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In Which I’m Listening To A Lot Of Old Rockabilly – Mike McAlister

April 28th, 2016 No comments

I don't dig it

I’m driving much shorter distances and less frequently lately which effectively derails my 3 year streak of obsessively listening to audio books. I’m a little bit sad about that but not enough to want to go back to the stress and work load I had previously. Even with SiriusXM, I don’t have much in common with radio. I guess that there’s no room with all James Taylor and Elvis stations to host a free-form channel. Not that there’s anything wrong with listening to every single live performance Sweet Baby James ever recorded. And not to say that I don’t get into genre grooves.

Speaking of which…

I stumbled across a 10-CD set called Nasty Rockabilly recently which kept me company over the past several weeks. As a history buff and a cultural history buff, at that, I find old music fascinating, the more obscure the better. The songs that didn’t make it, didn’t make it for a multitude of reasons. In many cases, the glut of that new-fangled “rock and rock” music provided the greatest barrier to entry. With so many diamonds like Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and the ubiquitous Elvis, shining out from some shitty little town in Arkansas or Montana proved nigh impossible even if you were a local celebrity. And a lot of the performers on this compilation don’t appear to have reached that height. I only recognized Link Wray immediately. Almost nothing is known about Mike McAlister.

I want to highlight some of the songs of note here over the next bit of time. These songs grabbed my attention for one reason or another – either they rocked, had a cool hook, whored themselves shamelessly to exploit the trend, outright sucked or, in the case of I Don’t Dig It, made me scratch my head.

Given there’s no songwriting credit, I assume that Mike wrote this tune. And if you take the text as a psychological profile…don’t date this guy…even in the 50’s. The songs strikes me a musical cognitive dissonance. Early rock and roll garnered a reputation Satan’s music partially due to its direct descendancy from “race music“. The jungle beat forced normally placid, church-going white children to fornicate like savages. It also brought about a resurgence of the drag king movement with girls…not dressing like girls.

tomboy

Given the loose sexual morals of rock and roll (and, remember, the original Tutti Frutti was about butt sex), finding a song decrying your girlfriend’s dress code seems an odd choice of subject.

You’re a real gone gal in your Sunday best
But when you go home, baby, you change to a mess
I don’t dig it
I don’t dig it
It ain’t right

As with most control freaks, it’s not about the actual issue. It goes deeper. And it’s about sex or the lack thereof. The chronology and logic of the song confuses me. Here’s two of the couplets in order.

When you give me a date, I jump for joy
But when I pick you up, baby, you look like a boy

Well, you tell me, pretty baby, I’m the only one who rates
But all I get from you is a 13th date

Notice anything weird? Swap those two lines and you get a clearer picture. Mike’s gone out with this chick at least twelve times. Every time he’s gone out with her she’s looked like a boy and hasn’t put out. Mike must really want to nail her to keep going back to an obviously dry well. The takeaway, then, is not how she dresses. He uses that excuse to get shame her into a dress that he can slip his hand under. Because Mike thinks if he can just get her started, she’ll be up for some Tutti Frutti.

Ironically, wearing jeans promotes abstinence more effectively than skirts providing a greater…well…barrier to entry.

Check out the short article referencing Mike and Hob Nob records. This is the area The Band came from.

Categories: Media, Music, Rockabilly Tags:

In Which White People Can’t Keep Their Grubby Mitts Off Anything

March 1st, 2013 No comments

IMG_1725

Anti-Rock: The Opposition To Rock ‘n’ Roll isn’t, per se, about how white people stole rock and roll from the blacks who created it but the theme runs strong through the book. As with most things American, the original art form scares the living bejesus out of John and Mary Whitebread so steps must be taken to either kill it or to suck out what makes it great. I mean, really? Pat Boone??

The lobotomizing of rock began when white men started fraternizing with the help. This isn’t a bad thing but, sadly, rather than hang out at the help’s houses they grab their food and anything that’s not nailed down and take it to our own houses where the help is not welcome. It’s not that they wouldn’t invite them into their  homes but…ya know…society is so cruel and maybe one day that will change but…until then, keep your eyes on the prize, proud, noble, black people!

Public Enemy got into a shitload of trouble with the lyric

Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant, shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother fuck him and John Wayne

But this is what they talking about.

“HUH? Elvis Presley didn’t write Hound Dog?”

No. No, he didn’t.

“But Elvis was a champion of black music! He loved black people!!”

I’ve heard arguments that Elvis did black people a lot of good by stealing songs from black people. I think Big Mama Thorton would disagree with that. Again, back to Public Enemy

Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps

The plot goes like this – you get white people “discovering” rock and roll. The parents get outraged over their kids listening to “nigger music” even if it’s performed by white people. The “good music” industry tries to literally kill rock and roll but, in the end, it’s too profitable so they allow it to live.

Kind of.

What they actually do is take Little Richard, straighten his hair, bleach him white, put a suit on him and nail his feet to the floor so he can’t move. Then they attach their names to the songs he wrote and take his money. It’s enough to make you quit rock and roll. Which Little Richard did for a time.

More insidiously, you replace Alan Freed, who truly loved rock and roll and played the original black versions of songs, with some smiling zombie like Dick Clark. This industry did this on purpose and Dick Clark knew what he was doing. The industry invented a payola scandal and pinned the blame of Freed. Payola, of course, existed well before rock and roll and Clark took his fair share of it. But, not so oddly, Congressional hearings at the time believed Clark when he shunted away owning a stake in the music he was pushing as simply “promotion” and condemned Freed for accepting money from the industry that was behind his own prosecution.

Clark came away smelling like a rose because he was so boring and drenched in industry-approved deodorant that his shit literally didn’t stink. The government continued to hound Freed until he drank himself to death.

Read that again – “The GOVERNMENT continued to hound Freed until he drank himself to death.

Yes, the government. Freed spent his last years simply trying to cobble together a living as the IRS continue to break down his door demanding back taxes on the over-inflated amount of payola they accused him of taking.

Obviously, Dick Clark won because now we have Justin Beiber.

But the extent of the victory, the sheer Genghis Khan devastation of rock may shock  you and, hopefully, make you weep.

Rock and Roll started as black music. Budding white rock and roll bands knew this, covered the originals and sometimes did a great job. But what’s the end effect? I did a very unscientific poll with my Facebook friend asking, “When you think of rock and roll, who or what band first pops into your head?”

With the exception of two people, everyone thought of a white band. There was one black guy that said Jimi Hendrix and a white woman that said Chuck Berry.

Such is the extent of the theft of rock and roll that black rockers like Lenny Kravitz, Fishbone and Living Color prove the exception rather than the rule. And, to my shame, when Lenny Kravitz first came on the scene, my first thought (and I wasn’t alone) was, “black people don’t play rock and roll! What the fuck?”.

While this book focuses on rock and roll, the pattern shows itself in jazz. How do you go from Louis Armstrong to Glen Miller? When you hear “jazz” what first pops into your head?

Thus far, rap/hip hop seems to have broken this pattern. But let’s remember it took MTV seven full years to recognize rap and, if I recall, Blondie’s horrible “Rapture” got play before actual rap music did. But despite the Beastie Boys, Vanilla Ice and Eminem, rap manages to keep it roots intact.

So maybe that’s progress.

In Which Country Music Isn’t As Moral As You’re Led To Believe

August 5th, 2011 No comments

I’m not ashamed to say I like country music.  In my 80’s skinny tie why the HELL isn’t everyone listening to Laurie Anderson days I wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to country music. Or polka. Or any number of genres not deemed hip by the small circle of tastemakers I hung out with. A great part of my disdain for country music stemmed from my disdain for the people who listened to it – redneck, racist assholes chomping at the bit to tell me that if God didn’t kick my ass, they would. Add to this that Western NY State at that time found itself in the death grip of the Country Rock debacle and circle closed itself.

It was a tough stereotype to push through. I don’t care for organized religion, much less one based on infanticide. By logical extension, I’m not going to care much for their music.

We don’t smoke marihuana in Muskogee/We don’t take our trips on LSD

So, you want me to try your God but you won’t try mine? That seems unfair.

Hank Williams Sr. prodded me along towards not snapping the radio off at the sound of a steel guitar. Driving through South Boston with some uber-cool actress I was doing a show with, her mixtape did a 180 and Hank tweeted in tweedily.

Comb your hair and paint and powder you act proud and I’ll act prouder
You sing loud and I’ll sing louder tonight we’re settin’ the woods on fire

I don’t care how jaded you portray yourself as, the song blasts the hell out of any wall of practiced ennui with sonic waves joy and happiness.  And, since the first one’s free, I went out and bought a bunch of him a few weeks later. Still, it didn’t turn me into a Country fan. Just a Hank Williams fan.

The next milepost turned out to be Ray Charles, of all people. Ray Charles shocked his friends and admirers with his love of Country music. That’s right – one of the most soulful men on the planet, the man responsible for turning Gospel into R&B and a pretty decent heroin addict, too, had a major fondness for redneck music.  When asked why he responded with awe, “the stories, man! Listen to the stories.”

That’s the key to country music – the stories. No other genre depends so heavily on first person narration of a story line. “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” is told by a witness, not a participant. George Jones’  A Good Year For The Roses throws you head first into the end of a crumbling marriage and doesn’t care how uncomfortable you get

After three full years of marriage,
It’s the first time that you haven’t made the bed
I guess the reason we’re not talking,
There’s so little left to say we haven’t said
While a million thoughts go racing through my mind
I find I haven’t said a word
From the bedroom the familiar sound
Of a baby’s crying goes unheard

That verse alone ought to disabuse you of the notion that country songs are simplistic. Kick in the chorus and you’re talking  a major artistic triumph.

What a good year for the roses
Many blooms still linger there
The lawn could stand another mowing
Funny I don’t even care
As you turn to walk away
As the door behind you closes
The only thing I have to say
It’s been a good year for the roses

This is John Q. Public watching his wife walk out the door, leaving him with the kid and the only metaphor he can use to process it with is the state of his yard. Country? Sounds pretty suburban to me.

The drama and angst of A Good Year For The Roses increases when you realize that he gives no cause for the break up.  It doesn’t get more bare-bones existential than that.  There is no path to redemption. No deus ex machina. In fact, no religion at all, monotheistic Christian OR polytheistic Greek.

Once you realize it’s the “the stories, man, the stories” only then can you start to dig deep enough to realize that the best country music is almost totally devoid of even the hint of God or redemption through his grace. George Jones is fucked.  How’d he get that way? Doesn’t matter. Will he get better? Doesn’t matter. Will his prayer group bring over a casserole later tonight? Probably not.  For the foreseeable future it’s him and the kid and an awful lot of alcohol.

This is mainstream Country.  Or was before somebody got the bad idea that country-pop would be a good idea. The next thing you know, content went rocketing out the window like so many of Paul McCartney’s “silly love songs”. The fact is from the Carter Family onward, country music’s favorite topic was pain without redemption.

Another classic example – The Banks of the Ohio which tells the charming story of a guy whose girlfriend turns down his proposal of marriage so he kills her. The end.

I took her by her pretty white hand
I let her down that bank of sand
I pushed her in where she would drown
Lord, I saw her as she floated down

Returning home about twelve or one
Thinking “Lord, what a deed I’ve done?”
I killed the girl I love, you see
Because she would not marry me

This song was a HUGE hit. Seriously. Massively huge.

In many cases, the flower of Southern womanhood is, was and continues to be deflowered at an alarming rate. Frequently because they really just want to get laid like Kitty Welles does in I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight.

Another’s arms tomorrow
May hold him oh so tight
Tho’ there may be tears tomorrow
I’ll be all smiles tonight

Lynn Anderson plumbs the depths of utter drunken whoredom in Tell Me A Lie. Lynn the barfly, perches (or rather slouches) on the bar stool waiting for anything in a pair of trousers to take her home.

Tell me a lie say I look familiar though I know that you don’t even know my name
Tell me a lie say you just got into town
Even though I’ve seen you here before just hangin’ round
Tell me a lie say you’re not a married man
Even though I saw you slip off your weddin’ band
Tell me a lie say you got no place to stay
You’ll be glad to drop me off cause it’s on your way

Remember – when Sarah Palin talks about the good old days and “real Americans” these are the songs they flocked to. Songs of drunkenness, sexual depravity and unconscionable violence. And if . those very un-Christian (and therefore un-American) concepts aren’t good/bad enough, how about I’ve Never Loved Anyone More from The Best of Lynn Anderson? A haunting song in which she tells the one true love of her life that even though she found some guy she can tolerate, she’ll never love anyone more than him..aka – the guy she’s not married to.

Family values. What are they? Apparently, since I’ve stayed married to the same woman for twenty years and we’ve raised two beautiful kids that aren’t drug addicts, alcoholics, in juvie or had abortions my opinions about them don’t matter. We must be doing something wrong. Apparently because I listen to songs that out right say “I want to fuck you like an animal” rather than “I’ll be all smiles to tonight” I’m a bad person. It doesn’t take much extrapolation to see that those two lyrics mean pretty much the same thing. Is Kitty Welles smiling because she had very pleasant sex and got spooned afterward or because she had an earth shattering orgasm that shook the china off the shelves?

I’m guessing the latter. I’m guessing she took the Lord’s name in vain as she came.

God bless America.

Categories: Country, Music Tags:

In Which Xmas Is The Time For Being Judgmental

December 17th, 2009 No comments

Round 5 of The Last Temptation of Christmas ended in yet another tie, ensuring that round 6 must take place.

For those not in the know, The Last Temptation of Christmas is a battle of the Christmas songs. It works like this

Derek Gerry plays some crappy Christmas song

I play a better one

Robby Roadsteamer and Tony Moschetto decide which song is better.

Given the fact that we’ve tied for three years running, obviously they are not the best judges.

Still – it’s a helluva a lot of fun!

The Last Temptation of Christmas Round 5