Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Since I'm on my Darlene Love Train (pun intended), I'm posting a few photos from her interview with Brian Gari yesterday at Barnes and Noble.  She was promoting the re-release of her book, My Name is Love.  Brian enhanced the interview by bringing audio clips (The Blossoms first recording, Stumble and FallVickki Carr's version of He's A Rebel) and video clips (Shindig).  Loved the clip of her performing with the Righteous Brothers.  Darlene closed the evening with a performance of Lean On Me

The Life Of A Very Clean Tramp

--> I love a racket.  I love it when it seems like a group is slipping in and out of phase, when something lags and then slides into a pocket, like hitting the number on a roulette wheel, a clatter, like the sound of the Johnny Burnette trio, like galloping horses’ hooves.  It’s like a baby learning how to walk, or a little bird just barely avoiding a crash to the dirt, or two kids losing their virginity.  It’s awkward but it’s riveting and uplifting and funny.  In a way it’s the aural representation of that feeling the makes the first time people feel the possibilities of rock and roll music in themselves the benchmark of hope and freedom and euphoria.
               -Richard Hell  from I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp

It’s important to know what excited Richard Hell. It leads to a clearer picture of his life until age 34, as he lays it out in his autobiography.   He followed that quote by saying he and friend/fellow Television bandmate Tom Verlaine disagreed on how they wanted their music to sound. According to Hell, he was exhilarated after the band’s first performance.  Verlaine was not.  It was the end of Television for Hell before it really even began.  This is a pattern that would follow him throughout his music career.  

Richard Hell’s influence on both music and culture is understated.  I mentioned I was reading his book, I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp and only 1 of the 20 people I spoke to had a passing knowledge of him. A handful of them were my partners in crime in frequenting the NY clubs mentioned in the book.  We lived these times and Hell still didn’t register with them.  It’s not a name you would forget.  He was the first to have choppy spiky hair, wear torn closes, paint words on them and use the safety pin as a fashion accessory.  He performed with abandon. 

I never paid much attention to Television or Richard Hell.  I knew the song Blank Generation.  I was into bands with tight songs mixed with pop sensibilities.  Even the anarchy of the Sex Pistols could fit in with that description, although I wasn’t a big fan of them either.  I love Blondie and the Ramones, both of which Hell has distain for.  He mentions that Chris Stein (Blondie) and Dee Dee Ramone auditioned for Television but didn’t make the cut.  While Dee Dee had his problems, I think both fared better with their respective bands. 

The writing is erratic, but so was his life.  He was a heroin addict who kept journals.  Without the journals how would he be able to describe in such detail all of his sexual conquests breasts?  (There are many references.)

His childhood was unremarkable. He grew up in Kentucky. It’s not a charmed life, but it certainly isn’t the broken home of a truant which he later became.  His father dies at an early age.  At sixteen, he and best friend Tom Miller (later re-christened Verlaine) have their Thelma and Louise moment by fleeing home and driving a car as far as Alabama where they get picked up by the cops.  They were heading to Florida.  Shortly after that Richard earns enough money to come to New York City. His mother agreed to let him go at 17.  His early tales of a grizzly Lower East Side are accurate and intriguing.  He has many menial jobs, but it was possible to live off of next to nothing those days in the city.  The book then starts to read like many a candied musician memoir:  lots of drugs, lots of sex, record company screws artist.  (Somehow Keith Richard’s book didn’t fall into that trap.)

His description of drug addition has become the norm for these autobiographies:
Addiction is lonely.  It starts as pure pleasure, and the degeneration, in a few quick years, into a form of monumental compulsive-obsessive condition is actually more psychological than physical.  One the drug use has replaced everything else, life become purely a lie, since in order to keep any self-respect, the junkie has to delude himself that use is by choice.

Richard doesn’t stick with anything that isn’t solitary.  He can’t hold on to jobs, he moves from one band to the next.  He didn’t hang around long enough with either Television or The Heartbreakers.  When both bands released their debut albums, he was long gone. 
It makes sense that he eventually settled in a career that is solitary:  a writer.  

Probably most overlooked was how smart he was about marketing his bands early in his career.  He went to the owner of the newly opened CBGB’s and asked for and got a Sunday night residency. He knew the importance of having people know where to see the band and being able to see them on a regular basis.  He created posters for specific shows using band photographs as well as eye-catching graphics and text.   He gave a performance. 

There are passages that are so ripe with description that you can see the scene play out in your head.  They are also very humorous.  In describing the girls in his neighborhood:
They were a skittish herd of scaled-down giraffe girls with pretty, flat kitty-cat faces.  I liked all of them.  We were going to drive into the country out by Versailles, where another of the giraffe girls lived on a horse farm. It’s those moments that make reading about his early childhood so rewarding. 

His tale stops cold at age 34, which is when he decided to get out of music.  He has since dipped his toes back in on several occasions, including a stint with the band Dim Stars.  Life in New York in the 70’s and early 80’s was raw, gritty and oh so much fun. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Twenty Feet From Stardom

The story flows. It’s not sappy or self-pitying.  It’s a story of very strong, talented women.  Twenty Feet From Stardom is a powerful documentary. Kudos to the director and editors. 

I saw it as part of the NY Times Films Club series.  Following the movie was a Q and A with director Morgan Neville and three of the movie subjects:  Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and LisaFischer. 

Darlene is better known as the voice of the Crystals among other bands.  Remember He’s Sure The Boy I Love, He’s A Rebel and Christmas Baby Please Come Home (she is actually credited on the track)? In the 1960’s her group The Blossoms were the hottest session singers in the country.  Gimme Shelter probably wouldn’t be a classic without the voice of Merry Clayton.  It’s worth seeing the movie just to hear her tell the story of the recording of the song.  If you saw the Rolling Stones perform that song live in the past 25 years, you heard Lisa Fischer bringing down the house with Mick Jagger. 

In Fischer’s humility she said there is no way she would come close to the truth that Merry delivers on that record, so she could only be inspired by her performance. That is the beauty of these women, they all truly like, respect and believe in one another.  There doesn’t seem to be a cutthroat rivalry among them either then or now.  Merry thanked Darlene for her tutoring early on in her career. Darlene said The Blossoms, were in such demand that she would refer producers to Merry.  She also said that Merry was the best or she wouldn’t have recommended her for the job.  This of course didn’t exclude playful digs between Merry and Darlene.  Darlene was ready to pass the plate after Merry’s heartfelt preacher-like tale of growing up in the church. 

Darlene and Merry both had fathers who were Pastors.  Singing in a church choir gave them the tools to be the best session singers. They knew when to sing and how to delivery it.  At the time Darlene was breaking into the business, session singers were white and rather restrained.  As Bette Midler says in the film, they knew when to put their hands up and when to lean into the mic and that was about it.  Darlene and the Blossoms couldn’t read music but they could feel it and could run with it.  They made the producers’ job easy.  They upped the ante for any singer. 

You will be blown away by this impressive and diverse contribution of The Blossoms:

That’s Life -Frank Sinatra
Johnny Angel -Shelley Fabares
Monster Mash –Bobby Pickett
Rockin’ Robin –Bobby Day
The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss) -Betty Everett
Chain Gang –Sam Cooke
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling
Unchained Melody
(You’re My) Soul and My Inspiration –Righteous Brothers
River Deep Mountain High –Ike and Tina Turner

It wasn’t always easy. There were failed solo careers.  Darlene Love was contracted to Phil Spector.  She finally got out of her deal, signs with Gamble and Huff and then they sell her contract back to Phil Spector.  Could it be more devastating?  She decided to clean houses.  As she pointed out Tuesday night when referring to Phil Spector, what goes around, comes around.

The film also highlights Judith Hill who was set to backup Michael Jackson on his last unfulfilled tour.  She is the youngest of those profiled.  I had no idea she was a contestant on the Voice this season.  She is pursuing a career as a solo artist and unlike the other women profiled, she writes her own music, which gives her an advantage.  It’s probably what moved Sheryl Crow from the background to the forefront.  Sheryl appears briefly in the movie.  Also appearing are Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Sting.

There has to be a lot of valuable footage left on the cutting room floor. The interviews are engaging and entertaining, which I think is a testament to the performers as well as the filmmakers.  I would love to see the “rejects” from Morgan Neville.  I’d pay to view on the web.  It’s a no-brainer.

Twenty Feet From Stardom is a joy.  It will have people talking.  The archival footage is riveting.  Don’t be surprised if this movie revitalizes the careers of these highly talented musicians. 

Of note:  I focused on the women, but The Waters should be mentioned.  They are featured on Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Julia, Maxine and of course, Oren.

Of second note:  The movie was produced by Gil Friesen.  He was chairman of A&M records and I had the pleasure of working with him.  He's one of my favorite record company people.  Sadly he passed away last year, but not before hearing his film was accepted to the Sundance Film Festival.  

Monday, June 03, 2013

Dessa's Ghost

Call Off Your Ghost is a new one from Dessa
The song is based on a true story of running into a former lover at a friend's wedding.  Yikes.  That sounds uncomfortable.  Her record company describes her as “Mos Def plus Dorothy Parker”.  It sounds like she's been listening to a lot of Luscious Jackson

The Minneapolis native weaves her production much like the ladies of Luscious.  Dessa is labeled an emcee/writer, but that doesn't paint a big enough picture.  I have a soft spot for Minneapolis artists (Trip Shakespeare, Prince, Husker Du).  They put out good records.  Dessa's album comes out the end of the month. 

Speaking of Luscious Jackson, rumor has it that Jill, Kate and Gabby have mastered a new album and we should be hearing something new from the ladies this year.