Wow. This week has been one of the craziest weeks of my life. I don’t even know where to begin. Here’s the skinny: Superbad: Musical: cut from Fringe due to conspiring actors, parties, death threats, Gazette cover stories, concerts, Durak, the beast with two backs, strange dreams, Texas Hold ‘em, rocking the Ward Room. The highs were very high. The lows just make me want to cry right now. At the end of the day, I could only listen to one song to make everything Zen, and that song was by this week’s band of the week…
My second favorite band of all time (after The Beatles), The MC5 are a legendary proto-punk band like The Stooges. They released three albums in their short existence and each one is a vital piece of musical history.
The first is the legendary live Kick Out The Jams, which features the incredible song of the same name. The second is the John Landau (Bruce Springsteen)-produced Back in the USA, which was a great album, though it is criticized (rightly so) for taming The MC5’s wild edge. It is still, however, a great album. The third is the juuuuust right High Time, which balanced the bands pop-skills with their wild edge. It is also the album featuring the song that got me through this week: “Over and Over”.
While the issues the songs deal with (politics, ecology, the Vietnam war, labor) are somewhat more sophisticated than the ridiculous ones I’m currently dealing with, its chorus, which reinforces how we deal with same problems again and again throughout history, seemed to apply to my life and how I keep winding up in horrible Kafka-esque situations even when I never really do anything all that drastic to begin with. Then again, that makes things exciting, which is kind of cool in a way…if only it weren’t making me feel an incredible desire to learn more Yiddish sayings along the lines of, “oy guvult!”
And speaking of exciting, The MC5 are fucking awesome. Combining a strong blues edge with the hard rock welded into Detroit’s mentality, The MC5’s sound is an explosive amalgamation of blues, pop, jazz and psychedelia. Any of their three essential albums are mind-blowing and feature the stunning duel guitar work of Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith (who later married Patti Smith). Meanwhile, the lead vocals of the amazingly-afro’d Rob Tyner are beyond belief, particularly in “Over and Over” where he strains his voice to the breaking point, howling out, “I see people dyyyyyying/ While others sit around cryyyying!!!” I’m honestly not sure how to describe them, though they do have a sort of bluesy edge, though not the same kind that Mick Jagger had. Something else…
If there was one band that knew how to combine the sexy, the psychedelic and the political perfectly, it was The MC5. They were the first ones to kick out the jams, motherfuckers, and they did it best.
In My Own Company
(Pigeon Row; 2009)
Ah, singer-songwriters: sensitive, literate, sophisticated poets with their acoustic guitars and delicate melodies, who would women love and men hate without you? Well, I guess now we have the Jonas Brothers, so you’re off the hook for now singer-songwriters, but I’ve got my eye on you…
But I kid, I kid. Luckily, MacGrath doesn’t subscribe to the ridiculous John Mayer school of singer-songwriter anyway (uch, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little) but rather, he’s more along the lines of a more personal, less Balkan Beirut or a somewhat less OUT Rufus Wainwright. And indeed, those two comparisons are quite apt, as MacGrath’s precious, somewhat theatrical vocal style bears a strong resemblance to Zach Condon’s (of Beirut) stylized tenor, while MacGrath’s dandy-like qualities (“is it really Louie Vutton? / Or is it a knockoff instead?” MacGrath inquires on “Bell Boy”) bear resemblance to none so fabulous as the inimitable Wainwright.
His debut EP, In My Own Company is a strong collection of ornate pop songs written with a wonderful literate flair, conjuring up images of 5th Avenue (“Bell Boy”), fairy tales (which he sort of debunks on “Cinderella”) and MacGrath’s home province of Nova Scotia (“Way West”, in which he dreams of running off to Alberta) magnificently. On most songs MacGrath sticks to his brand of theatrical, piano-based melodramatic pop, though he does get to throw in a nice modern day Can-indie rocker in “Featherweight” (which, with a different mix, could have been the single).
Unfortunately, the EP lacks any real standout songs or outstanding qualities to make it a smashing entrance for the talented MacGrath. Then again, none of the big indie bands of the last couple years blew the doors open with their first EP: that all came with the full-length. Regardless, In My Own Company marks a classy entrance for a talented, young singer-songwriter who, I’m sure, will be quickly embraced by his home province.
(Note: This review also appeared in the Dal Gazette)
This week’s artist of the week is a New Yorker who was part of the CBGB scene of punk intellectuals that included Tom Verlaine, Patti Smith and Richard Hell. Though his name isn’t as well preserved as the aforementioned artists, his legacy lives on in movies and books in addition to his music. This week’s artist of the week is…
Like all those guys mentioned above, Jim Carroll was a hard rocking intellectual punk poet influenced primarily by the French surrealists Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine (Tom stole his last name, in case you were confused). Musically, he’s best remembered now for the song “People Who Died” which has appeared in movies like E.T. (for some reason) and the remake of Dawn of the Dead. At the time of its release it was a “near hit”, according to AMG. True, the song probably is his most visceral and affecting musical accomplishment, but he also released several albums with plenty of other great tracks, like “Catholic Boy” and “Three Sisters”.
As great as some of his music was, he is best remembered as the author of The Basketball Diaries, an autobiographic work detailing his experiences with sex and hard drugs from the ages of 13 to 16. The book was made into a movie of the same name in 1995 and starred a young Leonardo DiCaprio as Carroll.
Though his music sounds a little aged in 2009, Carroll’s great lyrical writing still holds up wonderfully and should be checked out by anyone interested in the CBGB intellectuals or people who just like great song lyrics. Also, it’s pretty badass.