Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm done with Life.

Seriously, I am listening to music with whole new ears thanks to this book.  I don't know how you did it Keith, but damn, can you put the passion of music into someone.  Thank you.   I might've learned more about music and music history from Keith Richards in these 550 pages than I have in a lifetime of listening to it.  I finished the book the other day, and have been thinking about it constantly ever since.  Part of me wants to start reading it again right now, but a bigger part of me wants to spend a little more time really getting into some of the artists that he talks a lot about, and even a little more familiar with the Stones whole catalogue, and then I want to read it again.

It's funny, it's revealing, it's insightful, it's bitchy, it's unbelievable at times.  Keith has this opinion of himself that is just so skewed - he's in some ways amazingly humble, but in some ways, just so sure of himself and so positive that he is levitating above it all, it's unbelievable.  Arrested again?  Just pull some of that merchandise and a few of those albums out of the trunk, sign it all, pose for some pictures with the cops, and be on your way.  No worries.  It's hilarious at times, just how out of touch with everyone else's reality he seems to be, and in some ways has been, for 40+ years of his life.  But then he'll talk about his family, or his feelings on friendship, or his belief of what heaven and hell are like, and he comes drifting back down to earth.  Never more so than when he talks about playing in to the image that he created for himself back in the 60s - with both a sort of regret that maybe he lost a little of himself to the image, while at the same talking about himself as a latter-day folk hero :

"They imagined me, they made me, the folks out there created this folk hero.  Bless their hearts.  And I'll do the best I can to fulfill their needs.  They're wishing me to do things that they can't.  They've got to do this job, they've got this life, they're an insurance salesman ... but at the same time, inside of them is a raging Keith Richards."
Everybody's got a little Keith in them, then?  The messed up thing is how you find yourself agreeing with him.  Yes, Keith, yes, I believe everyone does have a little of you in them, and thank you sir, for allowing us all to live vicariously through you for all these years.  It's all very tongue-in-cheek, I think.  The whole of the book comes across as this wink and a nudge, stream of consciousness sort of diatribe.  It's really conversational, like you're just hanging out listening to Keith Richards tell you stories.  And in that way, it was really hard to put down - he has some amazing stories.  And he's really quite funny.  But at the same time, there really is a strong and serious sense of humility about him.  He's humbled to his core by his whole life and his whole career, it seems, although he would never come right out and say that.  But you get the feeling that through four decades of the Stones just getting bigger and bigger and bigger, Keith has never ceased to be amazed by what he was actually getting paid to do, and the doors that it all opened for him.  He talks endlessly about getting to play with some of his heroes, and how awestruck he still gets with the fact that some of them want to play with him, and it's that sort of insight that make this book such a great read.

What really had me well and truly hooked on this book so hard, though, is his passion for music.  Through and through, music is in his soul, and it shows.  From start to finish, his passion for music is bleeding off every page.  Learning some of these neat little details about the origins of some of these songs was really interesting for me too - Keith wrote the beginnings of "Satisfaction" in his sleep; "Happy" took 4 hours from when it didn't exist to when it was recorded and done, and KR was the only actual member of the band playing on it.  At the same time, it's also just a hilarious collection of Keith sitting around shooting the shit kind of stories.  His humor is great - dry, witty - I was laughing out loud a lot.  A few of my favorite lines:

On the Stones' decision to put out a cover of Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster": "In our arrogance at the time, we wanted to make a statement.  'I am the little red rooster/Too lazy to crow for day.' See if you can get that to the top of the charts, motherfucker.  Song about a chicken."

In the midst of a multiple-page rant about Mick, on the topic of Mick's dance lessons:  "We know the minute he's going plastic.  Shit, Charlie and I have been watching that ass for forty-odd years; we know when the moneymaker's shaking and when it's being told what to do."

You can feel the real brotherly love between Keith and Mick, though.  Despite all of the badmouthing, there's still a deep-seeded sense of respect and love when Keith talks about Mick, and you get the feeling that they are very much like brothers - the seem to be so, so, so alike in so many ways that keep them together forever, but at the same time, they have really unique goals and drives and interests that push them apart.  It's almost sweet.

Like I said, reading this has really expanded my choices of music, lately.  I had heard of a lot of the old stuff that Keith cites as influences, but I hadn't really listened to a lot of it, if you know what I mean.  Chuck Berry, for example.  Everyone knows Chuck Berry, Johnnie B Goode and all of that, but I never really paid much attention to his music, you know?   I've always had a really healthy respect for BB King and John Lee Hooker, as another example, but again, I've never seriously listened to all their stuff.  But lately I have been, and I feel like I'm making up for years and years of not listening to it.   And I've looked into a lot of the stuff that I wasn't familiar with, and I'm really enjoying most of that too.  Seriously, it's been like a little bit of a music education for me, and I love that.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I really and truly loved this book.  I'm adding it to my list of favorites, and I will forever recommend it to pretty much anyone who will listen.

** If you're interested, here's the link to my 1/2 way through book review of Life.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ben Harper - Diamons on the Inside

It's retro album review time again!  This time I'm listening to Ben Harper's 2003 offering, Diamonds on the Inside.

This is a really, really good album.  Just the right mix of blues and funk, each song has the feeling and emotion to evoke something inside of each of us.  The album starts out stronger than it finishes, in my opinion, but that last track makes my heart hurt, it's so sweet and sad.

The title track is just so, so good.  I feel like the past week or so, I just can't get enough of it.  I've always loved this song, and it's what made me pick up the album in the first place so many years ago, but I feel like I'm only just now rediscovering how great the whole album is.  There's something a little gospel-soul-revival about the album at times, and it's great.  But this song!  You just want to crank it up on a sunny day, and smile and sing along.  And maybe sway a little.  Reading Keith Richards' book has had a profound effect on my music tastes and the way that I listen to music lately, and in my hunt for more blues and R&B in my iPod, I put this album on the other day.  Lately, I find that I'm focusing more on the roll and less on the rock (Thanks, Keef).  Some standout songs:

With My Own Two Hands - I've somehow gotten more familiar and comfortable with the Ben Harper/Jack Johnson slow, lullaby-esque duet version of this track, and allowed myself to forget how cool this album version is.  A little reggae rhythm, a little bluesy guitar - it strikes just the right chord.  This totally makes me want to dance, while the slowed down version is such a sweet lullaby.  A good tune overall.
When It's Good - I feel like this is a classic old blues song rather than a BH original, but maybe that just goes to say how good Mr. Harper is.  He's an old soul, I reckon.  Or maybe it is an old song.  I'm not entirely sure.  I just feel like I can hear an older, rougher version of this playing in my head whenever I listen to this song.  The version in my head is playing on vinyl, and was recorded on 8-track or something.  Maybe at Muscle Shoals.  I don't even know - I feel that way about 1/2 of this album, I think.  This is tied with the title track for my favorite on the album.

Brown Eyed Blues - It's killing me that I can't currently think if the classic mo-town song that this reminds me of.  But I can't think of the damn song.  Either way, this song has a great, funky feel to it, and there are some cool riffs in here.  It really does have sort of a cool mo-town feel to it.  
Touch From Your Lust and Temporaty Remedy - Since Keef has me paying more attention to guitar sounds lately, it's worth pointing out how cool the fuzzy guitars on these two tracks sound.  These songs are both a little more rock and have a slightly more modern feel than most of the rest of the album, too.
Bring the Funk -   Ummm, duh - I love the funk. This feels a little like Bushwalla's funk to me.  I guess maybe that's a function of the whole modern funk thing, but I'll just throw it out there again - if you haven't checked out Bushwalla yet, you don't know what you're missing.  If you like Ben Harper, BW will totally do it for you.  Check him out.
So High So Low - I feel like the Black Keys are screaming out of this song at the beginning.  It's just got a really cool, down and dirty sort of feeling to it.  It's a great song, and another one that's a little more rockin than some of the rest of the album.
Amen Omen and Blessed to be a Witness - These are nice little tunes, and this is sort of what I mean about the church-y feeling, I guess, is these few soul tracks the album has got going on.  But church-y lyrics or no, get down to the music, and these are pretty cool tunes.  There's a lot going on with Blessed to be a Witness (more than you pick up at first listen, but give it a few trys), and it all comes together really nice.
She's Only Happy in the Sun - So sweet, but also SO sad.  Like I said at the outset, this song makes my heart hurt.  Pay attention to this one, and it'll really rope you in.  Might be my new favorite lullaby.

I like Ben Harper a lot; new and old, and whoever he's playing with, I seem to always be drawn into his stuff.  I've seen him live with DMB once or twice too, and he puts on a great show live.  Either way, this album has been on heavy rotation this past week or so, so I thought I'd throw something out there in support of it.  If you don't have it, check it out.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class of 2011 - the nominees

Last week, I was checking out the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website for some information about last year's 25th anniversary concerts (which were amazing, by the way - if you have a chance to check out the DVDs, please do it.  There were some amazing performances, and you can watch a bunch of them on YouTube, too).  Anyway, while I was there, I saw that they have listed this year's nominees.  Inductees will be announced "in the coming weeks," according to the site, but here's the list of those nominated:

Alice Cooper
Beastie Boys
Bon Jovi
Neil Diamond
Dr. John
J. Geils Band
LL Cool J
Darlene Love
Laura Nyro
Donna Summer
Joe Tex
Tom Waits
Chuck Willis
The norm of how many make it in each year seems to have grown in the past few years, with a whopping 11 inductees last year (one of which was not the Red Hot Chili Peppers, much to my chagrin, and I'm sorry, but if Bon Jovi gets into the Hall of Fame before RHCP, something is tragically wrong with the universe).  I confess to not knowing who a couple of these artists were when I first saw the list, and even on learning a little more about them all, I'm still unsure what a couple of them doing on the list.  But I confess to having not listened to all of their music as of the time of this writing, or even to have listened very objectively to the couple of tracks I did check out.  Either way, that's the case every year for me when I see the nominees list, but such is life.  That's why I'm not on the Hall of Fame board, I guess.  

If I'm being honest, I don't think the Beasties and LL will go in the same year.  I'd love to see it, but I think the Beasties make it in first.  I predict Dr. John and Tom Waits both being inducted this year.  I'm sort of surprised that Neil Diamond's not in yet, so I pick him, too.  But after that, it's anyone guess - Chic?  Donna Summer?  J.Geils? Alice Cooper?  I like all of their chances.  Ditto for Joe Tex and Donovan.  I hate to sound like a hater, but I give Bon Jovi a big thumbs down.  Sorry New Jersey.

So what do you think, dear readers, who will make the final cut?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Change in Terms?

I got one of those "change in terms" letters in the mail from the bank that owns one of my big-box store credit cards.  As I was walking over to throw it in the recycle bag, I noticed that the spanish translation of it had one more paragraph than the english version.  So, with my minimal Spanish-fluency equivalency ability, I tried to figure out what it said.  And I did it!  And I'm surprised by what it says, but at the same time, I want to start using it on any Spanish-translations that we have to do for work.  Here's what it said (I have no idea how to make my computer type in Spanish, so please pardon my leaving off all of the accents or whatever - you'll still get the point, I think):

La traduccion al espanol de este documento sirve unicamente como referencia.  De haber alguna discrepancia entre este traduccion y el documento original en ingles, se usara la version en ingles.

Now, if you read Spanish, wonderful, you're all caught up.  If not, let me give you my rough translation: The Spanish translation of this document serves only as a reference.  If there are any discrepancies between this document and the original in English, use the version in English.

So, my question and the source of my slight amazement is the fact that, if you can't read in English, how the fuck are you supposed to be able to tell if there are any discrepancies?  You would do what I just did, and see that the approximately-the-same sized paragraphs match up along the documents, and the same paragraphs are emboldened, you'd see that the dates and amounts and numbers all match between the two, and you would move on.  And really, That's all I read in English anyway - what are late fees being raised by, and for what amount of balance, and when is this happening.  Those are pretty much numbers and a few big, bold words.  I didn't read a lick of the text on this letter. So I guess it doesn't really matter if you can't read the English version, as long as you can check that they both have the same numbers and all that, but still.  And yet, as I said, when we do public notice documents at work, and they have to be translated in Spanish, I want to start adding this language to those documents.  I'm such an effing lawyer.  Eeew.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built

This was an installment of American Masters that I caught on PBS a month or so ago, and which has stuck with me ever since.  I missed the beginning, but I caught the last hour and fifteen minutes or so, just by chance as I was flipping past and finally saw something on television that was actually about music.  I need to re-watch it from the beginning.  I don't have much love for major record labels these days, but I respect that you needed them to make things happen back in the day.  Without proper recording and distribution, not to mention the networking and marketing that labels provided back in the day, we wouldn't have the music that we have today.  Just for up-and-coming artists to be exposed to other artists - it served an important role that the internet has now come to replace in spades.  Anyway, this was an absolutely excellent documentary about Ahmet Ertegun, the co-founder of Atlantic Records in 1947.  He was one of the rare breed, then as much as now I'm sad to say, that was really and truly into it for the music.  Because of that, he drew so much real and amazing talent to that label, at such an important time in music history.  He was personally responsible for getting Eric Clapton into the studio with Aretha Franklin.  He negotiated the deal that brought the Stones indie label into contract with Atlantic, even though it paid them less dough than what they could've had with some other labels - because everyone involved cared more about the music than the cash.  He "discovered" Led Zeppelin.  He wrote Mess Around for Ray Charles.  I mean, the man is responsible for SO MANY amazing things that have happened in music history, and this documentary about him and Atlantic Records was really, really well done and really interesting.  If you're looking to watch something engaging, about some really pivotal moments in music recording history, or just interested in learning some more about a genuine, great guy who truly cared about the music and about making some amazing music happen, definitely check this out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

1/2 way through book review - Life by Keith Richards

This is one of those books where I can't stop thinking about it, and I even want to be sitting at the computer as I'm reading it, in order to look up and learn more about what I'm reading.  And it's all I want to talk about, much to the chagrin of those around me.  And I'm only about 1/2 way through.  And part of me doesn't want it to end.  So that's why I have this blog.

One day last week, I woke up from the weirdest dream about the Stones, and about Keith in particular.  I'm SO not getting into that right now, but suffice it to say, Gimme Shelter was stuck in my head when I woke up that morning.  I was in the middle of reading The American by Martin Booth at the time, but over the course of listening to the Stones all day at work, I quickly decided that I wouldn't be reading that anymore, because Keith Richards' new autobiography, Life, had been subliminally working its way into my dreams, screaming to be read.  It had been on my shelf for only about three days before this happened.  Severe.  And there's a reason: it's SO GOOD.

Seriously, though, I'm awestruck by the depth and passion of Keith's love of music.  And I know that he's an artist and a songwriter, but I'm also loving the way that he expresses himself.  The writing is so conversational that I sometimes find the book hard to put down.  He goes off on these tangents and asides, and it's just wonderful to read.  From the very start, I've been rebuilding the roots of my appreciation for music through this book.  Most of what I've been looking up as I read has been some of the music that he cites as influences, and I've been ordering CDs from the library like mad this week.  Jimmy Reed.  Chuck Berry.  John Lee Hooker.  B.B. King.  I've been listening to the Muddy Waters albums that I already owned a lot, and to Big Al Carson covering a lot of classic blues.  Blues and R&B has pretty much been my MO for the past week.  And lots of the Stones, of course. 

I've said before how much I think knowing the background to what you're listening to gives you a whole new appreciation, and this is like that on crack.  I even like the Stones a ton more now that I ever used to, which was bound to happen, but I was already a pretty big fan.  I've always been a fan, but this is ridiculous.  Did you know Keith wrote the main structure of "Satisfaction" in his sleep?  Literally.  He used to sleep with his guitar and with a tape deck by his bed, and he woke up in the morning to see the tape was full - played it back and there was "Satisfaction" plus about 40 minutes of him snoring.  I also just learned the background to "Ruby Tuesday," and now that song kind of breaks my heart.  And the pictures in the book are great.  Turns out Keith was pretty hot back in the day.  Maybe that's just me.

I don't know.  This is me just about half way through reading this brick of a book.  And while I'm finding it hard to put down and I just want to devour the whole thing, I also don't really want it to end.  More to come when I finally finish it.