ABOUT RAR: For those of
you new to this site, "RAR" is Rick Alan Rice, the publisher
of the RARWRITER Publishing Group websites.
Use this link to visit the
RAR music page, which features original music
compositions and other.
ATWOOD - "A Toiler's Weird Odyssey of Deliverance"-AVAILABLE
NOW FOR KINDLE (INCLUDING KINDLE COMPUTER APPS) FROM
CCJ Publisher Rick Alan Rice dissects
the building of America in a trilogy of novels
collectively calledATWOOD. Book One explores
the development of the American West through the
lens of public policy, land planning, municipal
development, and governance as it played out in one
of the new counties of Kansas in the latter half of
the 19th Century. The novel focuses on the religious
and cultural traditions that imbued the American
Midwest with a special character that continues to
have a profound effect on American politics to this
day. Book One creates an understanding about
America's cultural foundations that is further
explored in books two and three that further trace
the historical-cultural-spiritual development of one
isolated county on the Great Plains that stands as
an icon in the development of a certain brand of
American character. That's the serious stuff viewed
from high altitude. The story itself gets down and
dirty with the supernatural, which inATWOOD
- A Toiler's Weird Odyssey of Deliveranceis the
outfall of misfires in human interactions, from the
monumental to the sublime.The
book features the epic poem"The
well as artwork by New Mexico artist Richard
Meets Larry McMurtry
I am offering another
novel through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing service.
Cooksin is the story of a criminal syndicate that sets its
sights on a ranching/farming community in Weld County, Colorado,
1950. The perpetrators of the criminal enterprise steal farm
equipment, slaughter cattle, and rob the personal property of
individuals whose assets have been inventoried in advance and
distributed through a vast system of illegal commerce.
It is a ripping good yarn, filled
with suspense and intrigue. This was designed intentionally to
pay homage to the type of creative works being produced in 1950,
when the story is set. Richard Padilla
has done his usually brilliant work in capturing the look and feel of
a certain type of crime fiction being produced in that era. The
whole thing has the feel of those black & white films you see on
Turner Movie Classics, and the writing will remind you a little
of Elmore Leonard, whose earliest works were westerns.
Use this link.
EXPLORE THE KINDLE
If you have not explored the books
available from Amazon.com's Kindle Publishing
division you would do yourself a favor to do so. You
will find classic literature there, as well as tons
of privately published books of every kind. A lot of
it is awful, like a lot of traditionally published
books are awful, but some are truly classics. You
can get the entire collection of Shakespeare's works
for two bucks.
Amazon is the largest,
but far from the only digital publisher. You can
find similar treasure troves atNOOK
Barnes & Noble site),Lulu,
Under Cover Sounds
"When people are free to do as they please,
they usually imitate each other." - Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)
admit to finding cover bands to be curious things, even wondering on
some levels why they even exist. Their very nature is disqualifying in a
fundamental way, which has become more fundamental over time as the
world has become starved for great new works. The best
that cover bands can hope to be is a reflection of the sound that they are replicating,
which artistically speaking seems like a low aspiration pursuit. And yet
cover bands seem to be bigger than ever, especially in the conceptual
sense, if you consider the tidal wave of "tribute bands" that now
populate the landscape. The notion of a tribute band has been elevated
to a kind of an art form with its own set of standards. Here in the Bay
Area, we have a Pink Floyd (House
of Floyd) tribute band, while in the UK they have "Brit
Floyd" (which seems a little redundant) and in Australia they
have Aussie Floyd. We have
Creedence Clearwater Revisited in
San Francisco, and the Dixie Chicken Band
in L.A., and you can probably guess who they simulate. San Francisco has
Powerage, a tribute to
Damage Inc, a tribute to early
Metallica, Ezzy Alive!, a
Randy Rhodes era tribute to Ozzy Osbourne,
and Ancient Mariner, a tribute to
Iron Maiden. That only scratches the surface. There is no
high profile act that isn't the subject a tribute version. These tribute
units have occasionally served as training grounds for vocalists and
musicians who would eventually get a chance to join the band they have
been tributing, as in the Mark Wahlberg
movie Rock Star, which was based on the true story of a guy named
Ripper Owens who got a chance to
join Judas Priest when their singer
left the band. Owens had been fronting a JP tribute band.
Quiet Riot's attempt to fill their lost
vocalist's slot with a tribute band veteran produced one of the weirdest documentaries of
all time (see the Cinema page review).
Tribute bands seem to break down into two
camps: the kind that want to simulate and portray every aspect of the
band they love, right down to their stage moves; and the kind who just
want to focus on excellent renditions of their heroes' classic songs.
Currently, former Guns'n Roses
frontman Axl Rose is fronting
AC/DC, filling in for their lost
singer, and getting rave reviews for the way he is bringing his own
energy to faithful reproductions of the AC/DC catalog. Given the
attrition in AC/DC's original lineup, they are now kind of an AC/DC
tribute band in their own right.
There is an entire industry built around
Beatles tribute bands, which probably
started with the Broadway show Beatlemania, which represented
both a theatrical and a music-focused approach to recreating the magic
of Beatles performances, even when some of their greatest material was
never "performed" at all, at least not to a live audience. There are
some truly spectacular bands at work today doing righteous-strong covers
of The Beatles songbook, which are
great in that they give audiences a chance to thrill at some truly
majestic music that was and is at another level beyond
that of the talented but general madding crowd.
The Fab Faux is one such excellent
On the flip side, is there
anything creepier than The Beatles
tribute band The Fab Four, who show
up on PBS from time-to-time during one of their tedious fund drives?
They are great at replicating the sound of the early Beatles, but
watching them portray the behaviors of our lads from Liverpool is
disturbing, in that way that figures in a wax museum are disturbing. Why
would anyone do that? Some of those PBS funds ought to be spent buying
away The Fab Four's rights to do Beatles performances, which could then
be given to people who don't seem so inclined toward celebrity fetish.
Most cover bands aren't really tribute bands
so much as they are human jukeboxes, just playing a set list of material
that is easily recognizable to people who book club acts. Where the big
tribute outfits are demanding big returns on ticket sales, which defray
the royalty fees they must pay to music publishers for the use of their
copyrighted material, the club bands are making no money at all because
they also pay royalty fees to cover the tunes they play, and they don't
generate big returns. ASCAP fees are typically paid by the club owner
out of proceeds that would otherwise go to the band. A band could
circumvent that issue by just playing original material, but that is
next to impossible to book and most musicians are not songwriters
anyway, at least not so anyone would notice, or pay to hear their work.
The concept of "doing covers" really only
emerged with the massive commercialization of Rock'n Roll music that
occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. Surf music was a huge incentive,
followed by the enormous success of the British Invasion, each of which
created a wave of child musicians. Once every kid on the block rushed
out to become a guitar player or a drummer, AM radio became a live feed
of stuff we could all emulate, and could all do. In the earlier Jazz and
Big Band eras, everyone was playing the musical compositions of people
who made their livings doing musical scores, so that performers were
presenting interpretations of songs by serious songwriters. By the Rock'n Roll
era, kids were copying the sounds they heard on their records, which
more and more, as the youth music industry evolved, were songs written
by other young people, which were typically of a lower order of
composition than that which had been known to older music fans. In the 1950s, there
were ambitious interpretations of Hoagy Carmichael's 1927 classic
"Stardust", but by 1964 garage bands were covering "Louie, Louie",
because it was easy to play and carried a sort of street cred in its
perceived (or misperceived) vulgarities. So the cheesy world of weird
cover bands was born, and rock music started down the path toward the
tawdry and the sub-sublime.
recall Joni Mitchell saying once that she didn't see the point of doing
other peoples' songs because then all one could ever hope to be is
second best. There are many instances, of course, where covers of
previously recorded material have been perceived as "better" than the
original version, but that is alchemy reserved for top recording acts.
Van Halen could breathe new life into
RoyOrbison's "Pretty Woman", for
instance, but Orbison's original version exists as historical artifact,
a remnant of a moment in history when an original inspiration was born.
One might hear the Van Halen version and remember 1982, when theirs'
was released, but it did not represent that period in any significant
way. By 1982, Van Halen was being slowly buried by a New Wave sound that
would consign them to an irrelevant corner reserved for early MTV bands,
which would serve as an excellent example of how even inspired
musicianship would succumb to the blender of uber-pop.
Last year, Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald,
and Bozz Scaggs toured as "The Dukes of September" - a truly depressing
name for a band consisting of old people - and they were booed when they
covered classic R&B tunes. "What, you don't like
Ray Charles?" Fagen
asked his jeering fans? Such is the Twilight Zone world of the
cover performer, because those jeering people like Ray Charles just
fine, they just don't necessarily like to listen to somebody else doing
Ray Charles songs. And yet the instinct to cover is strong. Even top
touring pros have songs that meant a great deal to them in their youths
and feel the urge to perform them themselves. Apparently dedicated cover
bands can get away with that, but fans paying 125 bucks a seat to see
famous musical celebrities feel like they deserve the real stuff, not
some knockoff dish
reheated from the fridge.
To Cover or Not
On many levels, covering a song, as in
playing it precisely as it was initially recorded, is like a music
training exercise. It is how we learn chord shapes, string-bending
techniques, and rhythm patterns, among other guitar player things. It is
how we learn to reproduce songs that people will immediately recognize,
because that recognition is the big payoff if you are playing covers.
People have to recognize the song and appreciate the integrity of the
reproduced product, like one might appreciate a convincing reproduction
of a Rolex watch. The ability to get that kind of reaction from an
audience is satisfying and proof positive that you got it right: you
accurately reproduced a familiar sound.
That said, it is possible to interpret a
piece of music in such a way as to uncork its essence in a personalized
form. Siouxsie and the Banshees were
sometimes good at that (e.g., "Dear Prudence"), and
The Smashing Pumpkins were sometimes
referred to as "the world's greatest cover band", which may not have
been literally true, but you get the point - they were living on the
work of others and being appreciated for how well they did it.
David Bowie did a surprising number of
covers, many of which he brought nothing special to at all, so even the
best among us have used cover material for filler.
On the other hand, a lot of bands cover Bowie's material. Consider
Bauhaus' note-for-note replication of "Ziggy
Stardust", which strikes me as the strangest (albeit very satisfying)
choice of cover, given that it is a signature tune from one of Bowie's
very specific stylistlic eras.
there is weird stuff like Kenny Chesney
covering, very closely, UB40 songs. It is a little strange that UB40 is
a British band playing Reggae (very well), but to have Mr. Barefoot
Country playing Reggae is just ridiculous. You may recall the grief that
Eric Clapton got when he covered "I
Shot the Sheriff", which at the time was a bald-faced exploitation of
the Reggae sound, newly discovered at the time by pop music fans.
Clapton's cover seemed pretty shallow next to
Bob Marley's original version, but it seems golden next to
country music star Chesney's completely inauthentic Reggae enthusiasms.
sense is that people who go to clubs probably go because they want a
night out at a club, and if they happen to hear a live band playing
familiar material then all the better. People tend to feel confirmed if
they recognize the songs they hear being played, rather like laughing at
a comedian's joke has been said to be the act of an audience
congratulating itself for getting the humor. Familiar feels good
sometimes, maybe more. Maybe that's why The Blues is still around.
People know the blues, and it's all covers.
But Can He Play Somebody Else's Material?
I was once engaged in conversation with
the great bassist Chuck Rainey -
perhaps most noted for his work with Steely Dan
- who challenged the musicianship of no one less than fellow bassist
Paul McCartney. Rainey made the
point that McCartney's bass lines with The Beatles were all great, but
he discounted McCartney on the grounds that he was just playing his own
stuff. How well could he play other people's material? That struck me as
sort of lame at the time, and I doubt Chuck Rainey would still make that
argument today, because McCartney has effectively covered tons of other
people's material over the years. Still, you get the point. Some people
are not going to give you credit as a musician until you prove that you
can take on tough challenges and produce great takes of that material.
Who better to use as a testing grounds for that point of view than the
much-appreciated, much-vilified band Radiohead.
They have delighted their fans and frustrated their detractors over the
years just by being so damned inaccessible, playing music that often
seemed determinedly anti-commercial, as if they preferred to mess around
in close proximity of wonderful possibilities instead of delivering
great pop songs. Back in 2007, they went into a studio and recorded
songs from two of my all-time favorites, The
Smiths and New Order, and
they proved without a shadow of a doubt that they are flat-out talented
pros. They even covered Portishead
with sublime integrity and musical respect. Check out these video
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