Archive for April, 2010

The bookish accountant and Diamond Dave

April 27, 2010

My dad helped to start a legal association and they would have their meetings in places like Bermuda, Cabo San Lucas Mexico, and the Cayman Islands. Every so often my parents would invite my siblings and I to join (I know, we were deprived children) and we would get to sit by the beach sipping drinks with tiny umbrellas while my dad and his colleagues toiled away drafting bylaws and statues off in some closed conference room somewhere.

Often our days of lounging would end on some windswept point overlooking the ocean, when we would join everyone from the association for dinner. It was at one of these such dinners that I ended up sitting next to a quiet, introverted lady, an accountant from the association. She wore glasses and was soft-spoken…I was pretty sure she had several cats. She reminded me of the “Church Lady” from Saturday Night Live.

She didn’t talk much, if at all. I remember as the conversation languished being silently annoyed that I couldn’t sit next to my dad’s colleague Harry who actually was Prince‘s lawyer at one time. He handled the litigation around the Purple One’s fight to get out of his record contract, which led to his changing his name to the “artist formerly known as Prince” and being famously photographed with the word “Slave” on his cheek. But Harry was at another table…and tonight it was me and bookish lady and I was doing my best to keep the conversation from flatlining.

So I asked her about music…what was her favorite group? What did she like? Her response could have knocked me over with a feather.

“My first cousin is David Lee Roth.”

This is one hell of a bombshell from someone who seemed like her idea of raucous music was an Everly Brothers concert.

After I picked my jaw up off the ground I asked her what “Diamond Dave” was like. She said he was a pretty normal guy.

She mentioned that she would take girlfriends to see Van Halen in the 80’s, and they would go backstage and hang with the band. She said she even stayed at David’s house and hung out by the pool with her friends, and that he was always a courteous host.

This is pretty amazing given that Rolling Stone once called David Lee Roth “the most obnoxious singer in human history.” Or that the guy has been known to perform with drunken midgets on-stage.

But if you think about it, maybe the only way to make it in music is to convince the world you’re crazy. Would anyone even care about Amy Winehouse if she were normal, if there weren’t pictures of her wandering London in her underwear? Or James Taylor, who at one point spent time in a nuthouse? Britney Spears shaving all her hair off only helped things in the end, didn’t it?

At the time of my dinner with Bookish Lady, David Lee Roth was in the news again because he decided to become an Emergency Medical Technician in New York City. He even cut his hair short to go unrecognized. His trainer was quoted in the New York Post saying Roth was” very studious, punctual and hungry for knowledge.”

Apparently this crazy on-stage persona, who leaped around doing scissor kicks and screaming, was serious about stepping out of the limelight and just helping out. He didn’t need the money. Sure his career wasn’t at its peak, but he could still play shows in Topeka and make lots of money.

He was even credited with saving a Bronx woman from a heart attack. I remember asking Bookish Lady about it at our dinner, and she said something to the effect of, “he just wants to help people.”

Who knew?

Next time you’re sitting at dinner with a stranger who seems boring, ask them about music. Maybe they know one of the Beastie Boys.


Dark keyboards, dark singers

April 13, 2010

The Casio SK-1 was launched in 1985 and sold for less than $100. It became popular with musicians in later years, I’m convinced, because the sounds on it are just downright spooky. There’s an evil-sounding flute, a dark synth sound, and a human-voice-echoing sample that sounds like someone is yelling for help while plummeting into the Grand Canyon.

I actually found an SK-1 one in a rainstorm in a trash can in Boston in the late 90’s. When I got it back to my apartment and put six AA batteries in it I was amazed that it still worked.

If Call Me Kat was a keyboard she would be a Casio SK-1. That’s why the Danish singer-songwriter plays the instrument live. You’re not sure where her voice leaves off and the keyboard begins.

She’s mysterious and spooky, like if the ghost of Billie Holiday came into your bedroom at 3am and started whispering in your ear. Similar artists like Feist and Regina Specktor bring a bit of bounce and playfulness to the female singer-songwriter thing. Call Me Kat keeps it dark, even paranoid, on her debut album, “Fall Down”.

From “Bug in a Web”

I would walk a million miles
If it could change this into being just a bad dream

From “Do your Trick”

Where are your feelings warm and tender
Where are your kisses sweet and wild
You act as if you had a hidden agenda
I’m all at sea I’m all beguiled

From “My Sea”

On a night like this my head is spinning
Demons crawling on the inside of my chest
Everything in green looks rather yellow
I wish some of these thoughts would take a rest

…Then she closes the record by covering a band that is from the same time period as her SK-1 and known for writing some dark songs of their own…The Cure.

Her version of “Lovecats” is so original and dark that even Robert Smith, once called “pop culture’s unkempt poster child of doom and gloom”, would surely find it acceptable. It ends with what sounds like distorted low notes on piano, a music box and a satanic-sounding voice exclaiming “lovecats!”

And the instrumentation is equally moody. Analog synthesizers…glockenspiel… melodica….thumping percussion…what sounds like sampled horns and digital trombones that have been pitched down…creepy guitars playing minor chords…

Call Me Kat could be to music what Marlene Dietrich was to film noir. I know I’m tired of Nora Jones…

The greatest “bridge” ever in a pop-song

April 11, 2010

Almost every song you hear on the radio follows this pattern:





The “bridge” is the one part of the song that doesn’t repeat.

I love a good bridge in a rock song. It takes the listener to some place new, maybe a different key or different instruments. It sets up the song for a  raucous return to the verse-chorus combo at the end.

My favorite bridge ever written is the one in “Our Lips are Sealed” by the Go-Gos.

The song was originally a slow ballad written by guitarist Jane Wiedlin and her then-lover about their clandestine affair in 1981. The lyrics are allegedly instructions he sent her in a letter to not address rumors swirling about their relationship…

…pay no mind to what they say

…doesn’t matter any way

…our lips are sealed

This of course went on to be a top-20 hit and one of the best pop songs of all time, according to Rolling Stone. So this guy’s whole plan to keep his nookie with Jane under wraps kind of backfired. But I digress, because I want to tell you why I love the bridge of the song so much.

When the bridge hits around 1:29 bassist Kathy Valentine jumps up an octave and plays a simple, beautiful melody that just kind of hangs there, while drummer Gina Shock plays a more driving beat on her hi-hat and Jane plunks out perky, reverb-soaked rhythm guitar. Then Jane sings “hush my darling don’t you cry” so angelically that you understand why the woman became an ordained minister.

All-told, this is a 32-second piece of music. I want to loop it and fall asleep to it. Thanks Jane & company.

Feeling Zen on a Saturday afternoon

April 4, 2010

My wife totally thinks I’m weird, but I love a station on Sirius XM Radio called the “Spa channel.”

It’s called that because if you have ever had a massage it’s the music they play…simple synthesizers playing major chords over lots of reverb, with the plunking of pianos or sitars in major keys, maybe angelic voices rolling over the top.

Pete Townshend wrote a song called “Pure and Easy,” which talks about “one note” that connects us all.

I kind of understand that when I hear the spa channel. Because despite the chaos of the world, the wars and financial meltdowns and general human narcissism and apathy…the simple music on the Spa Channel kind of reminds you that simplicity is really all you need.

The world is moving so fast these days. Everyone needs to move on to the next stimulation. There’s anxiety about the economy, about security, about being successful.

There’s something reassuring about a hammer dulcimer hitting the pleasant intervals of “Amazing Grace…”