Monday, April 14, 2014

From the Flatlanders to the Clash: Joe Ely's long and winding road to the core of roots rock

Forty years after the Flatlanders record went nowhere in 1972, the group consisting of  (above) Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmy Dale Gilmore is something of an alt-country super group sensation now.

Ely is pretty sentimental about those formative years and those factors that led to success a half-century later.

After the Flatlanders record was released only as an eight-track tape, selling very little, Ely hit the road and ended up in New York City. He returned to Lubbock a few years later and joined the circus until a rib injury sidelined him. Kept still for a while, he formed the Joe Ely Band, which became a kind of unclassifiable country rock band synthesizing all of the music of the region, and in many ways becoming one of the core Texas-based seeds for the southwestern sound.

He signed with MCA Records in 1975, which over the decades became a kind of Billy Martin/George Steinbrenner relationship.

"I was on MCA Records four different times," he says. "They liked what I was doing, but they never found out what to do with it."

But Ely knew what to do: keep moving. By the late 1970s and early 1980s Ely had become a critical fave for such songs as "Musta Notta Gotta Lotta" and "Honky Tonk Masquerade." His razor-sharp lyricism, full of concrete details and a self-deprecating sense of humor getting notice at about the time as the Blasters were arriving, Jerry Jeff Walker was nearly a household name, X was experimenting with country rock and the Boss was blowing listeners away with the American roots oriented album, "The River."

Ely's band became the opening act serving as a tastemaker for such bands as Tom Petty and Heartbreakers, the Kinks and the Rolling Stones, all bands that blanched at the synth-pop of new wave, seeking a guitar-oriented rock'n'roll restoration with Ely as the lead off authentic genuine article to set the mood. It was during those years that Ely, suddenly better known in England and Ireland and Scandinavia than in the U.S., met the Clash.

"It was an odd meeting of two different bands from two completely different parts of the world," he says. "The one thing we had in common was a love for rockabilly. They had just recorded Sonny Curtis's 'I Fought the Law and the Law Won,' which I had also recorded, and we hit it off. All of the sudden we had a connection, and they showed us all around London."

It was Ely doing the chorus parts of "Should I Stay or Should I Go," with the lines of poorly remembered Spanish bits remembered from his days in Lubbock, and the band sought Ely's assistance for a roots-rock oriented series of performances in Texas. Ely says the Clash had a pretty romanticized idea of where they wanted to play, "places that promoters would never book anyone ... but we eventually were able to find them places to play like a high school gym in Laredo and a bordello in Juarez: They were looking for a kind of mystical passage into another era."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

This Was Jethro Tull But Now It's Not

In a lame television commercial pretending it could even come close to being just like the real thing, the Phoenix Symphony has been advertising a performance featuring the music of the Rolling Stones. While I'm sure it must have been some spectacular thing to dress in a tux for, it also must be said for those of us who wear ripped rock concert T-shirts as badges of honor in public, the whole concept was enough to burn, quite painfully, the toes right off the wicked witch of the East in each and every blessed one of us.

Not that an aged and glorious institution such as the Phoenix Symphony trying to hip things up a bit for the boomers is a bad thing. More power to them if it packs the house. As well it should.

And as the years climb all over us into the new century, we can all just sit back and watch Roger Daltrey and the Who dredge up tightly woven medlees from the rock opera "Tommy" till the whole band is deaf, dumb, blind and quite senile for only so long. Then we can scream quietly, to ourselves, or back to those letting their hair down at the Metropolitan Opera House, "Hey Roger! Put on a shirt!" and don't know if you've noticed but Alice Cooper is trying to sell cars these days.

Yes, as some wise sage once said, "Someday this war's going to end." Or something like that. Just like that, most assuredly, we are all going to look around and notice that all of the classic rock dinosaurs are gone, and the only thing remaining will be Pink Floyd laser light shows and 20-year-olds claiming royal fealty to all four sides of Genesis' "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway."

But think of this: Somehow, Shakespeare has survived the ages. How?

Here's how: Stuff like the Jethro Tull tribute band. That's how.

This spring, in a very Pan-like way, just such an outfit will be playing the Orpheum Theater in Flagstaff and it's enough to bring the memories of the late great rock critic Lester Bangs back out into the light with his essay, "Jethro Tull in Vietnam," just to make sure the tributees get it right.

I mean, now lifting whole paragraphs from that essay by Bangs, written in the mid 1970s, when Jethro Tull was one of the hottest acts of its time, I've got to ask the musical question: Who wouldn't want to recreate this?

"Make no mistake: in terms of sheer professionalism, Jethro Tull are without peer," Bangs wrote.  "They stand out by never failing to deliver a full scale show, complete with everything they know any kid would gladly pay his money to see: music, volume, costumes, theatrics, flashy solos, long sets, two encores. Jethro Tull are slick and disciplined; they work hard and they deliver.
"What they deliver is one of the most curious melanges on any stage. If their lyrics generally take a moralistic bent, the band themselves come on like total goofballs, and the contrast works nicely. All of them dress to the teeth, usually in Victorian waistcoats and tight pants, and from the instant Ian Anderson hits the stage he works the audience with all the masterful puppeteer mojo of the Merlin he often poses as. He whirls and whips in total spastic grace, creating a maelstrom around himself, flinging his fingers in the air as if hurling arcane incantations at the balcony. His eyes take on a satyr's gleam, get wild and pop from his head. He very effectively passes himself off as a madman reeling in riptide gales from unimaginable places. He exploits his flute exhaustively: baton, wand, sword, gun, phallus, club, virtuoso's magic axe. He twirls it like a cheerleader and stirs the audience to a frothing frenzy with it, then raises the ladle to his chops and puts the audience in a trance with an extended melodramatic solo."

In this, age of the the "American Idol" karaoke star mimicking whatever the multi-national producer and recording company asks them to do, we can all pause and wonder how tribute bands, if they are good enough to get sweet gigs in large music houses ... just how they can get good enough to go out there and sound like Jerry Garcia on guitar, Keith Moon on the drums, or Ian Anderson on the flute. Now, that's some trick. Takes a musician with some peculiar skills as both and actor, to pull that kind of thing off. And someday, just imagine. It won't be that classical pianist drawing grants from the Endowment for the Arts to play at the Lincoln Center, but instead four cats who can deliver "Stairway to Heaven" with perfection, and keep the weight down to just like the real waif Robert Plant once did.

Think the world is covered with Elvis impersonators? Imagine what's going to happen when Paul and Ringo breathe their last breath! That'll be the day job creation for musician-actors takes a quantum leap.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Just as the buzzards were closing in on the irrefutable disconnect that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer had vetoed a neo-conservative "religious freedom" bill, S.B. 1062, that she allowed to flourish for weeks in the Arizona legislature while she watched, that she later denied knowing about, as if the existence of the whole loony tune Republican-led legislative body was news to her, she announced this week that she would not seek a third term, no doubt because it had been determined she was un-re-electable.

The next day, March 13, 2014, a younger copy cat cougar television advertisement for Christine Jones, a former executive vice president at, for governator was broadcast during the early morning segment of the local news affiliate for CBS in Phoenix, KPHO-TV, which is far less liberal than the national newsreaders might seem, considering the reputation of "60 Minutes," Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Mike Wallace and so on for taking on the powerful to the Big East ... anyway, this feature advert (don't really know how long or often it had been broadcast previously, but it couldn't have been often) included Christine Jones acting like it was a commercial for a new brand of eye glasses. Call it the Sarah Palin pivot. She had the neo-politico hairdo, as in, kinda cougar, very Scottsdale, as in, appealing quite well to the gated community crowd. With sex appeal, perhaps, at the pivot just as her back was turned, for a quick look for the Viagra set. Close shot. You get the picture. The only thing missing was the wink.

Looked more like a hair commercial than a political advertisement.

Anyway, the weird pot-pole in American history that is Brewer's political career, considering the damage she had done to Arizona already backward international reputation was barely cold, and here was another close shot to a well-coiffed female to feast the fearful eyes on. Another party girl ready to rule. Another governator ready to f...k. A kind of Sarah Palin moment. Jeesh, I wish I could shake the impression, but there it is: My own style of masculine progressive propaganda, sure, sure, sure ... I've been known to see mirages for years ... call it post-traumatic Evan Mecham era disorder ... morphed into a Joe Arpaio border monitor ...

But let's just keep hot-dry-lands imagery brewing, just to see if any of it rings true. Have a Corona. If you must.

Brewer's announcement that she wasn't going to run was hardly a surprise. If you consider the disaster to race relations in the nation caused by S.B. 1070 a few years back, the finger-wagging-incident-at-President-Barack-Obama-photo meme, and the more recent confusion and embarrassment of an arch-conservative "religious freedom" bill to respond to a problem that did not exist, the whole state has been nothing less than ruderless in the foul winds of the cruel airs of the new draconian discourse of the snake charmers.

One only wonders if the state, since it hasn't all but burned down despite these social disorders, really even needs a governor. This arid land just seems to be solid as hell. If wishy washy leadership can't bring catastrophe to billions and billions of years of heat-baked stone, maybe we can save a few bucks and do away with the office entirely. At least the land endures.

Maybe a good wind sock will do. Just let it turn, in the breeze, to the political winds. During her announcement, Brewer used the term that she will continue to be a "cheerleader" for the state. And now I'm left with the unshakable angst and the sense of bewonderment at the mere question: "cheerleader" for what? Economic recovery? For more television news Kens and Barbies and politicians in kewpie doll outfits to blow sunshine up to the idea that our bloodthirsty glory days will somehow be restored ... oh never mind ... It's all just a bunch of bullshit! There was no such thing. The real terror-torial history of the southwest is a sad one. Brewer putting an exclamation point on this type of "mission accomplished" public relations from state offices is nothing less than lipstick on a pig, and a starving one at that.

Shame on anyone who buys it. The desertification of the Californicated is almost complete, this campaign commercial Confuscious reasons. Poetically speaking, let me put it this way for Arizonans: If you can still spit, you are part of the problem.

To Brewer's credit, she didn't always tow the party line. For example, accepting federal funds for Medicare during a red herring era where taking anything from President Barack Obama's administration was heresy for the reactionary rattlesnake sect. After her announcement, at least one pro-right commentator was kind enough to say she did what was best for the state of Arizona, and there is little doubt that this is what she actually believed. Sure. Sure. Sure. The road to hell is paved with ... "a lower wage Mississippi economy," as the leading Democratic contender, Fred DuVal, puts it.

Meanwhile, the GOP and Tea Party is flooding the zone with candidates, and it's going to be a bloody scramble for the governator candidate to run against the lone Democratic choice for gov so far, DuVal. Why so many conservatives want to be governor in a state that more often than not prefers a Democrat (and why that is, exactly) ... (is beyond me). Seems like a GOP guv will stand atop a snake pit of odd constituencies that wants to roll back even the knowledge that the Earth isn't flat. And it's so hard to argue with crazy people. But not even Arizona is flat, so I am told, and based on these billion-year-old canyons and mountains and stuff, I'm starting to believe, yes, Copernicus and Galileo and the highly skilled invaders of Mars at the University of Arizona astrolabs are correct, despite what some members of the Know Nothing Party, which wears ignorance like a badge of honor, wants people to believe.

One of these retro-wing hopefuls, Al Melvin, a state senator from District 11, may have already succumbed to these peculiar factoids when he failed to manage a few simple questions from Anderson Cooper over S.B. 1062. Yes, Big Al, religious freedom is running pretty rampant in the U.S.of A., due to something called the First Amendment. No need for the ditto. And don't even talk about that old Reagan era bugaboo, flag burning, cowboy. Everybody is saving their matches these days.

The GOP stampede this year will include Jones, the aforementioned "it" girl of the moment, who must have tons of her own money as the attorney for; Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, State Treasurer Doug Ducey, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, and Andrew Thomas, the former attorney general who ran wild bunch for a while with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe "J. Edgar" Arpaio, who has found a new hobby in the drone technology industry and alienated so many of the state's Latino voters the red line toward Democrats looks like some straight-up burning arrow from Al Gore's film, "An Incovenient Truth." Just think of the debates to come. Would anybody actually want to spend an evening hanging out with these people? Folks who think Sen. John McCain, a flame-spitting hawk, is some kind of liberal? Pretty tough crowd. The good. The bad. The ugly.

Just take a peak over the edge of the canyon, man. Greet the abyss. Doesn't it just make you want to spit?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Deceased author Raymond Chandler brought on as chief investigator for Arizona's S.B. 1062 fiasco

The Take Arizona's Super Bowl Hostage Committee has brought on Raymond Chandler, author of the detective novel, "The Big Sleep," as its chief investigator. The investigation didn't take long. No longer, that is, than that point in almost every episode of "Law and Order" when the detectives, after nosing around the streets of New York City knock over every seedy joint and newsy and drug addict for information decide to do a web search to find all of the missing clues they need to instantly find enough to prosecute the case.

In this case, all clues lead to the Cathi Herrod of the right-wing group, The Center for Arizona Policy ...

"Sounds pretty innocuous," stated the late mystery novelist, "but in the river of shit that knows no sleep, you can smell this one from here to Uganda. With a last name like that, no wonder this poor woman has some real religious hang-ups."

With that, Chandler returned to his eternal big sleep in a puff of pipe smoke.

Chief spokesperson for the committee to further pursue the members of Arizona's legislature who brought Arizona's poor civil rights image back to the forehead of the  international zeitgeist, the late author James Joyce, said he was pleased that Chandler's investigation was as inexpensive as it was, and thanked Chandler for his contribution to the literary tradition of the crime novel noir.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Portrait of Young State as an Outlaw Brigand

James Joyce appointed
to Take Arizona's Super Bowl 
Hostage Committee

In a stream of consciousness decision, the early 20th century author, James Joyce, has been appointed to the recently formed pirate organization intended to host the next Super Bowl in Arizona, if we ever get around to that ... According to Joyce ...

"Though my efforts may seem dead to the dumbed-down world, and my book, Ulysses, was once seized for being obscene by authorities in New York state, things have calmed down quite a bit since then ... personally ... and more recently I have become more of a sports fan .... Because the state of Arizona, which doesn't even tolerate daylight savings, and is therefore unaware of what the time is, or even what century it is, I felt like it was a good time to become an apparition to haunt the state of Arizona, although, as I recall, I didn't go in much for  the rampant spiritualism when I was alive, although, in more recent years, I had become a big fan of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung after my wake ... Now, my main mission as member of this newly formed committee is to make harsh judgment on Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer for allowing reactionaries to let the state burn while she churned about, quite lavishly, and perhaps a little hung over without having the usual bloody Mary in the morning, in order to function as the state's incredibly malfunctioning leader, to ask one fashionable question posed these days to politicians with something to hide, and who nevertheless stand to profit, in terms of the current polarities brewing, regarding what might be the benefit to herself, as governor considering, even while Arizona burns as an international laughing stock, the musical question: When and where was she when the state legislature was coming up with S.B. 1062 such nonsense in the first place, and why she waited so long to veto it, rather than further embarrass the citizens of this southwestern alcove of phantasmagorical odyssey ... as time fades away since the cursed event?

Since it has become unfathomably weird whenever the legislature is gathering to come up with such dumb stuff all of the time, and needs to be watched (no, babysat) closely, and Brewer is a politician who should have known in advance about what was, well, brewing for the Brewster and her party, it's hard to believe she needed to deliberate much about what already is regarded as unnecessary ... since the U.S. government already has guaranteed free speech with regards to freedom of religion ... it's hard to imagine how this dead man walking  S.B. 1062 bill couldn't have been headed off at the pass, as you cowboy, gun-toting Yanks like to call it, without damaging the state's reputation as it already has been ... unless,, of course, it likes that distinction ...

Now, other states have been enacting, or trying to enact stuff like this, too, but Arizona is uniquely branded as a hot bed for this kind of baffoonery, and the mythic clock of the small leading the larger, ever-outwinding tick-tocks of the world seem to find this desert wasteland uncommonly amusing ... Indeed, the silliness is quite the gift that keeps on giving for whatever liberals the arid zone already has ... from the MLK Day debacle in the early 1990s, to the botched debate over racial profiling more recently, and a lot of other perverse lawmaking that only rural areas in far flung Arab lands tend to circulate ... So, I ask again: Where were you governor, and what did you know about this, and why didn't you just stamp it out before things got clearly out of hand?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

And now for a few notes on how to hijack Arizona's Superbowl for political reasons ...

Folks, if you are sports fan, you have been hosted to a number of fantastic events in recent days, such as the Super Bowl, then, a little after that, the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, hosted by world leader, the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and attended by a bunch of media people, as well as those who can afford to buy tickets for such things, and, of course, the athletes themselves, an international herd of gravity game neophytes and wannabe glamsters on skates and skis and snowboards, all going for the gold, except for one person who had the nerve to leave the scene because she, a Ukranian athlete, Adelina Sotnikova, couldn't stomach the revelry knowing a violent revolution was going on back home.

Which is a shame, of course ... too bad there isn't a medal for that.

Next year, Arizona will host the Super Bowl. Dunno what the Roman numeral for it but No. 49 going to be a big one. The state's governor, Jan Brewer, is expected to veto the controversial S.B. 1062 bill, according to reports. That, leaves, as default, the entire state's Republican-led legislature, to serve as the next official choice to host as a kind of mob representative responsible for the debacle. That is the same group of politicians who passed S,B. 1062, which would, if signed into law, allow any business to refuse service to anyone they please based on their own intolerant, biased, pig-headed religious beliefs. 

Most likely, many of these same people will be in attendance for the event in Glendale, conveniently located between the city of Phoenix and the Pacific ocean. Like Sochi, it is also in a war zone, as well as a host for a great many gun shows ... something I happened to notice on the Phoenix television news broadcasts, and Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito is from there, as well. So is Jan Brewer. That is where she got her degree for a radiology career, which was what she did before she became a politician.

Now, as I still sit here so seasick from the things I have just mentioned and more, I must argue that I, as a resident taxpaying citizen of Arizona, have a share in all of this, which makes me, at least, a host in portions.

Which gives me the right to declare, yes, that I am now taking the Super Bowl in Arizona next year, well, hostage, pirate style. Aye!

Search here soon for upcoming arrangements, events, and so on. For example, I'm thinking of dictating that the game will be between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Pirates (I know, I know, the Pittsburgh Pirates consists of baseball players), but that's the best way to ensure the game will be a blowout by a 44-0 score ... and that the game will be over a few seconds after the first play, just like this year's game. More to come as events unfold.


Monday, December 23, 2013

East Flagstaff Daydream

You hear them gunning up outside your wall, the early morning engine warming F-150 crowd, gushing the carbon footprint into your nostrils, and you feel your tragic gift for technological intolerance to warm up, right along with the invisible drone of their new, hah, "Ecoboost" engines. But you, like Sherman Alexie, the Native American writer, take the following tact to the vision: Just close your eyes and maybe it will all go away. And so then, there you are, in the post-apocalyptic dream of the real America, and the clouds break, the sunlight hits your windows. You are now alive, if wide awake, in the continental dream, and you've got to get outside the whitewalls fast or you will go mad.

You are in Walmart world, Wally World, the Disney land of the walking dead. Your head is running fast from the echoes of the crazed Craig Ferguson is echoing in your head, a mad Scottish King roaring with laughter and insanity, but the body is still is moving slow. In the dream within the dream. You are the subplot, sure. Much smaller than you can possibly comprehend, but a hero on your own time. Time to get out and shop, drink eat or feed. And if there's one damn thing you are going to do it's this: You are going to spend local. You will not feed the Box Box. Big Pharma. Big Anything. You want to find some island of Mom-and-pop-ville to drop your daily dime. This is victory. Defiance. Success for the ninety nine percent now, and you want it now.

In Flagstaff, Arizona, you have a number of choices in this category. Cheap regions of town unmarked by the daily beasts of the corporate Big Box, meganational this, the this and thats of the invisible borders of the nation now trampled by the unloving capitalist greed dogs slurping up every borderline, which were always just theories backed by gunpowder, the gun, carved up by the colonializing powers of a bygone age, anyway. But today our lottery pick is the number seven. Which means Route 7 of the Mountain Line. You are the professional pedestrian, or the radical bicycle time racer, too. You will not accomodate the zombie technocrats of smog covering the Earth in any way shape or form.

But you are still, a consumer. Not a citizen so much. Not in this country. That is not what "they" call us. Not citizen this, comrade that. There's nothing to vote for today. You just get up, and to avoid going WTF all day, you must choose. And that's Route 7, lucky boys and girls! You get to ride on what's now regarded as the best small town bus line in the nation, as chosen by a panel of experts; whatever that means ... Continue ...