Music / 18 posts found

Together Through Life: Darkness in the Groove

by Tom Watson
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At this stage, the Bob Dylan test is simple: listen to a new record a few times and before you make your judgment, pretend it’s the work of a largely unknown old circuit rider named Robby Zimmerman playing bars and beer halls with his traveling blues band in the upper midwest. Then decide. By the high cultural standards generally ascribed to America’s generational poet, Dylan’s unexpected new album Together Through Life is light and occasionally pleasing, an interesting fourth record in a blues-based “comeback” that begin with his Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind in 1997. To Dylanologists and obsessive critics, […]

Catechism Culture

by Tom Watson
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A couple of weeks back, I met a friend for lunch downtown and wondered at the choice – an East Village UK-style pub, replete with an iconic red phone box out front. Fair enough, but an interesting choice of venue. I was early and perusing the menu when I realized at an instant why we were there. The famous fish and chips, halfway down the menu. Of course. It was Friday. In Lent. And we’re both Catholics. Not the daily Mass sort, yet the culture is so strong, so nearly biological, that it still persuades secularists to traipse at least […]

Earle Hagen, 1919-2008

by Tom Watson
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If it had only been the whistle, Earle Hagen would have qualified for major send-off from TV Land. That’s his own windy pursed lips at the beginning of The Andy Griffith Show as Andy and Opie head to the fishing hole, and it’s his tune as well. But Hagen, who died this week at 88, was a prolific television themesman. He also wrote the opening riffs to The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, Gomer Pyle USMC, That Girl, I Spy, Eight Is Enough, and The Mod Squad. Quite the line-up. His Mayberry theme and Dick Van Dyke […]

Shine a Light – Any Light

by Tom Watson
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James Wolcott’s right: “it’s wealth that’s required, not scrappy resilience.” So we won’t be reviewing Shine a Light here, because I haven’t yet seen it. In lieu of the requisite Scorcese-mauling, how about a brief Tattoo YouTube for a Friday night, a shambling mess of videos that just percolated up from the series of tubes.


Classic 1974 Keith Richards interview.

Jet Boy Flies

by Tom Watson
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David Johansen swung into Babylon on Friday night at Irving Plaza, the dank old Polish Army Veterans headquarters that has stood at 15th Street and Irving Place since 1914 – or about as long, in living memory anyway, as Johansen’s grinning Our Gang mug has looked out over New York audiences with that front stoop familiarity that makes him the living dean of local front men. Johansen turns 58 next week and over the last couple of years has added yet another persona to his long career of poses – the old glam star who put the remnants of the band back together, one more time.

The band is, of course, the New York Dolls, a veteran team where the dead members outnumber the living originals by a score of 4-2 and where the term “creative hiatus” stretched to three decades. Now they’re back on the circuit – three years after their reunion concert and the almost-immediate death thereafter of bassist Arthur Kane from leukemia, and a year removed from the release of the big comeback record One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This. In their hour-plus shows these days, Johansen and his lone surviving bandmate, the former taxi driver Syl Sylvain, belt out a tight and pleasant variety of old “hits” – if the Dolls can be said to have had them – and new numbers, which are far better than old fans expected them to be. The new band includes veteran session guitarist Steve Conte, bassist Sami Yaffa (formerly of Hanoi Rocks), and drummer Brian Delaney.

But in truth, it’s a David Johansen gig – and, I suspect, an attempt by an artist of some real repute and accomplishment to capture a measure of the historic role for his band and their work that he undoubtedly believes they deserve.

I’m Not There? – I’m Not There, Man

by Tom Watson
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I'm Not ThereA lengthy and elegant mess of a film, Todd Haynes’ not-so-experimental I’m Not There is nonetheless a beauty of a wreck, a “non-biopic” about Bob Dylan that mainly ignores that facet of Dylan that always hides in plain site when analysts look for meaning in the minstrel poet’s own life – his music.

Oh, there are plenty of songs in it – originals and those recorded by a variety of artists for the inevitable soundtrack. Some interesting choices too. But the story never connects to the songs, the movie’s plot arc of Dylan’s life – told in six intertwined parables with six different actors portraying Dylan-like characters – doesn’t account for the music, for the brilliant synthesis of American music that makes Dylan the most important singer-songwriter of the last half century.

What we get, in amazing photography and some fine performances, is pretty much a glorified and well-shot episode of Behind the Music, the old hackneyed story of every star: the backstory, the self-invention, the rise, the drugs, the women, the fall, the comeback, the discovery of faith…and so on. At the end of it, we’re all wowed by the detail and the ambition of it, but we don’t know any more about Bob Dylan than we did going in – or about ourselves, for that matter.

A Beach Is A Place Where a Man Can Feel

by Tom Watson
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QuadropheniaLike Bob Dylan and a few others, Peter Townshend understood the 20th century version of the successful artist, which combined the cultivation of a pop sensibility and the cash it brought with some vein of purity in exploration. As the Who has recycled a long strong of Townshend’s pearls – on TV, in advertising, in compilations, on their latest geezer tour, and in the new biopic Amazing Journey: The Story Of The Who which premieres in the U.S. at the Paley Center for Media next week – so to has its master creator continued to explore.

Townshend’s latest rock opera, The Boy Who Heard Music, took shape as a blog, a dissembled convocation of voices brought together online. Earlier this year, Townshend put the algorithm behind the synth opening for Baba O’Reilly and Won’t Get Fooled Again online and let musicians (including me) upload pieces of recorded music and get back synthesized loop patterns. The Who made the cash, and a commercial legacy that keeps in giving, but throughout the band’s 20-year dry spell Townshend worked as an artist, and still works into his 60s.

Was Townshend’s best work was in his 20s? Perhaps, like Dylan’s. But he keeps on, like Picasso an aging combination of pop sensibility and persona, continuing to work. Paul McCartney, a comtemporary, wrote his own epitaph, a grand old painter’s evocation of his death. Townshend still flays the guitar and his Internet explorations – at present, silent – have given his work a new flavor, and a direct channel to his audience.

But Townshend’s finest work was his most complete as an artist – and not particularly successful commercially, but it endures. Quadrophenia is the one Who record I still return to year after year; a complete story with recurrent themes, and a fantastic composition and performance. Quadrophenia grows and I grow with it. Into my 40s and Townshend’s 60s, it still feels relentless and lasting.

Springsteen and the American Muse

by Tom Watson
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SpringsteenHere’s the lead: Bruce Springsteen’s deep and nourishing Magic, released today, isn’t on a par with Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town. But it’s firmly on the next level down, alongside The Wild, the Innocent & the E-Street Shuffle, Nebraska, The River and Tunnel of Love. And that’s saying something for a rock star of 58 years in age who has nibbled around the edges of pop music for the last two decades without fully wading in.

Magic is a self-referential work of mature genius, a work of its time, and a record built on the foundations of others, from Brian Wilson and Roy Orbison to the Byrds and Dylan and Phil Spector. Unlike The Shamus, whose terrific review appears below, I’ve spent several weeks with Magic and have listened to its best tunes dozens of times – it’s frankly brilliant, and worthy of the best in the Springsteen canon. It’s the work of an older man, the rare record recorded by a star in late middle age who drops the teen angst and captures both those long decades and the deep pop groove, filled with happy hooks and fills.

Further, there’s a darkness there that I admire deeply – a writing in the shadows that rekindles what I first loved about Bruce Springsteen’s writing, when I was a skinny teen and he was a skinny 25-year-old.

Dead Rock Stars: Heaven’s Best Pick-Up Band (Or Hell’s)

by Tom Watson
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Saw a headline right out of The Onion today: Rock Stars More Likely to Die Early. Yes, it was an actual study conducted by academics in England, the blockbuster follow-up to their famed Drunks More Likely to Suffer From Liver Maladies work. No kidding around, this was a real study: A study of more than 1,000 mainly British and North American artists, spanning the era from Elvis Presley to rapper Eminem, found they were two to three times more likely to suffer a premature death than the general population. Between 1956 and 2005 there were 100 deaths among the 1,064 […]

Not the Great American Rock and Roll Band

by Tom Watson
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Ladies and gentlemen, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers. Just because it’s great, because it’s Wednesday, because Johnny’s still dead, because Max’s is a faint memory, and because there’s a lightning storm sweeping across Manhattan. And it’s not the Grateful Dead. Comment away.