.  But Townshend never really let go of the project.

Believe me, I wouldn’t have spent over an hour trying to summarize Lifehouse unless it was absolutely necessary for understanding Psychoderelict, which should give you some idea of how convoluted this album is.  Since I’m a masochist, I’m going to try and summarize it anyway.

Psychoderelict tells the story of Ray High, an aging rock star brooding alone in his mansion while his royalties dry up.  Ray’s manager, Rastus Knight, is sleeping with Ruth Streeting, a rock critic who is clearly not a fan of Ray’s.  In exchange for piece of the pie should Ray start recording new material again, Ruth, at Rastus’s urging, devises a plan to lure Ray out of his cocoon by posing as a fifteen year old fan named Rosalyn.  (Are all of the names starting with “R” getting to you yet?)  In order to get Ray’s attention, Rosalyn sends him a picture of herself (really Ruth, remember) naked in a graveyard.  (Side note – Ten years after this album was released, Townshend would become involved in what can charitably be called “legal difficulties” related to child pornography.)  Ray and Rosalyn start corresponding and eventually Ray sends Rosalyn a demo of Flame, a song he has been working on for years that is part of his – wait for it – unfinished Gridlife project.  Ruth publishes a story framing Ray as a pedophile and, strangely enough, Ray’s album sales take off.  Ruth then produces Rosalyn’s version of Flame, and it becomes a monster hit.  Ray, who is now out of the doldrums and actively working on his Gridlife album, reveals to Ruth that he’s known that she was Rosalyn all along.

Elaborate explanations of Gridlife, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Townshend’s actual Lifehouse concept, are interspersed throughout this album.  To make matters even more meta than they already are, Townshend uses four synthesizer samples from the actual Lifehouse demos, including one that would eventually become Baba O’Riley, as songs in Psychoderelict.

In order to make this plot discernible, what seems like half of Psychoderelict is actually dialogue spoken by actors, which has a negative effect on the musical continuity of the entire affair.  (The record company actually released another version of the album without the dialogue, but it didn’t sell either.)  When it comes to the original songs, there’s not much to hold your interest in between the spoken word segments.  The supposed hit single, Flame, would never be one in real life and English Boy, an autobiographical piece, is OK but would have been better if it was faster and sung by Roger Daltrey.

I actually purchased Psychoderelict when it was released, and if you had asked me about it then, I would have given you a very different review.  At the time, my fifteen year old self thought that this concept was incredible and worthy of being evaluated in the same breath as Tommy and Quadrophenia.  Remember, the internet hardly existed in 1993, so I had no easy way to discover that the Gridlife project was actually recycled from twenty year old rejected Who material.  It was just a cool idea.  The theater nerd in me loved the dialogue and I was willing to overlook what even I could tell were the album’s musical shortcomings because I thought the whole presentation of Psychoderelict was amazing.

Hearing Psychoderelict again now, it just seems like a mess musically, lyrically and conceptually.  Townshend should have quit this particular line of inspiration back in the 70’s while he was still ahead.  But the album does sit out there as a warning for anyone who things that no idea is too grandiose to be made into a rock opera.

Today in Grateful Dead History: May 27, 1989 – Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Stadium, Oakland, CA

stealieOn this day in 1989, the Dead headlined an AIDS benefit at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Stadium that also featured Tower of Power, Joe Satriani, Los Lobos, Tracy Chapman and John Fogerty.

I first discovered this show because Jerry and Bob played guitar for the John Fogerty set along with future American Idol judge Randy Jackson on bass, Steve Jordan on drums and Clarence Clemons on sax for Susie Q and Long Tall Sally.  Although the Dead members just play backup for Fogerty, he’s in great voice and everyone is having a really good time.

The Dead’s show, which is actually two full sets, is a little bit of a comedown, energy wise, but what wouldn’t be compared to Fogerty?  Clarence Clemons joins the band for a significant portion of this show, and while it’s interesting stuff, Clemons doesn’t come close to what Branford Marsalis pulled off the following year.  Still, as a long-time Springsteen fan, it’s awesome to hear, and this collaboration is made all the better since Bill Kreutzmann revealed that Jerry, Bob and Clemons considered buying a place together around this time.  To be a fly on the wall . . .

The second set of the show is made notable by a Fire on the Mountain sans Scarlet Begonias, a good version of I Will Take You Home and a sentimental Brokedown Palace encore.  Listening to the band here, you get the feeling that they are getting ready to explode, but they’re not quite there yet.  It will come soon enough as spring turns to summer.

UPDATE:  I was distracted the first time through the end of this show, so here are some additional thoughts upon further review.  The Wharf Rat, while sloppy, is a forceful version with the whole band really getting after it prior to the final verse.  It’s a pretty cool take on the song.  In addition, the Lovelight with Clarence is fun too, and his solo in place of Jerry on Brokedown Palace adds another layer of emotion to the song.

You can hear the Dead’s complete show here: