New Rolling Stones E-Book

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’s first gig, at the Marquee Club in London. Journalist Hanspeter Kuenzler and Bavarian e-book publishers The eBook People GmbH celebrate the occasion with a massive illustrated two-volume biographical anthology in English on the band. Counting the pages in an e-book is of course difficult. But suffice to say that the first volume, that Aard has received for review, extends to 694 pages on my smartphone, where I read it.

Kuenzler provides the year-by-year narrative backbone of the story and, in a nice touch, for each year lists important new albums. His style is effortless and attractive, and he does a good job of covering the musical, social, world-contextual and gossipy aspects of the story without losing track of where he’s going. It’s an anthology because Kuenzler has also dug up a plethora of contemporary press items on the Stones and certain important people in their circle, both descriptive articles and interviews. After reading what Kuenzler thinks about the Stones’ activities in 1965, for instance, we also learn what the Daily Express, the Daily Mirror and NME had to say about them at the time.

Oddly, this period coverage does not extend to reviews of Stones albums or concerts. We learn what journalists of the past thought about the Rolling Stones – but sadly not what they thought about their records. Instead Kuenzler diligently reviews the albums himself from a 21st century perspective. And in these reviews we encounter the book’s only important editorial weakness.

When read immediately after one of Kuenzler’s narrative chapters, the reviews turn out to be full of repetitions, including entire phrases, suggesting that he wrote the reviews first (for an unrelated project?), then the narrative chapters, and then he never returned to re-edit the album reviews. Copy editing and proof-reading are good, though. The book does suffer from a common e-book glitch, namely that there are occasional gratuitous page breaks when I read the .epub file on Aldiko for Android (a lovely piece of software).

All in all congratulations are due all around: to the Stones who have survived for so long and made their many fans so happy, to Hanspeter Kuenzler who has written a good book, and to my fellow music fans who have a good read and many musical discoveries ahead.

50 Years: The Rolling Stones. Views From The Inside, Views From The Outside. Part 1 is available in .mobi, .epub and .epub format and costs $15. Buy it here!

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In My Earbuds Lately

  • Black Keys – Brothers (2010). Soulful vocals and psychedelic guitars.
  • Brimstone Solar Radiation Band – Solstice (2005). Melodic Norwegian psych.
  • David Bowie – Low (1977). Soul rock interleaved with ambient instrumentals.
  • Howlin’ Rain – Magnificent Fiend (2008). Soulful vocals and psychedelic guitars.
  • Lightships – Electric Cables (2012). Teenage Fanclub bassist goes solo.
  • Norm Sherman – The Esoteric Order of Sherman (2012). Eclectic musical comedy.
  • OK Go – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky (2010). Intricate studio pop, Prince falsetto.
  • Voodoo Trombone Quartet – Eponymous (2005). Ska, rocksteady, lounge music, breakbeats.
  • Wondermints – Rehearsals & Epic Demos (2000). 90s power pop & psych pop.

Pitch-Perfect Pixies Homage

This musical style was invented by the Pixies in the mid 80s. Their early work was a main source of inspiration for Curt Cobain of Nirvana. Now Cage the Elephant have recreated the early Pixies style from its blueprints and written a song about Cobain’s birthplace in Washington state. I like it!

In other rock ‘n’ roll news, Fornvännen was just offered a review copy of a book about the Rolling Stones. The journal deals mainly with prehistoric archaeology. I guess Keith Richards has looked like Ötzi for quite some time now, come to think of it.

Soul Warrior

This past weekend the Swedish Skeptics celebrated our 30th anniversary with a two-day conference in Gothenburg. It included the annual business meeting of the society at which I was reelected as chairman for a second year. And at dinner, I sang a song about how I view my role in the society, and the Swedish Skeptics’ role in Sweden at large. It’s Tomas di Leva’s 1991 Själens Krigare, “Soul Warrior”. Here’s a quick translation.

Can you feel it?
It is everywhere
Space opening
In our hearts

I am the soul’s warrior
With love as my weapon
I am the soul’s warrior
And the light in the tunnel
I am the soul’s warrior
And I help you get to Paradise

Forget everything
In green hypnosis
Beauty fights for us
We make a cosmic wave
Butterfly, long for more!
Glow!
Become reborn again!

Among stars I sneak
And spread my seed by the power of thought
My kiss is a whirlwind
Spin, oh my Earth, through famine and distress
Indifference is everyone’s death

You can do whatever you want

Lala, lala, dreams shall sing in the blue

Esoteric Order of Sherman

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I’ve written before about the prolific and many-talented Norm Sherman: a podcaster, multi-instrumentalist, song writer, singer and comedian with a truly unique voice. Several unique voices actually, thanks to his ear for accents. He occupies a position in geek-orientated on-line music and podcasting similar to that of George Hrab, another one of my favourites. But while Hrab has six albums to his name, the younger Sherman has two so far: his eponymous 2007 début and now the new The Esoteric Order of Sherman.

Both of Sherman’s albums are musical comedy, but where the first one is mostly bluegrass, the new one ranges widely in musical style: there’s rap, soul, punk rock, US folk, tearful ballads, AC/DC rock and a country number. All written and performed by Sherman himself, all recorded on a slim budget supported by a Kickstarter campaign. This is also the first time I’ve seen an album where the tunes are dedicated to individual patrons who have “commissioned” them and apparently requested themes. Most (all?) of the songs have been featured on Sherman’s short-fiction podcast The Drabblecast, one by one as they were originally recorded, prior to being collected on this album. This is a return to the original mid-20th century meaning of “album”, where for instance my dad collected Elvis singles in his physical Elvis album when he was a teen.

It’s an excellent record! The lyrics are hugely witty and the performances quite masterful regardless of genre. Don’t miss the pitch-perfect Bob Dylan pastiche “75 Lines”. (Its apparently surreal lyrics are brief summaries of the first 75 short stories read on The Drabblecast.) My only complaints are that the vocals are too low in the mix for me to make out the lyrics on the opening Beastie Boys pastiche “Babylon Battle of the Bands”, and that Sherman has left out his hilarious soul crooner paean to 3rd world breasts, “National Geographic Boobs” – obviously for legal reasons.

The lyrics are firmly planted in geek culture, dealing with Bronze Age rock & roll, giant Japanese monsters, H.P. Lovecraft, zombies, science fiction, fan conventions, cryptozoology and space tech. And perhaps incredibly, Sherman sings his heart out on the ballads in a truly touching way, although the objects of his unrequited love and endless longing are a giant mutated turtle, a Lovecraftian deep-sea devil hybrid and the fabled Mongolian death worm.

Norm Sherman lovingly and effortlessly appropriates the musical idioms of his eclectic favourites and makes them his own, to support weird and funny lyrics that really nobody else could write. Check him out!

Self-Referential Ethan Miller

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I’ve been following Californian rock singer and guitarist Ethan Miller off and on since Comets on Fire‘s 2002 album Field Recordings from the Sun. I love his singing and psychedelic song writing. And so recently the song “Nomads” from the 2008 album Magnificent Fiend (with Miller’s current band Howlin’ Rain) has been playing in my head. I couldn’t quite make sense of the lyrics, so I checked on-line, and found them (perhaps predictably) to be stonerishly meandering. But also bluntly self-referential in a way that is either really stupid or neatly self-ironic. You be the judge, Dear Reader.

Cold and gray clouds staining the sounds
Straining the weight of a sorrowful sky
Wool on the trees, dust on the eves
The bark on the pines is worse than its bite

All of the lines have been lies this far
There is a feeling I must keep from you

These lines are crawling snakes up your open legs
You wear them pale and fine
This is the line I’ll give you true as the dawn
While the furious eye on the sun is upon us

The way your breasts dance while we’re making love
Now that is a line penned by a divinely guided hand

Was the line “Now that is a line penned by a divinely guided hand” penned by a divinely guided hand?

Roy Zimmerman: You’re Getting Sleepy

i-09aa909df9ca3e8791a6132d38247e57-YGS_220x200.jpgI’ve been following Roy Zimmerman‘s output of musical satire since his 2004 album Faulty Intelligence, and I was certainly not disappointed by the recent You’re Getting Sleepy. The CD’s title is shared with the opening song and refers to the hypnosis that must be going on when half of the US electorate votes for the increasingly insane Republican Party. (Remember, Mitt Romney is their low-key, sensible and uncontroversial alternative!) As resident of a country whose entire spectrum of mainstream politics lies to the Left of Barack Obama, I of course have no problem with Zimmerman’s stance. But nor do I really need to have my anti-Conservative flame fanned. I listen to Zimmerman for his razor wit and his musicianship.

These qualities are particularly in evidence on the blues tune “The Unions Are To Blame”, the slickly soulful “Citizens United” (I had to look that up) and the country send-up “I’m So Friggin’ Country”. Zimmerman knows his Americana styles and moves effortlessly among them, which makes for nice variety. I sometimes feel bad for him when he lavishes this kind of attention on a topic that will only be notable and comprehensible for a few years (“Mister Bush Sends His Regrets”), but such of course is the nature of political satire. It buys a hard punch in the present at the price of a short shelf life.

So Dear US Reader: if you have a chance, definitely catch a Roy Zimmerman gig when he plays in your state! He’s touring all 52 of them during the run-up to the presidential election. And everybody else, buy the album!