tom waits while the ghost of dennis wilson smiles
This seems to be a strange week; something in the air. Young feet marching through the streets again and I’m wondering if Greek salad will be this year’s Freedom Fries. Unemployment numbers poised to get worse with the return of tens of thousands of soon-to-be discharged veterans; members of a certain political party clinging onto the belief that we reward the “job creators” with perks and tax breaks that will trickle down to the rest of us while sailing their yachts, vacationing on the islands, remodeling the kitchen with granite and marble, buying couture clothes for their private school students, checking the time with a $25,000 Rolex although they could just look at the screen of their new iPhone 4s. Only one in fifteen Americans are suffering from dire strait poverty, so shut up and get a job delivering pizza and one day you too can be a presidential candidate running from the past with a no comment here, a no comment there.
I’m letting the magazine subscriptions run out because it’s hard to know if any of them will be around long enough to complete the term I pay for. A year ago I said adios to Rolling Stone, this year Vegetarian Times and that ol’ mother of all news mags, Time. A magazine I’ve read more on than off for four and a half decades, Esquire, will be next because frankly I’m offended by the fashion spreads that assumes we all can afford (or even desire) a fifteen thousand dollar sportcoat, a five thousand dollar shirt, the fifteen hundred dollar tie and a three hundred dollar pair of hand knit socks which to me, and my new 99%-er friends, seems simply obscene. But to be honest here, I will keep my Vanity Fair. Blame it on Dominick Dunne because it was his writings of the comings and goings of the most wealthiest of society, their obsessions, fetishes and crimes, that made it so that I don’t fear what fellow travelers might think of me as I read the (based on the advertising) wealthy woman’s magazine from cover to cover each month.
Vyto sent me the sales charts yesterday but I was too busy to open up the attachments and read them. I’m talking SoundScan here, the weekly scorecard for both new and old albums sold either in a store, online or simply downloaded. The top ten is normally dominated by the previous week’s new releases, since those are the one’s that are most likely to drive people to pull out their credit cards and make a purchase. It’s strictly a tally of units sold, and does not distinguish or account for such things as pricing. So if Amazon chooses to sell a new title as they often do for just $3.99/download but all the other titles sell at $9.99, there’s no algorithm to adjust the numbers. So it is what it is.
Coldplay had last week’s number one slot, selling an anemic 450,000 or so units. Back in the old days, it would have been more than double or even more. Here’s my review of their new album: trash. Wow…I just broke my own rule of never reviewing an album I don’t like. What’s got into me? So you understand me though, I like(d) Coldplay’s earlier recordings although it’s not my usual cup of chai. But Eno got ahold of them and has turned them into yet another U2, as if one wasn’t more than enough. So outside of two or three tracks, I call this one unlistenable.
Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger simply wasn’t, because she limped into the number two slot at 163,000 units sold. I mean, that’s a huge number if you’re an alt.country or Americana artist, but if you’re an American Idol princess it’s weak. Smart girl though, one who I like a lot. She bought herself sixty acres down in Texas with her money, built a house, put a bunch of dough in the bank, kept her underwear on and at least tries to make music she wants to make and says to hell with the major label poo-bahs. I don’t know who number three Michael Buble is and why he has a Christmas album and I do know who Adele is and note she continues to sell and came in at number four.
Now here’s where it gets interesting….
At number five is Toby Keith, selling…let me get the exact amount here for you…68, 648 units. What’s unusual about that number to me is that back in the day, whenever that day was, a new Toby Keith would handily sell ten times or more that number on it’s first week out to fellow Sarah Palin lovers and Walmart shoppers. And where is Toby this week promoting his new album? Touring Europe. I don’t know what that says, if anything, but it seems a little odd and all, because (this is the part about Tom Waits) sitting right under Toby’s big fat butt at number five is San Diego’s bad boy. Yes…unbelievable that it may be, Tom f-ing Waits delivers an album that debuts (trust me here, it’ll never go any higher) at number six on the charts. It’s called Bad As Me and it’s not only a great one, but features the mesmerizing “New Year’s Eve” which I’d play for you here via You Tube if not for some reason that the brain trust at Time Warner have chosen to block, citing ownership issues. But the point is, Tom has delivered to us an early holiday release that will satisfy both his lovers and the “don’t like”-ers as well.
Shortly after Dennis Wilson dove down under the boat slip in Marina Del Rey and never came up for air, one (of his many) old girlfriends came into my record shop in Santa Monica with a paper shopping bag full of some of his albums. You should know that Dennis lived a street persons lifestyle, often sighted outside that liquor store on Venice Boulevard and not always in the best frame of mind or condition. But there was that twinkle in his eyes that was always there, and he was a man rarely without a woman. Usually pretty, often young.
The girl who walked through my doors was famous or infamous in celebrity circles, someone I knew of and had seen pictures of in better days. A still beautiful woman ravaged by needles and dope, she laid the bag down and I went through a small pile of albums that were neither remarkable nor interesting, and were in the shape you might expect if you found them in a trash can down by the beach. Normally I wouldn’t have paid a dime for these, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for family Wilson and this woman in particular is a sad story I could tell but won’t, and I knew she was grieving both a terrible loss, and a need for a fix. I gave her a twenty and threw Dennis’ albums in the trash.
I can imagine the dozens of lawyers involved when Capitol Records decided to bring out Smile this week in both a five disc box set and a double-album configuration. You should know that the members of this band, both living and dead, have always been litigation-crazy, never fearing a fight or a day in court. That Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine could ever come together (figuratively…it was their representatives who did the heavy lifting) and agree to bringing out this title is on the same level of the Arab Spring uprisings.
Smile, available for years as a bootleg and re-recorded by Brian and his amazing touring band a couple years ago, is not new per se, but having an “official release” is pretty cool after all these years. A lot of the songs here you’ve heard before in other places, and a lot of it are sound snips and tone poems. Um…there’s a reason that Mike Love and many others thought it was the ravings of a drug induced psychotic (albeit musical genius) that was unreleasable at the time and would have blighted the money-making ability of America’s best touring entity. Nevertheless, I find listening to the actual album itself (not the four additional discs of rehearsals and experimentations and alternative takes) still remarkable after all this time. Had it been released when it should have been…well, one never knows. But if you have any sense or recall to that time and place, you know that this album would have created a tsunami of waves on the beach.