Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TVD Previews the next Story/Stereo with John Davis

It's Day #2 of our Story/Stereo event in advance of Friday night's unique confluence of words and music at Bethesda's Writer's Center.

It's also Day #2 with Story/Stereo's musical guest for the evening, John Davis, who returns with the first five random tracks off his ipod—and musings upon each:

Velocity GirlThe All-Consumer
I first got into punk and indie culture as a teenager, like most reading this blog did. I was also an extremely partisan D.C. fan. I ferociously loved and advocated for nearly all music that was made in the D.C. area with a certain blindness. Looking back, a lot of that music hasn’t stood up for me but more than a fair share has. Fugazi, certainly. Tsunami’s “Deep End,” Unrest’s “Perfect Teeth,” The Nation of Ulysses/Cupid Car Club and a handful of others. Velocity Girl was near the top of the list for bands I loved back then and, happily, most of their output still sounds great to me. The early singles (which I’m hoping are being rediscovered by all of the people who have flocked to the Black Tambourine reissue) and their first record, “Copacetic,” are unimpeachable. The first time I saw VG live was a little late in the game, relatively speaking. “Copacetic” had been out for a few months but, still grappling with the concept of “school nights,” it was hard for me to get out to see bands during most of my early high school sentence unless they played on a weekend. Finally, by senior year, I was generally able to get around at will. In September of ’93, I saw Velocity Girl and Tsunami play a show together in The Tavern, a bar at American University. An incredible show, it remains one of the best I’ve ever seen. Later that fall, I went to a house in Temple Hills, MD, where Velocity Girl practiced, to interview them for my new fanzine. My clear memory was that, save guitarist Archie Moore, they were unbearably snarky and clearly disinterested in talking to me. Archie was game and tried to answer my mediocre questions as best as he could but the interview was a relative bust. Still, the day was salvaged when they let me watch them play a few of the new songs from their yet-to-be-recorded second album (1994’s “Simpatico”). I took pictures which, regrettably, didn’t turn out. “Simpatico,” the album from which “The All-Consumer” is drawn from, proved to be the record that brought Velocity Girl a limited form of indie/alternative stardom. It still mostly stands up to my ears and is loaded down with excellent songs that were able to be catchy without being too cloying. I think people who didn’t grow up with this band might be a bit turned off by some of the squeaky-clean elements that emerged when the band stopped cloaking its tunes in fuzz (the sonic difference between “Copacetic” and “Simpatico” is dramatic) but I think and hope that this band will endure.

The Byrds – Why (Single Version)
This is the single version of “Why,” one of David Crosby’s last notable tunes for the Byrds before Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman took a drive up to Laurel Canyon and gave Crosby the boot. A b-side to “Eight Miles High” from the spring of ’66, “Why” shares its single-mate’s affection for the volcanic solos of John Coltrane but also adds a raga element, purportedly due to Crosby’s affection for the music of Ravi Shankar. Certainly, by 1966, pop music has undergone some radical changes. In 1962, number one hits were had by Shelley Fabares, Chubby Checker and Bobby Vinton (no offense to the Polish Prince – I’m a huge fan). By 1966, we’re talking about “Paint It, Black,” “Paperback Writer” and “Sunshine Superman.” So, it’s no surprise that the visionaries in The Byrds were pushing things even further. Their album from the summer of ’66, “Fifth Dimension,” is my favorite Byrds record. “Why” is a bit of a footnote since it didn’t come out on an album until 1967’s “Younger Than Yesterday” and in the form of a fairly different recording. That makes it all the more notable to me, though, since a song of this quality being able to get lost in a group’s canon strikes me as a pretty profound testament.

Astrud GilbertoTristeza
Speaking of high school, when I was 17, my girlfriend and I used to hang out at her aunt’s house often during the summer. Her aunt was well off and had this amazing house that was lifted straight out of 1964. Naturally, the cool jazz of The Dave Brubeck Quartet and the breezy bossa nova of Stan Getz and the Gilbertos frequently wafted through the house and the yard. There was a pool in the back and it wasn’t unusual to float there in the languid July heat while “Three To Get Ready” or “Corcovado” murmured quietly from the screened-in porch. I’m pretty certain that period will always be a strong memory for me. It’s funny how you know you wouldn’t want to be the person you were at a certain time (Christ, I know I sure wouldn’t want to be who I was at 17 again), yet some aspects from that period still exert such a strong pull of bittersweet memory, despite themselves. I suppose there isn’t a more appropriate music to evoke those feelings than the sweet, sad sounds of Gilberto, Getz, Baker, Brubeck, Desmond, Pepper, et al. “Tristeza” is a fairly upbeat song for the idiom but is still full of the wistful regret that makes this music eternally relevant.

Kitty Wells – Dust On The Bible
When it comes to Kitty Wells, I’m mainly a fan of her slightly later work. The 50s recordings, like this one, have a tinny, sub-Hank Williams quality that I find kind of irritating. The squareness and piety of this song also manage to include a touch of hectoring that pretty completes the trifecta of displeasure. Probably time to pull this song from the iPod. If we’re talking Kitty Wells, I love her Jim Reeves tribute album or some of her tunes like “Heaven Says Hello” or “As Long As I Live” or “The True and Lasting Kind.” Those songs’ll rend your soul, if you ask me. So, skip this one and go a little deeper.

Paul Williams – Do You Really Have a Heart
Paul Williams is probably best known to people for his ubiquity on 70s television (“The Love Boat” and its ilk) or for his role in “The Planet Of The Apes.” When it comes to movie roles, I wish he was best known for his turn in “Phantom Of The Paradise,” one of my favorite movies of the 70s. Brian De Palma’s rock and roll movie goes into some strange, strange places. The music itself in the movie isn’t that great but the colors and the sass and verve of the film make it a must-see for anyone who liked “The Apple” or “Rocky Horror.” All of that said, Paul Williams was also quite a songwriter. He and Roger Nichols co-wrote a bunch of hits for the likes of the Carpenters and Three Dog Night. Later, Williams gave us “The Rainbow Connection.” In 1970, Williams was still trying to cut it as a singing star in his own right and he released an album called “Someday Man.” The definition of a buried musical treasure, there are so many great songs on this record that it’s hard to believe it was a stiff. I’ve already written about my love of the title track elsewhere but if you haven’t heard it, make it happen. I’d call it a perfect song. “Do You Really Have a Heart” is nearly as good. Williams’ voice is this funny little woebegone thing. The music is an odd yet effortless mix of jauntiness and melancholy, a sensation that runs throughout the entire album. None of Williams’ other records come anywhere close to the “Someday Man” LP and it wasn’t long before he was a Hollywood Square but it’s rare for an artist to hit his mark as fully as Williams did on this song and this record.

Velocity GirlThe All-Consumer (Mp3)
Paul Williams – Do You Really Have a Heart (Mp3)

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