Just Giblets


22nd August 2013
by Michael


Fleetwood Mac circa 1979I periodically go on a Fleetwood Mac jag, where I can’t get enough of their albums.  And not being a Stevie Nicks sycophant (although I do enjoy a lot of her work) but a Christine McVie fanatic, my Fleetwood Mac listening is not limited to their 1975 white album on, but goes back to the early 70’s, pre-Buckingham Nicks, when the likes of Bob Welch and Danny Kirwan were members.  My latest obsession from the last couple of weeks has been Tusk, their 1979 follow-up to the phenomenally successful, life-changing Rumours.

tuskTusk was a curious album.  There was no way the band was going to repeat the magic that emerged out of their personal break-ups and formed Rumours, number 10 on the list of best-selling albums of all time.  (You can see that list at http://www.celebritynetworth.com/articles/entertainment-articles/whats-the-biggest-selling-album-of-all-time/).  I’m sure the pressure from their label, Warner Bros. was pretty intense to do just that, but the band went in a completely different direction.  While it seems that Lindsey Buckingham was the driving force between the pseudo-punk, vaguely country tone of Tusk, certainly throughout all of his, the majority, contributions, his quirky production served Christine and Stevie’s compositions well.  Back in 1979, when Tusk was released, it was a rather shocking turn from Fleetwood Mac.  When listened to today, it seems even more incomprehensible juxtaposed with Rumours, but it works all the better for it.  The double album cost $1M to record, an exorbitant amount at the time, and with it only reaching #4 on the U.S. Billboard charts it is considered a disappointment.  Still, it did sell over 2M copies, earning a double platinum certification.

The title track was released as a single in advance of the album, and should have been a good indication that this was not going to be a Fleetwood Mac album like anything we’d expected.  From the jungle beat of the drums, the bizarre lyrics mumbled, then half-shrieked, and the overlay of the USC marching band, this was something visceral and different.  I was transfixed.  I ran around my high school (I was a senior) shouting Tusk!  I even included it as one of my quotes in the yearbook.

Now as I listen to Tusk some 34 years later, I am struck by how forward thinking it was, and how I think it might be Fleetwood Mac’s best album.  Okay, maybe not their best, but certainly Lindsey Buckingham does his best work ever with the band, or at least, most original.  Stevie Nicks turns in some pretty interesting work as well, and while Christine McVie has always been, in my opinion, the most reliable of the Mac songwriters, she doesn’t disappoint on Tusk.  While Tusk is arguably Lindsey’s album, it’s the way he pushes Christine and Stevie to the far reaches of what could be their comfort zones that really shines on Tusk.  (Although, part of me hopes that they all had fun trying out stuff they’d never usually perform – just take another listen to ‘The Ledge.’)

My current obsession is Christine McVie’s ‘Think About Me.’ It was a third single off the album, and is considered a minor hit for the band, only reaching #20 on the Billboard singles chart.  When I first heard ‘Think About Me’ it seemed a typical McVie single, reminiscent of ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Say You Love Me.’ Listening to it today, I am struck by the rock ‘n roll and punk influences, and the sparse, powerful mix of the song.  Lyrically, McVie injects a little wry sarcasm into the song, something she is not usually known for.  ‘Think About Me’ really features the power of McVie’s piano driving the song rhythmically forward, and Buckingham’s chunky guitar blends to create something truly rollicking.  Once again, McVie choses to alternate vocals with Buckingham, the former taking the lead on the vocals, the latter leading the bands trademark sublime harmonies on the choruses.  The vocal mix is perfect, with each of the unique voices easily picked out when they sing together.  Add to that the solid foundation of Fleetwood’s drums and McVie’s surprisingly flashy bass and it thrills me every time I listen to it.  McVie’s other contributions include the album opener, ‘Over & Over,’ the haunting ‘Brown Eyes,’ the gorgeously simple and heartfelt ‘Never Make Me Cry,’ the intricate confection ‘Honey Hi,’ and one of the best album closers ever, ‘Never Forget.’

Stevie Nicks’ most memorable song on Tusk for most people is ‘Sara,’ the second single from the album, and the highest charting, climbing to #7 on the Billboard charts.  I’ve always found ‘Sara’ to be rather uninspired, overlong and little boring.  The fourth single from Tusk was Stevie’s ‘Sisters of the Moon,’ a dark, pseudo-sequel to ‘Rhiannon.’  Nice enough, but pretty standard Stevie-fare.  Her other three compositions for Tusk are some of her finest work.  ‘Storms’ is a gently rumbling lament, beautifully constructed, and more complex than much of her Fleetwood Mac work.  ‘Angel’ is probably my favorite song Nicks wrote for Fleetwood Mac.  It’s got a bouncy, bluesy chord progression that makes it sound like a Christine McVie composition sung by Nicks.  The hauntingly lovely ‘Beautiful Child’ closes out Nicks’ contributions to Tusk.  Powered by McVie’s gentle piano and flush with the vocal interplay Fleetwood Mac is known for ‘Beautiful Child’ is a heartfelt ballad that highlights Stevie’s strength as a songwriter.  While Nicks’ songs are possibly the least affected by Tusk’s strangeness, Buckingham keeps the arrangements sparse and raw lending an urgency even to her most gentle numbers.

But it’s true, Tusk is really Lindsey Buckingham’s album, and his creativity and originality really show through on his songs.  Penning nine of Tusk’s twenty songs, Lindsey’s short, energetic numbers are like exclamatory punctuation marks sprinkled through the narrative.  His songs burst with heavy, distorted guitars and raucous vocal shrieks that convey frustration, anxiety and anger.  In some cases the bizarre lyrics seem interchangeable (and in fact, listening to the demo tracks included on the 25th anniversary release, snippets of lyrics are used on various songs).  The first of Lindsey’s songs you experience is the punk/country hybrid called ‘The Ledge.’  You might think, ‘he’s lost his mind, what the heck is this?’ but it’s a powerful locomotive of a song with the three vocalists harmonizing with wails and whispers the likes of which Fleetwood Mac had never explored before.  ‘Not That Funny’ is Buckingham’s punk response to Rumours’ ‘Never Going Back Again.’  It’s a bouncy pop ditty that leaps off the record with a high-pitched acoustic guidtar part that sticks in your head.  Along with ‘That’s Enough for Me’ and ‘I Know I’m Not Wrong’ these are three musical outbursts that highlight Lindsey’s new musical direction and his frantic energy.  ‘What Makes You Think You’re the One’ is almost traditional anchored by a pounding piano line that McVie once said made here wrists hurt after a day of recording.  ‘Save Me a Place’ and ‘That’s All for Everyone’ are lush, dreamy tracks that retain the quirky sensibilities of Lindsey’s current vision, but are less confrontational and again, use the trio’s vocal interplay to maximum affect.   Buckingham’s most beautiful number is yearning falsetto-powered ‘Walk a Thin Line.’  It highlights his adept vocals but it once again takes the expected Mac oohs and aahs and pushes them slightly left of center to remind us that we’re not listening to Rumours.

The first time I saw Fleetwood Mac live was during the Tusk tour at the Boston Garden.  It was a glorious show, and was the first of three (or maybe four times) that I was able to see them live.  I know they have had a bit of a return in the past few years, but without Christine McVie, it’s just not the same for me.  There was some sort of magic when those five made music together, and Christine McVie is one of my all time musical heroes.  I’m just glad the band has a long history of music to which I can return.

posted in Favorites, Fleetwood Mac, Music, Nostalgia | at 9:52 pm | 0 Comments
22nd April 2013
by Michael

What a Life!

Chrissy AmphlettTerribly saddened to hear this morning of the death of Chrissy Amphlett, former lead singer of the Australian band Divinyls.  She passed away in her home in New York City where she lived with her husband, former Divinyls drummer, Charlie Drayton, after suffering from breast cancer with which she was diagnosed in 2010 and MS in 2007.  She was only 53 years old.

Although best known in the States for her titillating Top 5 U.S. hit “I Touch Myself” in 1991, the Divinyls came into my life in 1983 with the U.S. release of their first album, Desperate.  I was introduced to Divinyls by my friend Doug, who was the one who often discovered these bands first, and I wasn’t thoroughly convinced right away.  Their first single, “Boys in Town” was a smash, Top 10 in Australia, but it only got a little airplay in the States.  The song that captivated me from their first album was the clever love song, “Science Fiction.”  With its witty lyrics and catchy pop hook, “Science Fiction” just gets in my head and keeps me singing.

Their follow-up album, “What a Life!” was arguably their breakout album on alternative radio in the States, led by their first charting single in the States, “Pleasure and Pain,” written by Holly Knight and Mike Chapman.  Every song on that album is a winner, but once again, it was their second single that had the biggest impact on me, the beautiful pop confection, “Sleeping Beauty.”  It’s a beautiful song with subversive lyrics, barely contained sexuality, and a feminist twist that was often found in Amphlett and McEntee’s songs.

Divinyls will be well remembered for their intense stage performances, and Chrissy’s wild antics and school girl outfits.  She hurled herself across the stage, pouting, sneering, careening into her partner-in-crime, guitarist Mark McEntee.  I was fortunate to see Divinyls perform life several times, from tiny clubs like Axis to much larger venues, and even got to go backstage to meet them after their self-titled album that spawned their biggest it.  I will cherish a photo I have with the band, and Chrissy running her fingers through my hair.  I like to say, the woman who touches herself was touching my hair.

They went on to record several more albums peaking with their afore-mentioned smash hit, “I Touch Myself.”  Chrissy also performed on stage and screen.  Her film debut was the Austrlian film MONKEY GRIP, released in 1982.  She had successful theatre experiences, playing Judy Garland in the touring company of “The Boy from Oz,” and playing the lead in “Blood Brothers.”

Chrissy announced her diagnosis of MS at the start of their 2007 tour, and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.  The last years of her life were difficult as her body failed her.  But her music will live on.  Divinyls were a major part of the soundtrack of my life in the 80’s.  Everytime I go back and listen to their catalog I thrill to the songwriting skills and musicianship found in their music.  Chrissy Amplett was a pioneer for women in rock, unafraid of her sexuality, rage, and vulnerability that found her a unique and ground-breaking place in the male-dominated industry.  I will remember her and her music as an integral part of my coming-of-age.

posted in 1980s, Divinyls, Music | at 7:51 am | 0 Comments
1st January 2013
by Michael

Michael’s Top Books of 2012 – the Also Rans

The First Time I Heard Kate Bush2012 was a good year for books.  My New Year resolution last year was to read more, and I successfully accomplished that.  Last year I read 33 books, up from twenty-something last year.  Of those 33 books, I have a top 16 that I will post about in the coming days.  For this first post in the series, I’m going to talk about some of the books that I really enjoyed that I just couldn’t squeeze onto my top books of the year list.

There were two books in particular that deserve a special mention.  The first is part of a terrific new series available in ebook only edited by Scott Heim called, The First Time I Heard…  I read the first in the series featuring the Cocteau Twins, which was a delight, but anyone who knows me knows that a later book in the series, The First Time I Heard Kate Bush, was tailor made for me.  Kate has long been my favorite musical artist, and it was really special reading the essays that Scott pulled together from various musicians, artists, authors and the like, all talking about the first time they heard Ms. Bush.  From those who were there from the beginning, fortunate enough to live in England during the late 70’s and the release of her first single, “Wuthering Heights,” to younger folk who first heard of Kate when she finally broke the Top 40 here in the U.S. with “Running Up That Hill.”  The First Time I Heard Kate Bush was ever so fun to read, and perhaps when I’m finished with this series about my top books of 2012, I will include a post about the first time I heard Kate Bush.

Kicking & Screaming

Also in the musical vein, another book that deserves special notice and gave me great pleasure to read this past year was  Kicking & Screaming: A Story of Heart Soul and Rock and Roll by Ann & Nancy Wilson.  Again, those of you who know me, know that aside from Kate Bush, Ann Wilson and Heart have had an incredibly profound impact on my life in music.  Ann and Nancy, with their co-writer Charles Cross, chronicle their lives from childhood, through the ups and downs and musical challenges face by that seminal and classic rock band, Heart.  Even though much of the story was known to me, after decades of following their careers (even a lengthy stint in their fan club – I was in Kate’s as well) there was plenty I didn’t, and their candor and insights proved to be terrific reading.  One of my greatest wishes is to one day meet Ann Wilson and thank her for the incredible music she has given us, and now, after reading their story, I feel I know her that little bit more.

Other books I really enjoyed but just didn’t make the list include:

The First Warm Evening of the Year by Jamie Saul
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Eviston
Live By Night by Dennis Lehane
Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne RayBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Canada by Richard Ford
Fantastic Four: Season One by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa
The Collective by Don Lee
Falling Backwards: A Memoir by Jann Arden

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Kate Bush, Music, Year-end lists | at 11:16 pm | 0 Comments
12th June 2011
by Michael

30 Day Song Challenge Day 30 – Your Favorite Song at This Time Last Year

This is a silly challenge to end the meme with. In reality, my favorite song is my favorite song, and while it does change over time, it certainly doesn’t change in a year’s time. So last year, my favorite song was Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, just like it is this year. That said, I did have a “favorite new song” last year… a discovery that made me really excited. An amazing song with an incredible video by an artist I had never heard of that just blew me away. So that’s the song I’ve selected for this Day 30 challenge. (And come back tomorrow, because I’ve got a little added extra in store for this meme).

The artist is billed as Fever Ray, which is actually the solo project for Swedish singer/songwriter Karin Dreijer Andersson. Karin first gained acclaim as one half of the electronic duo, The Knife, for which she sang lead vocals. I can’t remember how I discovered the video for Fever Ray’s second single off her debut album. The song is called When I Grow Up, and the video exemplifies the theatrical nature of Karin’s performances. It’s creepy, it’s primal, it mystical, it’s clever and I do hope you’ll take a look. I still enjoy watching this video every time I think about it.

posted in Memes, Music | at 11:44 am | 0 Comments
9th June 2011
by Michael

30 Day Song Challenge Day 28 – A Song That Makes You Feel Guilty

Emm GrynerI had my own rule for this meme, that I would only include songs for which I could post videos from YouTube. I am now breaking this rule for day 28, a song that makes me feel guilty. There’s really only one song that makes me feel guilty, and by guilty, I don’t mean guilty pleasures, because those don’t really make me feel guilty. During the break-up of my previous serious relationship, I felt plenty guilty, and I have a distinct memory of driving in my car, listening to Emm Gryner’s Science Fair album, and this song in particular, and bawling my eyes out. The song as a whole isn’t applicable to that situation, but in general it is, and some of the lines just pierced my heart. The song is called Revenge, and it’s not available on YouTube so click the link below which will bring you to Yahoo Music where you can listen to this heartbreakingly lovely song. I said Tori Amos’ Tear in Your Hand was lyrically spot on about what you feel when you’re going through a breakup, and so it this one.


posted in Memes, Music | at 9:27 pm | 1 Comment
8th June 2011
by Michael

30 Day Song Challenge Day 27 – A Song You Wish You Could Play

Come on, there are tons of songs I wish I could play. For day 27 of this meme I am choosing a song I really like, that I wish I could play, and wish I had written. Tori Amos floored me when her Little Earthquakes album came out, and while she’s done some amazing stuff since, that album really set a tone that has never truly been reached again. Her song, Tear In Your Hand is lyrically spot on about the feelings you go through after a breakup, and yet it’s done so poetically and hauntingly. And it’s another song that has got a great driving piano line. It doesn’t seem so difficult, and perhaps I could learn it if I took the time or found the music. But since I haven’t yet, and it’s probably my favorite song by Tori, it gets a spot in this meme.

Enjoy this awesome live performance with a full band from the Glastonbury Festival. Plus, this video has the lyrics too.

posted in Memes, Music, piano | at 10:43 pm | 0 Comments
7th June 2011
by Michael

30 Day Song Challenge Day 26 – A Song That You Can Play on an Instrument

I was in a band in the early 80s, so there are actually a lot of songs I can play on the bass guitar, and a few I can play on the piano/keyboard. When we first started out our band, Psyclone by name, played a lot of covers. We played songs by Pat Benatar, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, the Pretenders, Split Enz, Motorhead, Donnie Iris, Joe Jackson, Blondie… and lots more. What’s that? Motorhead? Oh yeah, we did a rockin’ rendition of The Chase is Better Than the Catch. I got to sing lead on Donnie Iris’ Ah, Leah, which was a lot of fun to perform. After the band broke up, I kept playing a little, learning songs by some of my favorite artists, but I didn’t have access to a keyboard for many years until just recently.

One song I had learned back in the early 80s, mainly because it was propelled by a great piano part, has stuck with me to this day. I still can play this song pretty much in its entirety by memory, although I do have the music and I recently pulled it out and did a much better job. The song is by Heart, and it’s a bit of a rarity as it was one of the early songs that Nancy sang. It’s from the album Bebe le Strange, and it’s called Raised On You. I love songs that are powered by the piano, and this one is a lot of fun to play.

Oh, what the heck. Here’s a really bad video for Ah, Leah too. This is a really great song, and I really loved performing it. I couldn’t do the screams at the end though, so Donnie, the other guy singer in the band had to do that part.

posted in Memes, Music | at 9:42 pm | 0 Comments
6th June 2011
by Michael

30 Day Song Challenge Day 25 – A Song That Makes You Laugh

As with other categories in this meme, there are lots of songs that make me laugh; the choice comes from deciding which one to post here. So again, I’m posting too. The first is a great, very funny song from an artist who has written many funny songs. Unfortunately, I can’t find a good video of the studio version of this song, but here’s a pretty good live version of this crazy song about a woman who suspects her boss at the shoe store leads a double life. Here is Jill Sobule and Karen By Night.

Another artist who has a knack for writing songs that are pretty amusing is Jane Siberry. On top of that she makes some pretty funny videos too, and this is one of my favorites: Ingrid and the Foortman.

posted in Memes, Music | at 9:31 pm | 0 Comments
5th June 2011
by Michael

30 Day Song Challenge Day 24 – A Song That You Want Played at Your Funeral

I’m not the kind of person who thinks a lot about my funeral, and when faced with the question on this meme, I actually thought of a number of songs I could have played at my funeral. One song did rise above all the others, and some my find it an odd choice for a funeral song, but I think it’s just perfect. Kate Bush wrote Moments of Pleasure for her mother who had passed away while making the album The Red Shoes. The song is a series of memories about people who she loved that had died. It’s quite poignant, but is also a celebration of all the special moments she has shared with people she has loved. Moments of pleasure.

posted in Kate Bush, Memes, Music | at 9:27 pm | 0 Comments
5th June 2011
by Michael

30 Day Song Challenge Day 23 – A Song That You Played at Your Wedding Reception

There’s a slightly convoluted story to go along with this selection.  The song I’m including in this post, The Magnetic Fields’ The Book of Love, was a song I asked my friend Chris Perry to play at my wedding. He surprised us by playing a different Magnetic Fields song, It’s Only Time, which was beautiful, and totally fitting. Then, when we had our reception, seven months later, Chris came prepared to play The Book of Love for us, which he did, beautifully. I think this is truly one of the most beautiful and romantic songs ever written, with sentiment, humor and a beautiful melody. It was meant to be played at our wedding, and instead it was played at our reception, but this is the song I’m including here.

posted in Memes, Music | at 12:40 am | 0 Comments
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