Sunday, December 25, 2011

Authorities Have Been Notified

From "Walter Scott's Personality Parade" in today's Parade magazine: "Is it true Johnny Depp owns his own island?" - Jeff Swanson, Lake Stevens, Wash.

From "Who's News" in today's USA Weekend: "Is it true Johnny Depp owns his own island?" - Jeff Swanson, Lake Stevens, Wash.

Mr. Swanson, you sure show an unhealthy interest in Johnny Depp's potential ownership of a private island. I can only imagine there have been similar queries submitted to the Straight Dope, MTV News, and Guns & Ammo.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Hardrock Christmas

Merry Christmas from all of us here at Debris Slide! If there's anything that truly captures the spirit of Christmas it's Santa having no need for Joe, but taking him anyway because he loves him so:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


At the recommendation of erstwhile Debris Slider Eric, I recently caught up with the 2006 documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why Did They Give This Movie a Long, Dumb Parenthetical Title?), which was re-released in 2010 with additional found interview footage of Nilsson. I believe it's the latter version that I saw on Netflix. While the film didn't answer my most fundamental question about the man - why did he bill himself as just "Nilsson" rather than "Harry Nilsson"? - it was enlightening nevertheless.

Everyone knows that John Lennon and Ringo Starr spent much of the early 1970s pub-rolling around Los Angeles with Nilsson, but the Beatles actually became big fans after Nilsson's 1966 album Pandemonium Shadow Show. At the press conference introducing Apple, Lennon and Paul McCartney both named Nilsson as their favorite American srtist. Lennon of course later produced Nilsson's 1974 album Pussy Cats, and Ringo was best man at Nilsson's third and final wedding.

One thing I did not know before seeing the movie was that Nilsson did not do live performances - he never toured, and never even performed in concert, near as I could tell. There's a clip in the movie of Nilsson singing on the TV show Playboy After Dark, with luminaries such as Otto Preminger and Norm Crosby gathered round, but that's apparently as close as Harry ever got.

Nilsson was noted as much for his songwriting as for his singing, which made it kind of odd that his first hit single was Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'," which Nilsson took to Number Six in 1969, and his biggest hit was his Number One cover of Badfinger's "Without You," in 1972. He also wrote "One," (he based the opening one-note riff on a busy signal) which Three Dog Night took into the Top Ten in 1969, and took his own composition "Coconut" into the Top Ten in the summer of '72. That's how you know he was an exceptional songwriter, that he could come up with something that so effortlessly resembled an old Jamaican folk song, which I had always assumed it was.

So Nilsson had a Top Ten hit with a cover and with his own song, plus wrote a Top Ten hit for another artist, which is quite the trifecta. Bruce Springsteen did that, with several of his own Top Tens, covers by Manfred Mann's Earth Band ("Blinded by the Light") and the Pointer Sisters ("Fire"), and his live cover of Edwin Starr's "War," which went to Number Eight in 1986. Tommy James sorta did it as well, although he only co-wrote "Mony, Mony." Anyone else?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Q: Are We Not Men? A: He is Neil Young

The great Andy Greene of Rolling Stone took me along to see Devo last night at Irving Plaza in New York City. Devo are his favorite live act, which is a little strange because – well, you don’t know Andy (or maybe you do, in which case: Hi!), but he’s a walking classic-rock encyclopedia with a devastating knowledge of Dylan and Springsteen bootlegs, and he’s spent a lot more time in the back of long black limousines talking with Neil Young than I have, so the idea of him going gaga for guys whose whole thing is taking the individuality out of rock (or at least making a commentary on same), well, it strikes me as a little odd. He's a generation-plus younger, but he's an Ohio spud boy just like them, and never having seen Devo myself — grew up with their records, learned to dance because of them (and the B-52s, and yeah, I know: lame!), but always found them a little off-putting (because, after all, isn’t that what they were going for?) — I wanted to tag along to see what the fuss was.

Thing is, I forgot (or maybe never paid close enough attention to get) that there’s the same warmth and one-of-us sense of community in their crowd that you used to get from a Ramones show. (Ramones had “Pinhead”; Devo had “Mongoloid”; you could argue both were about being outside of society; certainly both became anthems for their audiences, and “gabba gabba hey” is language devolution.) Good show, half split between ‘80s keyboard-driven robo-funk and ‘70s guitar-driven robo-punk. Funny how creepy their retro-futuristic art-movie apocalypto seemed when I was a kid, and how quaint and homey it seems now. (Of course, since lots of it referred to populuxe ‘50s imagery and assembly-line costumes they grew up with, it probably seemed kind of homey to them back in Akron in the ‘70s, but it sure came off as freaky ten years later in the ‘80s in a way the Human League didn’t, even if the Human League came from their own burned-out industrial city – Sheffield, England – and wanted to play around with the same sci-fi notions of dehumanization. And here endeth the digression.) One of the few spontaneous bits of stage patter came when Gerry Casale intro’d “Jocko Homo” by talking about how the plumes of methane that had just been discovered in the Arctic Sea proved that devolution was a reality. True enough, but made me realize just how old-school protesty these retro-futurists always were.

Andy pointed out that Devo started out at Kent State University, and that they were there during the shootings, along with Chrissie Hynde. This I knew. I didn’t know that Devo had come up with the phrase “rust never sleeps” or that they’d appeared in a 1982 Neil Young movie called Human Highway. But while we’re talking Ohio and Neil Young connections, does anyone ever really talk about Young’s sci-fi apocalypto bent? Maybe the burned-out basement he’s holed up in during “After the Goldrush” is just a hippie crash pad, and maybe the knights in the first verse and the silver spaceships loading up on kids and silver seeds in the last verse are just drug-fueled visions, but hearing it in the suburbs without the aid of tie-dye or illegal substances, all that stuff sure made me wonder just what kind of machines Mother Nature was on the run from, and who was driving them. That kind of question comes up a lot in Neil Young songs. Like what’s with those thrashers more than two lanes wide bearing down on the people planting their crops by the light of the moon in “Thrasher,” and why do you have to go to where the pavement turns into sand to get away from them? And is it just me, or does this remind anyone else of Cormac McCarthy? And even though I know the answer to this one, just asking: is the human highway one we’re all traveling, or is it [cue Twilight Zone theme music] a highway made out of humans?

Anyway, Human Highway, directed by Young, co-starring Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn and Dennis Hopper, who cut one of Sally Kirkland’s tendons with a knife he was playing around with during the filming. The clip above of Devo playing “Hey Hey My My” with Young is freaking amazing. For one thing, Devo is a way better rhythm section than Crazy Horse (who tend to thud more than they gallop). For another, Devo is doing their industrial alienation thing and Young is doing his hippie hurricane thing and each one give the other a whole new kind of gas-gas-gas. And the way Young wigs out at the end just banging and clanging makes his tour with Sonic Youth nine years later seem a whole lot more sensible. Essential stuff, and I’d never seen it before.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

John Lennon Starts Over

In the summer of 1980, after five years as Mr. Mom, John Lennon sailed from the tip of Long Island to Bermuda, helping to pilot the boat along the way, with the intention of recording some demos that would get him back into the music business. After six days at sea, Lennon arrived in Hamilton, picked up a guitar, and set to work. "I was so centered after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos," he said later, "and all these songs came!" He spent most of July in Bermuda - with his son Sean, although his wife wasn't present - writing songs.

Lennon returned to New York at the end of July, and on August 4th, he went into the studio to start officially recording. Producer Jack Douglas brought along some friends to help with the track "I'm Losing You" - Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos. They were stoked - Nielsen made it to the session even though his wife had given birth that morning - but Mrs. Lennon was not happy, and the song was eventually redone with session musicians. Douglas soon learned that it was best to keep the Lennons apart, even though the album was considered a collaboration by the two of them. For most of the sessions, Yoko did her recording in the afternoon, with John not showing up till after 7:00 p.m.

On the last day of rehearsals, John brought in a new song called "Starting Over." “I was listening to some Roy Orbison and I thought this would be kind of like a Roy thing," Lennon said. The song was instantly identified as the album's first single, which meant they needed to get it done first. The opening sound was provided by a Tibetan wishing bell that Lennon kept at his home. At the last second, they added "(Just Like)" to the title in order to differentiate the song from a new Tammy Wynette single called "Starting Over."

"(Just Like) Starting Over" was released as a single on October 24, 1980, fifteen days after Lennon turned forty. It was Lennon's first single since the cover of "Stand by Me" he had put out in the spring of 1975. A week later, "(Just Like) Starting Over" made the Billboard Top Forty, and by December 8, it had reached Number Three on the charts. After Lennon's tragic murder, it moved into the Number One slot on the charts as of the week of December 27, displacing Kenny Rogers' "Lady." "(Just Like) Starting Over" would stay on top for five weeks.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Trivial Notes

Toni Tennille provided backing vocals for pink Floyd's album The Wall. The Captain was nowhere in sight.

"Weird Al" Yankovic released a single called "Christmas at Ground Zero," way back in 1986.

Lindsey Buckingham wrote nine of the songs on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album; Stevie Nicks wrote five. Still, Stevie's songs take up more of the original album's running time than Lindsey's.

Donovan and the Beastie Boys are both going to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame next year, which means that the Beasties' King Ad Rock will be forced to share a stage with his ex-father-in-law. Awkward! I'll have much more on the Class of 2012 shortly.


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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mazel Tov to the Baby Jesus!

Top Ten Christmas Albums by Jewish Artists:

10. Christmas Sing-Along With Mitch, by Mitch Miller
9. Miracles: The Holiday Album, by Kenny G
8. Christmas With Eddie Fisher, by Eddie Fisher
7. Barenaked for the Holidays, by Barenaked Ladies
6. Christmas Is Almost Here, by Carly Simon
5. In the Swing of Christmas, by Barry Manilow
4. A Cherry Cherry Christmas, by Neil Diamond
3. A Christmas Album, by Barbra Streisand
2. Christmas in the Heart, by Bob Dylan
1. A Christmas Gift for You, by Phil Spector