Just found out that Bob Crafton, a.k.a. "Chilly B", died. He was one of the founders of Newcleus, known for their great songs "Jam On It" and "Space Is The Place".
I remember hearing "Jam On It" on DC radio when I was a kid. Blew my mind. So funky, so futuristic. I made my own DJ scratch dubs of the track. Wanted to get a synthesizer. Wanted to rap.
Check it out. Hear the icy cold synths and beats brush up against the warmth and joy of the vocals. Electro and rap. So far ahead of its time. Envisioning a future of hope, rather than glorifying hopelessness, guns, and drugs.
Look at that video - that's the joy of music, people. I've been looking for a band, a platform, and a vibe like that for most of my life.
Chilly B is featured at about 1:45. Dig that classic rap cadence and voice. Old school, obviously raised on Kurtis Blow. As Greg Kihn said, "they don't write 'em like that anymore". As Shakespeare said "he was a man, take him for all in all. We shall not look upon his like again."
I don't know what you think of when you think of Christmas, but here's what I think of: Disappointment. Tension. Yeah, I have a few memories of opening some toy I wanted, but those are fading just like the photographs of the days my parents probably can't find anymore.
I do remember my aunt and uncle gave me some of my first music - "Tattoo You" by the Rolling Stones. "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac.
Christmas, 1983. The band is still in the studio, working on "Life, Style..." On Christmas Day. Hoping to finish so we can go home for dinner. I'm in the vocal booth, having just finished the lyrics and vocals for "Last Song", which was also the last song we were working on.
The album was ready for mixing, and we already had a rough up. The phone rings. It's the label guy. We were being dropped. The album was never going to come out. He was claiming we cost too much money and weren't going to recoup. There were other reasons, too, but I'm not going into them here.
Over a year of hard work, and our whole teenage lives, gone. The band leaves the control room to go smoke or drink or cry or whatever. They don't notice me still in the vocal booth, in the dark. I slip out the back, my Schott leather jacket barely keeping the chill off. I walk nearly a mile before I can hail a cab and just tell him to drive...and I disappear for a long, long time.
There are other Christmases I could write about with similar stories, but instead, I'll focus on the positive.
In July of 1983 back when The Pants were still The Next Big Thing, we were asked to participate in some network Christmas special. I think Carl Sagan was hosting or involved or something. I remember Ewoks or Muppets or Gremlins or Goonies. It's all a little vague. The band couldn't make it, but the agent insisted that I did. So I turned up and did a nice little rendition of "Winter Wonderland".
Of course, after the band was dropped, they cut the segment from the special and it never aired (if anyone ever finds a YouTube video, please let me know!). But I managed to dig up a copy. We were going to put it on a flexi and send it out to the fan club.
Been there, though. Sometimes you gotta give 'em the boot. They have a job to do, they're supposed to do it. In Jay's case, they're not "contributing". Jay writes the music. The band is named after him - it's his group.
It's not easy managing a band. It's somewhere between running a volunteer organization and being married to multiple partners. A tricky balance, requiring a wide personnel/personal skill set.
Many bands like to talk about how they're "democracies" where everyone writes and contributes to the music, vision, etc. It's true some bands do work this way, but very few. Or at least very few successful bands.
Look, Picasso didn't have a bunch of other people coming in to doodle on "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon". Shakespeare and Stephen King didn't have some of their teenage school friends dropping by to scribble a few lines or tell them they didn't think the second verse "worked". Frank Lloyd Wright didn't bring in some "session architects" to add some parts to the Johnson Wax building.
Heard of "the auteur theory"? It applies to bands, too. I've met a lot of band members and musicians in my day. Hell, I've been a lot of band members and musicians in my day. Mostly they want to stand in the back and play. And sleep with the significant others of the rest of the band members. Sure, they're all egomaniacs, but not all of them crave the spotlight enough to do the work.
To be honest, this isn't exactly new. When The Pants were touring through Germany, Florian from Kraftwerk got a little tore up on schnapps and gin and started talking about how he was going to replace his whole band with what he called "Bandroids".
Typically, he was overreaching and way beyond what the technology could deliver - he talked about creating an entire label of Bandroid acts, eventually evolving things to what he called "maschine für maschine" - music by and for machines. Then he started talking about robot bicycles. I left him with T What?! and went back to the bar. That's all I remember.
Anyhow. Bandroids replacing humans - it's closer than we think!
This track has a heavy Michael Jackson influence. Thought I would tip my shiny hat to the one-gloved master. I hope he's far from pressure and Post-It notes now.
I wanted to try to write something with a little more soul while simultaneously paying tribute to some of our hardest-core fans. Make no mistake - I love the older women. Look at Farrah Fawcett. Smokin' until the end. There are too many to name.
Still on track to have the new album finished before summer's over. Dante's going to paint up a nice cover.
Pantemonium! is coming. Work is proceeding slowly, but it is proceeding. Drummer Dante is headed back in for more hand surgery today (we're all wishing him luck) and T What!? is still in China touring with acrobats or whatever his solo project entails.
Me? I've been in the studio mixing.
I'd like to present what I believe is The Best Song I've Ever Written. It's called Summer's Promise. This is the current rough mix. I wrote this song back in 2005. It's based on a true story, as are many of my songs.
The lyrics may be a little corny, but I love the feeling. The melody, the keyboard line, the guitar parts - I don't know how it turned out so good, but I'll take it.
Let me know what you think. Snare drum is too loud or something. But it's very close to done.
It was June and July, it was her and me It was meant to be When the heat of the day became the heat of the night We held each other tight And we danced All summer long And we sang All summer long
But vacations end and it was time to go Returning home On my own All that year I carried the mark of Summer's promise On my heart I would wait for Summer to come Counting days Until they all were gone
But Summer's promise never meant to last She gave her heart and then she took it back People change and the world spins so fast Summer's promise never meant to last
Next June arrived And so did I With a flower and a smile for her But the look on her face told me everything had changed We never talked about it But there was no doubt
And to this day, I have a scar Where her promise broke and cut my heart and I cried All summer long
Summer's promise never meant to last She gave her heart and then she took it back Feelings change and shatter like glass Summer's promise never meant to last
The 3 Texans have had careers longer than most musicians have lives - they started playing together in 1869. They've been savvy enough to get way rich without selling out - they turned down $1 million each from Gillette to shave their beards. They've been doing exactly what they want longer than anyone can remember and people love them for it.
Everyone knows they're cool. But they don't get the respect they deserve, especially these days. Yeah, yeah, they're in the Rock n'Roll Hall of Fame. Don't hold that against them - it doesn't count for anything, and the kids today haven't managed to pick up on how awesome they are. They're too busy listening to Journey and Duran Duran.
ZZ Top never cared what anyone else thought and still doesn't. They played their blues-roots rock for something like 100 years. They wrote great, slightly dirty songs like "I'm Bad...I'm Nationwide", "Tush", and "La Grange".
And then they started getting weird.
They made an album called "Eliminator". Maybe they were bored after making several dozen solid blues-rock records, each with super-solid singles. Perhaps they were savvy enough to understand what tastes were changing to in the 1980s. I like to think it was instinctual rather than calculated.
For "Eliminator", drummer Frank Beard played to a click track and synced and mixed his live drums with a Linn Drum. They took their buzzing distorted guitars and mixed buzzing sawtooth synthesizers in, chugging sequences augmenting the chugging guitars and bass. It's a breathtaking combo, which sounds both raw and polished, timeless and modern.
"Eliminator" sold over 10 million copies, becoming one of the first albums to be certified "Diamond" by the RIAA. Also one of the last, because since the music business threw itself out a window and genres splintered into a million shards, nobody buys records like that anymore.
A big portion of the album's success came from the fantastic videos they made to go along with it. "Gimme All Your Lovin'", "Sharp Dressed Man", and "Legs" were the quintessential MTV videos. The band appeared, driving the car on the cover of the album. There were (by 80s standards) high production values, short stories of the band turning ordinary losers into cool people, and of course, hot chicks.
These videos, for all intents and purposes, were the 80s. You wanted to be one of the people in the video. Or grew up looking to find people like the ones in the video to sleep with. The videos supported rather than upstaged or ignored the music. They kept similar cast and stories so the videos all felt part of a piece.
They managed to parlay their success into a song on the hottest movie series of the 80s - the Back To The Future trilogy. And they followed up "Eliminator" with an even more synthesized album, "Afterburner".
Not as charming as the previous record, "Afterburner" sort of sounded like the band on autopilot. But that was also perfect for the 80s zeitgeist. It had more of everything, and some big hits as well. "Rough Boy" is particularly nice, with a clear influence from Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" video, and an icy take on a pop blues ballad.
So what's so special about ZZ Top? Well, since their big breakthrough on "Eliminator", countless other rock bands have tried to combine drum machines, synthesizers, and guitars. The bands who have tried to duplicate ZZ Top's brilliant sound include:
Def Leppard. Their albums with "Mutt" Lange actually surpassed ZZ Top's in technological achievement and sales, but without any of the quirky fun.
Jesus Jones. They don't know it, but they owe a debt to ZZ Top
Nine Inch Nails. Trent acts like he's the first guy to think a drum machine and a distorted guitar would go great together, or that a clever video would help sell a record. Sorry, man. ZZ Top FTW.
I could go on, but I don't need to shame anyone else. They know who they are. Stealing from the greats without paying respect. But not Sid. I love ZZ Top. I owe them.
I ran into Billy Gibbons at a party I crashed in the Hollywood hills in 1991. He did not look well, but I suspect he had probably crashed the party, too. I wanted to tell him how much I liked his music, but he was just so cool and there...I couldn't bring myself to get close enough to say anything.
If I could have said anything, I would have said "I want to ride in the car. I want the hot chicks in the animal prints to do unspeakable things with me. I want to be transformed by the power of rock into the cooler version of me I know is in there. I want to drive down a dusty road to a brick loft with neon and Nagel prints on the walls and an old refrigerator full of beer. And thanks for the music."
Alas, it was not to be. Should I be fortunate enough to be graced with the opportunity again, I will not fail. I will tell him that I, too, am bad...and nationwide.
ZZ Top still around, they're still playing. I suspect they'll be rocking in another hundred years. Rick Rubin is producing their new album. Despite Rick's continuing self-cartoonification, I look forward to hearing what ZZ Top sounds like in AC/DC drag.
Until then, check out this short playlist for an example of their unmitigated awesomeness.
Dante Negroponte, our drummer, is nearly fully recovered from his motorcycle accident. He has retained one of the finest personal injury attorneys in San Francisco, and will be pounding the skins in no time (he'll also be playing drums, too. Har har.)
Of course, I couldn't let the hot engine of my career idle or cool while Mr. Glasshands went through physical therapy or whatever you do when you break your hands. I did what they taught me to do in Hollywood: I sent him flowers, a fruit basket, and a note that said "Your job is waiting for you".
And then I started auditioning replacement drummers.
My first choice was Jens Hanneman - cat can play everything - but apparently he's already "committed" for 2009. We did have a good jam session, though. Jens totally dominated. Amazing stuff. Jens made a DVD a few years back, which was how I heard of him:
This young lady was my second choice: She was quiet and polite (I don't think she said a word during the audition - her "uncle"/manager did all the talking). Can play to a click no problem. Moved her own gear, which was refreshing. Also apparently available for cheap.
3rd choice was a guy named "Gregg". He tried out for Luxxury a few years ago and blew us all away. Apparently he's now fronting a band called "G.R.E.G.G.", which is going to blow everyone away real soon.
Anyhow, Dante's on the mend, so I guess this was all for naught.
My friend and bandmate Rich "Foxx" Trott says he enjoys when I write about my musical influences, so here's some more in that vein...
The only thing worse than "not making it" as a star is "making it for a little while".
I've never met Adam Ant (a.k.a. Stuart Goddard) but I feel like I know him well. Yeah, he ripped us off a bit (hint: the song was originally called "Pantmusic"), but then again, who didn't rip us off?
To be fair, I stole from him, too - in obvious ways (What's my band called?) and less obvious ways.
Adam Ant not only worked with Malcom McLaren (better known for a less-talented, less-successful one-off band called The Sex Pistols), Adam got screwed over by him in truly spectacular fashion! McLaren helped shape Adam's pop star vision...and then more or less stole The Ants from Adam and refashioned them into Bow Wow Wow, replacing Adam with teenager Annabella Lwin (there are stories to be told here soon, too). Like the Pants, Adam was forced to rush to get an album out with "his sound" before Bow Wow Wow released theirs. Bow Wow Wow is primarily known today for covers - both their retread of "I Want Candy" and the (at the time) under age Lwin posing nude on the sleeve. (This is not to knock Bow Wow Wow - they are awesome, too)
The Devil take your stereo and your record collection
Ant was so punk he decided he wanted to make both pop music and money, not just smash everything - at the time, that was seriously radical. He wrote clever, hooky songs, teamed up with a fantastic guitar player (the underrated Marco Pirroni), and developed one of the most distinctive visual styles of the 80s (or any decade), right down to typography. Like Billy Idol, he often played (uncredited) bass guitar on his albums, and is much smarter musically and in other ways than his cartoonish image would have one believe. (However, unlike Billy Idol, one of my ex-girlfriends did not date Adam Ant.)
Trent Reznor says the backwards "N" in the Nine Inch Nails logo was inspired by Adam Ant's backwards "D" and NIN covered "You're So Physical" on their breakthrough "Broken" album.
Close personal friend Roxy Epoxy covered "Beat My Guest", and her vocal stylings and the music of her band, The Epoxies, owes a clear debt to Adam Ant as well.
As a kid in the 80s, Adam Ant was unlike any other singer, celebrity, or person I knew. He wasn't as polished, smooth, or awesome as Duran Duran...but he was oddly scary/threatening, raw, sensual, and human, receding hairline and all.
My first real girlfriend was head-over-heels for him, and thought he was sexy as hell (she also broke my heart, so her judgment is somewhat questionable). I saw his videos and wondered what he was thinking. Was he serious? How could he be in that get-up? But he couldn't possibly be joking because he seemed like he meant it...His songs were funny, sexy, and sometimes creepy.
Eventually I realized that part of what made Adam Ant's whole thing work was what actors strive for - that sense of "commitment" to the role, to the part, to the song, to the look. Adam Ant is fearless when he sings. He throws himself into his music completely, and that abandon is what makes it and him powerful.
We went on "Top of the Pops" for 3 minutes - "Dog Eat Dog", that was it - and the next day 200,000 people went out and bought the record. That 3.5 minutes took 3.5 years to prepare for...
He sent copies of his records to a teacher who had been supportive of his artistic tendencies. And he was "the most written-about celebrity [in the UK] in 1981 except for Princess Diana". He had a slew of hit singles before flaming out in 1989 with an album produced by one of Prince's understudies. Took up acting, got some b-movie and TV roles. Did commercials for Honda scooters with Grace Jones. Carefully, obsessively managing and plotting his career.
The whole time he was grappling with serious mental illness: depression.
Did I tell you I didn't cry? Well I lied
The music lifestyle is demanding and fatiguing in every way. You work so hard to "live up to your potential" and to "make it". And then what? Even if (to quote Mr. Ant and others) there's always room at the top, you're always just renting that room. You will be evicted.
Once that happens...well, there's nothing worse than watching something you've worked so hard for - your fame, fortune, fans - slip away from you. To go from playing rooms packed with screaming girls to being harassed and called a "has-been" everywhere you go...it's tough to take.
Adam Ant went through all that and more. Dated Heather Graham! Yet he still came back and put out "Wonderful" in 1995. It's not a crazy, wild record - it's a grown-up album about dealing with all this stuff. I was skeptical then and am still not crazy about it, but the stellar "Won't Take That Talk" opens the album, and I still get a thrill and a smile on my face when Marco busts out that Jazz Chorus-fueled guitar part on "Wonderful".
At some point Stuart/Adam wrote an autobiography - why am I only finding out about it now?
Here's the first part of a great, long-overdue documentary "The Madness of Prince Charming" on YouTube. The whole thing has some surprising moments, both funny and extremely dark:
Mr. Goddard, I raise my hotel bourbon to you. You helped make me who I am today. You can steal from me any time, and I hope to someday shake your hand and thank you for your words of wisdom, and your music.
Ridicule is nothing to be scared of Don't you ever Don't you ever stop being dandy Showing us you're handsome Don't you ever Don't you ever lower yourself Forgetting all your standards
During our little hiatus, I've been spending some time listening to music and catching up with friends. I've recently (re-)discovered Julian Cope, who is more of a genius than I ever could have possibly realized.
Genius? Hell, the man is a prophet.
The liner notes to his 1991 masterpiece "Peggy Suicide" explain the songs while explaining nothing. Of his nearly-a-background-to-a-Levis-advertisement (already anticipating the commonplace song licensing of today) "East Easy Rider", he writes:
Seems to me that the wheel's gonna kill us. You spend your life being sold on the idea of freedom and the open road, 2-lane flat-top, the driving movie, the open-topped sports car, the motorbike as phallic metaphor, the whole schmeer. Then we find out that pollution's going to kill us all...if we don't move...our children are going to take a look at the world that we've left them and they're going to kill us in our sleep.
Way ahead of his time. And the song sounds great. And it's groovy. And catchy.
Cope can write fantastic pop songs with the best of them, even in the middle of bad production (either excessive or too minimal - see "Charlotte Anne" and "Out of My Mind on Dope and Speed") He can also rock and blow your mind like Iggy Pop or Captain Beefheart or you name it.
He's also a distinguished scholar who speaks Russian and isn't just passionate about music, he's also learned.
...at least the Coop’s first two LPs sounded like the Beatles in a liquidiser – Lick My Decals Off sounded like fucking Henry Cow jamming late period Pere Ubu! Mercy! It’s just that Alice Cooper became a Hollywood golf no-mark while Captain Beefheart became a holier-than-thou sepia print by Anton Corbijn. Alice may have become arena dross, but Beefheart opted out of music altogether. And, in my book, choosing the art gallery scene over the arena rock scene is a far bigger crime against humanity. But then, my love of music is such that, for me, even T’Pau, Living in a Box, and the Jools Holland Big Band together doing reggae versions of the Macarena comes closer to approaching the divine that the passive drywank snorathons of meaninglessness spewed-up by the I’ve-got-my-personal- neuroses-and-I’m-not-afraid-to-use-them brigade of Tate modern masters.
That's not just heresy to the elite rock crowd, it's a spot-on critique of much modern art.
The great thing about this ATOMIC PUNKS LP was always the way the rhythm guitar dropped out when the solos came in, leaving the mogadon bass of Michael Anthony as sole supporter of the song’s chord sequence, thereby rendering Edward Van Halen’s shards-of-shattering-Red Arrows-windscreen guitar aerobatics less Olympian and more Lokian. To be fair, much of the first studio LP did just this and gained hugely from the Cast Adrift element of chaos that it brung to the party. But as an antidote to the parts that got rhythm guitar support (and the second LP certainly fell a major victim), this ATOMIC PUNKS bootleg really reveals what a freeform racket they could brew up. Man, those amazingly confident harmony vocals sound even greater when you’ve lost all sense of their context.
His reviews have footnotes, people. Footnotes! Why isn't he reviewing every record ever written? This is a man you can have a beverage and a conversation with! He's totally nuts, too. But what would you expect? He stopped making records people actually liked around 1997, and immediately started making interesting music thereafter.
Julian, I salute you and I look forward to our inevitable collaboration!
As a kid, I could not get their songs out of my head even though I knew they weren't "cool".
One of the (few) benefits of being an old new wave musician is not having to worry about being cool.
Daryl Hall now has his own webcast, which I believe makes him more cool, hip, and au courant than yours truly. It's called Live From Daryl's House and it is amazing.
Musicians come over to Daryl's house, hang out, drink wine, play some songs, chat. It's more or less what I wish I was doing with all of my friends all of the time. You can tell everyone is having a blast, and the performances are fantastic. And it's not super-slick.
This episode's guest is Chromeo, who I've been digging since their first record came out back in 2005. Someone get Daryl Hall on basic cable!
Some tracks in case you have no idea what I'm talking about: Hall & Oates - I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) This is, for me, the quintessential Hall & Oates track. Synths, a drum machine that actually grooves, and a cool vibe. I can hear the launching point for hundreds of other pop hits in here, including Timex Social Club's Rumors.
Hall & Oates - Maneater Another genius track which features a great sax + delay solo - a great example of how technology can enhance a musical idea.
Hall & Oates - Method of Modern Love While "Big Bam Boom" is mostly considered to be the last (and least) of the Golden Age albums of H&O, I include this song here to show how they kept up with pop production and also note their extremely solid songwriting chops. Anyone who can spell out a phrase that long and make it a hook is a true master. "M-E-T-H-O-D O-F L-O-V-E", indeed!
Chromeo - 100% The closing track on Chromeo's latest album, "Fancy Footwork", this song proves these guys aren't kidding around and can write a track that is both groovy and touching.
Chromeo - Needy Girl This was the song that hooked me into Chromeo as well as inviting comparisons to Hall & Oates in the first place.
Hot on the heels of our fantastic exhibition at the DeYoung Museum comes this: Sid Luscious and The Pants bring the maximum New Wave with the mighty Palace Family Steak House and mystery guests Rocket Culture at Beale Street Bar & Grill at 133 Beale St. between Mission and Howard.
For a few more details, read the flyer (courtesy of Just Visiting) you see here.
You may have noticed the site's template has changed - PantCo has requested we put AdWords on the site, which required we upgrade some things which blew up our template. We'll be cleaning this up over the next few days.
Also, look over there to the left - as part of our ongoing attempts to prevent ourselves from earning any money, we've added some links to free MP3s and have included the new Yahoo Media Player to let you play them all right here. You can also download them and keep them forever.
First up, two new songs and one old one: "Drives" - Been working on this one for a while. This isn't mastered but is probably the final mix. "Older Woman" - Maybe six months old, written after listening to a lot of soul music and some pre-insanity Michael Jackson.
Finally, digging through the old tape library we came across the rare, much-bootlegged 12 inch "night version" of "Lifestyle Magazine Lifestyle".
Oh, and "Life, Style" can now be purchased as MP3s through the Rhapsody PC client!
A special thank you to Ed Ivey and the staff of the DeYoung Museum for allowing us to perform there as part of the Gilbert & George opening. I believe we can now officially say that the work of Sid Luscious and The Pants has been shown at the DeYoung Museum of Art!
Duran frickin' Duran can't say that. Those thieving hairdressers can't say that. Adam "I wish I were you guys" Ant can't say it.
It was magical. According to people that didn't even know us, we sounded great! Thank you to everyone who came out to see us play. Truly one of our career highlights!