Video Fridays: Happy 50th Birthday, Highway 61 Revisited!

highway61This is quite the week for masterpiece Rock & Roll album anniversaries!

Tuesday, as I mentioned in that day’s post, was the 40th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run.

And this coming Sunday, August 30th, is the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan‘s Highway 61 Revisited.

Both albums blew me away when I first heard them, and both remain deeply embedded in my psyche and soul. It could be said that Born To Run propelled me out of New Jersey, even while I was still living there, and Highway 61 Revisited provided a route along which I’d eventually encounter the many mysteries and contradictions, the grandeur and grotesquerie, the heroes and villains of America.

As with my Born To Run post on Tuesday, I could go on and on about how much I love Bob Dylan, and Highway 61 Revisited in particular; how every time I hear that snare drum crack kickoff to Like A Rolling Stone I get chills, seriously, I do; or how Dylan’s voice on this record, no matter how cryptic the lyrics might seem, sounds to me like the purest, most honest, uncompromising, risk-taking voice in music history; or how, to me, Dylan’s choice to, with this album, fully commit to electric Rock & Roll music, despite the backlash from folk music purists, was one of the bravest artistic commitments in music history; but I don’t think I could really do Highway 61 Revisited justice anywhere near as well as Rob Sheffield does in an article at RollingStone.com today.

It’s an inspired piece of writing, a true homage, laced with deftly placed lyric references, fully capturing the depth and majesty of Dylan’s masterpiece.

I mean, check out this small sample:

It’s an album that begins with a warning to pawn your diamond ring and save your dimes and keep track of all the people you fucked over yesterday, because they’re the same people you’ll be begging for hand-outs tomorrow. But it’s also an album that ends with a man signing off a letter telling you that he’s seen too much depravity in the city to read any more of your letters from home. (“When you asked how I was doing, was that some kind of joke?”) The album begins by laughing at a stuck-up young kid who never thought she’d wind up on Desolation Row; it ends with a no-longer-young kid who’s given up hope he’ll ever get out. The album begins by mourning all the two-bit friends you met in the big city who ripped you off for drugs and sex and money, the “beautiful strangers” who turned out to be Not Your Friends; the album ends by cheerfully promising that you can’t go back home to your old friends or family either.

Fanfrickintastic!

Of course, a post about a classic Rock & Roll album wouldn’t be complete without some actual music, so here’s a precious jewel of a video clip, the Highway 61 Revisited title track performed with The Band, four years and a day after the album’s release, at the legendary 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, and in classic Dylan fashion, with a totally different arrangement than the original, and a gloriously gritty and raucous arrangement it is.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Patti Smith

pattiI’m on a real women-in-music kick these days.

Last week’s Video Fridays installment was on the late-great Nina Simone, inspired by having watched the wonderful documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?.

This week, I’m inspired to feature Patti Smith after having read her amazing autobiography Just Kids.

If you go into reading the book having only heard of Patti the musician, you will either experience disappointment or revelation; disappointment, because music, while woven throughout the story, is by no means the primary focus; revelation, because Patti the poet, Patti the visual artist, Patti the muse of her longtime companion-then-friend, the groundbreaking artist/photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, comes to vivid life in the reading, along with the explosive New York City art scene of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Patti, being a poet and musician, writes her autobiography with such lyricism, such raw emotional presence, and there were many times when I’d re-read lines, and sometimes whole paragraphs, because they were rendered so beautifully, so movingly. She has an incredible eye and ear for small details that add so much depth to the story, peppering her narrative with mention of items collected or exchanged, often cheap trinkets or handmade gestures, brief interactions with legends like Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, things that, out of context, would be seemingly trivial, and yet in the very mentioning and describing of these things you learn how meaningful these smallest of details were to Patti.

I was particularly touched by her relationship with Mapplethorpe, a relationship that weathered the extreme poverty and struggle of their early years together, the emerging awareness of his homosexuality, the transition to a radically accepting, loving, loyal friendship, and through it all the powerful support they gave each other in the pursuit of their art. A relationship Patti describes thusly:

We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together.

It wasn’t easy choosing a video to include with this post, because, as Patti has endured, losing none of her potency as an artist and performer over the years, I could have selected some of her more recent work, such as the amazing 2005 Live at Montreux concert, available, at least for now, in it’s entirety on YouTube, rather than what I have here for you now, a precious document from her 1976 European tour, featuring songs from her classic debut, Horses, as well as cuts that would soon appear on her sophomore album, Radio Ethiopia.

Observe her total, unapologetic commitment, as she bravely claims her place in Rock&Roll, despite how male-dominated it has always been. Observe and enjoy and check out Just Kids when you have a chance. You won’t regret it.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Eyecatchers: Matthias Brown

matthias-brownAs anyone who spends a fair amount of time surfing the interwebs knows, GIF animations are quite a thing.

And while, in my experience, the vast majority of GIFs out there range from the trivial to the annoying, many amounting to nothing more than a short, looped video clip stolen from some movie or TV show, thanks to the always reliable Colossal, this morning I’ve discovered the work of Matthias Brown.

Brown’s minimalist drawings are set in motion using rotoscoping technique, which dates back to 1915.

I’ve always loved the simplicity of drawing, how it serves as the foundation for so much visual art, from sketch studies that evolve into fully-realized paintings or sculptures, or even storyboarding for movies. I remember, years ago, a friend who, having loved the early Pixar films, was inspired to become a computer animator. He was quite proficient with computers, but in order to get into a college computer animation program he was surprised to learn that he first had to take a number of classes in drawing, because he had no experience in it whatsoever.

Matthias Brown’s GIFs have an ephemeral informality that, paradoxically, makes them at once enjoyable as playful, standalone pieces, while also suggesting that they could be preliminary ideas for bigger works.

For this installment in my Eyecatchers series, here are some of my favorites:

traceloops-1

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Video Fridays: Pavement

pavement-quarantineSo, it’s happened again.

I’ve written before about how I fancy myself quite the student of music, and yet, despite my diligent efforts to know what’s going on, I occasionally discover that a particular band or artist has somehow escaped my attention.

Well, this time it’s ’90s indie, alt, rock, or whatever you wanna call it band, Pavement.

Yeah, I know, I’m only just getting into a band that officially broke up in 1999 and was insistent during their 2010 reunion tour that they were not getting back together again.

I’ve heard of Pavement for all of these years, heard just as much about their frontman, Stephen Malkmus, and his other projects, but it took coming across a video clip of one of my favorite bands, Wilco, doing a cover of a Pavement song for me to finally get it.

I’ve been listening to their stuff all day and find I really enjoy their punk-attitude-infused sound, very electric-guitar-centric, and yet melodic at the same time.

Only time will tell as to just how deep I’ll plunge into Pavement, however painful that sounds, or how long I’ll be as into them as I was today, but for now I’m happy to discover some great music that is new to me.

For today’s Video Fridays installment then, I hope you enjoy, as much as I did, this full show from the 2010 reunion tour.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Oh, England. You’re No Fun Anymore!

monty-python-copIf you are a heterosexual guy and you reached puberty when I did, in the 1970s, and you were lucky enough, as I was, to have a public television station that, late at night, would play reruns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus , not only were you introduced to some of the best comedy ever produced, but you could also catch precious, hormone-stirring glimpses of female … um … as the Pythons would say, naughty bits, such as the image here, taken from one of Terry Gilliam‘s amazing and hilarious cutout animations.

If you were extra lucky, as I was, you had another channel available to you, like WOR TV 9, that, also late at night, played reruns of a second British comedy program, The Benny Hill Show, which contained rarer bits of nudity, but plentiful moments of scantily clad women.

Consequently, my impression of England and British culture was that it was more liberal and open-minded than it was here in the U.S., and I loved them for it!

Disappointing then, to come across this item in today’s New York Times:

Ad for Rolling Stones Exhibition Banned from London Underground

A poster for the coming Rolling Stones exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London — showing a bright pink tongue on the front of a pair of women’s underwear — has been banned from the London Underground until adjustments can be made to make it less explicit.

Here’s the image from the poster:

rolling-stones-exhibit

Really, England?!

The Rolling Stones have been raunchy for decades, while becoming one of the greatest bands in the world, and you’d be hard-pressed to prove that they are in any way to blame for any perceived decline of the United Kingdom.

Let’s face it, you’re no fun anymore!

Video Fridays: Double Hit of Rickenbacker 12-String Cover Song Goodness

rickI’m pretty confident in guessing that most guitar players who have stuck with the instrument for a number of years have at least tried playing a 12-string guitar, and from my experience as a guitarist, and from chatting with fellow guitarists for nearly 30 years, it is VERY common for said guitarists, myself included, to have purchased a 12-string guitar, only to sell it not long after, once we realize that it is pretty much a one-trick pony.

It’s a strange musical phenomenon, really. There are numerous unquestionably iconic songs, in folk, blues, and rock music, that feature the 12-string, either acoustic or electric, yet VERY few artists specialize in 12-string, and even if they do they eventually move on, either abandoning the 12-string altogether or featuring it in only a relative few songs in their repertoire.

The reason: A 12-string guitar almost always sounds exactly the same, lush and jangly, and VERY few musicians want every song to have that sound in it.

It almost seems unfair. How can something so pleasing become tiresome so quickly? Well, listen to more than three songs featuring the 12-string guitar in a row and you’ll get it.

That said, in small doses, the 12-string — especially, to my ears, the king of the electric 12-string, the Rickenbacker — is hypnotically beautiful, and so this week’s Video Fridays installment brings you a couple of mighty fine examples.

First up, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers do their version of a song, So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star, by The Byrds, THE band most associated with the 12-string electric guitar. Their earlier music, before they went Country, is likely the longest stretch of 12-string-centric music ever recorded.

The next clip features Matthew Sweet and John Hiatt covering a wonderful, underrated early Beatles song, composed by George Harrison: If I Needed Someone.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Birth Of A Guitar

B&G Guitars
B&G Guitars
You don’t have to be obsessed with guitars, as I am, to appreciate this week’s Video Fridays installment.

In fact, I think it’s actually possible that folks who aren’t obsessed with guitars might actually appreciate today’s video even more than I do.

I’ve mentioned numerous times here at Fish & Bicycles, most recently this past Tuesday, that I play guitar and sing in a Rock & Roll band. As a result, I have a pretty good understanding of the various parts of the instrument and how one is constructed.

And still, I found the following video, of a GORGEOUS custom guitar being built by the folks at B&G Handmade Guitars, to be absolutely captivating.

I think there’s a good chance that for many people who don’t share the guitar obsession with me, this will be a very cool, eye-opening insight as to what this process looks like, engendering a new appreciation for the craftsmanship and artistry involved.

Happy Weekend, everyone!