Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Song: “Bird Song”

Photo from Wikipedia and the Lene Lovich Facebook page.

One last spooky retread for Halloween 2012. For even more Halloween song profiles, check out the BHT archives for the month of October in 2011, 2010, and 2009.

The arrival of new wave and punk rock in the late 1970s introduced an exciting cast of talented and sometimes intimidating female performers, such as Chrissie Hynde, Deborah Harry, Annie Lennox, Siouxsie Sioux, and Nina Hagen. In 1979, Lene Lovich, a singer with a passion for bizarre outfits and even more bizarre hair, released the frightening “Bird Song” as a single on Stiff Records. While the lyrics don’t mention anything too diabolical, Lovich’s high-pitched warble, the song’s gothic arrangement, and an ominous-sounding male choir create a nightmarish ambience. All the while remaining catchy enough for the dance floor.

Basically, this is a dark twist on the old expression, “A little bird told me,” in which a scheming feathered creature steals a woman’s boyfriend by tricking her into thinking he’s been untrue. “So with the bird, one day, you flew away/I woke up too late, you had gone/Fading on . . . with this song/Of the hurting little bird.” Lovich delivers these lines, and others like, “Such a cold bird, so hard, captured your heart/Does it matter I am falling apart” with a Nora Desmond like intensity. Later, she mentions the flesh “Of the dead little bird,” but it’s unclear whether she killed it. The whole avian thing seems to be a metaphor until you see the startling rock video Lovich created for “Bird Song,” which is executed in the style of a vintage European horror flick.

She plays a runaway bride, leaving her guy at the altar while she runs outside to challenge a raven to a staring contest. The male chorus becomes a group of priests or deacons, one of whom pounds away at the pipe organ like Lon Chaney. Maybe Lovich did lose out to an actual bird. “Still I watch the sky/Still I wonder why/Still I hope that I can carry on.”  Regardless of whether the villain is animal or human, Lene Lovich’s “Bird Song” record and video are genuine Halloween classics.

Halloween Song: “Tam Lin”

Author Pamela Dean offers a modern take on the Tam Lin legend with her book.

For a number of years, I looked forward to WXRT’s tradition of playing “Tam Lin” by Fairport Convention and “Allison Gross” by Steeleye Span on Halloween. I’ve already re-posted “Allison Gross,” and tonight I’m offering an encore of “Tam Lin.” WXRT will be featuring Halloween music from 6:00 PM to 12:00 AM tonight. I wonder if “Tam Lin” will get a spin.

Along with Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention helped revitalize folk rock in England by electrifying traditional ballads with modern arrangements. “Tam Lin,” from Fairport Convention’s 1969 album, Liege And Lief, features a strong-willed heroine in a hair-raising tale of lust, evil curses, and redemption.

It’s based on Scottish folklore although variations have surfaced in other cultures as well. Brought to life by the terrific lead vocalist Sandy Denny, the lyrics warn maidens to steer clear of a wooded area called Carter Hall because a creepy elf named Tam Lin dwells there. Some versions of the original ballad offered unsavory reasons why a particular maiden named Janet ignores the warning, but Fairport Convention goes with the more positive view that she believes she has a right to pick roses at Carter Hall since it’s part of her family’s property. “When up there came young Tam Lin says, ‘Lady, pull no more./And why come you to Carter Hall without command from me?’/‘I’ll come and go,’ young Janet said, ‘and ask no leave of thee.”

Fairport Convention breaks up the narrative with energetic instrumental passages driven by electric guitar and fiddle. Although it’s not stated explicitly, Janet’s encounter with Tam Lin includes him seducing her, and later there are consequences. “Well, up then spoke her father dear and he spoke meek and mild/‘Oh, and alas, Janet,’ he said, ‘I think you go with child.” By then, she’s fallen in love with the little guy. “For if my love were an earthly knight as he is an elfin grey/I’d not change my own true love for any knight you have.”

Janet goes back to Carter Hall to see if Tam Lin wants to trade the woods for a family, castle and white picket fence. He’s game, especially since his only other option at that point is being offered up as a human sacrifice. “The Queen of Faeries caught me when from my horse I fell/And at the end of seven years she pays a tithe to hell/I so fair and full of flesh and feared it be myself.” The magic of Halloween night not only offers Tam Lin a means to escape, but through Janet’s love, it can also transform him back into the handsome knight he was before the Queen of Faeries cast a spell on him.

Janet carries out the elaborate ritual Tam Lin prescribes, and wins his freedom. The Queen of Faeries is furious with the outcome. “‘Oh had I known, Tam Lin,’ she said, ‘what this knight I did see/I have looked him in the eyes and turned him to a tree.’” Tam Lin Balladry lists several more sinister variations on the original ballad than Fairport Convention’s version, but there is one that depicts The Queen Of  Faeries expressing a grudging admiration for Janet’s pluck.

Halloween Song : “Werewolves Of London”

Earlier today, I posted an original tale about a werewolf. Here’s a Halloween song profile that has appeared in the past here on BHT.

By the way, anyone looking for some Halloween fun in an alt rock vein should drop by Durty Nellie’s  in Palatine tonight. The club is holding an event called Halloween Madness that features five bands performing as Alkaline Trio, Blink 182, Weezer, The Black Keys, and Rancid. Admission is $10, $7 with a costume.

Although Warren Zevon had been an active singer-songwriter for several years before Excitable Boy dropped in 1978, it was his first album to achieve major commercial success. It also established his dark sense of humor, particularly on the title track and “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner.”

On “Werewolves Of London,”  Zevon’s jubilant piano playing and boisterous howl celebrate the violent antics and fashion choices of a homicidal beast. Zevon is joined by veteran session guitarist Waddy Wachtel (who along with singer-guitarist LeRoy Marinell helped Zevon write the song) and the Fleetwood Mac rhythm section of bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood. The lyrics range from the graphic “He’ll rip your lungs out, Jim” and “Little old lady got mutilated late last night” to the classic understatement, “Lately he’s been overheard in Mayfair.”

Zevon conjures a trendy werewolf cruising Soho for beef chow mein and sipping a tropical drink at Trader Vic’s. Later, Lon Chaney appears with his son and the Queen, making this a full-fledged Halloween party.

A Halloween Tale

 Here’s a spooky story based on a skit I wrote back when I was a member of the Famous In The Future comedy group. It was only performed once, as part of a double bill at the Mary-Arrchie Theatre’s Abbie Hoffman Festival. It was paired with one of my other troubled short pieces, Messages Deleted. This tale is a little gruesome, but hopefully funny.

On Second Thought, A Closed Casket Might Have Been A Better Idea

No one likes going to wakes. But Syd, a young man in his 20s, felt obliged since the deceased was the father of his best friend, Lucas Graham. It was a brisk Fall evening when Syd arrived at the funeral home. He was surprised to find it empty except for Lucas.
“Hey Syd, thanks for coming,” Lucas said, as the two shook hands.
“I’m so sorry about your father,” Syd told him. He glanced around and still saw no other guests. “So where is everyone?”
“Can you believe it?” Lucas fumed. “No one will come to my Dad’s wake just because he was a werewolf!”
“That’s so lame!” Syd responded. “Haven’t they ever heard of Twilight? Strange creatures live among us. Come on, people! Get over it!”
“Right!” Lucas agreed. 
“So, how did it happen?” Syd asked. He only knew that Mr. Graham had died under tragic and strange circumstances. 
Lucas took a deep breath, as if summoning the strength to share the unfortunate circumstances. “Well, there was a full moon last Wednesday, and you know Dad! He just had to be out howling! He stopped by the Jansens’ place, and Mrs. Jansen, who just happens to have a supply of silver bullets, stuck her rifle out the window, and . . . “ Lucas didn’t seem like he could go any further.
“Mrs. Jansen?” Syd was surprised. She was an 85-year old widow who lived on a nearby farm. It was hard to imagine her being able to kill anyone, let alone a werewolf.
“What are the odds a woman her age, shooting from that distance, could hit my Dad right in the heart?” Lucas wondered. He wiped away some tears with a tissue.
“I’m just so sorry,” Syd told him again. He clasped a hand on Lucas’s shoulder. “Well, I’m proud to come here on your Dad’s behalf.” Syd approached the casket, and was shocked to discover a  werewolf inside. “Gaaaaaaaah!”
Lucas walked over to join him at the casket. He looked highly offended, “Is there something wrong?”
Syd tried to quickly recover. “No, it’s cool.” There was an awkward pause. “It’s just that in the movies, when someone gets killed while they’re out being a werewolf, they turn back into a human again.”
Lucas responded with a sarcastic smile. “I guess real life isn’t so convenient.”
Syd nodded, and turned his attention back to the casket. He struggled to think of something appropriate to say. “He looks great,” he commented at last.
“Yeah, they did a nice job on him,” Lucas agreed.
They heard the sound of the front door opening, and turned to see a flamboyantly dressed man enter the funeral home. He wore a black fedora and his face was mostly covered by a cape he held up with his hand.
“Whoa, who’s that?” Syd whispered.
“Must be a friend of Dad’s,” Lucas whispered back. 
The man wearing the cape walked with a limp as he made his way toward the guest book. He noticed Syd and Lucas watching him. “Good evening,” he said, in a voice that seemed to echo in the empty parlor.
“You think he’s  . . .” Syd whispered again.
Lucas finished Syd’s question. “A werewolf? Could be. Dad hung out with a pretty wild crowd.”
They stepped aside to allow the limping man access to the casket. Their guest folded his hands as he gazed down at Mr. Graham, and then let out a mournful howl. “Owwwoooooooooo!” He looked embarrassed, and hurried toward the front door.
“No, wait!” Lucas called after him. “We understand!”
But the strange visitor was gone in an instant.
Syd walked over to the podium that held the sign-in book. “I wonder who he was.”
Lucas followed behind him. But when Syd checked the book, there were no names entered at all.
“I know I saw him write something! But now it’s vanished!”
He glanced at Lucas, who was currently fixated on the frail old woman who had just entered the funeral home.
“Mrs. Jansen!” Syd exclaimed.
“I really am sorry, Lucas,” Mrs Jansen said in a creaking voice. “If I had known that was your Paw chasing my chickens around, I sure enough wouldn’t have shot him. I just really hate wolfmen.”
“What do you want?” Lucas asked her coldly.
“Just to pay my last respects.” There was a faint smile on her deeply wrinkled  face. “He was a good man. Most of the time.” As Mrs. Jansen arrived at the casket, she shrieked in horror, pulled a pistol from her coat pocket and began firing. Syd and Lucas jumped behind a red velvet sofa for cover. They came out again once she had emptied the gun.
“What’s wrong with you?!” Syd yelled.
Mrs. Jansen shrugged. “Sorry.” She looked into the casket. “Oh well, no harm done.”
She slowly hobbled over to Lucas. “So where’s the smorgasbord? I’m starved!”
Lucas glared at her, as Syd held him back. “It’s after the funeral,” he seethed. “And you’re not invited!”
“Well, that’s just rude!” Mrs Jansen complained.
“You shot his father!” Syd pointed out.
“Twice!” Lucas added.
Syd put his arm around Mrs. Jansen and started to lead her away. “I think you should leave.”
“I just want a quick bite!” Mrs. Jansen protested, but she allowed Syd to escort her to the door. After he had taken Mrs. Jansen outside, Syd went back to see how Lucas was holding up. “Thanks for taking care of that,” Lucas told him. “But I think you better split before any of my Dad’s other friends show up.”
They heard the sound of wind as the door to the funeral home flew open and a vampire entered, holding Mrs, Jansen’s limp body in his arms. When he smiled there was blood on his lips. “Nice smorgasbord!” he said to Syd and Lucas.
                                                     The End

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

CD Review: Various Artists - Halloween A Go-Go

Note: This review previously ran here and in the Illinois Entertainer

Halloween A Go-Go is like a CD version of musician/radio host Little Steven Van Zandt’s annual October bash on his syndicated show, Underground Garage minus the funny B-movie sound bites.  The consistently energetic tracks range from the 1950s rockabilly of Carl Perkins’ “Put Your Cat Clothes On” to the modern garage rock of The Stems, Minus 5, and Jarvis Humby. Not all of the songs qualify as bona fide Halloween fare.

The biggest stretch is “Restless Nights” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which includes Van Zandt. It does fit the CD's nocturnal theme, which includes the crown jewel of the garage movement, “I Had Too Much To Dream” by The Electric Prunes, as well as The Pretty Things’ psychedelic “Walking Through My Dreams.”

Veteran garage rockers The Chesterfield Kings, who always seem to be in Halloween party mode, check in with “Running Through My Nightmares,” while Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin For My Darling” offers spooky fun in a blues vein. The only dud is the cornball oldie, “The Cool Ghoul” by John Zacherle. No doubt it was included for nostalgia, but any number of tracks would have been better, such as Metric’s “Monster Hospital” or Don Dixon’s “Praying Mantis.”

Halloween Song - “Shadowed”

Here’s another Halloween profile from a previous year.

The English band Fingerprintz zipped through a variety of genres during a brief career that lasted from 1979 to 1981. They played punk on their debut, The Very Dab, moved on to power pop with Distinguishing Marks, and by the time they released Beat Noir, they were dabbling in techno. One thing that remained constant was lead singer-guitarist Jimme O’Neill’s penchant for matching disturbing lyrics with catchy melodies.

“Shadowed,” from the aptly titled Beat Noir, offers intergalactic espionage set to a pulsating dance club arrangement. There’s a breathless chase down dark streets involving “an alien presence” and the song’s hero. “Outside forces, foreign bodies in the atmosphere/I’ve got to shake them off and rub them out and get away from here.” Guitarist Cha Burnz throws in one of his distinctive solos, and O’Neill’s echo-laden vocals evoke U2, especially if Bono had been into comic books and sci-fi movies.

O’Neill and Burnz went on to form The Silencers UK and had a moderate hit with “Painted Moon.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Song - "Into The Night"

I posted a review of last Saturday night's lineup at the Halloweekend festival at Martyrs’ a bit earlier tonight.

Here's another repost about a Halloween song.

Back in 1994, the Chicago-based four woman band Shelivade served up the captivating “Into The Night” on its debut CD, One More Than Ten. It’s an emotionally-charged hard rock duet between lead vocalist Jean Iversen and guest singer Jon Dobbs that simmers with sexual tension on lines like, “Darkness wakes my love/Lures me into the night/Haunts me with desire/My fate is your fire.”

Iversen, who like myself, has written for the Illinois Entertainer, does a great job of belting out these lyrics ala Ann Wilson from Heart, and the way Dobbs weaves his vocals around hers is reminiscent of an opera. Vanessa Eichelberger’s guitar playing provides an energetic backdrop while the vampire’s attack is rendered in short, poetic bursts. “Rapid pulse, empty veins/Feel my throat, blessed pain.” “Into The Night” ends with the line, “Vacant mirror, then I’m gone,” followed by one of the best evil laughs in rock since Vincent Price added his chuckle to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Nothing But Treats

Poster from The Webstirs' website.

The ninth annual Halloweekend, held this past Friday and Saturday at Martyrs’ in Chicago, offered 12 bands masquerading as some of rock and roll’s biggest stars. I’ve yet to make both nights of this fun and imaginative festival, usually due to prior commitments. Being staged at one of the most festive times of the year results in a lot of competition, but this tribute band concept seems so well suited to Halloween, it’s hard to imagine its organizers changing the date. Still, I regret missing Friday’s lineup, especially with local acts covering Bad Company, Fleetwood Mac, Moody Blues, Police, and Donovan.

Saturday night was packed with entertaining performances, although the limits of public transportation kept me from seeing the last set, which was American Steel as Judas Priest. While taking the Number 80 Irving Park bus to Martyrs’, I encountered some people on their way to a Doctor Who-themed party. The young woman’s Weeping Angel costume was particularly well done, and the gentleman I spoke to was done up as a David Tennant version of The Doctor. Just one of the many fun things going on that night.

I’ve been to Martyrs’ on a few occasions in the past, but I don’t remember it being as dark as it was for Halloween. Sitting beneath a blacklight caused my index cards to glow, which made it easier to jot down notes. A red neon sign that read, Live From Hell and a multi-colored neon devil were hung by the stage, where a fog machine added a spooky ambience throughout the night. Each set lasted about 30 minutes.

Tuffy UK opened Saturday night’s event with an authentic tribute to PJ Harvey. The band must have a thing for eccentric female vocalists, because it covered Patti Smith at last year’s Halloweekend. Tuffy UK’s lead vocalist did a good job channeling Harvey’s evocative voice on songs like “You Said Something,” and affected a believable British accent while talking to the crowd.

Grooved Surface followed with a selection of some of War’s better known material. The band’s lead vocalist was better at the more talky songs like War’s initial hit with Eric Burdon, “Spill The Wine” and their later, politically charged “Why Can’t We Be Friends.” He strained a bit on the more melodic “Summer,” but the talented cast of musicians behind him kept things lively on “Cisco Kid” and “Low Rider.” 

Even those of us who aren’t big ABBA fans had reasons to look forward to The Webstirs’ take on the Swedish band’s relentlessly catchy hit singles. The Webstirs are a veteran power pop band with expertise in crafting strong melodies, and their tribute (complete with guest horn players) to the band Chicago at the 2011 Halloweekend nearly brought the house down. Plus, this year, they asked singer Holly Senchak from the band Metropolly to join them. Just as Senchak nailed the corrosive Courtney Love when Metropolly performed Hole songs last year, she evoked a sunny disposition on ABBA tunes like “S.O.S.” and “Waterloo’ by dancing and spinning to the music. She has a powerful voice and her harmonies with the members of The Webstirs were first rate.

Singer-guitarist Phil Angotti has found success with his own compositions, and is an expert mimic of famous musicians. He’s done tribute shows of Squeeze, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Paul McCartney and Wings. The Bee Gees are one of his favorite artists to cover, and that showed  during his set at Martyrs’. Harmonizing with guitarist-vocalist Ellis Clark from The Handcuffs and singer Casey McDonough, Angotti recreated the baroque pop of vintage Bee Gee songs like “Massachusetts” and “To Love Somebody.” It’s to the band’s credit that they risked performing the somber “New York Mining Disaster 1941” in such a party atmosphere, and it was a nice reflection on an audience that fully appreciated it. “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?” were also highlights. I would have preferred to hear “My Own Time” or something from Odessa rather than “Jive Talking,” but you can’t fault Angotti for wanting to include later Bee Gees’ material in his set.

Androgynous Mustache then changed the mood entirely by ripping through a set of punk/pop classics by The Replacements. Their lead vocalist-guitarist made for a very believable Paul Westerberg on songs like “Little Mascara” and “Alex Chilton,” while the other band members careened wildly behind him. The between-songs banter was humorously raucous, and for a while it looked like they might recreate The Replacements’ infamous onstage breakup at Taste Of Chicago. The guys in Androgynous Mustache have done a lot of these type of tribute shows, and they exuded high energy as well as professionalism in their Halloweekend gig.

As noted earlier, I had to leave before American Steel came on as Judas Priest, who I’m sure added another interesting shade to the impressive variety of music at this year’s Halloweekend

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween Song - "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)"

Here's another post of Halloween past.

Few songs have made a more eerie entrance than “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” the theme from director Paul Schrader’s 1982 horror film, Cat People. After a slow drum beat and a swirl of synthesizers, David Bowie emerges, singing, “See these eyes so green/I can stare for a thousand years.” His voice is so dark and deep you have no trouble believing him, and when he adds, “I’ve been putting out fire with gasoline,” you know there’s danger afoot.

Set to a guitar-driven arrangement crafted by veteran film composer Giorgio Moroder (Flashdance, Midnight Express) Bowie’s lyrics evoke the doomed characters from the movie. Irena and her brother Paul, played by Natassia Kinski and Malcolm McDowell respectively, are descendants of humans who mated with leopards. This causes them to turn into panthers whenever they have sex with people, and they can’t return to their human forms without killing somebody. Bowie has created several of his own fascinating characters through his music over the years, and he’s just as adept in conveying Irena and Paul’s tortured emotions. “Still this pulsing night/A plague I call a heartbeat/Just be still with me/Ya wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through.”

The movie Cat People successfully tapped into the superstitions we’ve had about felines for centuries. Even today, it’s a good idea to make sure black house cats are kept indoors on Halloween to prevent deranged people from hurting them. And steer clear of panthers as well.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween Song - "Jacksie"

Photo from Over The Rhine website.

Here's another Halloween post from the past.

Over The Rhine, the Cincinnati-based band headed by vocalist/guitarist Karin Bergquist and bassist/keyboards player Linford Detweiler, has garnered critical acclaim for weaving elements of folk, country, and indie rock behind thought-provoking lyrics.

“Jacksie,” the haunting opening track from the band’s 1992 Patience CD, was inspired by the book, A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. It deals with the loss of a loved one. Still, a casual listener could be forgiven for thinking this is a classic ghost story, especially with lyrics like, “They laid her in the ground./She still comes around./A love that never dies takes you by surprise.”

Bergquist’s ethereal vocals, set to an enchanted arrangement, sends chills up your spine, especially the way her “la la la la la la la” echoes like a spirit beckoning you into a dark forest.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Photo from The Melismatics Facebook page.

Here’s hoping everyone has a fun and safe pre-Halloween weekend of celebrating.

Martyrs’ on Lincoln Avenue is the site for this year’s Halloweekend, a two-night festival of local talent performing as famous bands. Friday’s lineup features Vlad The Impaler as Black Sabbath, The Bon Mots as Bad Company, The BuckStops as The Police, Dolly Varden as Fleetwood Mac, Johnny C & The Creeps as Donovan, and Dirty Pigeons as The Moody Blues.

On Saturday, American Steel performs as Judas Priest, Androgynous Mustache as The Replacements, Phil Angotti as The Bee Gees, The Webstirs as Abba, Grooved Surface (or The Delafields, depending on which website you pick) as War, and Tuffy UK as PJ Harvey. Each set is comprised of about four or five songs.

The New Invaders will be performing an extensive variety of hits from 1960s at The Blues Bar in Mount Prospect tonight. The band has a number of solid singers, and a repertoire that changes from gig to gig. Hopefully tonight’s show will include some covers of The Hollies.

Elgin is once again holding its wildly ambitious Nightmare On Chicago Street. Local officials, musicians, filmmakers, actors, and businesses have joined forces in a zombie-themed festival being staged this Saturday night in the suburb’s downtown area.

Elgin resident and artist Dave Metzger, working with Jeff Kelley, host/creator of the Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff Internet show, has filmed new zombie bits to add to the ones he created in 2011. I was invited to portray a hot-headed politician in a parody of a debate show. The comedy clips will be shown on TVs set up in various locations in Elgin. For the full schedule, check out the Nightmare On Chicago Street website. 

Metzger is also organizing the Monster Mash-Up event on Friday and Saturday in Elgin. It’s a mix of vintage B-movie monster flicks, artists, special guests, and live music

Next Wednesday, on the actual Halloween night, Durty Nellie’s in Palatine will present Halloween Madness. Described as Bands In Musical Disguise, it aims to mix customers in costumes with local musicians pretending to be famous ones. The emphasis is on alternative rock, as August Premier will perform as Alkaline Trio; Farraday covers Blink 182; Slam Dunk Music Co. takes on Weezer; Circus Bear portrays The Black Keys; and The American Autumn will be Rancid.There will also be a costume contest. Doors open at 7:30 PM, admission for the 21 and older show is $10.00

In other entertainment news:

The Melismatics recently recorded a a video for “Divided Devotions” from their Mania CD. While not as eye-popping as their previous clip, “Your Love Is A Poison,” it’s very well made and features a guest appearance from Jon Auer of The Posies. Auer produced a number of of the tracks on Mania and contributed back-up vocals on six songs.

I was streaming the “Secret Weapon” show on Woody Radio while putting this week’s Slumgullion together. “Secret Weapon” always serves up an entertaining mix of catchy, guitar-driven tunes, with loads of new discoveries for even the most avid powerpop fanatic. Be sure to have a pen and paper handy while listening to jot down the songs and artists you’ll want to investigate further. 

The Braam Brothers have a new CD called Hail Violet coming out soon. The Chicago area band has created a video for “Be Bop Life,” one of the songs on the CD. It’s an acoustic-based, melodic track that features a guest performance by Brad Elvis on drums.

The Songwriter’s Square show on November 18th at The Lyric Hyperion Theatre And Cafe in Los Angeles will offer a rare opportunity to see Bangles drummer Debbi Peterson in a solo performance. She’ll be sharing the bill in an intimate setting with John Wicks of The Records and singer-songwriter Gene Siegel. Musician/comedian Bill Berry will serve as host. Hopefully, Peterson will do “Some Dreams Come True,” a song she wrote with Walter Ingleheart for the Everything CD, and still stands as one of The Bangles’ best. Tickets are $15.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween Song: "Hydrogenic"

Here’s another Halloween Post From The Past.

Back in the early 1980s, Bohemia’s high energy assault, led by charismatic lead vocalist/keyboards player Carla Evonne, prompted a Chicago daily newspaper critic to proclaim that Bohemia was every bit as good as X from Los Angeles. Following the 1980 release of a self-titled, three-song 10 inch EP in 1980, Bohemia struck again a year later with their cutting edge debut LP, Deviations. The album’s title served to foreshadow an obsession with disturbing subject matter on songs like “Plastic Doll,” “Standard Deviations,” “Empty Room,” and “Dr. Werner.”

“Hydrogenic” was dark in a fun, highly melodic way. A punk rock masterpiece that offers a girl meets mutant love story with an underlying jab at nuclear energy, “Hydrogenic” kicks off with Zirbel’s revved up bass playing within an extended instrumental intro. Evonne sets the romantic tale in motion, singing, “Since I met you baby/I haven’t been the same/You hit me like an H-bomb and now I hardly know my name.”

Her lover’s appearance has been drastically changed by exposure to massive doses of radiation. “Momma says you’re different/With your long green hair/You got webs between your fingers/But I don’t even care.” As the music zips along, Evonne continues to sing the praises of her unique beau: “I can see you glowing in the dark/In my life you really caused a spark.” The satirical lyrics are punctuated by an overjoyed chorus of, “Ooh, our love is new/Our love is new . . . nuclear.” Sadly, none of Bohemia’s work is available on CD, but you can check out a few of its live performances on YouTube.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween Song: “Magic Man”

Earlier today, I posted a review of the new book by Ann and Nancy Wilson, Kicking And Dreaming, which revealed that “Magic Man” was inspired by Ann Wilson's boyfriend at the time, Michael Fisher. Here's a Halloween post I did about “Magic Man” back in 2009. By the way, there’s a demo version of this song on the Strange Euphoria box set that has a spookier, stripped down arrangement.

When Heart released its debut, Dreamboat Annie back in 1976, Ann and Nancy Wilson often dressed like they’d borrowed their wardrobe from a medieval sorceress. Maybe it was all those nights of covering Led Zeppelin during their bar band days. Their instant FM radio classic, “Magic Man,” describes a young woman’s dream-like encounter on a “cold gray night so long ago” with the blue-eyed mysterious title character, who promises to whisk her off to exotic adventures.

Although apprehensive, she feels like she already knows him, and when he offers to “cast my spell of love on you,” she’s hooked. The song, which includes an extended guitar and synthesizer jam, as well as Ann’s impressive vocals, doesn’t mention any tragic consequences, so maybe the woman was right not to heed her mother’s misgivings.

Book Review: Kicking & Dreaming

When Heart released Strange Euphoria earlier this year, it seemed more like a gift to the group’s longtime fans than a typical greatest hits package. The box set struck a balance between popular songs and previously unreleased material that provided additional insight about Ann and Nancy Wilson. Working with journalist Charles R. Cross, the sisters take a similar approach in their recently released book, Kicking And Dreaming - A Story Of Heart, Soul, And Rock And Roll. They delve into the sex and drugs you’d expect in a bio of one of rock’s best known bands, but concentrate more on family ties, troubled relationships, and honest reflections on over 35 years in the limelight. 

Using a format that feels like an in-print documentary, the 272-page book shifts point of view between the two Wilsons, with occasional posts from people closely involved with the band. The prologue offers a valuable perspective on how quickly things can change in the entertainment field. Fired from a seedy rock club in Canada shortly after the release of Dreamboat Annie for not playing enough cover songs, the band is rescued from despair when the promotions manager at their label calls with the news that they’ve been booked to open for Rod Stewart. 

From there, Kicking & Dreaming travels back to the courtship of Ann and Nancy’s parents, and then traces the family’s history through the time when each sister eventually moves out. Less devoted fans might find these earlier chapters a bit tedious, but the intent is show how much Ann and Nancy’s creative endeavors were shaped by events in their childhood. As an overweight kid shunned by most of her classmates, Ann would form a deep bond with Nancy. Together, they would discover The Beatles via The Ed Sullivan Show and begin playing instruments and writing their own songs. While other girls their age dreamed of marrying a Beatle, Ann and Nancy longed to be just like the four lads.

“We had no idea that being females in rock ‘n’ roll would be an issue we would face at every turn,” Nancy remarks in the Prologue. Along with the close-knit relationship between the Wilson sisters, the other running theme in Kicking And Dreaming is the rampant sexism that has dogged them from Heart’s early years. Even their record label ran an ad insinuating that Ann and Nancy were incestuous lovers. Ann suspected critics would judge a concert based on her weight, while other musicians - - some well-known - - were either dismissive or sexually aggressive. “Barracuda” was a reaction to an encounter with a lewd radio promotions guy. It’s hard to blame the Wilson sisters for wanting to settle the score in their book. And since the problem has hardly gone away, Kicking And Dreaming should encourage younger female musicians to stand their ground.

Ann and Nancy fared better with Mick Jagger (who confided he was worried Keith Richards wouldn’t show up for the Rolling Stones’ performance), Elton John, and Queen, whom Ann describes as “the ultimate English gentlemen.” Bono from U2 and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin (who produced the live CD, The Road Home for Heart) are also shown in a positive light. It’s interesting to learn how much Heart influenced the Seattle bands who came after them, like Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains. On the flip side, there’s a touching anecdote about Nancy finally getting to meet her hero Joni Mitchell, and noting, “I wanted nothing more in the world than to listen to her talk.”

Kicking And Dreaming is fascinating for its behind-the-scenes look at various turning points in Heart’s career. The initial success of Dreamboat Annie, the legal troubles with their first record label, and a dramatic comeback in the mid-1980s that saved the band from imploding, but at the cost of creative freedom. The book also covers the Wilsons’ potentially band-ending break with the Fisher brothers. Guitarist Roger comes across as a talented and amiable musician whose hippie frame of mind led to affairs that would doom his relationship with Nancy. Michael, who represented the band, was caught cheating on Ann. He’s depicted as a control freak, but one whose marketing strategies catapulted Heart into the big time.

Kicking And Dreaming ends with Ann wistfully reflecting on the 27 musicians who performed with her and Nancy over the years. If Heart is inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame this year, it will be interesting to see how many of those band members get an invitation to the ceremony. 
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