30 Century Man,
by Scott Walker
One of the most underrated and little-known singer/composers around, Scott Walker has for over four decades delivered powerful, personal albums whose songs stick in the listener's subconscious long after being played. Born Noel Scott Engel in 1943, he took the stage name Scott Walker while performing with the American pop group The Walker Brothers (who weren't really related), having a string of hits, including "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore", in the US, and, especially in the UK where they were more popular, during 1964-67. After the group's breakup, Walker released a series of solo albums between 1967-69 which reflected a new found maturity, as well as the influences of such European composers as Jacques Brel (whose songs Walker covered), in lyrics and production. But the subject matter of his compositions put off fans, resulting in poor album sales. This commercial setback resulted in Walker spending the rest of the 70s recording gloppy albums of pop standards, half-heartedly reuniting with the Walker Brothers, and apparently destined to sink in "has-been" obscurity. End of story, right? Well, Stephen Kijak's Scott Walker 30 Century Man , a 2006 British documentary belatedly released in US theatres last fall and now available on DVD, is not only a reaffirmation of Scott Walker's musical legacy, but it's also, as several writers have pointed out, a powerful portrait of an artist creating music that aspires to be something more than disposable pop. Kijak notes how, during the abortive 70s Walker Brothers' reunion recordings and tour, Walker regained his desire to compose and perform challenging musical works that practically dared the average listener to be stirred and/or angered. The director, using archival footage and new interviews, notes the progression of Walker's rather sparse solo work (one album a decade since 1984's Climate of Hunter!) in the past two decades and his influence on fellow performers and musicians. As a bonus, Kijak also gets the publicity-shy Walker to sit down on camera and discuss his creative process (shown vividly in the studio footage of the making of the powerful 2006 album The Drift), along the way getting Walker to open up about his past works. (Interestingly, Walker lets slip that once he's finished recording an album, he never wants to hear it again. Hence one explanation for his not touring.) But as the various musicians in the film (including the likes of David Bowie, who co-produced the film; Jarvis Cocker, Alison Goldfrapp, Johnny Marr, the members of Radiohead, and, of all people, Sting) point out in an extended sequence, Walker's music is made to be listened to, not (as writer Tim Lucas noted on his blog) played in the background on loud radios while driving your car. Walker's music is an expression of the artist opening up his soul and laying himself bare to the audience. It isn't supposed to be incidental music played as if it was a signature theme song out of the movies but a legitimately artistic and intimate work. That's something to think about in this age of instantly disposable pop icons and trends. Scott Walker 30 Century Man is a successful artistic appreciation and validation of an artist long ignored by the mainstream public who still managed to keep his musical integrity. As Brian Eno noted in the film while listening to one of Walker's compositions, "it's humiliating...we (musicians) still haven't moved past this" in terms of musical innovation and maturity. Too true.
July 2009 Archives
30 Century Man,
by Scott Walker
The Who Sell Out,
by The Who
Previously reissued in 1995 as a single CD, this classic 1967 concept album by The Who has now gotten a massive upgrade with a new 2-disc Deluxe Edition. Listeners now get to hear the stereo AND mono versions of the album's original tracks as well as numerous extras. The original album was a take off on British pirate radio stations operating in the mid-60s. Various announcements, jingles and commercials are interspersed throughout the album, making it sound like an actual underground radio broadcast. The songs themselves mostly focus on relationships and growing up, with humor and sensitivity which would later be dispensed with in future albums. And unlike previous and future Who works, lead vocalist Roger Daltrey is not the dominant singer here; guitarist Pete Townshend does most of the vocals on four songs (including the sublime "Our Love Was" and "I Can't Reach You"), and duets with Daltrey on two more. Daltrey gets to shine vocally on the band's classic single "I Can See For Miles" (still one of the coolest and most exciting rock songs ever recorded, with drummer Keith Moon at his most ferocious), "Tattoo" and the pre -Tommy mini-opera "Rael", however while bassist John Entwistle provides his usual black-humored side with "Medac" and "Silas Stingy". Even more remarkable, the psychedelic-sounding opening track, "Armenia, City in the Sky" is sung by Thunderclap Newman's Speedy Keen. Yet the album, and it's various extras (about which, more below) remains cohesive throughout. The different shifts in musical material (which includes instrumentals) actually cohere together, creating for the listener a sense of how unpredictable, yet exciting, non- BBC British radio must have sounded like. The faux commercials are a riot too, with the aforementioned "Medac" a particular stand out. (Oddly enough, during this period, The Who actually did real radio commercials, including ones for the US Military!) The extras: Well, most of them are remixes of the songs from the album, along with some previously unreleased gems, including a version of "Our Love Was" (mono mix) with a killer guitar solo by Townshend not previously heard before, jaunty versions of "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands" and a technically tighter version of "Rael". The mono version of the original album really rocks, with a lot more vitality and energy sound-wise. Oddly, two extras from the 1995 reissue, "Glow Girl" and "Melancholia", aren't included in this new edition. But there's such a wealth of material here (over 50 numbers!) that you won't really notice. The Who Sell Out still delivers!
Remembering Yankee Stadium,
by Harvey Frommer
Harvey Frommer's Remembering Yankee Stadium is a wonderful chronicle of the greatest baseball stadium of all time. There are many interesting features in this book. The book contains many historical photos of the park and famous people who visited the stadium. A time line ties all the chapters together. Each chapter covers a decade starting in the1900s when the then Baltimore Orioles moved to New York City and became the Yankees. At the beginning of each chapter there is a chart which shows the team stats for the year, including final standings, won-lost record, Manager and attendance. Other special features include: a section on Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in the 1940s; the home run race between Maris and Mantle in the 1960s; and Reggie Jackson's 3 home runs in 3 consecutive swings in the 1970s. The book brings us right up to date with a discussion of the players' lockout and strike, the effect of September 11th on baseball, and the steroid controversy. The appendix contains charts on all-time attendance, honorees in Monument Park, broadcasters over the years, Stadium Firsts, No-hitters, etc. Anyone who loves the game will really enjoy this book.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,
by David Wroblewski
Anyone looking for a unique and totally-engrossing reading experience should be thrilled with The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Quite surprisingly, this is Wroblewski's debut novel and it deserves all the rave reviews it gathered after it was published in 2008. Wroblewski set this remarkably engrossing story in his native Wisconsin and his great love and knowledge of that area is so evident in his writing. This is indeed the story of Edgar Sawtelle, who was born mute to a couple who devoted their lives to raising Sawtelle dogs, a fictional breed of dog Wroblewski created and is essential to the story. Edgar's life becomes a roller coaster of emotions and trials as his story is told. Whether he is describing the notoriously cold and snowy Wisconsin winters or the relationships Edgar develops in his life, Wroblewski's writing is terrifically descriptive and pulls the reader into Edgar's life. In particular, the glorious bond between dog and human becomes so real and tangible for the reader. This is highly recommended and would be a great candidate for a book club selection.
Spade & Archer , by Joe Gores
Set up as a prequel to Dashiell Hammett's classic detective novel, The Maltese Falcon, Spade & Archer is an affectionate pastiche of Hammett's literary work. Author Joe Gores, focusing on a time frame spanning the years 1921, 1925 and 1928, outlines the various events and cases that private eye Sam Spade takes part in, establishing himself as a top-notch private detective in the process. We find out about Spade's WWI record, the background behind his relationship with future partner Miles Archer (who, despite his inclusion in the book's title, has only a cusory presence in the scheme of things), his affair with Miles' wife, and his near decade long battle of wits with a mysterious criminal mastermind who always seems one step ahead (and who's frankly no Casper Gutman, if you know what I mean). Sam also winds up in a Maltese Falcon-like search for missing money near the end of the book. Gores pretty much captures Hammett's punchy style, although he occasionally falls into the trap of having characters tell the reader what's going on rather than showing them. (Why does one character, early in the book, describe Spade's entire war experience to Spade?!? That's a very awkward moment of exposition for the reader.) There are loads of in-joke references (fans of Hammett's The Thin Man will appreciate the name Spade uses as an alias in one scene) as well as forshadowing of events that occur in the subsequent Falcon, including a great closing scene that... Nope, I won't spoil it. In a nutshell, Spade & Archer is a Hammett (and mystery) fan's delight.
The Basement Tapes,
by Bob Dylan with The Band
Every fan knows about the period in 1966-67, after the infamous motorcycle accident, when Bob Dylan retreated to upstate New York and recorded a number of songs with his backing band The Hawks (later The Band) in his home studio. Through several of the songs were subsequently covered by other artists like Manfred Mann and The Byrds, the demo tapes of these sessions were constantly being bootlegged throughout the rest of the 60s and into the 70s. Pressure from the critics and fans finally resulted in a collection of some (not all) of these sessions released as a double album, The Basement Tapes (the name given to these sessions), in 1975. Now Columbia, after a previously released compressed CD edition in the 80s, has reissued the album digitally remastered on compact disc, with the original photo layout/artwork and liner notes/booklet by rock critic Greil Marcus. This new release doesn't have any extras like more songs, outtakes or updated program notes, but the sound is much better than the previous 80s version and the music, which combines country, blues, folk and even garage rock genres, still sounds fresh and exciting. Dylan himself sounds more loose and witty than he had on his previous releases at the time. (One quibble which I've had since the original vinyl release: WHY did The Band's Robbie Robertson, who put together this collection, insist on redoing his group's contributions? The Band's solo work on the album, while sounding great, seem more slickly produced -several of their demos from the original sessions were actually re-recorded for this album- and sound more like selections from another, later period.) Highlights from the album include (by Dylan) "Odds and Ends", "Goin' to Acapulco", "Tears of Rage", "Too Much of Nothing", "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"; and from The Band, "Yazoo Street Scandal" and "Katie's Been Gone". You won't find any duds in this collection. Now let's hope all the other sessions not yet released from this period make it out to the public soon.
Attack of the Turtle, by Drew Carlson
14-year-old Nathan Wade fears two things: a local bully and (despite being a fisherman's son) water. When his father enlists in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, Nathan goes to stay with relatives in Saybrook, CT. His cousin, David Bushnell, invents a submarine to be used against the British and asks Nathan to help him journey to New York to deliver the Turtle--a submarine designed to attach bombs to the British ships in New York harbor. There Nate tests his courage under fire and even underwater. Novel is based on actual events: although Nate's story is fictionalized, Bushnell did invent and construct the Turtle, the first submarine to be used in warfare.