Friday, February 27, 2009

I am Long Play, my friends

Today is my 33 1/3 birthday. For those of you who are youngsters or technophiles, the LP album, spinning at 33 1/3 rpm, was the music delivery format of choice for more than forty years. It is still beloved by many music fans - those who are aficionados, and those who are dilettantes, and those who for whatever reason feel that there is a warmth and intimacy that doesn't resonate the same digitally. In honor of my reaching this momentous age, I'd like to share with you some music that I own on vinyl.

Joni Mitchell's Blue was the first piece of vinyl I bought for myself. I had several records I had inherited from my sisters, and a few that were purchased for me as presents - mostly of the turn the page when you hear the chime variety - but I didn't buy my first piece of vinyl until my musical tastes were fairly well defined. I mostly bought cassette tapes in those days; they could be had for less than a tenner and were eminently portable. I went into a little record store and saw this and thought instantly of my mother, who had long, stick straight flaxen hair just like Joni's before she joined the army and cut it all off. I bought it, and I listened to it again and again and again on my $99 Magnavox turntable, the one without a replaceable needle. I was the only one on my dorm floor with a turntable; everyone thought it was quaint and faintly ridiculous.

One of the albums that got passed on to me when my music snob sister eschewed vinyl for CDs was Stray Cats' Rant 'n' Rave. (Yeah, you know where this is going...) Listen, the eponymous album is epic, I know, and Built For Speed has some better written material on it, but Rant 'n' Rave was what launched them into the stratosphere. Setzer, for all his rockstar posturing these days, was just plain CANDY. Before I was bequeathed it at the tender age of 13, I used to sneak this album out of my sister's collection and listen to it with headphones on... Mostly because of this song:

I don't know how I came to be in possession of the Readers Digest wartime favorites album. It is thick and brittle, the sleeve faded from the years, smelling faintly of mildew... It is scratchy, poorly mastered, and strangely put together. But it was my introduction to swing and consequently to all the other forms of jazz, and the Andrews Sisters were my gateway drug:

I have the White Album. Disc two is scratched to hell and back, and Julia is a little warped on the B side of disc one. It probably makes me a bad Beatles fan to admit this, but my favorite sonng on the white album is not Bungalow Bill or Dear Prudence. It's Ob-la-di, Ob-la-dah.

I did not realize until I was about 17 that anyone other than Nat King Cole ever sang this song. It was on another album I received from my sister in a pile that she no longer wanted when I was in middle school. For several years, there was no song in the world that could compare to the sheer romance of this one:

Finally, this album belonged to my mother first. Although I was ostensibly too old to be fascinated by such things, I coveted the paper dolls on the inner sleeve, and dreamed of a day when I could have a fringe skirt to wear with my cowboy boots. I know every word of this album, every chord change and semiquaver. It still gives me chills.

I won't object if you offer me cupcakes or cocktails or even some 45's, but what I'd really like is if you'd drop a memory about a long play record down there in the comments. I know each and every one of you has a story... My newest favorite memory involving both the vinyl AND good wishes is this: On my recent trip to New Orleans, I celebrated my birthday on the last day I was in town. It happened to be the only day that Z. and I had to really explore, because we had spent so much of our time listening to to music at Voodoo Experience. I walked him all over town, down Frenchman Street and up Burgundy, and I finally made him go to the Louisiana Music Factory with me, which is a huge music store right on Decatur that specializes in local music from in and around New Orleans. I was happily dirtying my hands with vintage records, pulling them out and putting them back again, when Z. walked up behind me, leaned very close, and said, "I forgot to wish you a happy birthday. Happy Birthday." Then he kissed my cheek and left me amid the stacks of wax, breathing in the decades. I don't know that I have ever been as perfectly content.

Monday, February 23, 2009

For your delectation, a Monday outfit

I don't have much to say about this, except that I wanted to wear it with the mysteriously missing black shrug I got for New Orleans, and have not seen since unpacking that bag, and that I am also wearing black wool tights and black ballet flats. Also, I was listening to Gogol Bordello while I got dressed.

What I didn't bring home From Seattle

This trip seemed quicker than most, although it really wasn't any shorter. We planned it MONTHS in advance instead of hours, though, and that might have affected my perception of it. My anticipation had nearly eclipsed the event itself. Nearly... It was wonderful to see A. again; it had been nearly three years, and I couldn't stop exclaiming, "I forgot how funny you are! I forgot how much I like hanging out with you! I forgot that you are FULL OF AWESOME!"

So V. flew in from NYC, and A. flew in from SF, and S. and I made our way down from here, and we met up in a hotel room with two smallish beds and a whole BUNCH of shoes. We got up on Saturday morning and drank coffee and ate pastries and went shopping, and went shopping, and went shopping... We shopped for HOURS. I tried on approximately nineteen gazillion pairs of Betsey Johnson heels, but settled for a new pair of boots. We bought Japanese stationery and tissues with hamsters on the packages. We took a break to have bubble tea. We laughed ourselves breathless.

We headed up to Capitol Hill because there was not a chance in Hell we were getting a fourtop at a posh place on Valentine's night. We settled for Thai, and it was a good choice. Number one, the meal was decent - pumpkin curry and a noodle dish whose name escapes me - and number two, I nearly pocketed our bartender/waiter on the way out the door.
V. kind of hated him, probably because he was all hipster-y with his tight jeans and sarcasm and affected growl, but I was curious to see what his tattoos were of, and he played some MARVELOUS music while we were there. I like to think he did it for us. Also, when we ordered our drinks, I asked for a Hendrick's and soda, easy on the soda, and he said, "So heavy on the gin, then?" And then brought it to me, exactly like I wanted. The tipping point was when he brought me another one, without me asking. He had to finish his shift, though, and we needed to go to the karoake place.

I adore karaoke. I adore gay bars. I adore greasy, snarky bartenders and pretty ones who give me free drinks. And I adore being adored, of course. So when Leo, the baby sailor, started chatting me up, I let him. He was wonderful - attentive and funny, attractive, and the tiniest bit awkward. If it were not for his weird, hand-licking, PBR-swilling fratty friend Matt, I might have kept him, just as a pet.At one point in the evening, he said, "I just have to tell you , I think you're adorable." Aww, sweetpea! Adorable was exactly the word I was going to use for you!He offered to walk us back to the hotel, and I was prepared to take him up on it (I thrive on admiration, remember?), but my girls dashed into a cab, and I left him waving sadly in them middle of an intersection. Leo, in the miniscule chance you have stumbled on this blog, thanks for the drinks. I never got the chance to say that before I disappeared.

Sunday was full of clouds, both figurative and literal. Although Saturday had been so nice that I was wandering around Westlake in nothing but a longsleeved t-shirt, Sunday was chill and blustery. I awoke to a text message saying that plans had fallen through, and that the last friend who was going to join us couldn't make it. I spent the morning on the verge of tears and sick to my stomach, and only about half of my discomfort could be attributed to the several rounds of drinks the night before. I tried my best to not let it ruin the rest of the trip, and succeeded except for the ten minutes I spent crouched on the sidewalk on Broadway, head pounding and heartsick, attempting not to weep as I failed to put on a good face for Z., whose disappointment rivaled mine. I moped for a bit, and then went and got a tattoo. It's funny how pain banishes things, and brings the world into tighter focus. The desire to give in and cry disappeared.

V. left in the wee hours, and A. departed from Pike's Place. I had to buy another bag just to bring home the newspapers and magazines and book I accumulated in the remaining few minutes of the trip. When I got home, the last vestige of my mini-break was a pistachio macaron, the first cookie I have eaten in months. It was bittersweet.

Once again the city breathed a little new life into me, and now I feel like I can hold on until the crocuses begin to struggle their way through the cold ground. Even though there were goodbyes again, the splinters off my heart were smaller this time. I miss my friends, but we are as close as we ever were. Until next time, darlings!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Whatchu got in the pot?

There is some discussion about what comprises a 'billy song - rockabilly, psychobilly, punkabilly, etc. etc. It's not strictly the subject matter - Buddy Holly never sang a single tune about hot rods, for example. It sure isn't the look - while pompadours and cuffed blue jeans prevail, there are plenty of Nudie suits and rhinestone cowboy shirts in the scene, just as many pointed toe boots as crepe soled tu-tone slip-ons. It's not one particular vocal style - compare Elvis' butter smooth round tones to Carl Perkins' nasal hillbilly twang to Paul Fenech's flat Cockney growl. Dying young is no requirement, although plenty of them did. It's not even the guitar sound - Cochran rocked that big ol' Gretsch, and so does Setzer, but there were plenty of Jazzmasters and Telecasters and Les Paul Gibsons, warm tones and tight tones and wet ones and distorted ones. And even though it causes me actual physical pain to say it, it's not the click of a slapped upright bass - there are some definitive bands that never laid hands on a doghouse. Case in point? The Cramps.

Tell me with a straight face that that isn't rockabilly. Go ahead. But that clicky? Is the drummer playing the rims.

I'm thinking about the Cramps because Lux Interior died today. He wasn't exactly young anymore - he made it to 60 - but he was still writhing and wailing and deepthroating microphones with the best of them. He HATED the term psychobilly, and maintained until the bitter end that that was not what the Cramps played (although most people agree he himself coined the term), and would rather have lumped them in with the Stooges and the Ramones and probably Richard Hell and all those coked-up performance artists that shared the stage at CBGB in the Village. I can kind of see it; Lux and Iggy both had a propensity for stripping down to their pleather underthings, flaunting their emaciation, unabashedly fondling themselves, their bandmates, the audience... But that SOUND. That sound is undeniable.

The Cramps helped save American music, them and the Ramones. They reached back into history and found the still thumping heart of rock and roll and devoured it whole, infusing a scene that was becoming mired in its own cleverness with lust and nostalgia. Go listen to Stay Sick and hear the humor and passion and allegiance to the past that most 'billy bands now strive for. You might want to grab a pair of pleather hotpants or gold lame leggings, though. Just to honor a man who dressed like a woman and dated men but was married to a woman and who had more rock and roll in his left thumb than is contained in the entire combined body mass of this week's Billboard Top 40.