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Saturday, May 7, 2016

My Review of The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod up at Colorado Review!!!

It must be my birthday week, because not one but two of my reviews have popped up in Internetland since Sunday. The latest is my review of The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod, which is brought to you by Colorado Review.

Take a look.

Yours in laying down the law,

Art

Watch the Book Trailer for Badge.




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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Happy Pub Day for M. Thomas Gammarino and King of the Worlds!!!

One of the best things about reviewing books is getting a chance to review a writer over a series of titles. That's the case with M. Thomas Gammarino. His first novel Big in Japan I reviewed last year for The Rumpus, and his latest King of the Worlds got the full treatment at Entropy today. What did I think? Find out!

Yours in laying down the law,

Art

Watch the Book Trailer for Badge.




Buy Badge.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

My Review of Liar by Rob Roberge out at The Rumpus!!!

Over the next three months, three reviews of mine--all of newly-released books--hit the streets, and you cannot go wrong with any of these three titles. Case in point? Rob Roberge's latest memoir Liar, which I reviewed at The Rumpus this past week. 

 

Yours in laying down the law,

Art

Watch the Book Trailer for Badge.




Buy Badge.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy - 20 Year Anniversary

My band's debut album for Mercury Records, Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy, came out 20 years ago today, so I thought I'd give the whole thing a listen--plus the B-sides!--and jot down whatever pops into my head.

The Album

“Blue Collar Suicide” 

This is an old Roger song from his time in the Mortals. It came together while recording Fizzy when Roger played the track’s rhythm guitar part and P.H. gave it the Bo Diddley treatment. We all instantly knew we had a new track for the album and worked it out on the spot. The only change in arrangement from the Mortals’ version of the song is the addition of the bridge/solo section, which we also worked out on the spot. Our plan with Fizzy was to more or less re-record the tracks of Wheelie for Mercury with better production values, but I don’t think anyone in the band felt good about simply repeating Wheelie with our Mercury debut. “Blue Collar” made it so we wouldn’t just offer up Wheelie Again to our hardcore fans, but instead improved upon it. That this song was lively enough also to be the first track on the album was an added bonus. The Refreshments were the kind of band that rehearsed every song until it was note-for-note done, meaning there was little room for exciting things to happen in the studio. Still, wherever we went into the studio, I wanted something unplanned to happen. This song was the big surprise of the session.

By the way, the last bit of bass noise on the track is me slapping all of the open strings once and letting them ring for a second before muting them. Now you know.

“European Swallow” 

The title always sounds suggestive, which makes sense considering the song’s content, but really it’s a reference to Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. There’s no good reason for this reference, other than the fact that band often liked to quote old movies in the basement during the Dusty era, and somehow it stuck as the title. The Fizzy recording of this track has one big issue for me. That’s me singing backing vocals on the chorus. Dusty, who had been our backing vocalist, was thrown out a month or two before recording, and I really didn't want to repeat Dusty’s backing vocal lines verbatim. I felt there were a few backing vocal elements on this track that were distinctly Dusty’s, and I went out of my way not to repeat them. One is during this chorus, in particular after the second line. On this track on Wheelie, Dusty added a nice little melodic element after “want me to.” For this version, I took it off, to the song’s detriment. It’s a little thing, but it’s something I notice every time. I wish I’d just sung Dusty’s line.

I like that “Swallow” is a quintessential cut from our club days. The track’s a bit long, even by 1996 standards, but the storyline and chorus are distinct enough to have it front and center on the album. I think it helps make Fizzy not just a bunch of singles but one album-y piece of work. It’s also the grooviest song in our distinctly non-groovy band. If I had it to do over again today, I’d lobby to edit it.

"Down Together"

One of my favorite Refreshment tracks, this tune was one of the five Roger brought back from the ranch where he spent the summer of 1993. It was clearly one of the songs that acted as a guide to our aesthetic, and it boasts the best bridge section of any Refreshments song. Its charm is apparent, with its simple repeating melody and the narrator unraveling the wealth of possibilities for him and his love. So many classic lines. It really needed very little but Roger’s contribution, but I’ve always been proud of the backing vocals, especially in the bridge. The highest note is out of my range, but producer Clif Norrell stuck with me for several takes.

I’m shocked by how much Clif played with effects in the studio on this one. There’s a great deal of farfisa organ, monkeying with the guitar track, and the repeating piano lick in the second half of the chorus. I also remember Clif making me play with a pick on this one during the verses, an idea I was not crazy about. Finally, the chorus only comes around twice. Maybe that’s why this second single didn’t do as well as the first. Still, at 4:24, adding another chorus would’ve meant losing one of those fun verses. No regrets, coyote.

“Mekong” 

If there’s one song that represents the Refreshments at their most complete, it’s this one. The tune moves seamlessly from Outlandos D’Amour-style reggae to Still Feel Gone cowpunk. The verses incorporate great lyrical moments culled from Roger’s Southeast Asia trip in 1993, and its chorus is as genuinely anthemic as any thing on a Skynyrd album. Anyone who made it to track four on this album knew that we weren’t just some novelty act but one that could have genuinely soulful moments. Again, this is Roger at the top of his game, but I feel like the bass line is its own statement. It’s the one song we wrote when I did not give a shit what anyone else was playing. My attitude was, “This is the bass line, deal with it.” The song’s rhythm is probably as close as we came to Camper Van Beethoven, a band that acted as a very early model for us. Not to beat a dead horse, but I’m again very proud of the backing vocals, even if I elaborated on them live later. I wish I’d sung backing vocals on every other line of the second verse, which is something I regularly did live. (I did manage to get the last line in there.) Also live, I regularly altered the backing vocals on the last pass of the last chorus as well. You only get one shot at the record.

“Don’t Wanna Know”

This was a Mortals song I never heard the Mortals play. The sentiment in the verses is one any musician from any band can relate to, trying to keep your spirits up on a night when maybe you’re not the hottest ticket in town, and I loved it from the first time Roger played it in the basement. I don’t want to keep up with the backing vocals obsession, but it’s the one area where a song can truly exceed a band’s expectations in the studio. Dusty sang along with Roger in the second verse, which always sounded great, so I kept that up. I also started singing the second half of the first verse along with Roger, which I loved as well. Since I started as the band’s backing vocalist a mere month before this recording, I’m always pleased to hear them sound okay.

Brian has some particularly memorable parts in here as well, like the violin-like guitar sounds in the second chorus. When Blush excelled, I called his parts “Richrathian,” after REO Speedwagon’s late guitarist Gary Richrath, who also sported a Les Paul and a similarly tasty tone. I think the main hook of this one qualifies as Richrathian. The tune speaks for a lot of people who maybe wonder too much, or not enough, about where they’ll be in a year. Keep the faith.

“Girly”

If I have any ill feelings towards “Girly,” it’s because it was the third single off this album, and I think in retrospect it’s a bit one-dimensional compared to some of the other possibilities. We closed most of our shows with it back in the day, and I liked playing the bass behind my head during the solo parts, but the song sounds thin to me today. Of course, Blush’s main lick is deadly, and the violence in the main storyline is just perverse enough to work. Blush really loved it, and Roger, for all of his avoidance of some of our earlier material he seemed to find too risque, didn’t mind it either. 

I kept the bass line very simple for the studio version. I think I wanted to differentiate it from “Carefree,” the other swing tune on the album, which has a busier line. We’d played “Girly” a thousand times by the time we recorded it for Fizzy, and I just couldn’t quite hear it anymore. It lacks a bridge, or any variance in the verse, save Roger’s ad lib at the end of the third verse, which I remember being not quite as impactful as the one on the Wheelie version. Still, for all my bitching, it’s hardly the worst song we ever recorded.

“Banditos”

I loved this song from the first time Roger spoke the chorus to me one day while driving us home from band practice. It’s down-to-earth, rockin’, memorable, and never more true. No one I’ve met in the 20 years since recognizes the track by name, but many know the chorus.

The production of the song sounds thin to me. We went into Ocean Way in 1995 hoping we’d come out with something that sounded like a Brendan O’Brien album, and this definitely isn’t that. Still, it obviously did the trick. I’ve always been proud of the bass during the end solo section. Like “Mekong,” I discovered my part, stuck with it, and didn’t care what anyone else was doing. The end of the song sounds like the controlled chaos I loved from our early live sets. No one is listening to anyone else, but the wheels stay on the tracks just enough to keep the song moving forward. 

The subsequent video was a lot of fun to shoot, and was easily our finest moment in the video world. The video got regular play on MTV during the summer of 1996, and KROX even added the song for an L.A. minute that same season. Finally, the song was the number one song of 1996—that’s the number one song of the year—at KNRK in Portland, Oregon, a good association with the Refreshments and my adopted hometown.

“Mexico” 

The song was titled “B.O.B.A.” on Wheelie, which stood for “Buffett on Bad Acid,” and was wisely renamed to its more obvious signifier for Fizzy. We of course had to add mariachi style horns to it—it was the absolute right thing to do—but I feel like the track loses something of its original drunken silliness with the drowning out of Brian’s guitar in the beginning.   

The verse of “Mexico” was written in a rare songwriting collaboration between Roger and me. Yes, I’m the creative genius behind the “lures/bobbers” and “hooker/erection” lines. These are easily the most heard of any words I’ve ever written, no doubt finishing slightly ahead of “Carefree.” I love that some of the spontaneity of the song is preserved in this recording. The lyrics to me always and forever sound like they were created off-the-cuff over beers, and indeed they were.

Once the nonsensical verse was finished, Roger and I had a competition to see who could write the best chorus for the song. I showed up to his place the next day with my chorus in tow. He said, “Who goes first?” I said, “You.” He played his chorus, and my chorus was never heard from again. As much as I like that this song is out there, I’m very thankful I don’t have to play it 100 nights a year for the rest of my life. Ole!

“Interstate” 

Typically, when Roger brought in a song, it was pretty close to finished, and all the band members had to do was make a snip here, a snip there, add their parts. “Interstate” is a special song for me because it was a song brought in by Roger that was reworked significantly afterwards, creating something better than it would’ve been otherwise. It was a little one-dimensional when it came into the basement. Those intro chords were just one chord, G major, over and over. Even after reworking the chords and some of the feel, Roger only sang one verse until we took the song into Ocean Way to record it for Fizzy. I eventually got tired of nagging him to write at least a second verse and wrote my own which, surprising to me, met his approval. He doctored the words a little to make them feel more natural to him, but I will take credit for the Tempe music homage in the second verse of “Interstate.”

That’s Roger and not me singing background. I can’t remember why.

At five and a half minutes, and repeating the first verse for the third, I’m surprised this didn’t get drastically edited at the time, probably because there was a good chance it wouldn’t make the album. I bet folks skip this track when listening to the whole thing today. Our penchant for repeating one verse over and over again was something Roger and I defended at the time, citing Gordon Gano, but most of Gano’s songs don’t stand the test of time either.

“Suckerpunch” 

Around the time of recording Wheelie, we thought “Suckerpunch” would be the first single off our first major label record, but something happened in the year between Wheelie and Fizzy that made us lose a little faith in the song. For one, we edited it drastically from the Wheelie version, trying to get it more into a single form, and it lost something in translation. That chorus is great, but somehow we only manage to get to it twice. I feel like it needs a bridge or something.

Again, Roger sings the backing vocals. I seem to recall he had a specific idea for the end, and just did it.

This version feels light and quick, making it seem more like a jingle than a song. I felt that at the time of the recording as well, and if I had it to do over again I would’ve lobbied hard to make this track a B-side, replacing it on side two with “Psychosis.” I knew that would’ve been a tough fight. Roger didn’t like “Psychosis.” Besides, Mercury liked “Suckerpunch,” which meant there was still a chance it would be a single. I can’t imagine what they would’ve done if we’d delivered an album without “Suckerpunch,” but I wish we would’ve found out.

“Carefree” 

It’s my most famous song—my most famous anything—so you’re not going to hear me say anything bad about it. It’s obviously simple: two verses, one chorus, guitar solo. The guys disliked the edit to the first chorus—halving it from the Wheelie version—and I agree with them. They also didn’t like that the last chorus going an extra half, which I disagree with. In later bands, I played the full chorus the first two times around, then played the chorus and a half to end it.

I have fond memories of piano player Skip Edwards recording on this one. I kept trying to get Clif to get him to put his foot up on the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis while he played—especially at the end. I felt that would’ve given the tune the right feel, but Skip wasn’t really that kind of dude.

This is one of the best backing vocal tracks. Very present, and pushing Roger’s vocal to be even more brilliant. There’s an ever-present clickity-clack going on throughout the song. That’s P.H. with a pair of drum sticks playing, I believe, the back of a metal chair. Once, a guy approached me at the Yucca Tap Room and said, “That tune’s about a blow job, isn’t it?” I think of it as a song more about subtle manipulation, but sure, a blow job.

“Nada”

The spiritual center of the album, and of the Refreshments. It always reminds me of a night in the desert jamming and drinking with Roger and Dusty, staring up at the full moon, Dusty belting out “Lady” by Styx. Having said that, for the last three years of the band I found this track pretty boring to play live. It’s long, there’s not much to the bass line, no backing vocals. Still, I knew how important the song was to our fans, that Roger and Brian’s parts are great, so it was hard to vocalize any dissent. Still, I was happy on the rare night it was left off the set list, sometimes replaced by “Una Soda.”

That’s P.H. on the bongos in the background. That's Blush’s best lead on the record, and the guitar pyrotechnics at the end of that last verse are the perfect studio touch. We were all waiting for our coal black souls to come alive, and with this track, they did.

Fizzy B-Sides

“Psychosis”

I remember seeing Roger and Dusty’s band the Mortals at Chuy’s one night in 1992. It was one of Chuy’s Wednesday night shows, with the Mortals going on first before two other bands. I stood at the center-back of the club and watched Roger as he sang this song, thinking, “I’d love to play that tune.” When Dusty first brought up the idea of contacting Roger to jam, my first thought was, “At least I’ll get to play that graveyard song."

“Psychosis” was one of the original five songs we played at our first practice, and it was always a favorite of mine to play live. Like a few of our original songs, Roger grew to dislike it, so we phased it out. Still, when Roger expressed dismay about recording it for the Fizzy sessions, I said, “Sing this song one more time, and I swear to God I’ll never ask you to sing it again.”

Clif Norrell lobbied for this cut to make the album, claiming it gave Fizzy more depth. Like I said above, if I had it to do over again, I’d substitute “Psychosis” for “Suckerpunch.” The real fear was that Mercury would somehow hear “Psychosis” as a single. It was still very grunge out there in 1996, and I wouldn’t have put it past someone at the company to lobby hard for the song to compete on that level, which would’ve been disastrous from our end. The one way to make sure it wasn’t a single was not to include it on the album, so we didn’t include it.

“Feeling”

The lone bass-intro song in our catalog, “Feeling” was one of the five songs Roger wrote the summer of 1993 while he stayed out on his grandparent’s ranch (along with “Down Together,” “My Penis,” “Clown” and … sorry, can’t remember, but I know it was five). It was a staple of our live set in 1994, but quickly found its way to secondary status as we started writing the material that would eventually go on our second Mercury record. I’ve always liked the lyric, the sort of clumsy walk of the bass line, the bass run during the solo. I also remember, once we signed him on, P.H. struggled to get the feel of this one, which may have been another reason why it found itself on the permanent B-list. 

There was never any real talk of “Feeling” making Fizzy, and I still think that’s the right call. It just wasn’t as strong as our other material. But again, I’m happy we got the track down for posterity. I’d hate to think it was lost forever.

Yours in laying down the law,

Art

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

My Review of Meaty by Samantha Irby up at Word Riot!!!

When I was a kid, there was pretty much no one on the planet cooler than Richard Pryor.

Writer/performer Samantha Irby carries on the spirit of Pryor in her latest essay collection Meaty.

 

Read my review of Meaty at Word Riot.

Oi!

Yours in laying down the law,

Art

Watch the Book Trailer for Badge.




Buy Badge.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My Review of Big in Japan by M. Thomas Gammarino

Somehow, someway, I managed to miss this little gem of a rock novel back in 2009, but luckily for all of us, it's still out there. The Rumpus today did me the honor of publishing my review of Big in Japan by M. Thomas Gammarino, brought lovingly to print by Chin Music Press. You might remember I chose this title as #17 on my Undisputed Top 20 Rock Novels of All Time list back in October. 

Give it a read!

Yours in laying down the law,

Art

Watch the Book Trailer for Badge.




Buy Badge.