Friday, August 12, 2011

L is for Los Lobos

What?!!! How could L possibly be for anything other than Led Zeppelin?!!!

Hey, Zeppelin is obviously the greatest rock band of all time. No arguments there. But when I heard the theme from the Disney Jr. program Handy Manny the other day, I remembered just how criminally underappreciated Los Lobos have been for the last few decades.

I'm not even sure these guys are even "that band that did 'La Bamba'" any more... they might have disappeared from the general consciousness completely. I once drunkenly called The Wolves the "quintessential American band of our generation" (God, I used to love saying shit like that!). I mean, they had their paws (get it?) in the L.A. punk scene, roots rock, trad/Chicano, country, straight-up songwriting, textural production, you name it! These guys could, and did do anything and everything.

Up until the early '90s (I say "up until" because they were a full-fledged working and recording band in the fucking seventies!) it looked like LL might end up in the "great band, good records" file. The Neighborhood was pretty great, but Kiko is absolutely brilliant. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more rock solid record (minimum 50 min.) in the decade. No fat at all on this fucker. At least four songs can bring a grown man to tears, and a few might even inspire you to actually make something out of your life. "Short Side of Nothing" is the one of the greatest songs about the American experience, fuck that, the human experience ever written.

Don't get me wrong here. Their first couple of records (and EP) are great, and might actually document their live sound even better than their production-oriented stuff. But the fact that they took a chance and made Kiko, Latin Playboys (sort of), and Colossal Head was extraordinary. Tripping out to the beautiful "Ten Believers" and then getting your ass destroyed by "Mas y Mas" is the musical equivalent of jumping out of a jacuzzi and into the Arctic Ocean. No, they're not even on the same record, but I used to love doing this anyway.

Me and my music buddies (all huge fans) went to see Los Lobos play at some damn amusement park in Rhode Island right after Kiko came out. We were fucking corndogs-- smoking bad weed on a roller coaster, chugging big cans of beer, generally having fun. The band kicked ass, and we got so excited that we decided to "sneak backstage" after the show. We basically just walked into their dressing area, sat down, and started drinking their beer and eating their food. I think someone from the club followed us and was waved off by one of the band members, for reasons I still can't comprehend. Maybe we rattled off enough trivia about their discography to stay? Maybe they wanted to hear more about our band (doubt it!)? Maybe they were just plain bored (yep).

Regardless, we hung out with Los Lobos for what seemed like hours, and managed to keep what I remember to be actual conversations with these fine gentlemen. Steve Berlin was talking about early '80s Los Angeles, Louie Perez revealed recording secrets involving Pete Thomas, Conrad Lozano gave some tax advice (I'm not kidding!)... they really seemed comfortable shooting the shit with a bunch of drunken strangers. The only guy that wasn't interested at all was Cesar Rosas-- he had his headphones on for the entire ordeal.

Eventually it was my turn to sit alone with David Hidalgo, which was probably the most exciting "celebrity experience" I've ever had. This guy is one of the best songwriters, vocalists, and guitarists I've ever heard. Period. He sat there and listened, then looked me in the eye and said, "Just play music." Fucking amazing.

In other Mexican-American music news, "Low Rider Madness" by A Lighter Shade of Brown was my very favorite song for a few months. That was a weird period for me.

Let's salute Last Exit, Large Professor, Labradford, the Libertines, Lighting Bolt, Suede, Love, Nick Lowe, and Skynyrd while we're at it. And Led Zeppelin, who probably wouldn't have let me and my friends hang out with them backstage and drink their beer and eat their sandwiches.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

K is for Killarmy

Has anyone ever tasted aspic?
So we got back from a family trip yesterday afternoon, and boy are my hip flexors tired! Apparently I've lost almost all of my strength in this rather essential muscular group, which includes the iliopsoas and adductor longus muscles. From Wikipedia: Without the iliopsoas muscles, flexion in sitting position is not possible across the horizontal plane. Yeah, and it's really a bitch to walk, too.

Anyway, we had a really fun time, despite my adductor longus issues in the St. Louis airport and associated car rental location. After a grueling drive across Missouri featuring rain squalls of biblical proportions (causing Lee Jr. to shriek uncontrollably for about twenty miles), a slightly scary truck stop where a 5:3 ratio of males to toilets in the restroom was maintained over a 15 minute interval, and a statewide dearth of Smurf Happy Meals at McDonald's, we sputtered over the tire slicers at Avis/Budget (which Jr. hilariously called "Ah-vis Boojit" every damn chance he had) to return our purplish Hyundai. For some mysterious reason, we had to leave our car at the bottom of a long hill at least a football field away from the Avis shuttle bus, forcing us to climb an expanse of hot gravel with all of our luggage and both of our children. Everyone in the family had to piss badly, and nobody seemed to give a shit.

The shuttle bus bounced all over the damn place on the way over to Lambert, making our little 18-month angel cry her eyes out and nearly ejecting Jr.'s "Cars 2" potty seat right out the side of the vehicle. We finally get to the airport, and check our baggage curbside with the custodian from the Spinal Tap Cleveland concert. We had about as much luck as they did finding their way around-- I ended up separated from the rest of my family by a makeshift "under repairs" wall in the terminal and barely found each other. That said, the flight back wasn't too bad.

Here's what I learned from our trip:
1) Portable DVD players save lives.
2) Don't try to squirt allergy medicine down your 3-year old's throat mid-flight... just squeeze it into his drink.
3) Watching dozens of twenty minute chunks of Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 3 is really confusing and doesn't serve the filmmakers' intentions.
4) I honestly don't mind homes with little biblical quotes hanging all over the place, but I just can't seem to find inspiration from them. I was having a bit of a crisis in the bathroom late last night, and could only find something about "thine oxen" on the wall.
5) Always pack extra Prilosec when travelling in the Midwest. Just do it!
6) Airline stewardesses named Blanche may appear kind and helpful, but ultimately should not be trusted.

K,K,K,K... what begins with K? A few of the darker Wu-Tang projects, for starters. I remember listening to the Killah Priest stuff and saying, "This guy definitely has an interesting approach and something to say, but I'm not sure that I'm enjoying myself while listening to his music." My experience with Killarmy was similar, except that I never said anything about it for fear of being murdered. However, I don't need a gun to my head to tell you that the tracks on Silent Weapons (and, to a lesser degree, Dirty Weaponry) are spectacular. As for the rapping, well... I guess it's OK [looking over my shoulder for hidden assassins].

My King Crimson CD collection has been gutted out like a Tanzanian bush pig. Here's the damage: In the Wake of Poseidon, Three of a Perfect Pair (gotta have these); Beat (I'd like it back, but not losing any sleep); Lizard, Islands (good riddance); USA, Earthbound (probably only had on cassette); Young Person's Guide... (definitely never had CD). Everything else is still here. As for the crap after Perfect Pair, I'm waiting for someone to convince me that it's worth a darn (C. Simone?).

I seem to be missing some Kinks records too, but all the ones I love are still around. Life's not worth living without Village Green.

Not much else going on in the K department. Kraftwerk 2 is sehr gut, and solo stuff by KRS-One is interesting only for the production by Primo. Kool G Rap never fails, Kool Moe Dee is good for a few laughs, and Kool Keith slams on Sex Style. I don't know where this Diana Krall CD came from, but it looks like it cost at least $17.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

J is for Jesus Lizard

My friends and I are such unbearable dorks that we often attend Yankee games with prepared trivia questions and/or Saturday New York Times crosswords. I even do this with my wife! Also included in these pursuits is the creation of music-themed lists/categories.

I've written about this before: best metal bands of all time, bands whose name contains a member that isn't the lead singer, etc. At an excruciating loss to the Red Sox this year, we explored the idea of a band that was considered "huge" or generally well-liked and respected during their heyday, but hardly gets mentioned ten or twenty years down the road. My buddy may have framed this one within the indie rock sphere (late 80s and 90s), but I'm not sure.

Tight 'n Shiny!
Either way, he nominated the Jesus Lizard as a former powerhouse that can't get a free cup of coffee these days. I thought this was an excellent example... I can't think of a band that kicked more ass back in the day. I might have suggested the Boredoms as well, but the 'Zard is pretty darn perfect. After further discussion, we agreed that bands in this category were probably great live bands without many (or any) definitive recordings, and likely a bit "edgy."

As I skimmed through the Js, I was shocked to find only one Joe Jackson CD. Hello, is Look Sharp! available? Not here? How about Night and Day or at least Jumpin' Jive for cryin' out loud?!! Vanished. I have Body and Soul and that's all, folks.

Actually, I maintained possession of my Joe Jackson "I'm the Man" CD3... remember these?!! Now there's a fad right up these with the pyramid-shaped Rubik's Cubes and Magic Shell chocolate sauce! I showed one of the tiny twirlers to our babysitter, and she acted like I just whipped out a Betamax tape. OK, this is getting weird and I'm moving on now.

James, Jayhawks, blah blah, here we go... I couldn't wait to dig into my old Tull records, but they were all missing too!!! I need to reevaluate my habits of living in the early 90s, because I seem to have traded in about a third of my fucking music collection. I'm absolutely positive I owned This Was, Benefit, Aqualung, Living in the Past, Thick as a Brick, and at least five other Jethro Tull CDs. I probably have all the cassettes somewhere too, but that's another story. All that's left now is Stand Up (thank g_d!) and some cockamamie collection (not M.U.).

Of course my Joy Division stuff is all here. I wouldn't part with those for a six-pack of pure LSD. I imagine that being a real Joy Division fan is like being a real Chicago Cubs fan. Yeah, it's totally trendy but also a true badge of honor if you really listen to the music.

That's about it. Apologies to Jungle Brothers, but I'd rather watch Phil Hughes actually pitch a decent game than try to explain your discography. No offense to the JBs at all, but they're a tough nut to crack. Go listen to "Blahbludify" and I think you'll get my drift.