Patience has never been the strong suit of the music fan. When we want—no —when we need to hear a song—we find it immediately, even if it means hopping in the car and driving home to retrieve it. When a new album comes out that we’re dying to get our grubby paws on, there’s no hinting to our loved ones about how much we want it—we head over to iTunes, Best Buy or our favorite music piracy source, and we get the damn music. Call us impetuous, call us emotional—just keep the path between us and our music free and clear.

 

When Seattle’s flannel-clad grunge army launched their assault on the hair metal Babylon that was L.A.’s Sunset Strip, only one band survived.

That band certainly wasn’t Motley Crue, who turned their post-80s attentions to plastic surgery and reality television deals. Guns N’ Roses folded as well, with Axl Rose, the only remaining original member, now looking like a keyboard player in a .38 Special cover band. New Jersey’s Jon Bon Jovi fared the worst of all pouf rockers, joining the cast of Ally McBeal and eventually resorting to selling teddy bears online.

The last band standing was Steel Panther.

jake shears

The Scissor Sisters couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time to sashay onto the scene. It was 2004, and the country was experiencing fits of crazy homophobia thanks to the gay marriage debate and Republicans like Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman (who was gay, unbeknownst to himself at the time, uh-huh) and Karl Rove, who ushered their candidate, George W. Bush, into the White House for another four years in part by putting gay marriage on the ballot in 11 states and allowing those citizens to vote their dumb prejudices and then pull the lever for Dubya for good measure.

The day I fell in love with Irma Thomas I drunkenly slow danced with the Abbey bar’s jukebox to one of her songs, waiting for the night to fall out of focus. She had a voice that culled drunkards from their cups, and brought them to their feet. Mostly, her songs made you want to get up and dance, drunk or sober.

I fell in love with her sixties songbook.  I fell in love with her voice. Most of all, I fell in love with the simple elegance of each song.

The next day, hung over at work searching to blot out the Quarterflash record Wes, the store manager, was playing, I realized the stunning eloquence of Irma Thomas. In the midst of Quarterflash’s soulless bleating I managed to reconstruct one of Thomas’s soul gems note by note. Quite a feat. I was really hung over. Usually, when Quarter Flash made their appearance- a regular occurrence- I bounded upstairs to the store room where thousands of New Orleans R&B and Jazz records sat in boxes gathering dust, ostensibly to catalog them, but really just to free my ears from the garbage.

Many, many moons ago I used to write for a magazine you’ve never heard of. My editor had a curious theory: Rock and roll had hit the wall during the 77-era of punk. It’s not that he didn’t like music made since then. On the contrary, he was a huge Nirvana fan and was a mainstay on the American hardcore scene of the early 1980s. It’s that rock and roll could only get so fast and heavy before it ceased being rock and roll and started being something else.

I respectfully disagree. It’s true that many strains of rock music are too damn tight to allow for the little shimmy-and-wiggle action that puts the “roll” in “rock and roll.” Greg Ginn discovered this during Black Flag’s early days. He compensated by making everyone play at one-quarter speed during rehearsals, working their way up to the mid-tempo hardcore the band’s post-My War years. Motörhead, on the other hand, are a prime example of a band playing music both heavier and faster than punk with more than enough swing in its step to properly be called “rock and roll.”

When Darrell Banks was fatally shot by an off duty cop in the spring of 1970, the soul singing powerhouse left behind just twenty-seven songs- two albums and a smidgen of singles. Each of them is worth a listen. They buried him in a grave marked by a numbered plaque in the ground. No headstone, no mention of his career, no nod to his gift of voice, nor any placement of his name. Just a number planted in the earth, only to be overgrown a few short years later, leaving his final resting place an afterthought, hidden from view.

Banks was much more than just a number, or a lost gem, or an afterthought. Born Darrell Eubanks, he grew up, like so many of his soul singing brothers and sisters, singing in church, devouring songs in the gospel canon. When he made the leap to secular jams, Banks dropped the E and the U from his last name, and readied himself for a ride on Motown’s comet.

I knew Amy was dead a little over a month ago. Once the concert footage from Belgrade hit the Internet, I knew, just like I knew that Kurt Cobain was dead after he OD’d in Italy. It was easy to laugh at her latest public embarrassment, but it was clear that her days were numbered and that she would not, in fact, finally get her shit together and live to a ripe old age. The smoky voice, the beehive and the endearingly self-destructive behavior all came to an end Saturday when Amy Winehouse went one toke over the line, sweet Jesus.

Much like Randy Newman, I love LA. Since moving to my adopted home, I have a new appreciation for the sound of Los Angeles. If a band is from the City of Angels, chances are good that I like them ten times more now than I did before I lived here. Still, like 12 million other people, I was deeply disappointed by the LA Times Magazine list of the best LA bands.

It’s rare that a list of the best anything results in anything more than eye rolling and fist shaking. As a rule, journalists don’t have a clue about music, music journalists doubly so. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that I don’t love The Monkees, but the ninth best band that LA ever birthed? Surely you jest, LA Times.

There’s also the small matter of deciding what a “Los Angeles band” is. Transplants are part of what make “El Ay” what it is, and bands flock to the city from far and wide. To that end, I have compiled a list of a dozen bands that take the Los Angeles experience and give it a sound and an image. Let the complaining begin.

Fans of Heart, the rawk band led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, fall into one of two categories: (1) those who dig the band’s fat rock licks from the 70s and lost interest after 1982’s underwhelming Private Audition, and (2) those who think that after 1982’s disappointing Private Audition the band was just getting started and who actually prefer the more embarrassing, slick, and power-ballad-heavy material to come. Naturally, I fall into the latter category, because guitars and feathered hair are nice, but exploding pianos and Aquanet are better.

This Heart-fan dichotomy was illustrated powerfully last year at karaoke night at Matchless bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Surely you’ve heard about what happened. It was a battle royale between the old school and the, uh, new old school, and boy was it a shitstorm. For my song I chose “Alone,” the desperate power ballad to end all desperate power ballads, and I sang the f*ck out of it.

 

I am freaking right out.

The news is coming at me from so many directions, I can hardly absorb any of it. It’s like drinking water from a fire hose. As soon as one story runs, three more update, clarify, and supplement it.

And no, the subject is very likely not who you think it is.

It’s Christina Aguilera.

You see, she had too much to drink.

There is a saying.

It’s a saying I wasn’t aware of until a couple of days ago, but apparently it’s a saying nevertheless:

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who love Neil Diamond and those who don’t know they love Neil Diamond.

In fact, I discovered, the original quote comes from the movie What About Bob, in which the title character attributes the failure of his would-be marriage to his ex-fiancee’s love for Neil Diamond.  He resolves:  “There are two types of people in the world: Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t.”

I prefer the other one.

Some of you may have read my post about the fanzine I put out many years ago. With the recent death of one of my musical heroes, Don Van Vliet, also known as Captain Beefheart, I went back into the zine vault to find an article I’d written somewhere in the nineties about the Captain. It was inspired by a letter I’d received slamming my review of the twistedly brilliant Trout Mask Replica. The letter, written by one Gary Detroit, insisted “Beefheart sucks!” It said “that album blows!” It said “music should totally just rock. That’s why it’s called rock! This is a bunch of noise!” Finally, it said “Fuck you, art rock faggot!”

Below is my response to Gary Detroit, and also to his letter. Of course, if I were writing it now, I’d take out any number of things, edit it and smooth it over. I understand a lot more about Beefheart, and music in general, than I did back then. But it seemed somehow more in keeping with honoring Don’s passing if I just let it run the way it did originally. He was, after all, an exemplar of making the exacting sound like improvisation, embracing imperfection, and finding a way to play between the notes.

Derk Richardson of the San Francisco Chronicle has described the band’s sound as “the heavy sadness of Townes Van Zandt, the light pop concision of Buddy Holly, the tuneful jangle of the Beatles, [and] the raw energy of the Ramones.” Hailing from Concord, North Carolina, the Avett Brothers have burst onto the music scene with the release of their acclaimed 2009 album, I and Love and You, and there’s no looking back.

I had the fortunate opportunity to speak with Seth Avett of the band to discuss—among other things—this very album, their recent rise in popularity, and whether or not beard envy was involved when working with the man himself: Rick Rubin. Enjoy.

Note to iSelf

By J.S. Breukelaar

Salute

Must update the nano. All my music’s on my classic, but you can’t run with a classic, so the nano has my running playlist on it. Also, it seems, last year’s Halloween Party list, and I’m sorry, but “Monster Mash” just won’t get me off today. Neither, for some reason will Pantera’s “Cowboys from hell.” Must be all the glittering water and sunlight. ‘High noon, your doom’ just doesn’t feel right.

It’s that time of the week, time for me and my beat-up ASICS to hit the road. Not the track or the treadmill, just some good old asphalt. The Sydney Bay run is a short, hard run and you don’t want to over-think it. The terrain is basically flat apart from a two-story flight of steps leading up to the nasty Iron Cove Bridge.

For the last few months, everything obscure that has popped into my mind has found its way into reality.A conversation about an old neighbor from twenty five years ago led to an unsolicited email in my Inbox from that neighbor’s son a few days later.When I couldn’t remember my third grade teacher’s name, I asked my Mom, who promptly ran into her in a mall parking lot a week after our conversation.I think of things, and they happen.

Before I got on the plane for the Middle East this past week, Joe Daly sent me a playlist for my iPod – a playlist that included Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules (my absolute favorite track from the Dio-era Sabbath).In the spirit of the song I started a Facebook conversation taking pot shots at the singer on another friend’s page.I’ve never disliked Dio, but it is hard to deny that he is easy to make fun of.And so we did.As a few of us took turns skewing his lyrics, I had to listen to more and more of his music for research, and as I did so, I found myself singing it in my head.Holy Diver, Man on the Silver Mountain, Rainbow in the Dark… it was the soundtrack as I trekked through the desert all week.