Arthur Lyman Twofer Heaven

This week, Collectors Choice releases a series of nine CDs compiling eighteen vintage Arthur Lyman exotica LPs in their bird-calling, fish-scraping, pupu-platter-clattering entirety. The liner notes were written by David Smay and myself (with a bio that appears on each disk, and notes for each release). We had fun debunking some of the mythologies that have long clung to this great exotic bandleader, and placing him in context as the true and eternally creative link between small combo jazz and lush island hotel pop. A couple of my favorite discoveries were the rocking version of "Windmills of Your Mind" from 1969's Winner's Circle and a sly bosso nova take on "Hawaiian War Chant" that appeared on the Cottonfields LP, but there's plenty of great stuff to hear on all of these bargain reissues. We hope they'll do something to rescue Arthur Lyman's reputation, which has too long huddled in the shadows of his one-time bandleader Martin Denny.

Check them out here.

Aeroplane and others at NYC 33 1/3 series reading

On March 26, I'll be reading a short excerpt from my 33 1/3 book about "In the Aeroplane Over The Sea" as part of a 33 1/3 – Writers on Music panel at Housing Works Used Book Cafe in NYC. Also appearing are Andrew Hultkrans ("Love's 'Forever Changes'"), Amanda Petrusich ("Nick Drake's 'Pink Moon'"), and Kate Schatz ("PJ Harvey's 'Rid of Me'"). The reading is followed by a Q&A hosted by writer/director Keith Bearden ("The Raftman's Razor").

WHAT: 33 1/3- Writers on Music event
WHERE: Housing Works Used Book Cafe, 126 Crosby Street, NYC 10012
WHEN: Tuesday March 25, 7pm-9pm
COST: free

My Liner Notes for Jim Carroll’s “Praying Mantis” CD

I was honored recently when the good folks at Noble Rot asked if I’d like to write liner notes for their reish of Jim Carroll’s debut spoken word album, Praying Mantis .

Carroll had a wonderfully corrupting and simultaneously purifying influence on my adolescent brain: I loved his early ’70s drug tales The Basketball Diaries and the album Catholic Boy, and was somehow able to convince the local 7-11 clerk to sell me the issue of Penthouse in which Carroll was interviewed.

At that age I was always scanning for influences, and Carroll led me to Frank O’Hara, the MOMA curator whose lunch hour poems fed a second career of even greater acclaim. I knew then that I wanted to be a writer, but not to write for a living, and that I was going to curate… something! So thanks, Jim, for opening doors I still use daily.

Here are my notes to Praying Mantis, available now from your local retailer or online record shop:

When New York writer Jim Carroll broke into mainstream celebrity in 1980/81, it was with the one/two punch of the successful mass market Bantam reprint of his small press

teenage junkie journals The Basketball Diaries and his debut album for Atco/Rolling Stone Records, Catholic Boy, featuring the gleefully morbid hit eulogy “People Who Died.”

The album and book worked together to establish a Jim Carroll persona that, while commercially viable, was nowhere the hard-to-pin-down Carroll would want to spend the rest of his creative life.

The publication of The Basketball Diaries was itself something of a fluke, born out of a need for material when the Poetry Center at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery issued a call for prose content for a special issue of The World magazine. At a loss for polished material, the young poet turned in excerpts from his youthful diaries of prep school sports, paid street sex and a measured descent into sensual drugged excess, ala Rimbaud.

These were an immediate camp hit in downtown literary circles, and later excerpted in The Paris Review, but Carroll wasn’t convinced they represented his best work and resisted the Dope Scribe pigeonhole.

Years of heroin addiction led to exile in rural Northern California, where Carroll cleaned up, wed, and explored the nascent San Francisco punk scene. Inspired by his one-time lover Patti Smith’s crossover from poet to rock and roller, Carroll wrote some songs, formed a band and passed a primitive demo to friend Earl McGrath, then president of the Rolling Stones’ label. Keith Richards was favorably impressed, and Catholic Boy was warmly received by critics, radio and fans.

But when two subsequent albums failed to build on this success, and musical collaborator Brian Marnell died after fighting his own heroin addiction, Carroll decided to put music aside and focus on poetry and live performance.

Praying Mantis (1991) was the result, a mainly live recording laid down at his old haunt St. Mark’s, before an enthusiastic audience. Drawing on his experience as a rock performer, Carroll unfurls a mixture of semi-improvised comic monologues and precise bursts of poetry, including pieces from his collections Living at the Movies (1972) and The Book of Nods (1986).

As delivered in his distinctive Noo Yawk whine, with some words so tangled in thick vowels they’re almost another language, others punctuated by a peculiar cadence where pauses appear unexpectedly, the material requires intense attention that rewards with humor and flashes of subtle, elegant observation.

Fans of Carroll’s non-fiction and rock and roll, concerned that a spoken word album might be dry, will be appeased by the tales of racing pubic lice, performance art collaborations with cockroaches, an erotically-charged heist tale and the Catholic take on Philip Roth’s masturbatory super time riff from Portnoy’s Complaint. But comic notes aside, there’s a dark urban poetry here, and visions filtered through a sieve of corruption, vice, longing and complex chemistries. As a statement of transition, Praying Mantis struck a confident note of a nimble artist reinventing himself anew.

Canned Hamm and Friends – Sincerely Christmas CD (Pro-Am)

And when they say friends, they don't just mean the same old reindeer and elves—the first guest is the somewhat unnerving Sssssssalty The Rattlesnake. Big and Lil Hamm promise to put the "X back in Xmas" and don't disappoint, sending all their love straight out to their audience of miserable shut ins with the sultry disco stylings of "Sexy Elf" and "Secret Santa." The ultrashrill Hamster Hamm drops by with a harangue about the mess the Hamms have made unwrapping their gifts, but he's barely annoying compared to stand up comic Neil Hamburger, who tries to cadge a place to sleep by comparing himself to the baby Jesus before agreeing to sing the cranky instant classic, "Office Christmas Party." The boys explore such high holiday concepts as the sin of gluttony, making snow angels, getting high on egg nog and meditating with the sugar plum fairies, and before they're finished, Lil Baby Jesus raps his way out of his diaper and Ivan Hrvatska turns in an entry in the happily miniscule genre of Christmas seduction songs. The Hamms even revamp their hit "Father and Son" into a holiday selection. Don't hit eject just yet: there's an almost special message from Santa himself for all good little boys and girls. If you must buy just one Canadian-made Christmas album by mustachioed men this year, make it Sincerely Christmas!

Judee Sill – Live in London: The BBC Recordings, 1972-73 CD (Water)

In these intimate, revealing solo performances (just Judee with her piano or guitar) recorded over three sessions for a British audience, the mistress of L.A.’s Rosicrucian folk mysteries shares her exquisite, multi-layered compositions alongside memories of her musical influences and inspirations, and where the songs fit in her personal cosmography of romantic and spiritual loves. I imagine the disk will appeal to people who are already fans of her debut and “Heart Food,” but it’s strong enough to stand as the introduction it was to UK radio listeners. Sill describes how the Turtles found her living in a car with five other people and gave her a break when they recorded the lovely “Lady-O,” then turns in an effortless, stripped down take on that stunner. After hearing Sill talk about the UFO-as-savior symbolism of “Enchanted Sky Machines,” the ’50s R&B sources of “Down Where the Valleys Are Low” and how “The Donor” signifies a plea to god for a break she no longer feels she deserves, those songs will take on new layers of significance. This is a surprisingly warm and funny series of performances for so esoteric a songwriter, and well worth seeking out, though the multiple versions of five songs should be noted. Too, Michael Saltzman’s tender notes reveal the tragedies of Judee’s short life, from fears of madness, romantic obsession, drug abuse, injury and the ill-advised crack about David Geffen that scuttled her career, and explore the conflicts that pulled at the artist and finally pulled her down.

9/30: 17 Pygmies live in Santa Barbara

RARE LIVE 17 Pygmies SHOW  with Sean McCue (Summercamp) and Cellist Michelle Beauchesne
SOhO Restaurant & Music Club
1221 State Street Suite 205
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 962-7776
Sunday September 30, 7:30 p.m.
17 Pygmies will be performing songs from their new release due out October 31, 2007

Approximately eight months from their last release (Groundhog Day to Halloween to be exact) The 17th Pygmy has indeed released Ballade of Tristram’s Last Harping their second full length CD in less than one year (somewhat different than the band’s previous 17 year hiatus between releases, eh?) Formerly and perhaps to be known again someday (you never know) as 17 Pygmies, the seventeenth pygmy (Jaxon Del Rey) decided that The 17th Pygmy (are you still following?) was a name that better reflected the ‘60s Psychedelic -70’s Classic Rock direction of the new recordings. Think The 17th  Floor Elevator or perhaps The Exploding Plastic Inevitable Pygmy.
Consisting of original 17 Pygmies and Savage Republic member Jaxon Del Rey, Jeff Brenneman (formerly of White Glove Test) on Guitars, returning classical Guitarist and now vocalist Meg Maryatt, former Swivelneck and White Glove Test member Tony Davis on Bass, and Drummer Dirk Doucette from you guessed it…White Glove Test, The 17th Pygmy have combined their unique talents to create a musical tribute to the style and inventiveness of some of their favorite music, namely ‘60s Psychedelia and ‘70s Classic Rock.

10/21 LA- Where The Action Was rock history tour

For immediate release
September 18, 2007
New Hollywood Rock and Roll History Tour stars Phil Spector and Bobby Fuller

LOS ANGELES- Esotouric, the eclectic collective whose offbeat bus tours expose LA's secret history, returns to founder Kim Cooper's rock and roll roots on Sunday, October 21, when they launch WHERE THE ACTION WAS. This new tour, co-hosted by pop critic Gene Sculatti, explores the musical history of Hollywood and the Sunset Strip through visits to celebrated nightclubs, recording studios, record label offices and other places of subcultural importance.

The launch date is no accident, falling one day before Bobby Fuller, the gifted rocker whose "I Fought The Law" is one of the great singles of the 1960s, would have turned 65. Fuller's mysterious 1966 "suicide" (thought by many to be an unsolved murder) is one of several storylines followed on the neighborhood tour, which also explores the life, the highs and lows of super-producer Phil Spector, the racially mixed psychedelic lions Arthur Lee & Love and the folk-rocking Byrds and their extraordinary entourage of self-proclaimed freaks and go-go dancers.

On WHERE THE ACTION WAS, passengers will make a fascinating journey back in time, from the mid 1960s through the punk era, when Hollywood was ground zero of a series of cultural explosions that started in the music industry, but quickly spread to film, publishing, fashion and lifestyles. The area covered is relatively small, but packed with important spots including nightclubs (Whiskey A Go Go, Pandora's Box, Rodney's English Disco, The Masque), record labels (Capitol, A&M, RCA), teen hang-outs (Ben Frank's, Canter's, Tiny Naylor's) and some familiar locations with unexpected rock and roll connections. Artists featured include Herb Alpert & Tijuana Brass, The Beach Boys, The Buffalo Springfield, The Doors, The Bobby Fuller 4, The Germs, The Grassroots, Jan & Dean, Janis Joplin, Arthur Lee & Love, The Mamas & Papas, The Monkees, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Sonny & Cher, Phil Spector, Iggy & the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, and many, many more.
Illustrated with an elaborate onboard slide show featuring rare vintage photos, album art, concert ads and ephemera, and hosted by a pair of historically minded music fiends eager to share fascinating tales, WHERE THE ACTION WAS is a must for rock fans or Hollywood dwellers who've heard the famous names, but need some help figuring out where is all happened.

The tour visits the unassuming intersection where teens rioted over an unfair nightly curfew (inspiring the Buffalo Springfield's Stephen Stills to write "For What It's Worth"), the hotel where Janis Joplin died, the one-time roller disco parlor where Prince made his L.A. debut, the notorious Continental "Riot House" hotel in which Led Zeppelin partied with teenage groupie queens, the Hullaballoo Club (later the Aquarius and now Nickelodeon), Ciro's, PJ's (later The Starwood), the Troubador, and many more. It explains how Canter's Deli's continued popularity as an after hours gathering spot is directly tied to its willingness to serve hairy weirdos in the 1960s, reveals how Elvis Presley's shopping trip to Wallich's Music City influenced L.A.'s surf and hot rod music scene, and recalls a time when the Tropicana Motel was simply THE place to go for star spotting.

WHERE THE ACTION WAS is a long overdue celebration of the people and the venues that made Southern California the center of the rock and roll world for more than two decades.

The tour will conclude with a snack break at Scoops, the avant garde gelato shop featuring high concept flavors inspired by Esotouric tours. Available for purchase on the tour will be autographed copies of Gene Sculatti's "The Catalog of Cool," Kim Cooper's books and back issues of Scram magazine.

ABOUT THE HOSTS: Co-host Kim Cooper is the editrix of Scram, the acclaimed journal of unpopular culture that over 22 issues has celebrated neglected musical genius, and spawned the anthologies "Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth" and "Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed." Her latest book is the best-selling volume of the 33 1/3 series of little books about great albums, on Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over The Sea."

Co-host Gene Sculatti is a writer, editor and music-business veteran whose work has appeared in USA Today, Rolling Stone and Creem. Gene was Editorial Director of Warner Bros. Records and Director of Special Issues for Billboard magazine. His book "The Catalog of Cool" was the bible of pre-internet hepcat exploration. Gene is also author of "Too Cool," "San Francisco Nights: The Psychedelic Music Trip" and "The 100 Best Selling Albums of the 60s."

Upcoming Esotouric bus tour schedule:
Sat Sept 22 – In A Lonely Place: Raymond Chandler's LA tour
Sat Sept 29 – Blood & Dumplings (San Gabriel Valley true crime tour)
Sun Oct 7– Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles (architecture/urbanism tour)
Sat Oct 20– The Real Black Dahlia tour
Sun Oct 21 – WHERE THE ACTION WAS (rock history tour)
Sat Oct 27 – Haunts of a Dirty Old Man: Charles Bukowski's LA
Sun Oct 28 – Hallowe'en Horrors featuring Crimebo the Clown
For more info on Esotouric, visit

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon by Crystal Zevon (Ecco)

A cult artist dies, after experiencing a burst of increased celebrity as a direct result of calculatedly marketing his own impending demise. Old fans are reminded of how much they always dug his work, and a few new ones arrive to explore the back catalog. Then comes the book, an oral history compiled by a long-suffering, long-forgiving former wife, the result of a promise to the dying man. And for Warren Zevon’s fans, be they diehard or more casual, everything changes forever. For in addition to his undeniable gifts as a wordsmith and piano fighter, the delicate character studies and the self-mythologies, the werewolves and the pot roasts and the neo-noir visions of Los Angeles, it turns out Warren Zevon was something of a monster. And his shenanigans—born of cruelty, drug abuse, family skeletons, egomania and OCD—are revealed here through the words of those who loved and suffered alongside him, coloring the music with broad strokes of memorable misbehavior and strangeness. The result is a big, messy, sad and rather moving piece of mass biography in which the various players move in and out of Zevon’s orbit and reflect upon their mutual impact. Perhaps inevitably, given the damage done, this is less of a creative biography than a psycho-chemical one, and at times it is relentlessly dark and repetitious. But anyone who finds Zevon of interest as an artist will appreciate the guts and care Crystal Zevon exhibits in assembling these tales, and it’s a must for fans of rock and roll horror stories. (Who could have imagined that this thoughtful, intellectual fellow who hobnobbed with Stravinsky as a teen would personally surpass the excesses of any half dozen cock rock idols? Only everyone, it seems, who ever met the man.)

XXX Scumbag Party: Volume II of the Collected Angry Youth Comix by Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics)

Just when you think the universe of J. Ryan, boy sicko, could not get any more deranged and disgusting (yet endearing!), he comes up with a character like Retarded Hitler, whose wee temper problem is offset by his exception anal love skills. What I like best about AYC is the giddy drawing style and the unbridled imagination that feeds the tales, which whip back upon themselves spewing bodily fluids, solids and unidentifiable filth. This second book-length compendium features a range of Loady McGee and Sinus O’Gynus misadventures, a cameo by Baby Johnson and his, uhm, baby johnson, Boobs Pooter the comic who’s kind of like Neil-Hamburger-as-serial-killer, the erotic thrill of a man in a shit wig, a selection of color cover and back panels, and dozens of spot cartoons your mom won’t be cutting out and putting on the fridge. If you’ve read this far without wincing, you know this is for you.

True West – Hollywood Holiday Revisited CD (Atavistic)

True West always lurked a bit in the background during the early ’80s heyday of the Paisley Underground scene, though guitar fiends gravitated to their twin leads and rural Television vibe. This expando reissue/remaster of the band’s album and a half (“Hollywood Holiday” EP, “Drifters” LP and unreleased Verlaine-produced demos) reveals an angst-ridden act that in retrospect sounds a lot closer to post-punk than garage, with thick, tribal drum patterns and distant howls in the mix. The songwriting is hit and miss, too often showcasing a sparkling hook wrapped in droning verses, but the title track and cover of “Lucifer Sam” are efficient, sinister gems. With Drifters, the band moved farther from the retro realm into artsy guitar pop, rangy yet precise. The package includes reminiscences from guitarist Russ Tolman and a history from Bay Area psych scholar Jud Cost.