Friday, May 4, 2012

DISTORTED SHADOWS: Neil Young Journeys- a film by Jonathan Demme

The third film in a trilogy, directed with dark beauty by noted film maker Jonathan Demme, Neil Young's Journeys is a loud, atmospheric cauldron of muted distortion, amplified and accented by Young's passionate persona. Unlike the golden tones of 2006's Heart Of Gold, or the plain, direct framing of thier second collaboration, 2009's Trunk Show, Journeys displays a much starker, heavier tone- a solemn reverie of time and place. Young's guitar may contain it's nastiest tone here, the over all sound thuds and scrapes and wails, filling up Toronto's Massey Hall (and the theater) entirely. In between the sonic bloodletting, Young takes us on a small tour through his hometown of Omemee, Ontario- the place from which many of his earliest songs grew. It is the "town in North Ontario" he sings about in 1970's Helpless. It is a beautiful, quiet place. A sleepy town. Young, his brother Bob in tow, details the landscape from which he sprang- the backwoods brush he would camp out in, to be near his chickens; the school named after his father- a famous Canadian writer, and the hall where his father performed as the only white man in a minstrel show. A black and white photo of little Neil, in full cowboy gear, appears. One of Young's funniest childhood tales is when he was convinced by another boy that eating tar off the road was a good thing, that it eventually turns into chocolate.
The music contained within is amazing in how Young has captured his essence as an artist and emotional being after 40 some odd years of doing this. Young's ability in fully possessing the moment, sans knee jerk professionalism, is a great tale to tell. With just Neil and his tricked out electric guitar- both hollow and solid body- he proceeds to pour his soul into the songs, attending to all that have made classics such as "Ohio'" "Hey Hey (My My)," and "After The Goldrush" soar, yet funneling them through an updated approach that stays in the moment, simultaneously creating a new vibe for future listeners to have and to hold. The newer material, much of it holding weight against the more familiar, is apocalyptic in tone, spiritual in execution, earthy in delivery. A song like "Peaceful Valley Boulevard" is as incendiary as a known entity such as "Down By The River," even when the feel comes on much more subtle. In Journeys, Young proves he still has a musical curiosity that can draw you inwards- into his darkest shadows, into the heart of his very best expressions.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


On April 26, 2012, I was honored to peform a DJ set at Amoeba Music Hollywood, in conjunction with the release of COMMANDO: The Autobiography Of Johnny Ramone. 8 years after his death and it finally comes out. In attendence were original drummer Tommy Erdelyi, Johnny's widow Linda Ramone, and publisher John Cafiero. This was an exciting moment for me. The Ramones have meant various things to me over the years- I have loved them, hated them, taken them for granted, worshipped them, and been frustrated by them. Their power on those first 4 records is undeniable. The invention, the songs, the presentation. The following 10 records- from 1980's End Of The Century (released January 1980) to their final LP, 1996's Adios Amigos- are a gaggle of the most difficult, failed experiments in chasing a hit song you may hear a band record. Some of these records are great, a few are awful, yet all of them maintain a quality level most bands would be thrilled to obtain. So when I was asked to do this DJ set while Tommy, Linda, and John met the fans and signed the book, I accepted instantly. Every other song I spun was a Ramones tune. I avoided any of the big tunes, the ones everyone knows, the ones you can hear at any Lakers game. No- I played the inbetween tracks, the stuff that compounds and expands their legend, rather than the stuff that perserves it. The other songs were either tunes that inspired and influenced The Ramones, things Tommy had produced, or a few special requests. I had Tommy sign a copy of the book for me, and he commented on the DJ set: "You played some great songs!" he said. "Oh, thanks. Well, you made em!" I smiled. He then flashed a mischievious grin. "Well, No, I meant the inbetween stuff." "Aw, thanks." I said. And that was it. Tommy looked a little tired from all the record signing he had done that evening, and I did not want to bother the man any further. John Cifero was an incredibly sweet guy, and I had some very nice verbal exchanges with him about Elvis Costello and the like. I did not speak to Linda, and I do not know why. I felt that I am such an inquisitive person for all the wrong questions, and was not in a mood to field bad reactions to probing questions about the Joey/Johnny situation, which I most certainly wanted to know more about. She was dressed in some flashy, astounding silver boots and a wild 1960s dress. She looked good, and was accompanied by a younger guy who looked like a refugee from some Dutch psych rock band. Suffice to say- I dug his outfit. COMMANDO: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone, at 176 pages, is as quick a read as a Ramones album. I sped through it in 3 hours, and it was absorbing and entertaining. Johnny reveals much, yet holds back much. His attention towards detail is lacking somewhat, as he prefers to get to the meat of the issue, as with his guitar playing. You could easily tag him the Archie Bunker of rock n roll- cantankeous, opinionated, funny, no nonsense, slightly ridiculous, and pretty damn brazen. A proud Republican, Johnny's political views are mired in knee jerk dogma in which he would seriously ask a guy like Lester Bangs if he was a card carrying communist, sans any hint of sarcasm or levity. Which makes for some hilarious dialogue. When told by manager Gary Kurfirst that people were giving him grief about the lyrics to their song "Warthog," particularly the line "junkies, fags, Commies, and queers," Johnny asked "Who are you getting complaints from- junkies, fags, commies, and queers?" And so on. But The Ramones could not have existed without all 4 of those guys, the core original line up. Dee Dee and Johnny have stated in interviews that Tommy did not necessarily influence the sound of the band that much, but many of us fans know better. Marky is a incredible drummer-and became as much a part of The Ramones as any of them (no matter what anybody says, CJ, who seems like a sweet guy, is just a day player to many of us), but it is Tommy's original drumming technique and attack that created 25% of that band's best moments. Their most revolutionary moments. He put the band together. Those guys may have still been passed out, or working construction, if Tommy had not pushed them to play together. So Tommy is MEGA important. And those first three records have a feel and focus Marky could not have created (his finest moment, I believe, is on the first Richard Hell LP- his drumming on that thing is some of the best, most inspired shit you may hear in punk at that point; jazzy, jagged, intense- a whole army of post punk wags owe Marky a little place.) The book is a worth while telling of The Ramones story, through Johnny's filter. It made me Ramones crazy all over again, revisiting their career entirely, checking back in on the things I love, the stuff I think is just ok, and then the stuff I really dislike, the things that ended up ruining the band for me in some ways. Though, in the end, you cannot ruin The Ramones. Songs like "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" or "Locket Love" prove that The Ramones will always have a place in my heart. Always.