Robbie Robertsom

#895: Toxicity

RECORD STORE TALES #895: Toxicity

I get it.  I understand why people are surprised.  When a guy like me boasts about owning about 4000 CDs, you kind of expect certain things.  Surely, one of those 4000 CDs has to be so-and-so, right?

I’m fond of the saying “better late than never”.  There are always a variety of reasons for missing an important band in my collection.  Sometimes a band’s image turned me off.   That was true of Skid Row for a year or two.  I couldn’t get past Rachel’s nose chain.  In other instances, they weren’t what I was into during a younger phase of my life.   But on a couple of occasions, I avoided bands because they reminded me of people that I didn’t want to be reminded of.

I’ll give you an example:  The Boy Who Killed Pink Floyd.  Even if he didn’t burn me out by playing Floyd every single shift, he was such a shitty worker.  It took me years to finally take the plunge on Pink Floyd.   But I did, and I have most of the albums now.  Certainly all the critical ones and then some.  I mean, I even own Ummagumma!

So, better late than never.  I have my whole life ahead of me to keep discovering your favourite bands that I haven’t got to yet.

Recently, I really discovered The Band.  It started with “The Shape I’m In”.  The local radio station changed up the songs they repeat every year or two.  Thanks to CanCon, there’s always at least one Band song.  Several years ago, they used to spin “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” frequently, but this year it’s been “The Shape I’m In”.  And suddenly I was grabbed like never before.

Maybe it’s that I’m not feeling in the best shape myself, mentally and physically.  Robbie Robertson’s lyrics weren’t written about someone like me, though.  “The Shape I’m In” was written for the late Richard Manuel, singer and piano player.  As I often do, I googled the track and read up.  Richard Manuel’s tragic life story struck a chord with me.  Drugs, alcohol, and ultimately suicide.  Every time the song came on the radio, it inspired me to read a little bit more about Richard Manuel, The Band, and the rest of their members.

I watched a bit of The Last Waltz on YouTube and was absolutely blown away.  The vocals!  The musicianship!  The keen lyrical throwbacks to a time before we were born.  It transports you!  This is what I love in music!  What took me so long?

The most toxic person in my life at the Record Store loved The Band.  I don’t know how often we listened to them at work, but I began to strongly associate The Band with this person.  I couldn’t look at a picture of Garth Hudson without a feeling of this person’s presence.  For some reason poor innocent Garth Hudson became the face of The Band in my loathing mind.  It really is unfortunate.  Some of you will read this and say “pffft, snowflake.”  We each respond to stress according to our strengths and what I dealt with at the Record Store drove others to quit when I just kept going as long as I could.

I didn’t know a lot about The Band, and I remember having a conversation with this person about who their lead vocalist was.  I assumed Robbie Robertson, since he was a big solo star in Canada in the late 80s.  I had no idea that they had three main singers, and my impression was that this person thought less of me that I didn’t know.  Either way, our conversations didn’t make me want to listen.  You attract more bees with honey rather than vinegar.  This person was vinegar to me.

On one of the Taranna trips with Aaron, I found Music From Big Pink (remastered) at Sonic Boom for $7.99.  It had “The Weight”, so I bought it.  Still, I only played it a couple times and then put it on a shelf.  It didn’t connect.  Yet.

Suddenly it’s 2021 and “The Shape I’m In” is speaking to me like nobody’s business.  I pulled out Music From Big Pink again, ordered a reissue of Stage Fright, and put The Last Waltz on my wishlist.

It’s not just Richard Manuel.  Yes, something about his voice is sweet and weary and powerful at once.  Rick Danko’s voice was also very special.  The high notes!  Wow.  And Levon Helm?  Watching him drum, he was so physical!  And singing so expressively all the while.  As for Robbie Robertson, the best word I saw used to describe his guitar playing was “stinging”.  That nails it!  But I owe the deepest apologies to Garth Hudson, whose inventive multi-instrumental wizardry is key to the sound of The Band.  Mr. Hudson, I am so sorry that I used to associate your visage with this evil person in my life.

Still, it’s Manuel’s story that I find myself reading most.  So heartbreaking, but his struggles are  common with so many people.  I empathize.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that he was from Stratford, just 30 minutes away.  In fact he’s buried there and I thought maybe it would be cool to visit his grave this summer.

People can be toxic, and they can poison the things you associate with them, but here’s the cool thing.  Toxins can be worked out of the body.  Finally, it is time:  no more toxicity with The Band.  I welcome them into my heart.  They are now becoming part of my being, and that’s the best part.

#787: Mix CD 19 – “Green Album”

GETTING MORE TALE #787: Mix CD 19 – “The Green Album”

As we’ve done in the past, let’s have a look at a mix CD I dug up, from about a decade ago.  It’s an interesting mix, made mostly of stuff I found online.  Any time I’d gather at least 80 minutes worth of downloads, I’d burn them to a CD.  I considered that to be a much more permanent format.  This disc is really just an archive of things I downloaded during a certain period of time in 2008.  The title 19 suggests that it’s the 19th such archive CD that I burned.  More than that though, I made it a good listen.  As usual there are surprises and a few attempts at buffoonery.  Let’s dive in.

The first thing to notice:  There are 23 tracks on the CD, but 19 listed on the front sleeve.  That means I hid four comedic bits somewhere between the songs, to be discovered by surprise.  That’s why I left off the track numbers.

The opener “Big Yellow Joint” is a jingle from the TV show Arrested Development.  Remember the Banana Stand?  In the 60s it was a popular place to meet to buy and sell weed!  But that’s out of the way quickly and it’s “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago from a very poor quality mp3.  “25 or 6 to 4” is the definitive rock song with a horn section.  Find me a better one.

Then, seamlessly, it’s an old childhood favourite:  “Bad to the Bone”!  When you make a mix CD, the software generally defaults to a three second gap between songs.  I liked a tighter flow than that, so I always used one second or even no gap.  This disc is almost 80 minutes long so I used every second I could find.  The transitions on my mix CDs are always top notch.  After George Thorogood, it’s Pat Travers with “Snortin’ Whiskey”.  I was probably hearing these tracks on the radio a lot at the time, so I downloaded ’em and burned ’em.

A really terrible sounding mp3 of “Sonic Reducer” by the Dead Boys reflects my love of the movie Hard Core Logo.  It started with the H.C.L. version of “Sonic Reducer”, and then Pearl Jam’s cover.  If I liked those, I figured I should download the original.  But all this proves to me is why you need to buy the CD.  Downloaded versions suck.  This is sonically not up to par and I’m surprised I was satisfied by this 10 years ago.

The first audio hoodwink follows the Dead Boys.  It’s a 30 second clip from the movie Walk Hard, starring John C. Reilly as Dewey Cox.  This clip features Jack Black as Paul McCartney, Paul Rudd as John Lennon, Justin Long as George Harrison, and Jason Schwartzman as Ringo Starr.

Having a chuckle at the Dewey Cox clip is a perfect way to transition over to a couple good reggae songs by Inner Circle: “Sweat” and (of course) “Bad Boys”! Have a laugh, then get down and dance. I like what I did here, if I do say so myself! Going from that back to rock and roll is tricky, but I think I pulled it off with the very poppy “Fire, Ice & Dynamite” by Deep Purple (Mk V). It’s an oddball rarity, only ever appearing on a Deep Purple DVD as a video slideshow.

One of my favourite 80s songs, the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey” still pleases today. I can only handle the Dead in small doses, but this is my favourite of their songs. It’s probably 50% pop and 50% nostalgia. In keeping with the 80s, it’s Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, a live version with the 1999 lineup supposedly intended for the Sandler flick Big Daddy.  Immediately following is a live version of “Dead Flowers” from an earlier time.  Ah, Limewire!  I remember regularly typing in searches like “Guns N’ Roses rare” or “Guns N’ Roses live” and downloading anything I could get my digital digits on.  It was also hit and miss in terms of quality.  These are bootleggy but not excessively so.

I remember watching Napoleon Dynamite a fuck of a lot back then.  I used the presentation Napoleon gave about the Loch Ness monster for the next unlisted comedy bit.  Then it’s another rarity, also only available as a bonus track on a DVD:  “Nobody Knows What It’s Like to Be Lonely” by Motley Crue.  The track is 7:05 long, and every fan of Too Fast For Love needs to hear it and have it.  “Song to Slit Your Wrist By”, which I used to think was by Motley Crue but is actually by Nikki Sixx’s 58, is a waste of time that I shouldn’t have included.  I thought I had downloaded a rare Japanese bonus track.  In a cruel twist, Motley included a 58 song on the Japanese edition of Generation Swine, forcing me to seek it out, not realizing it wasn’t actually Motley Crue.

In the very first instalment of Getting More Tale called That Crush on Avril, my not-so-secret affection for Avril Lavigne was revealed.  Let’s be honest, folks — her second album rocked.  I still like it.  She’s never rocked heavy like that since, and I’ve long since gotten off the train.  This CD has a rare acoustic version of “Complicated”, but far better then that is Weird Al’s parody “A Complicated Song”.

“Why’d you have to go and make me so constipated?
‘Cause right now I’d do anything to just get my bowels evacuated,
In the bathroom I sit and I wait and I strain,
And I sweat and I clench and I feel the pain,
Oh, should I take laxatives or have my colon irrigated?”

Keeping the comedy going, it’s a clip from Arrested Development with Jason Bateman and Michael Cera.  It’s a good show; you should watch it.

In 2008, Harem Scarem released a free official download:  a recent live version of “Hard To Love”.  This was intended as a final gift to fans, since the band were breaking up.  Temporarily, thank you very much!  The live version shows off the band’s impressive singing abilities, and of course being an official download, the sound quality is all but perfect.  I followed that with a live radio performance by ex-Tesla guitarist Tommy Skeoch, a song called “I Left the Circus”.  Well, I think technically he was kicked out of the circus.  It’s a jokey song about Tesla.  According to Skeoch in the intro, one of the guys from Tesla heard it and took it well.  “Although he’s kind of a pompous fuck and I don’t really like him.”  I’m glad I downloaded this; I don’t know how you’d find it today.  Who knows what radio show I downloaded it from.  The LeBrain Library is a storehouse for things like this.  I keep things that the record companies lose in massive fires.

Too soon?

In the late 80s, Robbie Robertson had a popular single called “Somewhere Down the Crazy River”, from his solo debut.  Some like it, some hate it, but it’s a remarkable song.  It sounds both retro and futuristic.  It featured a weird electronic instrument called the Omnichord, and an explosive chorus accompanied by Sammy BoDean.  A lot of this CD, scattershot as it is, features songs I enjoyed in my youth, but don’t own the albums.  I should fix that.

After a final sketch from the movie Superbad (“I’m gonna cry myself to sleep every night.  When I’m out partying”) it’s the ultimate rock comedy of all time.  Can you guess what that might be?  No, not Spinal Tap.  No, not Bad News either.  It’s Van Halen’s isolated vocal track of “Runnin With the Devil”!

Weird CD indeed, random but with a lot of effort to make it cohesive and listenable.  I’ll give myself:

4/5 stars