New Song: “The Dracula Stomp”

An early Halloween funk treat. I stumbled onto something that sounded like classic horror film music and leaned into it hard. Vocals courtesy Count Chocula, Grandpa Al Lewis and Bela Lugosi. The song is the debut of my Arturia Minibrute, an amazing machine that’s elevated every part of my game. The chorus alludes to Bach’s Toccata in D Minor. I’m gonna build up my keyboard chops until I can do an entire “Fifth of Beethoveen” for that piece.

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The Beatles, Ranked

The-Beatles14. Murray the K.

New York City disc jockey Murray the K. cajoled the Beatles into indulging his request to be called “the fifth Beatle” during their first trip to America. He was only the fifth Beatle in the sense that if there were four Beatles in the room, he would be the least important. He was a pretty big deal radio DJ, but who cares about radio DJs? Stop talking over songs, dudes, you’re killing my buzz.

13. Pete Best

In “The Lives of John Lennon,” Albert Goldman argued that Best was a better drummer than Ringo and that Best’s sacking was a travesty. Now, with recordings of both drummers available at a moment’s notice on YouTube, it is clear that Goldman was very, very wrong. Best was a lousy drummer who derails the band with his incompetence (notice how wobbly it gets at 1:10 or so). It makes me wonder if anything else in the book might be inaccurate as well! Anyway, at the height of Beatlemania, Best put out a record called “Best of the Beatles,” a title both technically accurate and totally misleading. So kudos for that, Pete. Your drumming was terrible but your punning was on point.

12. Eric Clapton

By virtue of playing the solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Clapton qualifies as sort of a Beatle. It’s pretty funny that George Harrison, the lead guitar player for the most popular guitar band of all time, subcontracted out the guitar solo on his signature song which includes the word “guitar” in the title. But otherwise, Clapton sucks, Cream sucks and if you ever feel nostalgic about the monoculture, remember that one of its final collective decisions was the constant rotation of “Tears in Heaven.”

11. Kevin Parker/Julian Lennon/Sean Lennon

My wife had on The Shonen Knife Pandora station the other day and John Lennon voice rang out and I was like, whoa, how did the Beatles get on this thing. But it wasn’t John Lennon at all. It was his son, a man genetically fated to sound like one of the most famous singers of the 20th century. Anyway, I wish that Paul McCartney would join up with one of Lennon’s kids or that Tame Impala dude and make a record of Everly Brothers covers or something. It would be better than that “Free as a Bird” bullshit for sure.

10. Yoko Ono

Yoko doesn’t deserve 95 percent of the hatred she gets. It’s sourced in racism, misogyny and misplaced anger at John Lennon. She did not break up the Beatles. The Beatles broke up the Beatles. But that five percent of hate she does deserve is undeniable. I want to like her since everybody hates her but she is so unpleasant it’s impossible. From her facile twitter wisdom to her grief-mongering art, she’s insufferable even to this day.

9. Stu Sutcliffe

The Beatles’ first bass player quit the band to concentrate on his painting career and died of a cerebral hemorrhage shortly thereafter. It’s a pretty sad story that was made into a movie called Backbeat that I have never had any interest in seeing for some reason.

8. Phil Spector

Sure, he’s a convicted murderer and pulled a gun on the Ramones, but have you heard his production work on Let it Be? That shit is hilarious. “The Long and Winding Road” invented psychedelic elevator music.

7. Billy Preston

He’s a chill dude with a dope afro who kept the Fab Four from ripping each other’s throats out during tortuous recording sessions. The songs he played on were among the worst the Beatles wrote but he made them work. His solo on “Get Back” elevates the song out of mediocrity and he almost turns “Let it Be” into something decent.

6. George Harrison

If there was ever a guy who lucked into a gig but managed to be defiantly ungrateful about it, it’s George Harrison. Boo hoo, the guys who wrote “Yesterday” and “She Said, She Said” won’t record your songs. Maybe just learn the parts and smile while you collect a paycheck as a member of the greatest band of all time. “Here Comes the Sun,” is pretty good but ultimately it’s hippy campfire soft rock. Thank god he was eventually liberated from his Beatles servitude so he could perform classics like “My Sweet Lord” (which he stole) and “Got my Mind Set on You” (which was both terrible and a cover). The Traveling Wilburys are OK, I guess.

5. John Lennon

John Lennon was supposed to be this cosmic revolutionary artiste. But what if he just had a shitty attitude that seemed deep? There’s a whole cottage industry of people on the internet who hate John Lennon, but a lunatic shot him to death so my instinct is to pull punches.

4. Brian Epstein

This was a mid 20th Century gay Jewish dude from a backwater town in England who saw a band playing at a bar during his lunch hour and turned them into the biggest group in the world. Such a legend. Shame he couldn’t handle his drugs.

3. Paul McCartney

The same guy wrote “Hey Jude” and the theme from “Spies Like Us.” McCartney is a workaholic who loves his weed and his post Beatles work, which encompasses the majority of his life, ranges from OK to superfund site level toxicity. But his 1963-1969 hot streak is untouched. Despite how 80% of his work is shit, he is the greatest ever writer of pop songs. He’s also in the upper one percentile for singers and bass players. Basically, he’s so talented it’s hard not to be constantly disappointed in him.

2. George Martin

Producer George Martin  handcrafted the analogue psychedelia of the Beatles while keeping his hair brylcreem-stiff and his suits freshly pressed. He guided each of their records until dropping out halfway through the White Album and skipping the brutal Let it Be sessions before returning for Abbey Road. You can chart out that quality dip in a tidy “U” shape. The Beatles used the recording studio like a symphony. George Martin conducted it.

1. Ringo Starr

Overall, the Beatles were about love and optimism. That never would have happened without Ringo, the least troubled man in the ensemble. He’s the warm candy center of the Beatles’ persona and history’s most underrated drummer. He was possessed of the singular ability to perform ambitious musical ideas cleanly, keeping dance hall drumming appeal. A showboat like Neil Peart would not have improved “Ticket to Ride.” If you don’t like Ringo, you don’t like holding down grooves and being chill and I fucking pity you.

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Bits from the Hmong, or What I’ve Been up to Lately

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 11.00.11 AMThis blog has been a desert wasteland for a while, but for a good reason: I’ve been busy with paying gigs.

The latest one I really like. It’s a feature exploring the real world origins of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise for Van Winkle’s. It’s long but real good (if I might say so myself). Spoiler Alert: I accuse Wes Craven of a coke-fueled newspaper misunderstanding.

Also, my headline is an imperfect pun. The story is about an ethnicity called the Hmong. The h is silent.

Click the graphic for the story.

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Rolling Stones Members, Ranked

Rolling-Stones

10. Their Current Bass Player 

I’m sure he’s fine. I’m sure he nails the groove on “Satisfaction.” He looks like a cool guy and I’m delighted that a working musician has a steady gig. But he joined the band two decades after their glory years. He’s never going to be of consequence. I googled “Rolling Stones bass player.” His name never came up (no joke).

9. Ron Wood

Ron Wood’s most valuable professional asset is his ability to get along with Keith Richards. His second is his hair. His guitar playing is pretty low on the list. It’s just sloppy enough to be noticeable and just competent enough to be boring.

8. Brian Jones 

A good-looking asshole with minimal talent who played blues covers with all the authenticity of a teenage Englishman. He was one of the co-founders of the band and was almost immediately eclipsed by Mick and Keith. It’s a harsh judgment on his abilities that the Stones’ evolutionary leap occurred when he started to be too drugged out to contribute and they became truly great when he died.

7. Bobby Keys 

Maybe he wasn’t an official member of the band, but check out the sax solos from “Brown Sugar” through to “Emotional Rescue” and tell me that matters. That dude was critical. Rest in Peace, sax man.

6. Ian Stewart

Stewart co-founded of the band before getting fired for not being good looking enough. He stayed on as a roadie and occasional piano player. His friends and loved ones probably constantly tried to talk him out of it through the 60s and 70s and then he was most likely a well compensated salaried employee by the ‘80s and everyone was chill with it.

5. Charlie Watts

I’ve read a shameful number of books about the Stones and writers often call Watts the secret weapon or the soul of the group. He’s a good groove creator; he always plays so far behind the beat his drum rolls seem like attempts to catch up with the rest of the band. But he seems like a sour little man who thinks the Stones music to be beneath him. Now that they suck so much, you’d think he’d follow his heartfelt contempt and just quit, but mansions don’t pay for themselves I guess.

4. Bill Wyman

Ostensibly the band’s bass player, Wyman sat out many of the Stones’ most memorable basslines, including “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Streetfighting Man,” “Tumlin’ Dice” and “Jumping Jack Flash. He was also an unrepentant sleaze who married a girl in her early teens when he was a superannuated rock vampire. But to his credit, he quit. He decided he had enough money and got off the train. Bravo for that, motherfucker.

3. Keith Richards

I used to love Keith Richards. He used to be my favorite guitar player. I loved his feel and his grit. But now he just seems like the laziest, most close-minded professional musician in history. He’s been playing variations on the same riff since 1969 while resisting every musical trend that’s cropped up since 1964 (except for reggae, which he can’t play for shit). A lot of his bet guitar ideas were somebody else’s ideas. Mick Jagger wrote “Brown Sugar,” “Sway” and “Moonlight Mile.” Bill Wyman claims he wrote “Jumping Jack Flash.” And Mick Taylor left the band for his contributions getting overlooked.

2. Mick Taylor

The most tragically ignored, truly great guitar player in rock. Even on their live recordings, Taylor never plays a bad note. Soaring melodies seem to tumble out of his guitar effortlessly. The jam at the end of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” was the second take of the song and that whole section was unrehearsed. He rarely plays a note more than he has to. Unlike most hotshot guitar players, he concentrates on tunefulness and atmosphere. The band became 60 percent worse when he left.

1. Mick Jagger

The only times the Stones haven’t been completely terrible since 1972 are the times when Mick Jagger took the reins. “Some Girls,” their last gasp of greatness, was entirely him. Left to Keith Richard’s devices, the band would have rehashed the same Open G tuning riffs he’s been stuck on for decades. Jagger’s stage movements are hilarious, bizarre and distinctly his own. His voice still sounds exactly like it did in the 60s. He evidently handles a lot of the Stones’ business dealings personally, making him like the CEO of rock’s biggest corporations. And he’s had to deal with that asshole Keith Richards for 50 years.

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Robert Durst isn’t Just a Bizarre Killer. He’s the Perfect Class War Bad Guy.

17DURSTWEB-tmagArticle

Class warriors need to hurry up and exploit the queasy charisma of allegedly murderous millionaire Robert Durst.

Weeks after the bombshell ending of The Jinx, Durst is still in the news thanks to his odd behavior and knack for getting implicated in the disappearances of women. But police aren’t going to connect him to cold cases forever. It’s important to act fast and make Durst the icon of unfairly apportioned wealth.

Durst is the best villain the left wing has been served since Mitt Romney. And while old Mitt was merely an out of touch billionaire, Bob Durst is an out of touch billionaire psychopath. Lefties get energized when facing a bad guy. Durst personifies the monstrous potential of resource inequality; he’s the perfect class war bad guy. Yet that’s somehow gone strangely unnoticed and unexploited.

As the story of a man who has enough money to literally get away with murder, the Jinx is an unintentional indictment of the one percent. All of the purportedly admirable traits and habits of the rich are absent. Durst didn’t work hard or invest wisely or benefit anyone but himself with his money. His life is a riches to riches tale, lacking rags, bootstrap pulling or triumphing over adversity other than suspicion of murder.

A third generation member of a Manhattan real estate baron family, Durst didn’t use his effortlessly acquired riches to create jobs. Durst stopped showing up for work and instead collected a $2 million salary while living on the road until he swapped that annual payout for a $65 million settlement.

Durst is not a wealthy man who just so happens to be homicidal. The money and the madness are inextricably linked. The money lets him kill an irksome neighbor and walk after a $1.8 million legal defense. To paraphrase Chris Rock, if Durst drove a bus, he’d be Bob, the murderer bus driver who’s been in jail since his wife disappeared.

McCormack, his first wife, came from a family far closer to the bus driver side of the money spectrum. And he almost certainly killed her. It’s both a tragedy and rich metaphor for the antagonism between the striving middle class and the elite rich.

Born into a sprawling Irish Catholic family from Long Island, McCormack was studying to become a pediatrician. In The Jinx, her brother is interviewed on the job wearing his work uniform a Home Depot apron. It seems a fair assumption that Kathie was the most upwardly mobile member of the family. In the wake of her death, grief and wealth were split between the haves and have-nots, with all of the grief on one side and all the money on the other. The McCormack family was devastated and the Dursts broke ties, kept quiet and held onto their money. It’s a grotesque parallel to the Wall Street CEO keeping his bonus despite wiping out the equity of his middle class clients.

Keeping the family’s secrets and fearing becoming one of Bob’s victims surely takes an emotional toll on the Durst clan. But otherwise, the Durst family hasn’t suffered much. Bob Durst has been a tabloid fixture since his 2001 arrest for the killing of Morris Black. But the decade of bad publicity didn’t stop the Dursts from becoming managers of the Freedom Tower, the decade’s highest profile Manhattan development.

Despite his estrangement from his family, Bob Durst still made a (metaphorical) killing in the family business.While the Freedom Tower was built, Bob Durst and his second wife quietly collected $12 million speculating on the Brooklyn housing market through a practice called “predatory equity.” Their company, BCB Property Management, coerced rent controlled apartment tenants to leave their homes in exchange for low-ball offers. The ones that refused reportedly faced utilities shutoffs and deteriorating conditions.

With the old tenants out, BCB would reportedly modify the vacant apartments, exploiting a legal loophole and allowing the rent to jump to three or four times the regulated rate.

The practice helped transform places former working class Brooklyn enclaves Crown Heights, Williamsburg and Carroll Gardens into elite neighborhoods.

Clearly, concentrating wealth with Bob Durst has had a corrosive effect. Instead of investing his money in to a constructive end, he uses it to drain money from the lower class. That trickle up effect would be cause for concern even if it hadn’t created and enabled a monster.

So tales of Durst’s odd behavior are likely to crop up for weeks because the media won’t let us forget Durst is a bizarre monster. It’s important to remember that he’s a rich one, too.

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New Song: Universal Donor

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Another Zeppelin Theft? (Save You a Click: No

Today I found out the genesis of “Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Led Zeppelin. You know, the song on ZOSO where they stop pretending to be vikings with wizard powers and kick out some retro jams. On a break from recording the ancient Norwegian longboat anthem “Four Sticks,” John Bonham played the intro for the ’50s Little Richard howler “Keep a Knockin” as a goof. Evidently unaware a drum goof was afoot, JImmy Page joined in with a quick and dirty Link Wray-style riff and boom, “Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

With that in mind, comparing the two drum intros is pretty hilarious. Good goof, Bonzo! (RIP)

Previous explorations of instances of alleged Led Zep thievery follow:

No, Led Zeppelin Didn’t Really Steal “Stairway.” But They Stole Everything Else

Oh, Wait. Maybe Jimmy Page did Steal “Stairway” After All

John Lennon vs. Jimmy Page: Battle of the Master Riff-Thieves

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