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Wednesday, August 06, 2003
The compilation reaches an unexpected emotional peak with the 12th of its 21 tracks. Written by a man/group called Sport Murphy who lost a nephew - a firefighter on Sept. 11 2001 - the track "Beatles, Stepping Off The Plane" finds Murphy seeking repose in turmoil. He pretty much justifies and ridicules the entire music industry, capturing its potential for majesty, importance and excess all in a single refrain, in which he sings: "Time to show the Beatles stepping off the plane."
(What I like about this, mostly, is being called a "man/group." It sounds like "mangrove," which is a tree, but I prefer to view the term as an implication that I am a bustling cluster of Busters; I am like one of those grubby posses in animated cartoons, the ones that move as one in a grumbling cloud of sage dust. Now, other than this, I suspect Mr. Davidson gives my novelty tune far too much credit, but since that's the opposite of what usually happens, I'll take it.)
Sport Murphy's Beatles Stepping off the Plane is like a history book of rock 'n' roll in a sense that not only covers every base of blatantly good songwriting, but also covers the history like an obituary,
(Ms. Tucker calls my songwriting "blatantly good," which is a strange sort of phrase, but also one I'll accept with wanton gratitude. The last line (or - more accurately - the last third of the sentence) is either truly astute or totally off. I choose the former. It's a wrong read if she thinks I'm simply eulogizing rock, but not if she caught the context of the joke, as the next reviewer did)
Sport Murphy's "Beatles, Stepping off the Plane" is a far more entertaining gimmick, posing as the thought process behind putting together one of those self-important documentaries about the 1960s that all seem to follow the same outline.)
Christine Di Bella
(Now, praise be to the dread Dormammu, Ms. Di Bella GOT IT. It's nice - and woefully rare - when people "get it." Otherwise, even good reviews are suspect as evidence you did not convey your intentions clearly. Not that one must clearly convey intentions, or that enjoyment of a tune need be congruent with the composer's own design. But it must be a little frustrating to have the world laud you for inventing "Raid ant and roach spray" when you thought you'd come up with "Fox's U Bet vanilla syrup." Bear in mind, though, she says my song is nothing but a "gimmick" …which is true, but what pop music isn't? What's "Johnny B Goode," the cure for cancer?)
Sport Murphy's Uncle. Murphy made two or three albums, which I haven't heard. Anyway, a recent sampler I got (Mollie's Mix) had his song "Beatles, Stepping Off the Plane," in which the Beatle's arrival eradicates racism, the scourge of Pat Boone and pulls the bug out of Bono's ass. Sounds goofy, but what a great song. On his new album-Uncle-well, his uncle, a fireman, died in the World Trade Center and this is his response to working through the pain and loss of that. It's sort of like Springsteen's the Rising. It's not as depressing as it sounds though. There is pain, but it's more a celebration of a life and carrying on. Murphy is like Springsteen in some respects, both are great storytellers. He's a bit more adventuresome musically, like Tom Waits only slightly less so. The album has a lot of different musical styles from pub sing-a-longs to little moments of life. He's on the great Kill Rock Stars label, which means he'll never get the deserved exposure. Too bad, a great new voice in American music. Look him up on killrockstars.com to find his website and listen to some clips to see if you don't agree. I'm thinking this is someone RD might enjoy.
(Mr. Smith - unknown to me, as are the others - goes to the keyboard on my behalf several times at several sites, and the other two mini-reviews found are in accord with this longer one, from a message board of some sort. He gets special points for the ubiquity of his coverage, even if the part about how my being on KRS guarantees invisibility chills my very shit. Probably true, but then again, there are reasons Tom Waits and Nick Cave jumped the major-label ship too. Even if some psychotic at a major label signed me on a dare in some a drunken stupor, would they/could they sell me? Please. This man/group firmly believes the answer/s is/are: no/yes. They would not expend any effort to push my work, but despite what every fucking person I've ever met thinks, I COULD sell...
These records, made by dint of individual will for a fraction of the Cheese Doodles budget at a Radiohead session where the group ((not no man/group)) makes - in an atmosphere of complete, patient support - some dull-ass jizz-drift of an album, received now as genius but which will - mark my words - prove as timeless as Adam and the Ants, COULD sell. If I can manage to write that sentence without bursting my stitches, then goddammit I can sell! If you can make hear or tails of it, I'll buy you a lemon ice!
Mr. Smith calling me "a great new voice in American music" is flattering, but it's like calling McSorley's a "hot new nightspot." That isn't his fault, though.
These days, young Bob Dylan would be rotting away on KRS as well. When I say I am "not ready for the big time" or that my stuff is comparable to some piece of coil pottery, I am not insulting MYSELF, mind you. I am absolved. I am pure. I am about to begin a new album, so fuck all ye beaters and breakers, and hail ye good reviewers various. Gangway for the man/group undaunted.
Here concludes the gleanings of www.commentary on a tune trivial and obscure even by my standards. )
Mike "Sport" Murphy
Kill Rock Stars/KRS 383
Er zijn een aantal redenen om Uncle, de derde CD van singer-songwriter Sport Murphy gewoon een meesterwerk te noemen. Drie van die redenen liggen erg voor de hand. Murphy heeft een prachtige, soepele en warme stem. En hij blijkt prachtige melodielijnen in huis te hebben. En, last but not least, zijn teksten gaan ergens over. Kortom: Murphy heeft alles om een belangwekkende singer-songwriter te worden. En wat mij betreft: Uncle bewijst dat hij dat is.
Uncle is, onbetwistbaar, Murphy's beste CD so far. Dat komt - natuurlijk - mede door de sprankelende productie van Murphy zelf en ene Finn McCool.
En: Uncle biedt een vocale bijdrage van Van Dyke Parks: Een heuse recitatie. Hoe je van de nood - VDP heeft nu eenmaal niet een fraaie zangstem! - een minuut of daaromtrent lang - een deugd kunt maken.
En: Niet alleen VDP-fans maar ook hondenliefhebbers hun oren moeten spitsen! Want… Ach, het artikel over De hond in de popmuziek zal ik nooit schrijven, al was het maar omdat ik niks heb met die "trouwe viervoeters". Maar bij mijn weten werd er nooit mooier geblaft op een popsong dan op Murphy's Shoo fly shoo! Een hond als ritme-instrument! En dat in combinatie met het heavenly vioolspel van de, mij verder onbekende, Meredit Yayanos.
En….. Toen was het ineens 11 september 2001, 9/11…..
Sedertdien deed Springsteen The Shining. En Steve Earle het moedige album Jesrusalem. Murphy verloor op die gedenkwaardige 9/11 de zoon van zijn zus. Een neef met wie hij samen opgroeide. Een neef die in New York City brandweerman zou worden. Uncle is voor alles het indrukwekkende resultaat van de verwerking van dat verlies.
Hoe 9/11 in de popmuziek "verwerkt" zal worden: In elk serieus overzicht daarvan zal Sport Murphy's Uncle niet mogen ontbreken.
Un Américain profond
L'un des plus grands songwriters en activité est un inconnu. Avec son troisième album, Mike "Sport" Murphy s'élève aux côtés des meilleurs mélodistes américains, de Van Dyke Parks à Charles Ives.
MIKE "SPORT" MURPHY
(Kill Rock Stars/Chronowax)
Il y a deux ans environ, Mike "Sport" Murphy décidait de renoncer à toute activité musicale, détruisant par la même occasion les bandes et les textes sur lesquels il était en train de plancher. Dans ce brutal sabordage se condensait toute la lassitude d'un songwriter scandaleusement négligé par les médias et le public. La nouvelle même de sa démission ne fit pas grand bruit. Elle dut tout au plus émouvoir ses proches, son label, et le quarteron d'admirateurs que ses deux merveilles d'albums, Willoughby (1999) et Magic Beans (2000), avaient péniblement réussi à fédérer.
Méconnu jusque dans la petite tribu du rock indé, qui offre pourtant souvent l'asile aux incompris de son espèce, Sport Murphy se retrouvait ainsi dans la situation humiliante du boxeur qui jette l'éponge sans avoir eu la chance de livrer un combat digne de ce nom. Depuis, l'Américain, aiguillonné par des circonstances très particulières que nous évoquerons plus loin, est reparti vaille que vaille sur le sentier de la musique. Sorti il y a plus de six mois outre-Atlantique, son nouvel album, Uncle, contient des gemmes aveuglantes comme il ne s'en extrait qu'une fois tous les dix ans du gigantesque gisement musical américain. Comme ses prédécesseurs, cet authentique miracle n'a pour l'instant rien récolté de plus qu'un aimable succès d'estime.
L'impopularité d'un type aussi inspiré est un mystère déplaisant, qu'aucune explication rationnelle ne semble pouvoir élucider. Car Murphy est bien plus qu'un songwriter un peu plus doué que la moyenne. La place qu'il occupe dans l'arbre généalogique de la musique populaire américaine en témoigne. Réalisés avec une indépendance d'esprit, une intensité expressive et un sens musical hors du commun, ses disques prolongent une noble et sinueuse ramure, qui relie les hymnes de poche du pionnier Stephen Foster, le génie touche-à-tout de Charles Ives, les mélodies à ressort de Hoagy Carmichael, le lyrisme solitaire de Scott Walker et les symphonies pop de Van Dyke Parks. Murphy, qui reconnaît aimer tous ces compositeurs "pareillement dissemblables", évolue lui aussi dans cette autre dimension où la chanson, métamorphosée en art accessible et pointu, décloisonné et universel, cesse d'être arrimée à un genre ou à une époque.
Comme son compatriote et comparse David Garland, autre songwriter d'envergure ignoré par les radars de la critique, Murphy refuse d'endosser l'uniforme d'une quelconque coterie - qu'elle soit rock, folk, classique, country ou jazz. Son ambition n'est pas pour autant d'être un caméléon, dont les transformations virtuoses nécessiteraient l'emploi à temps complet d'une costumière et d'une maquilleuse. Chez lui, les enjeux de langage prévalent toujours sur les questions d'habillage et d'emballage. De l'infinie richesse des mélodies jusqu'à la variété de texture des arrangements, de la beauté tranchante des textes jusqu'à cette voix de baryton qui bat la chamade avec une intensité digne d'un Richard Thompson, il n'est pas une parcelle de son art qui ne porte le sceau de cette inventive exigence. Le résultat est toujours hors norme, puisque ce grand idéaliste est convaincu que le songwriting n'est pas une tradition définitivement codifiée, mais un art en mouvement qui invite à tenter l'impossible, à glisser les figures les plus énigmatiques dans la logique cartésienne d'un couplet ou d'un refrain.
Les albums de Sport Murphy sont des chefs-d'œuvre d'un genre particulier. D'une flamboyante fragilité, ils sont accidentés et vibrants, comme l'est peut-être la vie de cet homme qui n'a voulu être personne d'autre que lui-même. Ils sont aussi diablement habités, puisque Murphy possède en outre cet inestimable don : il sait s'entourer. Derrière lui s'ébroue ainsi tout un cortège de semi-anonymes et de sans-grade venus de tous les horizons, une vingtaine d'hommes et de femmes qui jouent avec une générosité désarmante, comme si l'industrie du disque n'avait jamais existé, comme si la musique n'avait jamais cessé d'être ce grand plaisir partagé à quelques-uns.
Dans ces conditions, on conçoit que Sport Murphy ait pu être blessé par l'indifférence des critiques. Son mutisme volontaire n'aura pourtant pas duré : le monde extérieur s'est chargé de le rattraper par le col. Le 11 septembre 2001, son neveu Peter Vega, qui avait été élevé à ses côtés comme son petit frère, trouve la mort dans les attentats du World Trade Center - il était pompier dans une unité de Brooklyn. Ravagé par cette disparition, Sport Murphy trouvera refuge dans l'écriture et la composition. Disque chargé et dérisoire, puisque conçu "à l'attention d'une personne qui ne l'entendra jamais", Uncle est moins un hommage explicite qu'une offrande, une collection de chansons adressées à un fantôme.
Entrecoupé de documents familiaux qui tremblent comme de vieux films en super-8, ce disque profondément personnel ne met pourtant jamais l'auditeur à distance. Murphy est trop viscéralement musicien pour laisser le pathos s'emparer de ses chansons : les nuages noirs du deuil ne viennent jamais obscurcir le lumineux dessein poétique de ce disque. Les chansons de l'Américain sont simplement enveloppées d'un lyrisme nouveau, où se mêlent rage à froid, poussées de fièvre et accès de sérénité. C'est le chant d'un désenchanté qu'on entend ici. Un désenchanté trop amoureux des rares beautés et bienfaits de ce monde pour accepter d'en subir aussi les laideurs et la bêtise suprême.
Dans le livret qui accompagne Uncle, Murphy a écrit un petit texte qui en explique la genèse. Il aurait pu le conclure par un "God bless America" bien senti. Il préfère se fendre d'un lapidaire "Fuck this world", qui est moins la signature d'un nihiliste amer que d'un combattant encore prêt à en découdre. C'est aussi par des détails de ce genre que Uncle atteint des sommets que peu de songwriters américains en activité semblent en mesure d'approcher.
But this is not yet another outburst of self-flagellation.
Sheesh, whaddya take me for?
It is yet another snipe against a critic. While searching online (for unrelated reasons) I wound up on some pages collecting the writings of Robert Christgau. Now, after Slonimsky's great "Lexicon of Musical Invective," there's no reason to piss on short-sighted critics (and Mr. Slonimsky will explain why, if you're wise enough to read this hilarious little dandy of a book), and as I always say, they have their uses. Good critics are damn necessary, even. But Christgau… wow. Could he possibly be anywhere's near the egregious scumbag I've always made him out to be? No, few people could be. But even he calls himself the "Dean" of rock critics, which is horrifying in about 6 ways already. My music, I'm confident, falls way below the base level of "legitimacy" required to even rate a pan, but "Dean of rock critics" is like "der Fuhrer of supermarket circular proofreaders," so my near-loathing has less to do with any personalized resentment than with his status as the fabled One-eyed King.
(Incidentally, if you apply the "hundredth monkey" theory to the cliché about "a million monkeys at typewriters," then, eventually, all monkeys will be able to write Shakespeare. By now, through the internet and especially this blogsplosion, we see it is not so.)
Christgau writes well and always has, and his egotism is not something I oughtta be hurling stones at. He's often insightful (damn well better be) and even when he's wrong it's usually not for really, really stupid reasons. But look at this here: two old reviews for Jefferson Airplane records. A chance discovery.
Here's the first one I read…
PAUL KANTNER: Blows Against the Empire (RCA Victor) Two warnings. First, the only Airplane records I didn't underrate when I first wrote about them were Volunteers (which I loved) and the live album (which I never play). Second, Marty Balin is not present--the only reason I can discern for not calling this an Airplane record--and that makes me think that this time I could be right. I've played this a lot and feel no desire to play it any more.
Bland enough review. But reading it, I mistrusted the bit about "…Volunteers (which I loved)…" …just out of curiosity, I looked up his review of "Volunteers:"
JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: Volunteers [RCA Victor, 1969] A puzzler: I've listened many times and cannot make contact. Every time Grace lilts out "Up against the wall, motherfuckers" ( a phrase which has long since lost its currency and dubious usefulness) I want to laugh, and I don't find the instrumental cuts very inspired. Everybody else seems to dig it a lot and of course it's far from bad, but everybody may be wrong.
So what the fuck is this? I'm not interested enough to comb through his online archive for further evidence of such prevarication, but dagnabit!
And he even gives both albums a "B" rating, which means, according to his stated ratings guidelines:
"A means I like it a lot, B means I like it some or admire it a lot"
…so, not only were his responses to these records identical, but they were - or should have been, according to that guideline - rather positive. Is that what you get from the text, though?
Who has the right to pass judgment on the creative work of others? Brainy, well-paid a-holes who can't even organize their own casual dismissals coherently or honestly?
What a jerkoff.
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Firstly, all my loved ones are, today, alive. And reasonably well in general, all things considered. More or less. Miles and Lily were recently glimpsed through the sonar, frugging in their enviable amnioblissage like bioluminescent Monchichis. Out here, I have secured a vintage recipe (from "21" back when it was a speakeasy) for an "Absinthe Frappe." I've also taken possession of more Hai Karate cologne and aftershave. But here's something REALLY cool:
Last weekend, Shelley and I went to a local outdoor antique show since, soon, her need for increasing rest and my surgical recup would preclude such activity. We used to go to these things so often that it felt like we owned everything there and just visited it every week. By last week it had been a while, so there were some new vendors and lots of new stuff. So I snagged some cool shit (a headline from the deathbed vigil over Dutch Schultz… a small, old, hard rubber clothespin shaped like a bug-eyed, armless man… Some tin thing that made some kind of noise I liked… a rhino-shaped decanter of Avon spice cologne… the usual) and was about ready to rejoin Shelley, resting in the car. That's when I spotted a whole furshlugginer box of MAD mags from '62 through '69 along with some Cracked (sucked mostly, but John Severin was always good) and Sick (sucked always, despite Jack Davis) issues from the same era, to remind me how incredibly superior Mad has always been, over any and all competish.
I ask the kid how much and he says a buck each unless I buy a bunch or even the whole box in which case they'd be less. How much less for the box? A quarter each says mom. Now these are in GREAT shape; many are annuals, some with intact premiums like the "Mad Mobile" one can assemble so that plaques reading POTRZEBIE can circle above one's head. So I tally 'em up and it comes to 17 bucks, but I give her a twenty and say keep the change. What a deal! She's pleased that I am not a stickler for the three bucks and I'm just tickled pink to have a box of guffaws to consume at my leisure.
I tote the box not 12 feet to another table and there's a french horn in its case. No dents, no scuff, nothing. Guy says he'll take 60. Sold! Now ain't that grand! Building up the brass.
This will come into play, I imagine, on the now-it-can-be-announced upcoming FOURTH album for KRS. After stressful negotiations, Slim has managed to keep me on the label. I aim to make an album that will -oddly enough- concern itself with "consolations" of various kinds. Something constructive to put out into an apathetic world that, nevertheless, needs it. Ol' pal Thomas, on the very night I last spent as a smoker, suggested: "Why not challenge yourself by trying to make an album people will actually LIKE?" The idea of it does interest me… to prove I could - if motivated - make something possessing all the "qualities" people look for, but none of the more overt idiosyncrasies I myself enjoy but which strike the ordinary listener as "flaws."
After all, I do appreciate ordinary music as well. My embrace is vast, my tastes unimpeachable. Maybe I will make a deliberately accessible thing. Fewer songs. Songs that hit hip listeners with the approved kind of oddball touches they are not actually hip enough to do without, and which invite unhipsters into imagined realms of borrowed cool and Saturday Night Con-Temporary swank. I could do that. Maybe so. We'll see. Check back in a year.
But another little thing is that I was assigned a new David Bowie album ( entitled REALITY ) to review. I do that kind of thing, under pseudonyms, for money. Boy, it's a good album. Bowie is writing and performing in the straight-ahead-est mode I've heard from him in ages. The result, to be issued this fall, is at least as good as "Scary Monsters" / "Lodger" era work and, to me, better than anything this side of "Heroes." That's saying plenty, since Bowie knocked me flat at the Concert for New York doing that song (after a version of Paul Simon's "America" that ranks as the most gracious statement of humility I've ever seen a performer pull off) and, with it, igniting the souls of all assembled, during the darkest possible time in the lives of so many of us.
Sometimes Bowie, who became my first "personal rock star" (as opposed to inherited-from-the-brothers faves like the Stones and Dylan) with "Ziggy Stardust," seems to strain for contemporary validity by working with people like Reznor. It's not fair, but it seems that way. It's sort of like Disney World's Tomorrowland. In the 1970s, it presented a vision of the future that, in architectural terms at least, aged real bad real fast. So Disney eventually revamped the corny and anachronistic area with a "retro-futurist" style full of Jules Verne fins and golden turrets. Just like the geniuses who gutted Vegas exactly one hour before the tatters of Rat Pack glamour became au courant in the 90s, Disney's GENUINE anachronistic "future" would have been IDEAL if they'd just held on to it for one more year!!!!! Instead they came up with a "timeless" future-o-the-past schematic as stillborn as those 80s "nostalgia" mirrors (with silkscreen James Dean images) and Betty Boop-as-Marilyn cutouts that hang in ice cream parlors only to remind you that it is not now - and will never again be - the good ol' days.
Disney has pulled off a strange retro-future-that-never-was-vs-discarded-future-revitalized-as-postmodern-blown-opportunity conundrum that I promise to investigate fully as soon as my MacArthur grant comes through. But ponder on these implied Escherian bafflements quietly to yourselves as I return to the topic of Bowie. He did… well… like that.
Bowie is the eternal futureman just as Neil Young is the eternal ol' man of the mountain, provided they don't TRY too hard and just make silly stuff below their respective huge talents in a forlorn effort to seem relevant to the wrong youngsters. Bowie wrote this album more or less about New York City. Nothing too literal; it's just imbued with the town's static and frazz. Several tunes are flat out beautiful. Most are exciting and all are worthwhile. He covers Jonathan's PABLO PICASSO! Good work, mister!
Oh there's so much else to wax positive about, really. So I'll stop this and go enjoy some. Meanwhile, those of you who believe in cosmic hoodoo… please say a prayer or speak a mantra or cast a spell or whatever, on my behalf, regarding a current venture I am unwilling to mention just yet, less out of superstition than pessimism about the measure of unprecedented luck this wish would require. If it goes well (as something MUST), much of the sorrow and rancor in my soul will leave instantly.
And then I'll find BRAND NEW shit to whine about!
So focus a thought for me toward your chosen agent of serendipity, and if this happens to work I'm taking you all out to dinner.
Monday, August 04, 2003
My parents' house is finally getting a makeover after the fire of some months ago. My mother's in absolute misery: washing dishes in the bathroom sink, eating takeout every night, etc. Coincidentally, after several days of this chaos, a pipe burst, flooding the basement. My entire record collection - stored down there for want of any other place to keep the thousands of albums - is ruined. The flood reduced my mother to despairing tears. Since Peter's death (and the subsequent, unexplained removal of her great grandaughter from her life) she's been prone to severe depression anyway, so it's always scary when there are major disruptions.
The loss of my records sucks, but there's no use mourning it too hard. I only wish I'd sold the entire collection on eBay or something, though I'd never have done that. They meant a lot more to me than money, which is ludicrous.
Shelley has had a problem with congestion/coughing that got bad enough to warrant another hospital visit the other night. Doctors feared that the violence of her coughing fits might threaten the pregnancy, and so have put her on new meds. We'll see. Miles and Lily are, as of now, OK. Shelley remains on bed rest.
My sister is the victim of "identity theft" ...some fucks stole her credit info and such, and have been charging up a storm. In order to unravel it all she must endure a nightmare of repeated "on-hold" phone calls and the like. She discovered this crime upon returning from Ireland, a week-long visit that temporarily rejuvenated her spirits. Just returning to New York was depressing enough without these new headaches. She brought me some souvenirs: a tin whistle and a bottle of whiskey. Ahhh. Dunno about music, but I can use the booze.
I had several days of tests to try and determine why my EKG was irregular. Nothing has been discovered, but I was cleared for surgery and had it on friday. Now I have a stitched-up middle section that hurts a little less each day. I underestimated the post-op pain, though. Got a prescription for Vicodin, which I did not want but agreed to, in case of "severe pain" (but mostly for its resale value). The dickwipes at the pharmacy gave me a "generic substitute" instead. I only used one, and it kept me up all night. I don't know whether there's any significant resale value, but inquiries from prospective buyers are invited. I am also mostly resting in bed. It's maddening even for one as inert as yours truly.
That's a week in the life, boiled down to essentials, with several major omissions in the interest of the privacy of others. An old friend called the other day and chastised me. Been a while since we chatted, but he'd checked this blog to see what was new with me, and feels that my attitude is overly negative.