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Austin Psych Fest Preview: The Meek

March 26, 2012

Amy Lee, dark princess of The Meek

The Bible notoriously claims that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” It’s just the kind of statement that has led me to think that the good book’s teachings are a huge scam. When Marx said religion was the opiate of the masses, it’s pablum like that which tops the list of how the poor and disenfranchised are rendered brain dead through devotion. Don’t worry, it may look bad for you now, but you’ll be the big winner in the end. 30 minutes infomercials are rarely so shameless.

Well, it seems, my assessment may have been a bit harsh. My extensive research has revealed that religious scholars apparently agree that while it’s easy to equate meek with with weak, meek in the Biblical context is probably best translated as meaning “humbly devoted.” Meek comes from the Greek word praus which means gentle strength. (It’s very easy to see how people get confused since it’s so close to the Greek work prius, which actually does mean self-righteous douche.)  Semantics aside, Moses and Jesus are both called meek in the Bible and not many people would call those guys pussies unless they were itching for a Biblical beatdown.

Which brings us to the LA band The Meek. Unfortunately, since they picked such a lame fierce name for their band, The Meek will be dealing with inherit the earth nonsense for the rest of their lives. It is their cross to bear and probably what they deserve for taking the advice of an old beatnik when looking for a band moniker.

We’ll just have to say that they live up to their name in that their humble devotion runs towards Godly fuzzed out guitar driven psych that falls on the familiar continuum that starts with the Velvet Underground and leads to The Jesus and Mary Chain and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

Will they inherit the earth? I suspect that whoever inherits this planet is probably going to want tear it down and start over. However, these guys aren’t exactly pioneers in that way. Instead when it comes to The Meek, it’s probably best to simply enjoy the rewards of the here and now.

Stream them from their myspace page.

Check out an interview with Amy Lee, lead singer of the band, from Revolt of the Apes, who has been doing absolutely fantastic previews for the festival.

The Fantastic, Horrific Spectacle of Courtney Love’s Hole 11.9.1994

March 12, 2012

“Whatever you say about Courtney, you can also say the opposite. She’s a walking Greek tragedy, and a comedy. She’s horrible and great, inspiring and frightening, strong and weak. She’s a role model – and everything you wouldn’t want your child to be.” – Melissa Rossi, author of Courtney Love: Queen of Noise

Sure enough Hole’s show at the Palladium was one of the greatest rock spectacles I ever saw and it was also one of the saddest. It has been a terrible, horrific year for Courtney Love.  In April her husband killed himself and in June her bass player died of a heroin overdose. It was also the year all of Courtney Love’s dreams came true. Four days after Kurt Cobain blew his head off with a shotgun, Hole released Live Through This. It was and remains a rock masterpiece. For better or worse, it turned Courtney Love into the superstar she always said she was going to be.

The year had been a battle and at the Hollywood Palladium, Courtney proudly displayed her wounds. She had been through the grinder and she came out triumphant. She may be the consummate drama queen, but her emotions still resonate. She may animate her reality, but there’s a greater truth under the surface of the artifice: and when her blood spills, there’s no mistaking its potency. In 1994, in the wake of a suicide that took the life of her husband, one of his generation’s most poignant voices, Courtney Love had risen to the top of the mountain. Her confessional lyrics bled with an honesty that washed away all of the artifice.  Some loved her and some wanted to see her fall into a fiery pit and never hear her name again.

I loved her. But I probably kind of hated her, too. While I don’t blame her for Kurt Cobain’s death, it would have been nice if she could have saved him. (That, of course, is asking too much of anyone). Courtney Love may have been the loaded gun in Kurt’s life, but he pulled the trigger by letting her in.

I loved her because the music of Live Through This justified all of Courtney’s bravado. It wears its heart on its sleeve. It tells uncomfortable truths. It brings the pain to the surface and it makes it go away. Listening to it over and over again provided a sort of catharsis to the death of her husband, but if Kurt Cobain had been alive upon the album’s release, it still would have been a classic.

That night at the Palladium was electric. It was an unsung memorial for Kurt; it was Courtney’s Hollywood coronation. The 1990s had barely just begun and its obituary was already being written. Kurt Cobain was dead and just the day before this show the Republicans took over Congress for the first time since 1954. Bill Clinton had promised change two years before and with his feet barely wet, it looked like we were headed right back to the ugliness of Reagan’s 1980s. Something, though, about this night promised a fresh start. The only question was how much the past would get in the way.

I was probably with my friend Jonathan. If the past was prologue, we lingered on the side, away from the mosh pit. Veruca Salt opened the show, a solid bill, but their power pop hooks couldn’t compete with the anticipation of the headliner. (Incidentally, while Hole is clearly an appropriate name for a band fronted by Courtney Love, Veruca Salt would have been even better. Just like the spoiled brat from Willy Wonka, Love wakes up each morning with no other goal than to be the girl with the most cake.)

I spent much of 1994 hungover from a particularly humbling break-up and I suspect that in addition to my grief over Kurt’s death, it was the emotional landscape of a broken heart that forged my affection for Hole’s music. It has not occurred to me until now, but my ex had a few things in common with Courtney. She was talented, self-destructive, whip-smart and probably bi-polar. She left me for an old-boyfriend. That happens, people are so often lured back to the traps of their past. But the ex she returned to was in jail at the time. And it wasn’t exactly for anything that could be misconstrued as glamorous.

He was essentially a homeless schizophrenic who has been caught sleeping on someone’s Beverly Hills porch. He was convicted of burglary. It was the last in a long line of the kind of brushes with the police that happen when you live on the streets. Naturally, being dumped for a prisoner didn’t exactly do my self-confidence any favors. To be replaced by someone who wasn’t even there was the greatest rejection of all. When Courtney wailed “Someday, you will ache like I ache” I’m sure I embraced that song as a comforting balm, hoping for the vindication that someday my ex would regret her decision to leave me. Someday, I hoped, she would see the errors of her ways and come back on her knees.

At one point Courtney brought her and Kurt’s daughter Frances Bean on the stage. She was two years old. Courtney said something along the lines of not caring if anyone thought she was exploiting her, Frances Bean was the most successful thing she’d ever done in her life. It was a painful, awkward moment, an acknowledgment of all that was lost with Kurt’s death, mixed with the optimism that he had left a part of himself behind – a part that would be alarmingly under the care of Courtney Love. The crowd cheered, but I felt sick. It was a cringe-inducing display. If not already obvious, it was quickly becoming apparent why Kurt Cobain suffered so much from intestinal pains.

After the show, in front of the venue on Sunset Boulevard I was buying a concert shirt and there was a commotion down the street. It turns out it was Courtney Love hot on the trail of a fleeing Mary Lou Lord, who according to Courtney “once gave Kurt a blowjob and has built her career on it.” Mary Lou had made the mistake of showing up to Hole’s after party, a bold move considering that in Courtney’s estimation, “There are five people in the world who if I run into I’ll fucking kill. And she’s definitely one of them.” That’s a lot of power for a rock star to give to a folksinger, but Courtney feeds off grudges like an athlete downs Gatorade.

The glimpse of Courtney running down the road barefoot in her torn slip, attacking a woman who’d had a long-ago dalliance with a her dead husband wasn’t exactly an endearing encore for a show that had at times been life affirming and triumphant. It was just sad. In the depths of her sorrow, Courtney was swinging wildly at ghosts. As much as Love wanted to rise above the angst and grab the golden ring of fame and fortune, she couldn’t get her feet out of the cement of the past.

It is the essential dichotomy that defines her today. Reportedly, Courtney now wants to trade in her kinder-whore dress for Coco Chanel, but without her crazy history, there is no context. While Courtney’s music is often about transforming, it always has its eyes on the rear view. That’s not a criticism so much as an observation of the corner that she has painted herself into. The tension of her dualities is always what kept Courtney Love standing, without them she falls down. Now, it seems, she’s just propped up by the corner itself – a misfit, broken doll from the past with nowhere to go.

Courtney Love hasn’t aged too well over the years. Hole’s Celebrity Skin had a few standout tracks, but was generally forgettable. She was amazing in The People vs. Larry Flynt, but hasn’t come anywhere close to landing such a roll since. The rest of her artistic output revolves around her playing the role of Courtney Love, an icon of sorts. Someday there will be an opera or a Broadway show. Unfortunately, in the meantime, it seems being Courtney Love has become a full time job that she couldn’t walk away from if she tried.

I don’t think about Hole much anymore. And I also don’t think about the woman who broke my heart during that turbulent time. Yes, she eventually came around. She saw the errors of her ways. The relationship with the prisoner lasted only about three weeks once he got released from jail. A few years later, she said she wanted to marry me, but by then my love had faded. I just wanted to be her friend. If I have any regrets it’s that I wasted two or three years wanting her back and during that time I blinded myself to all the other possibilities around me. I used to think that the only way I could live through this was to return to the past, but sometimes you just have to move on.


This is a great version of “Violet” from the MTV Video Music Awards 1995. Courtney is playing to her kind of crowd: one full of celebrities. Stay tuned to the very end when Courtney punctuates her performance with what seems like a rehearsed tantrum. The noisy feedback immediately segues into a cheesy instrumental as the announcer primes the audience at home for the next act: Bryan Adams! It’s a beautiful, painful illustration that even the most vivid, primal emotions are just grist for our endless need to be amused to death.

The Magnetic Fields “Andrew in Drag” is the Best Looking Girl in Town

March 9, 2012

The Magnetic Fields return to 69 Love Songs form with “Andrew in Drag,” the first single off their new album Love at the Bottom of the Sea. It’s a fantastic video. It’s also an excellent reminder that dressing in drag takes some serious work. These men are artists.

On a related note, I could not help but notice that while perusing the local alterna-rags here in Seattle, it’s hard to miss the sex worker ads in the papers’ back pages. Certainly, it is always a delicious irony that these allegedly progressive publications are an integral force of the prostitution trade. After all, their editors and writers routinely scribble their half-baked screeds lamenting the exploited and manipulated, yet they profit off of people who have been reduced to selling their bodies for money.

That said, there is a much more intriguing trend here in the Pacific Northwest, one that I have not seen replicated in the pages of any other free local art and lifestyle birdcage-liner. In Seattle, the transgenders are exponentially better looking than the regular whores, at least the ones who advertise. And it’s not even close. On one side of the page it’s full of Angelina Jolies, while the other features syphilitic, pasty, bulging versions of Jennifer Anniston.

If one were to judge from their pictures in the back of The Stranger, even the homeliest women in Seattle can make a living in the sex trade. But if you’re going to sell your body as a transgender, you better have it going on. What that says about the Emerald City, I’m not sure, but I like it. What it says about me for noticing is an entirely different matter …

Magnetic Fields – Andrew in Drag – MP3

Buy the whole album here. Don’t buy it at Amazon, where people searching for “magnetic fields” are immediately put on the terrorist watch list. Word up.

Austin Psych Fest Preview: Quilt (More Like a Tapestry, Less Like Clare Quilty)

March 7, 2012

As their name implies, Quilt’s songs thread through a range of influences, yet form a singular whole. It’s really rather impressive what an expansive, organic sound this band has achieved on its debut album. It would be easy to call them neo-primitive hippie folk-rock, but there’s an underlying pop sensibility that makes their music vibrant and almost modern.They’ve been compared to Devendra Banhart, but they’re not nearly so self-consciously freakish as that. While they can go off on mind expanding tangents, this is a remarkably polished and sophisticated band. Sure, there’s a lovely 60s psych, pop vibe, but at times, they spark embers of Electrelane, but instead of the propulsive guitar, it’s the vocal harmonies that keep this band rolling. Quilt may have their roots in the past, but their elegantly blissful ways could just bend the future to their will.

“Young Gold” opens the record and it only gets better from there …

Quilt – Young Gold – MP3

Check out their Nitetrotter session here. It’s an excellent set. Do your day a favor and listen to “Milo.”

Quilt – Milo – Nitetrotter session – MP3

While you’re at it, buy their debut album here, straight from their label, Mexican Summer. It’s only been out for a few months and in a reasonable and just civilization it would be on the top of the charts. Meanwhile, beware, if you buy the record on Amazon you will find yourself overwhelmed with ads, emails and recommendations for sewing machines and quilt patterns for the rest of your life. You have been warned.

Rock n Roll Suicide: Pete Ham & Tom Evans of Badfinger can’t take it anymore

March 5, 2012

Pete Ham poses with what's left of himself after Badfinger's manager took his cut

Pete Ham and Tom Evans must have thought they hit the jackpot when The Beatles’ Apple Records signed their band in 1968. First, they released an album as The Iveys, but by 1970, they would be christened Badfinger and under that moniker they would go on to be the most successful act on the Apple Records roster. Ironically, the name Badfinger came from the working title “Bad Finger Boogie” which would later become known as The Beatles’ kumbaya classic “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Unfortunately, as Badfinger would painfully discover, in the record business, so often the people who claim to be your friends are really just vermin waiting for the opportunity to take you for everything you’ve got.

Badfinger’s first hit was Paul McCartney’s “Come and Get It.” If there ever was a rock n roll cautionary tale, it is this song. The lyrics now sadly serve as the epitaph for the band’s two creative forces Pete Ham and Tom Evans, both of whom thought killing themselves was the only way to escape the misery caused by the indentured servitude they endured due to a particularly cruel rock n roll contract.

“If you want it, here it is /  Come and get it / Make your mind up fast / If you want it, anytime / I can get it / But you better hurry cause it may not last.” It was almost as if this band made a deal with Devil and the Devil was Paul McCartney, who as the good Beatle, couldn’t help but be completely honest when he laid of his Faustian bargain.

Well, no one can say that Badfinger weren’t warned about the pitfalls of being rock stars. Of course, practically no one walks away when given the opportunity to seize the ring of fame and riches. However, while Pete Ham and Tom Evans certainly got famous, they never got rich.

In a few short years, Apple Records had turned Badfinger into stars. Poised to take advantage of all the world was offering them, the band demoted the manager who had brought them to Apple and hired the seemingly more worldly Stan Polley in 1970. Opportunities abounded for the breaking band and Polley supposedly had the acumen and contacts to broker the kind of mammoth deals that would allow Badfinger to seize the moment and secure its members’ financial future.

Sure enough, in 1970 and 1971 all went as planned. Badfinger was on top of the world. Their albums Straight Up and No Dice were rocking the charts. In addition to “Come and Get It,” they scored with “No Matter What,” “Day After Day,” and “Baby Blue.” The Ham/Evans-penned Badfinger ballad, “Without You,” hit number one for Harry Nilsson. Their members backed George Harrison on All Things Must Pass and did session work on John Lennon’s Imagine. The success must have been intoxicating and the future promised to be more of the same Not only were they poised to be the next Beatles, they had The Beatles’ stamp of approval.

Stan Polley: Stone Cold Weasel

Despite – or more accurately, because of  – the financial machinations orchestrated by their manager, the members of the band were seeing little money from their efforts. The same, of course, could not be said for Stan Polley. He was rolling in the cash. As revealed in Dan Matovina’s book Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger, a financial statement prepared by Polley’s accountants for the period from December 8, 1970 to October, 31 1971, showed Polley’s income from the band: “Salaries and advances to client, $8,339 (Joey Molland), $6,861 (Mike Gibbins), $6,211 (Tom Evans), $5,959 (Pete Ham). Net corporation profit, $24,569. Management commission, $75,744 (Stan Polley).” According to Matovina’s website: “When prompted, he [Stan Polley] had often bragged that anyone under his wing would be so broken emotionally and financially that if they challenged him, they’d never even attempt to sue him. And he wasn’t averse to flashing a gun or joking about taking out someone’s eyeballs.“

After touring relentlessly through 1972, the band needed to deliver an album, but in Apple’s eyes nothing suitable came out of the self-produced sessions. Another producer was brought in and the result was Ass, which many thought was an apt description. Tellingly, the cover features a donkey with a big juicy carrot being dangled out in front of him. Apple had issues with the album, so the band bolted for Warner before it was released.

The exodus must have seemed like it was for the best. At this point, Apple was flailing. The label was a case study in dysfunction, so it would have appeared to be a fine trick when, under Polley’s direction, Badfinger landed a $3 million deal with Warner. Apple soon after went into bankruptcy, tying up much of the band’s publishing royalties for years. But now with their new deal, Badfinger was finally going to get paid.

Stan Polley toasted them as millionaires. An escrow account was set up for their advance and the band got back in the studio. Their new album Badfinger was quickly composed, but poorly reviewed. The intended title, For Love or Money, was jettisoned, apparently being a little too on the nose. Further complicating matters and confusing Badfinger’s audience, Apple unleashed Ass on the world a few weeks before their Warner debut.

It was not the new beginning the band was hoping for, but they would try again. Those sessions resulted in Wish You Were Here, inspiring their best reviews in two years. Badfinger had every reason to believe they were on their way back to the top of the charts.

Instead, it all fell apart. Some $600,000 “disappeared” from the escrow account and as a result Warner pulled its support for Wish You Were Here a few weeks after its release. Naturally, Stan Polley, who had been fingered during Senate-investigation hearings in 1971 as an intermediary between unnamed crime figures and a New York Supreme Court judge, had a pretty good idea where those funds went.

While Stan Polley lived high on the hog, the band members were impoverished, in debt and devastated. And it looked like that was the way it was always going to be. Yet, still, they recorded another album. Warner, however, decided not to release it and in 1975 the label cancelled Badfinger’s contract.

Pete Ham couldn’t take anymore. He was depressed and putting cigarettes out on his arms. The 27 year-old rock star saw no way out. He’d been on the treadmill of fame for six years and he didn’t have a dime to show for it. As bleak as it may have looked, he did have a daughter on the way. Tragically, though, that wasn’t enough to sustain him. On April 23, 1975, he hung himself in the garage of his new Surrey home. His suicide note read, “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better … P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”

[It gets worse after the jump.]

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