The Drummer On The Couch

March 29, 2012

I spoke with a college buddy last week. He had called days earlier to inform me that a young drummer friend of his was moving to town.

I’m old enough to know better than to let him follow me home.

Years ago, I spent twelve months or so managing a band.

(and actually managed to get a label to offer them a deal)

Not long after meeting them, the drummer crashed on the couch in the house where I was living. Within a couple weeks, he was living on that couch.

It wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. He coughed up a third of the rent.

He could have the couch. I had a mammoth room – the biggest in the place – and a hundred dollars more a month to spend at the watering holes.

Cooper was an asset. I could depend on him to diffuse tensions within the band with his antics.

At home, he could be a source of entertainment. I returned late one night after closing one of our local haunts. I slumped down down on one of the couches in our living room. Coop was sitting there with another roommate whom we had dubbed The Chinaman, watching a rerun of The X Files.

I soon noticed the smell of something burning.

“Yeah, those are probably ready,” Coop noted to The Chinaman, shuffling off to the kitchen.

I followed and watched as he pulled a tray of Pillsbury rolls from the oven, charred beyond reasonable – even drunken – edibility.

“You’re not going to eat those? Are you?”

The Chinaman looked at me as though I was crazy as he and Coop headed to the front porch with the busquits and a couple of wedges.

“Where the hell did you get golf clubs?”

The two were standing in the front yard, illuminated by the glow of the street light and the odd car. Mostly the neighborhood was still.

“Fore!” Coop bellowed as he chipped one of the briquettes and we watched it arc lazily into a neighbor’s yard across the street.

One by one, the two of them took turns until a dozen or so freshly-roasted Pillsbury rolls had landed on the green. Apparently this neighbor had invoked their ire and this was their vengeance.

It became a late-night ritual, though we soon opted for using foodstuff that had already spoiled.

Here are four songs featuring drummers I dig…

Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight
from Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)

I don’t often notice drummers, but I’ve come to realize that the ones that do seem to catch my attention are propulsive and primal which is exactly how I’d describe Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlain.

(coincidentally, the drummer on my couch claimed to have known Chamberlain back in Chicago)

As for Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, Paloma and I spent countless hours listening to the double album during the autumn of ’95 and, from the first time I heard it, Tonight, Tonight was among my favorite tracks.

(though it’s still strange to hear it on the Major League Baseball playoff commercials)

The Who – Baba O’Riley
from Who’s Next (1971)

And, if you want propulsive and primal, you want Keith Moon.

(yes, Won’t Get Fooled Again better fit the bill, but I prefer Baba O’Riley)

Peter Gabriel – Secret World
from Secret World Live (1994)

I suspect part of my affection for Manu Katché is his name which is lots of fun to say.

(Manu Katché, Manu Katché, Manu Katché)

However, I do quite like Manu’s mystic rhythms which seem perfectly suited for the songs of Peter Gabriel. Coop once spent twenty minutes pointing out Katché’s prowess on video to me and, given a bit of insight, I was duly impressed.

(and I’m thinking our next addition to the menagerie might be named Manu Katché)

Rush – Tom Sawyer
from Moving Pictures (1981)

There were few concerts for me before I reached college and the opportunity to see Rush was a day-of, last-second opportunity.

A ticket, t-shirt, and the chance to see a sold-out arena full of never-would-be musicians airdrum to Tom Sawyer on the Power Windows tour cost me less twenty-five years ago than it did to fill up my car with gas last night.

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Dig

August 27, 2011

As a child, I had an obsession with dinosaurs and the prehistoric world. It likely was triggered by seeing Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster in the theater and watching B-movies on late-night television in the ’70s.

It’s why I still pause, as I did the other night, when I stumble upon Jurassic Park.

I can’t help but think that had that movie arrived a decade or so earlier, I might have ended up a paleontologist.

I dug Sam Neill’s style as Dr. Alan Grant.

He had a groovy hat.

His work attire was well within my sartorial range.

He spent his days under expansive skies in the Badlands, digging about in the dirt, searching for the fossils and bones of fantastic creatures.

Yes, I think that I’d enjoy the paleontological lifestyle. It seems to be relatively uncomplicated.

(at least until some well-intending, yet short-sighted, billionaire industrialist recegenrates velociraptors)

Not being a homeowner or an escaped convict, it’s been awhile since I’ve had to dig. In fact, I don’t recall digging for any reason – for bait, for treasure, to bury a drifter – since before I left for college.

(where I, unwisely, didn’t study paleontology)

I’m confident that – thanks to a pop-up book I had when I was five and late-night movies – I know enough to recognize dinosaur bones should I happen upon some.

Surely leading the life of a paleontologist can’t be as simple as getting a pick, a shovel, and a floppy hat and moving to Southern Utah.

Maybe all of the really cool dinosaur bones have been dug up.

Then again, perhaps paleontology is as straightforward as finding a plot of earth and digging until you hit T. Rex remains or China. You either end up on the National Geographic channel or causing an international incident.

So, I might soon suggest to Paloma that we pack up the Volvo, load up the cats, and head westward.

In the meantime, here are four songs to get us aspiring diggers in the mood…

Peter Gabriel – Digging In The Dirt
from Us

Despite a great affection for Peter Gabriel’s music, his leisurely pace in releasing new albums has caused me to lose track of him over the nearly two decades since he released Us.

(which arrived a mere six years after the commercially successful So)

I much preferred the emotionally gripping Us and the brooding Digging In The Dirt might make a swell theme song for a freelance paleontologist.

(plus, seeing Gabriel on the ensuing Us tour might be the highlight of my concert-going life)

The Pixies – Dig For Fire
from Death To The Pixies

Though The Pixies were poster children for the burgeoning alternative rock movement that took place while I was in college, I had little more than a passing interest in the band. Why I’m not sure as I quite like much of their catalog.

(Paloma would likely put them high on her list of favorites)

Dig For Fire has been described by lead singer Black Francis as an homage to Talking Heads and the catchy track does possess the latter act’s jittery, stutter-step spirit.

The Who – Dig
from The Iron Man: The Musical By Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend’s adaptation of a children’s story was released while I was studying in Southeast Asia, leading to several confusing exchanges with shopkeepers as I attempted to find a copy…

me: “Pete Townshend of The Who…”
shopkeeper: “Who?”
me: “Yeah, The Who…”
shopkeeper: “Who?”

The album, despite guest appearances by everyone from John Lee Hooker to Nina Simone, wasn’t worth the effort of acquiring it. It did feature two new songs by The Who – the first since the band’s first farewell with It’s Hard in ’82 – including an ill-advised cover of Arthur Brown’s Fire.

But I dug Dig and, though it’s hardly a Who classic, the repetitive use of the title does make me want to pick up a shovel.

Blondie – Dig Up The Conjo
from No Exit

So, I’m a bit confused by Dig Up The Conjo, from Blondie’s 1999 reunion album No Exit.

It sounds as though the band is imploring me to “dig up the Congo,” which would be ambitious as the Congo River is the deepest river in the world.

But, “conjo” is apparently a Spanish insult.

Of course, Blondie was often lyrically nonsensical, so perhaps my confusion is justifiable, but I thought No Exit was a strong return for Blondie (after a seventeen-year hiatus) and Dig Up The Conjo is dense, swirling, and hypnotic.


Transcendent

October 16, 2010

God only knows how many live shows that I have had the good fortune to see over the years – several hundred, at least.

From local bands in dingy clubs to major bands at stadium shows and festivals, there are few acts that I could have reasonably hoped to see live that I have not had the opportunity to do so.

And, if asked to choose one that I’d wish to traverse time to experience again, I wouldn’t hesitate in an answer.

Peter Gabriel.

My initial exposure to the one-time Genesis frontman was during my musical formative years when Shock The Monkey became an unexpected pop hit.

As I continued through high school, I came to know songs like Games Without Frontiers, I Go Swimming, and even Walk Through The Fire (a track from the Against All Odds soundtrack) from the rock and alternative stations I listened to.

I purchased Gabriel’s commercial breakthrough So upon release and began delving into his self-titled back catalog even snagging a copy of the soundtrack to Birdy on which the singer reworked some of his previously released tracks.

By the time Passion, Gabriel’s stunningly evocative collection of music from and inspired by the movie The Last Temptation Of Christ arrived in ’89, I was completely on board and awaiting each new release.

Of course, I soon learned that waiting for new music from Peter Gabriel was almost as maddening as waiting for Godot, but arrive the next album did when he released Us in autumn of 1992.

It was on the subsequent tour for Us that a friend from the record store where I was working snagged a handful of tickets on the day of show and six of us made a three-hour road trip.

The band – featuring long-time members like bassist Tony Levin and guitarist David Rhodes as well as newer members like drummer Manu Katché and violinist Shankar – was stellar and Gabriel was riveting.

Of all those shows I’ve seen, over all these years, I have never seen a performer absolutely own an audience as Peter Gabriel that night. There were some visual effects, but they were minimal, unobtrusive, and perfectly complimented the music.

The focal point was the man and the music.

At several points during the show, I vividly recall scanning the sold-out arena and being amazed at how transfixed the entire crowd was, all eyes set on the singer.

Afterwards, my friends and I huddled outside on the concourse, smoking cigarettes and discussing what we had just witnessed. The most effusive praise coming from our receiving clerk, a tall, burly character with long, stringy hair.

The guy was a punk rock fan, had once been a road manager for Scottish punk group The Exploited, and liked relatively little music outside the genre. A good fifteen years older than most of us, he was old enough to claim to have seen Jimi Hendrix in concert.

He declared it to be the best show he’d ever seen.

I couldn’t argue otherwise.

Here are four songs Peter Gabriel performed that night which I recall as being particularly memorable…

Peter Gabriel – Solsbury Hill
from Shaking The Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats

If I ever took on the daunting task of compiling a list of personal favorite songs, I would have to think that the poignant, spiritual, and subtly anthemic Solsbury Hill would be a strong candidate for the top ten.

No matter how many times the song might serve as the musical accompaniment to a trailer for yet another vapid romantic comedy, nothing can diminish the power of the song or wear out its welcome with me.

Peter Gabriel – Family Snapshot
from Peter Gabriel

Gabriel enters the headspace of an assasin drawing on the unsuccessful attempt on George Wallace’s life and the actual murder of John Kennedy for inspiration and imagery. Each and every line resonates, upping the ante and pushing the song to its harrowing climax as the music builds.

And then, Gabriel reverts to the imagined childhood of the protagonist, witnessing the carnage as his family crumbles and offering the heartbreaking plea, “Come back mum and dad, you’re growing apart, you know that I’m growing up sad.”

Peter Gabriel – Secret World
from Secret World Live

Us had a focus on relationships in various states of disrepair none more so than Secret World which closed the album.

Live, Gabriel used the song to close the show. Walking to the front of the stage, he opened a large suitcase and, one by one, each member of the band climbed into the container and dropped out of sight as the song ended.

Gabriel then closed the suitcase and brought a conclusion to the main set.

Peter Gabriel – Here Comes The Flood
from Shaking The Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats

After ending the main set with Secret World, Gabriel and the band returned to the stage – along with with Congolese singer Papa Wemba, who had been the opening act, and his band – for encores of In Your Eyes and Biko.

At that point, the crowd of musicians bade the audience farewell, leaving Gabriel alone again. Bathed in a ghostly light, accompanying himself on keyboards, he delivered one final song – a stunning, haunting version of the sparse Here Come The Flood.