Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Day 17: Luther Allison "Live in Paris" and Bill Hicks "Relentless"

I was never really aware of how much blues was in the Albatross or how little I knew about them. My pre-store exposure to the blues was wandering by blues bars, or the occasional blues festival.

I've also come upon my first non-music CD, and one I bought on purpose.

There's not much else to prelude, here, so I'll get to it.

Luther Allison
Live in Paris

I'd be hard pressed to really quantify the difference between this CD and the last blues CD. I mean, they're both that kind of 'rock-blues' or "Chicago Blues" or what have you. But already I like it a lot better. It might be the live recording; I think that Blues works a lot better live in general. It might be that unquantifiable 'something' that separates good and great players. Maybe, and more likely, it's just a matter of taste.

My Babe was a nice take on a spiritual (I think) turned into a song about, obviously, his babe.

This might be the first time I've heard someone other than B.B. King do The Thrill is Gone.

The liner notes on blues albums are fairly over the top. I mean, all liner notes tend to have what my Aunt called "purchase reinforcement." I mean, you've already bought the CD and now here's three small pages of some dude gushing about the artist you've already purchased. It happens a lot in jazz, usually by some jazz critic who spends the first few paragraphs patting himself on the back for being so clever as to be a jazz critic. Then there is a few paragraphs about all the super cool jazz artists that the critic is also into. Then some biographical information about the artist wrapped up with some high-toned notions about the artist in the grand scheme of the universe.

But blues liner notes takes the whole thing to another level. They drip with pathos. The back of this album has a great example:

In 1979, the blues took the features of a face, that of Luther Allison. The primary value of this recording, his first live album, is to make one feel Luther Allison's musical abilities, as well as the intensity and generosity of his live performances. You can also find the memories of the privileged moments - maybe a few seconds when you feel, when you know, that Luther shuts his eyes and opens his soul. At that moment, his guitar no longer speaks to you, it cries and its tears are blue. - Jean Cabot, Rock and Folk
 The color change is part of the notes as well. 

The blues lives in large part on its mythology. Music in general lives on its mythology, really. But blues wallows in it. More often than not, the technical ability of the performer is a back seat rider to their 'feel' or sound or the general nature of their state of "blues." Kind of like rap, you have to legitimize the blues artist before anything else. It stands to reason, I guess, being a music based on a state of being in the first place.

The music is good. I feel like I should mention that. Nothing is reaching out and demanding I comment on it. Since it's a live performance the solos go longer, though damage to the CD has eaten the length of at least one of the tracks. Wait, there's actually a fade out on one of the tracks on a live recording? How does that work?

Bill Hicks

The internet loves Bill Hicks. I'm not really going to be able to come up with something new to say about him. Or at the very least very insightful.

Even with all the love for Hicks, it's pretty weird to listen to topical comedians way out of context. He's opening his show (after berating his eager audience) with a bit about Clarence Thomas' conformation hearings.

Hicks is one of the Martyr Comics, comedians who have died for our sins. (The blues liner notes have infected me...) Usually it's comedians who focus on social commentary (more so than comedy naturally does). And usually huge advocates of recreational drug use. Lenny Bruce, Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, most recently Mitch Hedberg. If you add comedic actors, I guess you could add Jim Belushi, Chris Farley, and Phil Hartman. But those I think fit into a different category (former SNL cast members who died early?)

I actually didn't remember Hicks at the time I bought these CDs. At some point the label re-issued Hicks' catalog and I ended up getting fascinated by it. I bought into the packaging which had billed him as a modern day Lenny Bruce, Martyr Comic and all. I've always been fascinated and a big fan of stand-up comedy. It's absolutely clear I would be god-awful at it, so I form an academic fascination of it. And so the cover of the CDs convinced me that Hicks was a comedian I should know and I bought the entire catalog.

After listening to his CDs, I found that I did remember him, just didn't know his name.

It's weird to hear a Chuck Norris reference that's actually timely and not ironic.

Relentless has the often repeated bit on drugs. Occasionally an anti-drug ad will live beyond its intent and become the favorite of the drug crowd, from Reefer Madness to the "This is your brain" ads Hicks is riffing on now.

Listening to Hicks, I start to see the genesis of some of the prominent internet forum attitudes. Hicks' developed an arrogant-informative style where he belittles the counter-proposal of whatever his idea is in the presentation with a clever cadence and sneer that feels like it comes out of the side of his head. Like many imitations, the forum version often falls short--not to mention the sneer is hard to pull off in text.

Certainly hard to do the snorting sound effect of Rockers Against Drugs 'sucking Satan's cock.'

I heard someone comment on a show about comedians being frustrated rock stars. Wiki has a thing about Hicks' relationship with Tool, whose lead singer apparently used to be a stand-up comedian, too. To drive the notion home, Hicks ends Relentless with the song Chicks Dig Jerks. After the internet and its forums, this idea has become threadbare for me. Too often it's the lament of some noodle and 'jerks' are the people strapping on a pair and actually asking the object of affection out. I'm not the latter, but I'm not going to blame them for my own shortcomings.

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