Origins of an Elvis Costello fanboy

“My rock n roll Yossarian, my Groucho, my Bugs Bunny, my hero”

December 1977, my freshman year of high school, and I’d read a review of this album in Rolling Stone – remember when that mattered? Thanks to the wonders of the internets I see the reviewer was Greil Marcus. The album was My Aim Is True by Elvis Costello and Marcus reviewed it and Randy Newman’s new album Little Criminals together. The fact that he’d put the first album by someone pretty much no one on this side of the Atlantic had heard of with Randy Newman said everything because Marcus was a total Newman fan-boy, like anyone with a lick of sense is.

“One is as established as such a performer can be and, it seems, is settling into an acceptance of the refusal of the great audience to accept him; the other is new on the scene and, just possibly, a star for these times. God knows what other times he might be a star for.”

Maybe it was the review, maybe it was the outrageousness that someone would dare call himself ELVIS! The King wasn’t even four months in his grave then and this was beyond lèse-majesté. Maybe it was the cover which was my first encounter with New Wave: Black and white checkerboard with more than a whiff of the Xerox about it. Raggedly and defiantly different from all that album art that wanted to be considered as capital A art. And in the middle this spindly guy with Buddy Holly glasses, a skinny tie, cuffed jeans (?!), looking like a slightly malevolent praying mantis. Whatever it was I bought the album and hurried back to our apartment on Forest Street and listened. The sound matched the DIY feel of the cover. The first song was a snarl at the working week (All of your family had to kill to survive/and they’re still waitin’/for their big day to arrive/ But if they knew how I felt they’d bury me alive) which was pretty much exactly how I felt about school and I was hooked.

Flip the album over though and side 2 started with the song that really made me understand that Costello knew, even though I was too young to know what knowing was. (Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes opens with a snaky, snarky guitar line and lyrics that told me at last here was my rock n roll Yossarian, my Groucho, my Bugs Bunny, my hero.

Oh I used to be disgusted
And now I try to be amused.
But since their wings have got rusted,
You know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.
But when they told me ’bout their side of the bargain,
That’s when I knew that I could not refuse.
And I won’t get any older, now the angels wanna wear my red shoes.

I became an evangelist, carrying the album to school and back to try and get friends to listen to it. For most it was too outré believe it or not. The name, the look. Some wouldn’t listen because of that. Some did and those that did got it. My mom became a fan, she loved the lyrics although got tired of me playing it over and over and went and bought me my first ever pair of headphones.

Yossarian_Lives_LogoOver the next six years he put out four more great albums (This Year’s Model, Armed Forces, Get Happy!!, Imperial Bedroom) and three very good ones (Trust, Almost Blue, Punch the Clock) and since then nothing has lived up to that first mad rush of brilliance. Doesn’t matter. I’ve been a fanboy since 1977 and I’ll be one until both of us have shuffled off this mighty mortal coil.

Peelander Z — a love song

(Periodically — and almost always under the instigation of Mrs. Collateral Damage — I take some time off from being a grumpy old guy who only listens to music by other grumpy old guys and do something different. Last night that something was my 2nd Peelander Z concert at Cambridge’s legendary rock club, The Middle East. Thus the following review.)

Any review of a Peelander Z show has to start with the following sentence: What the heck was that?

It’s pretty much impossible to describe what it is exactly that Peelander Z is or does, but I will try.

peelandser2Peelander Z consists of three men — Peelander Yellow, Peelander Blue & Peelander Red — who play guitar, bass and drums, respectively. They dress in costumes that might be called Mighty Morphin Power Rangers meet The Village People meet Parliament Funkadelic (more about the P-Funk connection in a moment). They are all from Japan but met in NYC. They are augmented by Peelander Green and Peelander Pink. Green plays guitar and drums and dances. Pink runs the lights and sells t-shirts and is in other ways an integral part of the performance. What do they all do … hmmm … they perform songs, kind of. Last night’s show was an hour long and Mrs. CD and I aren’t sure if their were 3 or 4 songs performed. That said, they are NOT a jam band. One song’s lyrics consisted of “What A Health” and Super health.” Another — and one of my favorites: “Mad tiger” and “wild tiger.” The third was “Steak!” and “medium rare!” All the performers are very, very good musicians. They are also all funny and happy and charismatic in a way that is spiritually akin to Japanese bands Shonen Knife and Petty Booka. Peelander Z has an incredible wildness that The Knife and Booka do not.

What does Peelander do? They incite a group performance of happiness. The ring-leader is Peelander Yellow, who is not by any standard definition handsome or particularly young. He looks like the comic-relief monk from any number of samurai movies — complete with missing tooth and mostly bald head. They start playing and then … then it all gets difficult to describe. The surf the crowd, they give out drum sticks and metal things to bang on, they have much of the crowd join them onstage and play — the people who play do NOT know how to play. Peelander Yellow rides a Big Wheel and acts as a bowling ball vs. a set of plastic bowling pins. I really can’t describe it beyond that.

A Peelander Z show is like the big finale at a fireworks show where you are the fireworks. It is hugely happy. The mosh pit was happy (and though I did not participate in this one let it be made clear that I have moshed in my time — and enjoyed it hugely). I have never been to any other rock show that has left me with such an overwhelming sense of giddy joy. No other performer has even ever come close.

The only act I can really liken them to is P-Funk. In last year’s show, the P-Funk connection seemed much more pronounced. It was clear that this was a band that had taken the concepts and ideas of George Clinton’s zany, brilliant funk to heart and applied them to rock and roll. Last night’s show the debt was still there but you could see they are evolving in to more of their own strange thing. (Of course, P-Funk itself was the spiritual heirs to Sun Ra.)

When I’ve seen them Peelander has had excellent opening acts. Last year it was Gelatine, another NYC-based band of incredible musicians who are native Japanese — that are as disturbing and dark as Peelander is joyous.

Last night, the openers were the very good rock trio The Asthmatics. They are a more standard rock act than the Z — with actual recognizable songs. What they really have in common is a screwball sense of humor. Also on the bill was Powerglove, a band that specializes in heavy metal covers of music from video games. I particularly enjoyed “Tetris” and “Mario” — probably because they were the only songs from games I had played. Powerglove dresses in outfits inspired by various games. Oddly, the lead guitarist looks exactly like Steve Wozniak.

A moment of silence for one of the greats … CBGB founder Hilly Kristal

cbgbMr. K was 75 and died from lung cancer about a year after a dispute with the landlord forced him to close the club which brought us the Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith: aka 75% of the music of my adolescence. To my everlasting regret despite living in New York from ’81 to ’85 I never got to the club. At least I made it to Max’s Kansas City before it closed. And to kill whatever chance I might have had of actually having any cool cred let me say that I made it to Max’s for lunch. Yeah, I’m hardcore.

FYI: The complete name was CBGB & OMFUG which stood for Country, Bluegrass and Blues & Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandisers.

The fish, the barrel, the smoking gun: Selling sex to teens

Everyone knows that teens want to have sex – at least everyone who was ever a teen – but despite this the world continues to look beyond biology to explain why this is so. In Thailand, the government has decided to blame marketing. In the US, a new study is blaming the old hobgoblin of “sexually suggestive” music. This will come as good news to the city fathers in Vienna who once tried to ban the Waltz on these grounds sometime in the 19th century.

Reuters reports that in Bangkok – where they pretty much invented the phrase “sex tourism” – the Culture Ministry has banned a line of condoms whose name translates as “Good Penetration.” The reason: the suggestive label could draw youngsters into having sex earlier.

The prophylactics are actually a, pardon the expression, brand extension of a popular singer named Tom Dundee. Dundee in Thai means … well if you’ve read this far chances are you know what it means. A representative of the Culture Ministry said, “Although the name is not vulgar or rude, it is ambiguous, boastful and provocative. It could entice excessive consumption and lure children and youths with little maturity to start having sexual activities before their appropriate age.”

Dundee, nee Puntiva Poomiprates, told Reuters, “You can’t stop human desire, no matter how old they are, so it is better to protect them.” I think we have to go with the private sector on this one.

Meanwhile back in the States, the Rand Corp. (the same people who brought us Vietnam) has determined that teens who listen to music with “raunchy, sexual lyrics” start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs. “The study found that the more time adolescents spend listening to music with sexually degrading lyrics, the more likely they are to initiate intercourse and other sexual activities. This holds true for boys and girls as well as for whites and nonwhites, even after accounting for a wide range of other personal and social factors associated with adolescent sexual behavior,” said a Rand release (and doesn’t that sound dirty?).

Question … is it possible that teens who are more interested in sex are drawn to music with these themes? (FWIW, in an unprecedented move here at CD I actually did some reporting on this. Called Rand and tried to speak to Mr. Martino. Their PR person declined the interview. Go figure.)

Next quote: “Researchers found that only sexually degrading lyrics – many quite graphic and containing numerous obscenities – are related to changes in adolescents’ sexual behavior. These lyrics depict men as sexually insatiable, women as sexual objects, and sexual intercourse as inconsequential. Other songs about sex do not appear to influence youth the same way.”

Sadly neither the release nor the abstract available from Pediatrics, the journal which published the study, includes a list of songs deemed able to stimulate sexual urges in an adolescent – which has to be the easiest assignment in all of marketing. A more interesting list, one suspects, would be that of songs capable of preventing an adolescent from thinking about sex.

Final quote from the release: “Songs depicting men as ‘sex-driven studs,’ women as sex objects and with explicit references to sex acts are more likely to trigger early sexual behavior than those where sexual references are more veiled and relationships appear more committed.” Yeah, but how many songs by The Carpenters can any one person really listen to?

Or, as Etta James once put it, Roll with me Henry.

Headline of the Day: “Stones deny Keith Richards suffered brain damage.” How could anyone tell?

Slurred, incoherent speech? Double vision? He's Keith Friggin' Richards! That's SOP.

I love Keith. Great guitarist, fine song writer and — even by rock standards — an idiosyncratic singing voice. His solo albums are the only things related to the Stones that have been worth listening to for years. (I highly recommend "… with the Expensive Winos Live at The Hollywood Bowl." Amazing.) This is the man whom I have always assumed could mainline Drano and live. My working theory has always been that only two things were going to survive nuclear war — cockroaches and Keith. You think a bump on the head is going to slow him down? Keith will outlive us all. And laugh doing it.

Mrs. CollateralDamage: Queen of all alt. media

JMrs. CollateralDamage (motto: "I'm famous in Japan") (no really she is) has a secret identity or two. In one she is the Jennifer Poundcake, lead singer for The Amazing Poundcakes. In another she is the Jennifer Mickey, super expert of all things related to Disney theme parks (no really she is, again). Her two identities have combined to make her queen of all alt. media. She is this week's featured guest on the podcast Mouse Guest Weekly. The Poundcakes have the punk track of the day at GarageBand.com and a cut is also a featured cut in this week's TheNoiseBoard.com's weekly podcast. AND, those of you wanting more Poundcake can hear/download the fruits of their latest recording efforts here.