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Archive for September, 2010

Gone Surfin’

Can you imagine hearing something like that in 1962?  Whew.  Dick Dale is one bad dude.  Few guitarists can hit you in the gut with the same unrelenting force as Dale’s rapid-fire fretwork while also making you want to dance.

His aggressive attack on the strings – which created a style and tone as recognizable as any other more-appreciated guitar legend – was only complemented by an encyclopedic knowledge of exotic scales, impeccable rhythm, and most importantly, a penchant for loud amplifiers.  Never before has so much reverb and slapback echo sounded so good.

Like many others, I first came across Dale’s work not through the inclusion of “Miserlou” on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack (although it played a part), but in a guitar magazine, to which I had subscribed during my formative years as an amateur guitarist.  I was always transfixed by an image of the older Dick Dale in a black leather jacket and headband, tearing into a gold, upside-down Stratocaster, blasting a thousand blazing notes out of a Fender amp.

I could only hope to practice hard enough to be able to play tunes at his tempo and clarity, but found myself mangling guitar strings, rather than making them sing.  Maybe that’s why I developed into more of an acoustic, fingerstyle player.  But my appetite for crushingly loud guitars will always remain.

Yet another Dale compilation just landed on shelves, or digital, depending on where you shop. Guitar Legend: The Very Best of Dick Dale, a 16-track collection from Shout! Factory, is streaming this week over at Spinner.  If you listen, be sure to do it at full volume.

And for more Dale goodness:

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After a hellish commute earlier this week that was accompanied by the dark, ominous rumbling of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, this morning’s concrete cruise down I-95 was breezy, cool and nothin’ but a party.

I work at a University.  Upwards of 40,000 students have returned to town.  Having felt nostalgic all week, I flipped through the pages of my bulky black vinyl booklet that houses 300+ round silver discs of dying (or dead?) media, searching for something that would take me back a few years.  And then it appeared – a burned copy of Beck’s Guero.

Suddenly it was 2005 and I was sitting in a cubicle at an advertising agency in downtown Kansas City, an intern in the media planning department, drying out my eyes staring at Excel spreadsheets and playing the part of an order of fries from Sonic (the agency’s biggest client) in a company PR video to impress the client’s new marketing VP.

It’s funny – most of the record consists of Beck’s hip-pop/rock hybrid – bouncy, groovy tunes that owe as much to folk as they do to funk.  It’s appropriate for a party.  Not for an office.  But it was that record that stayed in rotation for the duration of an entire summer, its uptempo songs proving to be the perfect polar opposite of the oft-languid pace of a day at the office.

Don’t get me wrong – those days at Barkley were great.  My supervisor was only a year older, having returned to accept a full-time position within the agency after interning the previous year.  We had some good times.

[Sidebar: it’s ironic now to recall how he couldn’t stop talking about Wilco, a musical suggestion I shrugged off at the time…]

Back to Guero: the Nintendo-esque synthesizers in “Girl” were essentially the sonic [ah!] equivalent of the computations and formulas I waded through all day in Excel, while tracks like “E-Pro” and “Qué Onda Guero” were excellent soundtracks to the mid-day stretch and shuffle, giving me a few minutes to stand up, shake my legs, get the blood movin’ and cut a rug in a cubicle.

I must’ve listened to it at least twice a day, if not more.  I simply couldn’t find a better aural assistant, with the exception of the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, which was my other vice.  They were an odd pairing, yet worked so perfectly together to propel the day forward and break up the monotony that sometimes plagued the day.

I didn’t listen to much of anything else that summer – of course, that’s also due to the fact that my precious CDs were robbed out of my car in the middle of the day – and then returned to me weeks later.  That’s another story.

I was 12 when Beck’s breakthrough hit, “Loser,” was omnipresent on the airwaves.  My older brother had the cassette single.  And there was his full-album breakthrough, Odelay.  Everyone had two turntables, a microphone and a devil’s haircut.  That’s the Beck that many know, love and appreciate.  Others are drawn to his post-breakup, largely acoustic and horribly depressing Sea Change, which yielded a few choice tracks and showcased some singing chops, but was such a far cry from the Beck that shakes walls and shatters speakers.

For me, Guero is attached to a time and place which hold many great memories, yet I’m pleased that those days are behind me.  I’m still connected to a cubicle 40 hours a week and find solace in my headphones, whether I’m falling back on old faithfuls or digging for new tunes.  In this case, to many, Beck is simply a speck from an oh-so-distant musical period – but this morning, his record was still fresh, exhilarating and exactly what I needed to hear.

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Red Eyes and Tears

This morning I was overwhelmed with gripping anxiety, aching urgency and maddening impatience during a horrendous commute.  It was only compounded by the buzzing drones and swirling distortion in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “Red Eyes and Tears,” which blasted through my car stereo with commanding force.  The panic-inducing sonic assault caused my lower back to wrench and squirm with tension.

As I sat helpless, unable to escape the pavement prison of usual mid-Atlantic standards, my mind flashed back to the first time I heard the track.  I was instantly transported back to college, washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen, watching the manic antics of my fellow dishwasher as he tossed aside the industrial-strength wash hose to strike a rock star pose.

In a jerky motion, he planted a straight leg in front of his body, his wet sneakers hitting the rubber floor mats with a thick splat. Lifting his arms up to play air guitar, his fingers perfectly synchronized with the gnarled, twisted riff  that gives the chorus of the tune its eerie, dark tone.

Suddenly I snapped out of my morningmare as the red glare of the brake lights in front of me disappeared, and the sad row of vehicles slowly began to inch towards the next stoplight.  With a deep exhale I banished the suspense from the inside of my car and pushed “>>” on the stereo face to find “Salvation” at the end of the disc.

Maybe I should’ve picked something quieter for the drive this morning.

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