It may not come as a shock to you that my dealings with arena rock have been, well... limited. By the time I'd reached the point of adolescence in which I was able to see live music, my brain had already been joyfully soiled by 80s college radio (which leaned heavily on noise, post-punk, and other sonic extremities) and the kind of hip-hop tracks that were heard late at night on a few of New York's commercial FM outlets. Looking back on that time with some historical perspective, it's not surprising that the sentiment of most mainstream rock music did little for me because I'd pre-tooled myself to avoid identifying with it at nearly any cost. As many of my contemporaries would reveal in their more advanced years, I was a young man who lacked a clear sense of self-identity, but who was willing to define himself by existing in opposition to what everyone else seemed to be into. Granted, it's not an especially academic lifestyle approach, nor is it something that I'm particularly proud of today. Exene Cervenka summed up the sentiment behind it pretty well when she said: "Don't tell me what to like. I like whatever isn't in the movies."
Thus began my wholesale rejection of nearly everything that's now featured on those irritating VH-1 specials in which the cultural pablum of relatively recent history (z-grade hair metal, late 80s assembly line pop, the Police Academy film franchise) is regularly exalted to deity-like status. Yet I consider it no small amount of good fortune that the left-field interests of my teens never precluded my becoming an unapologetic fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, whom I was fortunate enough to catch last week on the last night of a three night stand at New Jersey's Meadowlands arena. Reconciling my WFMU-bred sense of cultural elitism with the visceral thrill of screaming "Born to Run" along with 60 billion cubic tons of the local Jersey genepool is as much an exercise in self-therapy as it is a simple expression of the pure blast the evening turned out to be. There's a pretty big leap between turning it on and turning it out, and my July 31st was like a guided tour of only the finest extremes. Truth be told, I'm still buzzing on the residual vapors...
I'm delighted to report that I'll be making a return appearance on the airwaves of my old radio home, WPRB, this evening (Thursday, July 10th) from 5-8 PM. If you happen to live north of Philadelphia and south of... say... Exit 12 on the NJ Turnpike, you can listen at 103.3 FM. Otherwise, point your computer this-uh-way 'round about showtime.
Before earning my airslot at WFMU, this is where I helmed a weekly program from 1992-2001. It's also the station I grew up listening to in the 80s and which first put the radio bug into my ear, so to speak. As I've said many times in the past, it was utterly fantastic to grow up listening to WPRB DJs who meant so much to me, and then beyond flattering to become one of them later on for other people. I haven't darkened the station's airwaves for at least 6 or 7 years, so needless to say, I'm nervous and excited about coming back to say hello. Should you want to end your workday with the sound of a grown man fumbling at the controls of unfamiliar broadcast equipment, you now know exactly where to go!
Thanks to my dear brother and sister in broadcasting -- Jon Solomon and Julia Factorial -- for encouraging this long overdue visit, the wonderful Maria T. for allowing me to fill-in for her, and to the current WPRB staff for allowing a townie DJ from eons ago back in the saddle for a little while.
Embarrassing hype courtesy of Mr. Solomon here. I believe he's also responsible for the above photo of my old haircut.
In a brazen act of indifference towards usual notions of patriotism, I went to see Rachid Taha tear up Central Park's Summerstage this past weekend. It was my second time seeing him perform, and like the 2005 gig at Bowery Ballroom, the electricity level was palpable from the moment he hit the stage.
Rachid is a French-born Algerian who, along with his band, plays a discordant blend of harsh guitar rock and propulsive, middle-eastern dance music. More importantly, he delivers it all with the spectacle of a full-on arena rock show, even if he's performing in a mid-size club, or as was the case this weekend, to a few hundred soggy enthusiasts armed with umbrellas and seven dollar Coronas. Rachid's performances are much like what I imagine a U2 concert to be like, what with his larger-than-life on stage presence, and the obvious deity-like status his hardcore fans have ascribed to him.
And amazingly, it all works perfectly. He's a natural born rock star who flirts with the audience en masse (in spite of his limited spoken English abilities) and clearly gets off on riling any crowd up to critical levels. (It takes a lot to get me to pogo dance these days, but I'd be lying if I said that the wife and I weren't jumping around like retards as the set neared its frenzy-like conclusion. And we only had two each of the aforementioned seven-dollar-Coronas...) Does the idea of covering "Rock the Casbah" in 2008 sound like a bad idea to your musical sensibilities? Yes? Mine too, but trust me -- Rachid Taha's version not only destroys the crowd every time, but is totally re-worked (as all good covers ought to be) into a creation that's utterly his own.
Interestingly, Rachid also has the whole Serge Gainsbourg ugly-hot-guy thing going on to the point that he seems to cross all barriers of sexual orientation. The crowd's clearly heterosexual men -- even those armed with wives, girlfriends, or the accordant offspring -- got the same melty look in their eyes that the attending women did when confronted with the whole of Rachid's considerable swagger. I've run into this kind of phenomenon before, but not to this degree since watching clearly infatuated (male) friends commit public stupidities in the presence of the Fluid's John Robinson. (OK, I did it a couple of times too.) I choose to think of it as lending further firepower to the complete experience that is a live Rachid Taha concert, and would urge anyone to make his shows a priority on their summer concert calendars.
The Gravel Pit - Focusing on One Goal and Achieving It [Streaming Real Audio] (They were never a band that I paid much attention to, but thanks to its dreamy, trance-like organ and cruddy production, this song was an inadvertent favorite of everyone working WPRB's overnight shift at the time...)
It's called "I Don't Want to Drive You Away" and it's from a 1968 album called "What About Me". Thank the godlike genius of WFMU's Tony Coulter for a recent program during which he highlighted amazing but almost completely unheard tracks by 40+ established artists. Live it up in complete form right here, and make like A Special Anne Murray Christmas never happened.
Photographs of the Brooklyn Bridge
are a ubiquitous presence on the Flickr pages of pretty much anyone who
lives in or near New York City. They're right up there with blurry
night shots of taxis whizzing down 59th Street which seem to somehow
capture the edginess of having just spent too much money on a mediocre
meal and poorly-mixed drink. To be quite clear, I issue these charges
having snapped plenty of just those sorts of photographs since digital
cameras and shutterbug cellphones hit the market, so don't assume
there's any implied derision in my words. It's an inescapable symptom
of being here -- no matter how accustomed we are to overcrowded
streets, hostile vagrants, and inexplicably snotty bartenders, there
remains a desire to portray our lives in a way that we perceive as
being impressive to our less adventurous friends. Or perhaps we all
just really like blurry photos of taxis and the Brooklyn Bridge.
I took this photo of the Bridge last weekend, after departing the Bang on a Can Marathon
in lower Manhattan in order to seek out some dinner. It was such a
beautiful night that my intended amble around the corner wound up being
an hour-long expedition to Brooklyn by way of the footbridge that runs
above its east and westbound lanes of vehicle traffic. The picture is
actually of one of the steel girders that hangs over the Brooklyn-bound
side, with the ghostly whiteness of Governor's Island
serving as the background. The original version of the photo was fairly
unremarkable, but some re-touching with the online graphics editor Picnik
enabled me to whip up something I was considerably more pleased with.
(Though still nothing to get worked into a lather over,
assuming you're an even marginally talented photographer. That said, if
you're Photoshop deficient, Picnik is a godsend in terms of its
capabilities and ease of use, and I recommend it highly.)