Category Archives: infamy

This Song Is Not a Rebel Song; This Song Is “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” 14 Years Later

(And now another dozen years beyond that.)

U2, the oldest (well, longest-standing), sacredest of my sacred cows, will release No Line on the Horizon, their 12th studio album, on March 3, and you’ll be able to spend as much money as you want on the thing. (A pay-what-you-will, just-the-music download edition a la Radiohead would be the decent, tasteful thing for U2 to do — they can easily afford it — but it ain’t gonna happen.)

I’ve long believed U2 to be superstitious about the months in which they drop albums, and their long-awaited latest was originally rumored to be a November release — like 1991’s Achtung Baby, 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind (which actually came out on Halloween, as I recall, which is almost November), and 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

The Joshua Tree, still U2’s most beloved and iconic album despite strong competition from Achtung, was a March release, way back in 1987. But the new record will be U2’s first March record since — gasp! — 1997’s POP.

Am I going to re-open the debate about U2’s most controversial album? Hell, no. (But if you feel like delving into that, you can stop by Carrie Brownstein’s superb Monitor Mix blog, where she recently suggested that POP and the subsequent PopMart Tour — which I saw four times! — might stand as a textbook case of shark-jumpery.) I just hope No Line on the Horizon isn’t an overhyped, undercooked, and yet still ultimately underrated album that we’re all still fighting about in 2021. That seems to have been POP ‘s fate, though it still gets revived and defended in unlikely places by unlikely people. The Imposter, for example. His cover might be the definitive version of “Please.”

That U2 played “Sunday Bloody Sunday” every night on their last two tours after having rendered the 1983 song all but obsolete with “Please” in 1997 is just straight-up pandering, Man. At least play both!

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Wagon of Sorrow: Theater of War at SILVERDOCS

John Walter’s brilliant documentary, reviewed for DCist.

UPDATE 6/26/08: I got a nice e-mail about the review from Theatre of War director/editor John Walter, who reports that he is shopping the film around for a distributor. Best of luck to you, John! It’s a great documentary, and it deserves as wide a release as it can get.

John also sent this cool one-sheet image:

Media Mix V: The Final Frontier

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IN THIS ISSUE: My pithy assessments of the B-52s first album of new material since 1992, plus the Waco Bros.’s long-overdue live album.  Wish they’d come play ’round these parts.

Irish Song of the Damned

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A recent-ish (and Shane-less? Is that him, supine in the foreground at left? I can’t tell.) photo of the Pogues.

So. Spent the last two nights at the 9:30 seeing the Pogues for the first and second time. Hardly the debauched evening I might have expected if I’d seen them 20 years ago, but they sounded great.

I was on company time the first show (Paper of Record review here), when I spied Baltimore Sun newsman-turned-Homicide author-turned-creator of The Wire, David Simon, walking up to the VIP balcony. I waited around to try to talk to him after the show, but was told the balcony was closed for a private function.

Simon’s presence at a Pogues show on Sunday evening was ironic because the final episode The Wire had begun airing on HBO about 15 minutes before the Pogues took the stage, and because the Pogues’ music has been featured prominently in several episodes of the billiant HBO series. “Metropolitan” has scored at least one of Det. Jimmy McNulty’s  (Dominc West) adventures in drunk driving, but more to the point, there’s a tradition on the show — one that presumably, given Simon’s insistence on authenticity even in the most minute details, has its origins in the actual practice of the Baltimore Police Department — that when a cop dies, his brothers in arms lay him out on a pool table, eulogize him, and then sing the Pogues’s “The Body of an American” over him.

Sunday night, the Pogues played “Body” 12th in their set of 26 songs, I think. I turned around to try to catch a glimpse of Simon’s face but couldn’t see him just then.

Anyway, Paper of Record pop critic J. Freedom du Lac blogged about my sighting, and The Reliable Source picked it up today.

I still wish I could have spoken to Simon. I’ve got lots of things I’d like to ask him, about journalism and music and filmmaking and The Wire, but if I only had a second I’d thank him for creating what I’m hardly the first to call the most sophisticated and truthful show probably in the history of television. One of the funniest and most moving, too.

But Do They Smoke Marijuana in Greensburg?

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I’ll admit I was pretty pleased with this. I got to take my old man to the Willie, Merle & Ray Price (first-name notoriety eldudes him, I guess) show; got to rub elbows there with the Man Called Freedom; and I thought the review came out really well. (The Man Called Freedom agreed.) Plus, it got decent play when it ran in last Saturday’s Paper of Record.

On Tuesday, a Post editor forwarded me an e-mail that had come in from a reader in Greensburg, PA who challenged my account of the origin of “Okie from Muskogee” from the review. It was literally just one clause in one sentence of the piece:

“Mama Tried” was a predictable triumph, but even better was a brilliantly timed walk-on by Nelson during “Okie From Muskogee” — Haggard’s immortal reflection of his dad’s anti-hippie stance, and rather at odds with Nelson’s own biodiesel-powered, IRS-taunting lifestyle.

So it’s not I like was accusing Merle of having ripped off the bassline of “Under Pressure” or anything. Still, it was enough to get this know-it-all to write in with a contradictory, and completely unsourced, account of how Merle came to write “Okie” with Strangers drummer Eddie Burris, who shares Haggard’s songwriting credit:

“Okie’s” origins are well-documented. Haggard’s tour bus was
cruising through Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1969 when Eddie Burris, drummer for Haggard’s band the Strangers, remarked offhandedly, “I bet they don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.” Overhearing Burris’s remark, Haggard turned it into a song he viewed as no more than a tongue-in-cheek novelty (both men share composer credit). “Okie” nonetheless became a huge country hit, viewed by 1969’s equivalent of red-state America as a repudiation of the whole hippie counterculture though longtime, long-haired Haggard fans Jerry Garcia and Gram Parsons, seeing it as Haggard did, shrugged it off. Today, it’s a period piece.

The story must be “well-documented” indeed, since the letter’s author doesn’t bother to source it, which is pretty remarkable considering he intended this letter for publication. It gets better: It turns out the author of the letter is himself a journalist and historian who boasts (in a follow-up letter, after my editor had replied to his) that he’s been writing about music for a living since the seventies. In other words, somebody who really ought to know to cite his sources, especially when accusing another writer of not having done his research. (Admittedly, I didn’t cite a source for my account of “Okie” ‘s origin in the review, but that was due to the fact that I had a strict 15″ limit on my piece, which was, after all, a concert review, not an exploration of the influences on Hag’s songcraft.)

The guy ends his letter like this:

Concert reviewers needn’t have encyclopedic knowledge of the acts they evaluate, but it helps to have done some homework first. Klimek, unfortunately, did not.

Not much ambiguity there, huh? He doesn’t say, “The way I always heard the story is . . .” He doesn’t phrase his objection in a way that allows for the possibility that there could be more than one version of the story. He just goes straight for the jugular, stating matter-of-factly that I didn’t do my homework.

Anyway, two days after the letter came in, my editor at the Post asked me if I could back up my account of how “Okie” came to be. Since the great Drive-by Truckers song “The Three Great Alabama Icons” probably doesn’t count as a primary source, I sent my editor this Haggard profile by Brock Ruggles, published in 2002 in New Times Phoenix, wherein the Branded Man himself reveals all:

Most people did not realize (and some still don’t) that “Okie From Muskogee” was a social commentary that did not necessarily reflect Haggard’s personal worldview. “Ya know, I’m like an actor, and whatever role you see an actor in shouldn’t have anything to do with his own personality, but it does, of course,” he says. “That song typecasted me for a long time.

“‘Okie From Muskogee’ was written about my father, and it was my intention to try to see things from his viewpoint. Had he been alive at that time, I think he woulda said, ‘We’re happy with the way things are here in the middle of Oklahoma, and we’re really not wantin’ to get out in the street and bitch like the people in Frisco.’ The song was a contrast to what was going on, and there was nobody speaking up for [people like my dad], and I thought I’d jump out there and write a song for him.”

Bada-bing! Well, not entirely. It turns out Hag himself has told a lot of differerent stories about how and why he wrote “Okie from Muskogee” over the years, as mentioned in this 2004 L.A. Times profile by the great Bob Hilburn.

After my editor replied to the letter-writer (“It turns out Chris was correct”), the guy responded with a lot of bluster about how he knows Bob Hilburn, and how he’s interviewed many legends of country music in his three-decades-plus of writing on the topic, and actually says he’s glad he never got to interview Hag because the conflicting accounts of why he wrote probably his most famous song would drive the letter-writer crazy.

But he never apologized for having accused me of not doing my research.

Thanks for clarifying. With 32 years under my belt, I’m always learning
something new.

Maybe after 33 years, he’ll have learned that a false accusation warrants an apology. You think?

Column Itches

Today’s Paper of Record features my review of nu-Sinatra Michael Bublé’s surprisingly groovy show at the Patriot Center Saturday night. Or, if you’ve got some time on your hands, you can read my original version, which, I am reliably informed, weighed in at a mighty two dozen column inches. Oops.Take it away, Fellas!

Gentlemen, your attention, please: You won’t want to hear this, but it’s okay if you don’t hate Michael Bublé. Yes, your wife and/or girlfriend has had at least one of his CDs on repeat since his self-titled debut became a hit in 2003. Yes, your mother calls every time he shows up on “The Today Show.” But on the evidence of his glitzy revue at the Patriot Center Saturday night, he’s after your vote, too, fellas! And thanks to his self-deprecating, consciously Rat Pack-y stage persona, he probably deserves it.

Case in point: Greeting the people of “Virgin-yah,” he said he knew the correct pronunciation, but would stick with his because it sounded more like “a mystical fantasy country I want to go to.” After a rendition of “Fever” that was, well, feverish, he expressed his “sincere appreciation for you, my fans — you should see the house I just bought!” Badda-bing!

Resplendent in a black suit, tie loosened just-so, the 31-year-old Canuck’s evocation of the Chairman, God rest his blued-eyed soul, stopped just shy of punctuating his sentences with, “And you can take that to the bank, Buster!”

The standards-heavy setlist was mostly a series of big-band valentines to the ladies who squealed every time he narrowed his eyes in their direction. The dude may more resemble “Footloose”-era Chris Penn than “Footloose”-era Kevin Bacon, but with charisma like he’s got, the ladies would melt even if he looked like Tom Petty.

Oh, and he can sing a little, too.

Actually, he can sing a ton. It’s rare in this era of “American Idol” bathos to hear a vocalist whose got the range, the control, the — how you say? — chops to pull off the histrionic flourishes Buble deployed early and often during the 95-minute concert. His Shatneresque closed-fist gesticulating looked silly during his opener, Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man,” because he hadn’t shown yet that he had the pipes to live up to the hype. By the end of the song, nobody was laughing. Not at him, anyway. He makes it look easy, and makes it sound — oh, how it burns to admit this! — spectacular.

Not that the ladies in the house necessarily noticed. Based on the frequent interruptions of “We love you, Michael!,” they appeared to have come more to bask in the star wattage than to listen to him sing.

He didn’t discourage this behavior: When he asked a pair of girls in the front row their ages, and they responded seven and ten, he shot back, “There are pictures of me on the Internet I hope you never see!” Sensing that his hearts and minds campaign was in need of emergency course-correction, he leapt into the audience to pose for snapshots with the girls. Camera-wielding fans immediately surrounded him. He’d broken away when a fortyish woman fairly attacked him, throwing her arms — and other limbs — around his body while her husband (?) clicked away. A beefy security man hovered nearby, but apparently never got the kill sign. When Bublé finally crawled back to the microphone, he quipped, “Virgin-yah my ass.”

At $68 and $88, tickets weren’t cheap, but you could see where the money went. A 13-piece band backed the star, and the raked stage used four vertical projection panels to achive the impossible, turning the charmless, acoustically-frigid bunker that is the Patriot Center into something approximating the Sands Hotel.

About that band: Marvelous! Early on, Bublé turned the spotlight over to them. Feigning jealousy at the rapturous response their hot-jazz instrumental got, he sulked offstage. Trombonist Nick Vayenas leapt up for a hilarious monologue about what an insecure diva his boss is, complete with a too-brief impression of Buble’s jerky dance style. Only when Vayenas began to howl “Try a Little Tenderness” did Buble return.

Further hilarity ensued when the star, pledging to “take this to a manlier level,” gave a quick-but-great unplugged version of Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right, Mama,” with the moves Ed Sullivan wouldn’t broadcast. Buble called for the men in the house to asset their authority (“She might have dragged you here, but you are nobody’s bitch!”) just as the band kicked into “YMCA.” He struggled through a few choruses before admitting, “I’m glad I don’t know all the words to this.”

The only lull came when Bublé interrupted the parade of lounge favorites for a pair of tunes he co-wrote with pianist Alan Chang, “Home” and “Everything.” Both sounded ersatz amid all the warhorses, despite (or probably because of) the fact both were No. 1 Adult Contemporary hits.

“That’s Life,” featuring a ten-voice gospel choir, closed the set proper. For his encore, Buble ripped through “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and repeated his seemingly-heartfelt thanks, minus the Krusty-the-Klown-styled line about the new house, before saying goodnight with Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.”

It was a classy, brassy finish to stylish and supremely entertaining evening. The only tacky note was the “MB” logo on the video screens, in lights, and on the back of the music stands. Yo, Mikey! You don’t need to put your name all over the stage. You already showed us who owns it.

They Put the ‘Broad’ in ‘Broadway’

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My DCist review of ACT’s Hellzapoppin’ is here.