You Must Get This Book: Steve Pringle On The Fall

Back when I wrote and posted my original Favorite Songs By Favorite Bands series, one of the longest pieces in that sequence of articles was about the always-remarkable British post-punk group, The Fall. The length of that piece was necessary because The Fall group themselves had an exceptionally rich and complex personnel history, their body of work was immense and wildly varied, my own relationships with and reactions to the group’s work are deep and broad, and because I also have a long involvement (since about 2004) with one of the key virtual communities of Fall fans, namely the Fall Online Forum. Which is populated by a truly incredible assortment of smart and interesting folks whose passion for the Fall and for its late chief, Mark E. Smith, can border upon, or often blow completely beyond, the levels of musical, lyrical, historical, and cultural obsession that most creative artists can ever dream of inspiring.

Around early 2017, a relatively new member of the “FOF” (as Fall Online Forum regulars typically cite it) going by the handle of “Steve69” began to be highly active on the message boards there. We clicked and connected fairly early on during his time there, in the ways that online friendships blossom around shared interests, or shared worldviews, or shared approaches to virtual communities, or shared experiences. I later learned his real-world surname was “Pringle,” which prompted long discussions online (because of course it did) about what that name evokes in the UK (i.e. a type of “jumper” — which we know as a “sweater” here in the States — once favored by Mark E. Smith himself) and in the USA (i.e. a pre-formed potato chip sold in tubes).

Both Steve and I have had periods of absence from the FOF, which can be truly wonderful for its over-the-top passions and enthusiasms continually expressed there on the most incredibly wide array of topics, but which can also occasionally become exhausting precisely because of those passions and enthusiasms. At some point in early 2018, Steve and I were both on FOF Sabbaticals, but were still keeping in touch via email. He posited an interesting idea for a deeply ambitious writing project called “The Fall in Fives,” within which he would evaluate every song the Fall had ever released (there were over 500 of them) in randomly generated groups of five titles.

It was a crazy undertaking, on some plane, but as someone who has routinely launched crazy undertakings on my own website (including this little Fall-inspired adventure), I was supportive and encouraging of his idea, and offered some small tips and pointers on how to roll it out on WordPress, and to promote it via social media. As is the case with most online projects like that, things started slowly, but the quality and depth of Steve’s posts quickly caught the attention of the Greater Fall Community, including numerous former group members, who weighed in or offered perspective on his project. Many other FOF members (both Steve and I returned to the Forum as his project was taking off) also chimed in to provide pointers, express enthusiasms, and offer occasional outrage, with fellow obsessive Fall-site creators bzfgt (The Annotated Fall) and dannyno (The Flickering Lexicon) playing particularly important roles in the Forum’s meta-analysis of Steve’s own analyses.

As Steve got deeper and deeper into the thing, and as it became clear that, Dear God, he was actually going to finish it, The Fall in Fives emerged as a truly interesting, engaging, and borderline encyclopedic online resource for all things Fall. But given the purposeful “mix-master” approach to hearing and evaluating songs from all over the group’s catalog in no discernible order, and also not content to rest on his laurels, Steve then expanded and adapted content from The Fall in Fives to document and consider the Fall’s recorded output on a more intuitive album-by-album basis, dubbing that second project “You Must Get Them All” (more on that title below). And as if that weren’t enough, he then also launched a fun and well-produced series of podcasts to supplement the whole, huge thing.

As wonderful as that online body of work became, anybody who has created large and complex web projects knows that keeping such projects from quickly succumbing to the entropy of the Internet is a constant struggle, and many of the very best online resources at any point in time soon become unusable as image and video files are removed, links break, comment bots and human trolls swarm, browser and content management technologies change, etc. So, having been barking mad enough to create The Fall in Fives and You Must Get Them All in the first place, Steve boldly set off to re-format the whole thing for print. He pitched it to Route (a “terraced publishing house in the north of England with a principle commitment to authentic stories and good books”), who bit on the project, and have brought it to market this month in the form of a truly magnificent book:

Click on the cover image to order your own copy of YMGTA.

The title of the book (and the website that preceded it) comes from a quote by legendary English DJ John Peel, who was deeply committed to the Fall and their music, hosting the group for live “Peel Sessions” 24 times between 1978 and 2004. That quote appears on the back cover of Steve’s book:

People write to me and say, “I heard The Fall, which record should I get?” And I never have any hesitation in telling them: you must get them all, because it’s impossible to pick one . . . and in fact, I’ll go further. I say: anybody who can tell you the five best Fall LPs, or the five best Fall tracks, has missed the point, really. It’s the whole body of the work that is to be applauded.

 

And now, it is also Steve Pringle’s detailed and delightful analysis of that whole body of work which is also to be applauded. Running to 656 pages, You Must Get Them All organizes, explains, and evaluates the Fall’s entire tangled history, with each and every release, and each and every song, and each and every group member being documented, discussed, and appreciated.

The book’s main text is formatted chronologically around the Fall’s 33 studio albums. (Which seems a simple, non-controversial sentence for me to write, but numerous Music Nerd Wars have been fought on the FOF and elsewhere over whether that “33” number is real, accurate, or meaningful, with key arguments hinging on whether the Fall’s brilliant 1981 release, Slates, is an album, or a mini-album, or an EP, or something else). Within each chapter, Steve discusses the personnel and personal forces at work within the Fall, cultural and political happenings surrounding the group for context, the recording processes, locations, and key collaborators for each album, Steve’s own critical reviews and musical analyses of each and every song, summaries of contemporary reviews and reactions, and an overall critical evaluation of each record as an entity within the spectrum of Fall sounds.

The main text is then followed by a series of really valuable reference appendices, discussing The Fall’s Peel Sessions, Fall Compilation Albums, Fall Live Albums, and a “Who’s Who” wrap-up of the countless players, producers, engineers, label chiefs, disc jockeys, promoters and more who played important roles in the Fall’s long history. There’s also a fantastic introduction from Paul Hanley, drummer-keyboardist from what many would consider to be The Fall’s finest era; many former Fall figures have written books over the years, and having read most all of them, I would say with no hesitation that the finest and most insightful writer among that crew is Paul.

And I would also now label Steve Pringle as another most fine and insightful writer. As a person who reads a lot of books about music and music-making, I can tell you that there are generally two types of tomes within that genre. First, there are vast and sprawling books that detail every single nuance or factoid about artists and their bodies of work. Such books are generally very useful as reference, but consuming them can often be about as exciting as reading a phone book or a TV Guide, with little-to-no actual good writing framing the details. Then at the other end of the spectrum, you often get super-artful, beautifully-written books filled with rich, florid text and arching long-form narratives, but often at the expense of detail, or even accuracy, when an author feels the need to bend the story to fit the desired plot points and denouements.

It is exceptionally rare to find books of music journalism where authors demonstrate equal skills as diligent researchers, accurate archivists, exceptional educators, and evocative story-tellers, but Steve Pringle has most definitely achieved that exquisite balance with You Must Get Them All. The Fall’s story is a marvelous one, told by Steve with taste and style, funny and fun in parts, tragic and awful in others. There’s no force-fitting or glossing-over of elements to support a pre-planned creative progression, and even the Epilogue (describing the group’s final days and Mark E. Smith’s untimely death) avoids the types of false sentimentality and over-generalization and myth-making that many similar books succumb to in trying to package nearly a half-century’s worth of happenings into one neat and tidy, well-wrapped bundle.

And on the flip-side, the depth of detail presented herein is just as powerful, and just as effective, and just as well-organized as one could ever expect from such a complicated career retrospective analysis. The structure of the books is solid and sound, and I love the ways that Steve uses foot-noting and asides to add bits that are fun, or helpful, but not necessarily essential to the main narrative, should a reader wish to not go yet another layer deep into the group’s creative architecture and approaches. Because of this balance, You Must Get Them All also becomes that rare volume that can conceivably be of equal value to the most ferocious Fall Fans, to those readers who may be dipping their toes for the first time in the Fall’s sea of riches, or even for those curious souls who may just want to read a fascinating story about an eclectic and important collection of artists and personalities.

It’s a winner, at bottom line, and I highly commend it to your attention accordingly. And I also commend Steve Pringle for his persistence of vision in bringing this work to completion. It was a fun privilege to sort of see the whole thing coming together over the past several years, and there were so many points along the path where most people would have said “enough” and congratulated themselves on their achievements to date. But not Steve, who took a passing idea and turned it into a massive reality, to the benefit of so many fans, listeners, and readers. Bravo!

Rocks in the Road

1. If it’s not been screamingly clear from my posts over the past couple of years, we really are very happy with our life in The VOC. We’ve got a great house, have made many great new friends, and are able to pursue to recreational things (e.g. golf, hiking, etc.) that we like to do when not otherwise productively engaged. But it’s not perfect, of course, because no place is. The one issue that has emerged for us in recent months is the flip-side of the niceness of living in a small, rural area: it can be very hard to get services in a timely fashion that are easy to access in a large metro area. We’ve seen this already with medical care, personal care (e.g. Marcia’s hairdresser), and with trying to get contractors in to do house and yard work. But two more recent events really brought this to the fore. First, we had a fender-bender auto accident, and our car has been in the shop for seven weeks (!) while awaiting parts to be shipped in from across the country. Then, a couple of weeks ago, our home air conditioner croaked just as things were getting super hot here. The service company came out quickly and identified the broken part, but there was a two-week delay in getting it shipped to us. To their credit, they gave us a portable air conditioning unit for our bedroom at no cost to us, so while the days are a bit sticky, we’ve at least been able to cool down when it’s time for bed. Finally, last Friday, the ordered part arrived . . . hooray!

The tech got to work installing but, but, oh no oh no oh no, it turned out to be the wrong part, ugh! The coolant leak was elsewhere! And, of course, the part they really did need is not available in the local market. Dammit! So we did bail to a local hotel for the super-hot weekend, and spent the time in bed watching movies, for the most part. The next part they ordered is now due here this coming Thursday. Here’s hoping it’s the one that does the trick. You don’t realize just how crucial air conditioning is to mental and physical health until you lose it, especially in a desert climate like this one. (Lest you think we’re suffering too much, a reminder that we live about 4,200 feet above sea level, so it’s not as hellish as, say, lower-elevation Phoenix or Las Vegas; when its 115°F there, it’s “only” 100°F here. Small mercies. Plus, you know, it’s a dry heat).

2. On Sunday, to beat the heat a bit, we went up to Flagstaff. It’s only a 40-minute drive, but it’s ~3000 feet higher in elevation, heavily forested, and usually about 10-15 degrees cooler during daylight hours than our home village in the summertime. We did an easy hike in the woods on the north side of the city, enjoying the strong winds through the Ponderosa pines up that way, except when the dust and dirt kicked up in exposed areas, all extremely dry after several weeks-to-months with no rain. When we got done with our walk, we headed back to downtown Flagstaff to get lunch. As we got out of the car, we looked back in the direction we had come from and saw this . . .

Yikes! A quick visit to the Arizona wildfire map site revealed this one had started just a couple of miles north of where we were just around the time that we had started hiking. Glad our chosen trail did not go a bit further than we did! This blaze has been dubbed The Pipeline Fire, and as I type, it has already consumed 21,000 acres. As a perhaps small blessing, it has run up against the perimeter of The Tunnel Fire, which burned about 19,000 acres a month or so back, and had already consumed much of this fuel that could have allowed this one to run further. (Update: Pipeline is now spreading around the north boundary of Tunnel). Here’s hoping our monsoon starts soon. We need it.

3. We finished watching the Danny Boyle mini-series Pistol (which tells the story of the Sex Pistols) this weekend, and enjoyed it. Here’s the trailer:

I’d been iffy on whether I wanted to watch it or not, largely because I’m very familiar with the Pistols’ story, I knew that John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) was so opposed to its creation and release, and because the critics had been tepid in their response to it. But testimony from some trusted sources led me to give it a go, and I am glad I did. When it was done, I got to thinking about why the critical response to it was so bland. I think it may be because there’s often an immediate knee-jerk reaction to film bios of people who worked within living memory, as it’s impossible to cast actors who look and act exactly like the way we imagine and remember the characters they play (well, except for The Greatest, where Muhammad Ali played Muhammad Ali), and so the first response (which usually comes from the critics who see it before the regular folks) is often negative for reasons of short-term cognitive dissonance. But once your mind adjusts to seeing the actors as the characters, it all goes down easier. And that’s even more the case in a five-hour-ish mini-series like this, as opposed to the usual two-hour-ish theater film. But the critics don’t re-write their reviews at that point, so their initial bile ends up as the story of record.

I also think the negative reactions can be fueled by the fact that the first regular people who watch things like this are likely to be the biggest fans of the subject, who know a lot about the subject, and so are acutely aware of when the film-makers have had to take creative license to tell an actual story with an actual plot arc, when reality is never as linear and denouement-driven as a movie. So, yeah, I knew there were decisions and things that Boyle and his team had to do to make Pistol a piece of informative entertainment and to keep the story going, and if I was expecting a documentary, then that could lead me to be hostile to his presentation. But it wasn’t marketed that way, and it was told from an unusual perspective (focusing much attention on guitarist Steve Jones and future Pretender Chrissie Hynde, among others, rather than just obsessing about the usual Sid and John and Nancy and Malcolm narratives), and so I was okay when the needs of an entertaining story trumped the needs of strict historical and temporal accuracy.

I remember when the Bohemian Rhapsody film came out some years back and the initial critical response was so savage that, as excited as I’d been to see the film, I found myself waiting until it came out on streaming services to watch it. And then I quite liked it. And in the end, Rami Malek won an Oscar for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury. But it took time for it to brew, and if the initial critical response had been the only response, a good-enough film would have been missed and forgotten. I think the Rocketman film about Elton John dodged this a bit by playing more as a fantasia based on a real person (see also All That Jazz) than as a linear biopic; it went way wild on the story’s chronology, but it worked as a great bit of entertainment, helped by the fact that Taron Egerton was that rare case where the actor was somewhat uncanny in his resemblance to and ability to emote his subject.

4. Among the movies we watched during our little hotel air conditioning vacation were three recent-ish “little movies” that were all quite different, but all quite good. I commend them all to you (especially the first one) if you’re looking for something fresh outside of the summer blockbuster milieu:

5. And as a closing note: Is it just me, or has Youtube gotten really obnoxious of late with the embedded ads?

Where Will 10,000 Words Come From (Sedona #13)

(Note: Click on any image above for a full-size view, or visit the links below to see what I’ve seen in prior months and years).

PRIOR ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

10,000 Words in a Language We Understand (Sedona #12)

O For 10,000 Words To Sing (Sedona #11)

Land of 10,000 Words (Sedona #10)

Fumbling Over 10,000 Words That Rhyme (Sedona #9)

10,000 Words On A Chair (Sedona #8)

The Night Has 10,000 Words (Sedona #7)

10,000 Words From The Exit Wound (Sedona #6)

What Are 10,000 Words For? (Sedona #5)

10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box (Sedona #4)

10,000 Words (Bless The Lord) (Sedona #3)

Brighter Than 10,000 Words (Sedona #2)

10,000 Words (Sedona #1)

Storm Force 10,000 Words (Chicago #10)

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save 10,000 Words (Chicago #9)

Beyond the Valley of 10,000 Words (Chicago #8)

Return to the Planet of 10,000 Words (Chicago #7)

Revenge of the Son of 10,000 Words (Chicago #6)

Son of Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #5)

Yet Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #4)

Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #3)

10,000 More Words (Chicago #2)

10,000 Words (Chicago)

Trigger Warning

I rarely post overtly political content here, since our modern media space is already so rife with whatever flavor of partisan zealotry you might want to wallow in, 24/7/365, that I don’t wish to add to the constant fire hose to the face that most of us experience anytime we’re near a computer or a television or a radio or a magazine. That’s a conscious, active choice for me to manage my personal website that way, despite my professional and academic backgrounds in political science and public policy, which ostensibly support me having some informed thoughts on the subject of governance. I mean, I also have some strong and well-formed thoughts on religion and sex, but having been raised properly in a good Southern household, I know those are also not things that should be discussed at the (virtual) dinner table.

That said: like most folks in the country, I’m not really able to crawl into my shell of solitude or to stick my fingers in my ears and make “la la la la la la” noises to drown out the horrible stories about mass shootings that have so dominated our discourse in recent days. Or weeks. Or months. Or years. Or decades. Utter tragedies, all of them. And while it seems like the folks we elect to represent us might want to do something about it, we know that entrenched monetary and political interests are virulently opposed to any efforts to legislate limits and improvements on gun ownership and deployment, often suggesting that the solution to too many shootings is just to inject more guns, more freely brandished, into the national ecosystem.

In the aftermath of the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings (and the dozens that have happened between and since them, but weren’t “big enough” to make national news), the usual suspects are working to implement changes to Federal gun policy, and the other usual suspects are working the thwart them. (We know who we’re talking about on each side, right?) As has become standard in these cases, the usual “freedom and liberty” arguments have been passionately made by the guns-guns-and-more-guns team, after the usual “thoughts and prayers” sentiments were expressed, of course. But as national dismay about this state of affairs steadily grows — polling indicates that a sizable majority of Americans seek some changes to the ways in which we can access and deploy high-powered weaponry, be it an increased age for purchase, banning particular weapons, implementing “red flag rules” or universal background checks, etc. — more pro-gun politicians are being pointedly asked by journalists and constituents: “Why can’t  we do something?”

It has been a head-spinning exercise to process their responses. At bottom line: the gun lobby and its clients (political, corporate, community, and individual) argue that we don’t need to do anything about Federal gun laws, because it’s not the guns that are the problem. So the obvious second question is: “Well, why are we having all of these mass killings if it’s not because of the guns?” It’s been a real media hot take in recent weeks to report on the answers given by various elected and aspiring government officials, in terms of who and what they blame for the problem.

After reading a few of those articles, I decided to see if I could make a complete list of the many theories being posited by Team Elephant (if you can find a Democrat making such arguments, please share), so I did a Google search for articles posted in the past two weeks using the search terms “GOP Lawmaker Blames” and “GOP Candidate Blames.”

Here’s what I came up with, on the topic “who or what is to blame for the current epidemic of gun violence,” posited by various Republican legislators or candidates, and presented in alphabetical order:

  • Abortion
  • Black People
  • COVID
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Decline in Moral Values
  • Decline of the “Traditional American Family”
  • Declining Church Attendance
  • Democrats
  • “Drag Queen Advocates”
  • “False Flag” operations by the FBI, CIA and/or White House
  • Fatherlessness
  • Feminism
  • Gangs
  • Gay Marriage
  • Hatred of Veterans
  • Lack of corporal punishment in schools
  • Lack of faith
  • Lack of prayer in schools
  • Legalized marijuana
  • Liberal teachers
  • Mental Illness Epidemic
  • “Mexicans”
  • Open borders
  • Pornography
  • President Obama
  • Public school teachers
  • Rap Music
  • Single mothers
  • Smartphones
  • Snowflakes
  • Social Media
  • Too many doors in buildings
  • Trans People
  • Video Games
  • Wokeness
  • Women in the Workplace

Very few of these targets of blame were explained with any sort of lucid causation or correlation analysis, but were instead seemingly offered simply to distract readers and citizens from exploring any meaningful underlying causes for the tragedies caused by our out-of-control national gun culture.  Yes, it’s complicated. Yes, it’s hard. But, yes, we really do need to do something other than nothing, and soon. Even incremental change matters: if pragmatic public policy could reduce the number of innocent victims of mass and other criminal shootings by just 20% annually, that’s thousands of American lives spared each year from awful, violent ends, never mind the collateral damage victims who don’t die, but are maimed with life-altering injuries. Isn’t that worth something? Isn’t that a good outcome?

I don’t have the answers, of course. And if I did, I don’t have the power to implement them. But one thing I do know is that we must not accept the sorts of bullshit being spewed in the list above, from anybody, ever. Assigning blame to those targets does not fix the problem, and it actually increases the likelihood of additional violence against those people who are being tagged as menaces and dangers, without just cause. Here’s hoping that enough people of all political stripes have had enough of the carnage, and enough of the finger-pointing in random directions, so that reasonable politicians representing reasonable citizens can come together to take steps that demonstrate that we’re not simply sighing a big collective sigh and accepting that this is the way that things must be. They don’t have to be this way. They shouldn’t be this way. They can’t stay this way.

In closing, let me note that if your reaction to this piece is to send me a scathing comment about being a libtard snowflake coastal socialist who wants to repeal your Second Amendment rights, you should really hold your tongue on that point, since none of those descriptors are accurate. I’m patriotic, without having to fly a flag of convenience to prove it. I’ve fired a wide variety of handguns, rifles, and various heavier ordinance pieces over the years, and was well-trained on the proper use and care of them all. I come from a long line of warriors, raised in an Evangelical Southern household. I attended a Federal service academy, served in the military, and worked on in the defense sector as a civilian after my active duty time was done, negotiating deals for some of the most formidable equipment in the Nation’s arsenal, and also supervising the acquisition of the firearms used by the well-trained security inspectors who guarded the sensitive nuclear site where I worked.  And when I no longer needed to do those things to satisfy my professional obligations, and given that I am not part of a well-regulated militia, I’ve not seen fit to own or fire a weapon since that period of my life came to its conclusion.

Shooting guns is just not my idea of fun. Nor is continually reading about my fellow Americans being gunned down when they’re just trying to pursue their own lives, liberty, and happiness. We deserve better. And to get what we deserve, we truly need to identify, vet, and elect better politicians who will smartly pursue policies that hold the social contracts that bind us first and foremost, and not the wishes of the most extremely partisan benefactors who fund their campaigns and shape their agendas. There was a time in our not-so-distant past when electoral offices were typically pursued adjacent to a sense of public service and common good from candidates, who were expected to have a least some modicum of experience related to the jobs of governance. These days, though, it seems ever more of our elected officials are in it for personal financial gain or just because they crave attention. And with no well-formulated beliefs and little professional training for their jobs, they end up just being shills and mouthpieces for whatever lobbyists brought them to the big ball as useful idiot dance partners.

Enough. Really. Just enough.

Another GOP lawmaker noted we need to have high-powered semi-automatic weapons to protect our chickens from raccoons. I guess I’ll buy that when the masked bandits start to show up like this . . .

Best Albums of 2022 (First Half)

As long-time readers of this site are no doubt aware, I’ve been posting year-end “Best Albums” reports here or in various print outlets for 30 consecutive years. The most recent report is here, with a roster of my “Albums of the Year” going back to 1992. I typically post my annual lists in early December, since I figure that I need to spend at least 30ish days with a record before deeming it the best of anything; I then do a mop-up addendum each January if something impressive tumbles in at the wire.

I also normally do an interim report half-way through each listening year, which falls in early June on my calendar. Which is now, so it’s time to identify my current contenders for the year-end title. I’m not going to review any of them in full at this point, but I do provide links below if you’d like to investigate and explore them further. My macro sense is that early 2022 has been a rich listening season, compared and contrasted to early 2021, when COVID impacts definitely seem to have impaired bands’ and artists’ abilities to perform and record new material, beyond a lot of navel-gazing “woodshed” projects that were, of necessity, a big part of the Anno Virum listening landscape.

With that as preamble, here are the albums that have moved me the most thus far this year, arranged in alphabetical order by artist name. Do you have some personal favorites that I need to explore in the months ahead? If so, do share in the comment section, please and thanks!

As a bonus tease, here are five of my very favorite songs culled from these albums, to give you a sense of what’s rocking my world right now. I suppose you can take this as the latest installment of my “Five Songs You Need to Hear” series. As above, these are presented in alphabetical order by artist name. Happy listening!

An Appalachian Adventure

Marcia and I spent the last week in the Southeastern high country on a little adventure that included a lot of unusual highlights, along with a deep appreciation for how very lovely and green the southern reaches of the Appalachian Range are. We love where we live on the shoulders of Arizona’s Mogollon Rim, but it was sort of “wow” to be reminded of how grand old mixed and deciduous mountain forests look and feel after a long time away from them. It was also refreshing to visit a part of the country where every plant isn’t aggressively trying to poke, stick, scratch, bite or kill you.

We left a week ago Thursday and spent a night in Phoenix, where we visited with Marcia’s nephew and his lovely family, who took us out for an outstanding dinner at Dick’s Hideaway, where we had some absolutely superb Mexican food, in most generous portions. We then flew on non-stop to Atlanta, rented a car, and drove up to Asheville, North Carolina, where my sister and her own lovely family were marking their 20th anniversary of residence. That makes them old school mountain denizens in a city that’s seen huge immigration and growth since the time they arrived. We hung out at their place for a few days, watching the Memorial Day fireworks at the nearby Grove Park Inn from their deck, eating many pounds of boiled peanuts, appreciating brother-in-law Dana’s excellent bonsai collection, and getting an ongoing Wild Kingdom show as the local bears hung around their yard, and dragged their trashcans around their neighborhood. We had to go shoot bottle rockets at them one night to make them go away. That’s some fine redneckery there, yessir.

We had a great dinner on Saturday night at Ukiah, a “Japanese Smokehouse,” which offered a wonderful combination of Carolina and Asian foods and flavors, served small plate style, so you could sample a lot of different things. Which we did. We also visited the outstanding North Carolina Arboretum (more crazy good bonsai there) and the quirky little town of Marshall, on the banks of the French Broad River. We had a great brunch at Star Diner, and then walked over to the little historic island at the heart of the town, which features an abandoned community center decorated with what I would guess are WPA/CCC-era murals, that have aged wonderfully weirdly.

On Tuesday, we drove over to Knoxville, Tennessee, and I was pleased to realize that we were there exactly 40 years after my first visit to that city, when my high school senior class trip took us to the 1982 World’s Fair. Here’s a photo from that long-ago trip, taken on the very long bus ride back from Knoxville. (If the shirt logo seems incongruous, it was a uniform item from my summer job at White Sulphur Springs in Pennsylvania). I suspect it was intentional that whatever was in my hand was cropped out in this view. Also, note one of my chums sleeping in the luggage rack at top right. It was that kind of trip . . .

Most of the structures and buildings from that Worlds Fair are long gone, except for the iconic Sunsphere (it seemed so tall to me in 1982, but now it seems modest and quaint, a Jetsons view of the future) and the Tennessee Amphitheater (nicknamed “Dolly Parton’s Bra” at the time of its unveiling, for somewhat obvious reasons when you see it). As can probably be divined by the previous photo, my high school crew’s behavior at that World’s Fair was, shall we say, problematic, to the point where our high school stopped offering senior class trips for some time after ours. Oops. Sorry, future seniors. If it’s any consolation, I don’t really remember much of what happened, but I know we had fun.

But the real reason we went to Knoxville was not for me to walk down blurry memory lane, but actually to see one of the most iconic artists in my own personal musical development, along with the musical development of countless millions of other people: Sir Paul McCartney. I’ve been on Team Paul in the “Fave Fab” sweepstakes since my earliest days, always a staunch believer in and defender of his brilliance, even through those years/decades when it was hip in critical circles to denigrate him for not being edgy enough, or for featuring his wife in his band, or for not being John, or for whatever contrarian idiocy critics were peddling at the time. But despite that lifetime of love from me, I’d never seen Paul live in concert, until this week. Marcia is also a big fan (I think Paul’s at the top of her “Hall Pass” freebie crush list at this point), so she also got her first experience of basking in the light of his awesomeness.

The show was incredible: 36 songs ranging from the Quarrymen’s first demo up to recent solo works, with loads of Wings and Beatles and even a Hendrix tribute in the mix, running to nearly three hours worth of music. Paul’s live band (he’s been playing with most of these guys for longer than he played with the Beatles and Wings, combined!) is cracker-jack tight and talented, and it’s jaw-dropping to see how hard Paul plays, and how well he sings, and how much energy he exudes, at his or, frankly, anybody else’s age. He’s a true force of nature, and I was thrilled to be at this show. Poignant moments in the set list included Paul playing George Harrison’s “Something” on a ukulele that George had given him, and Paul performing a duet with John Lennon on “I’ve Got a Feeling,” via an isolated vocal and video recording from the legendary Get Back rooftop concert; Paul turned his back to crowd for that one, watching John as he sang. It was powerful.

We headed south the next morning and spent some time exploring Chattanooga, which has done a great job of making the formidable Tennessee River accessible and enjoyable in the heart of its urban core. After another nice meal (are you detecting a theme here?) at Tony’s Pasta Shop, we headed back to Atlanta, checked into our hotel, and set an early morning alarm for our planned nonstop flight back to Phoenix on Thursday morning.

Unfortunately, American Airlines had some other ideas about that. We woke to discover that our flight had been cancelled during the night, and that the only way for us to get home was via a Charlotte connecting flight . . . the next day. Ugh. We made the best of the situation, and took the MARTA train into Atlanta’s Midtown area, where we walked around the spacious and tree-rich Piedmont Park, visited The High Museum of Art (their Howard Finster collection is a highlight), had another exceptional meal at Tabla (saag paneer is one of my go-to dishes at Indian restaurants, so I’ve eaten it all over the world, and I think I’d pick this destination as the source for the best version of it I’ve ever had), and caught what turned out to be a private matinee showing of Alex Garland’s new film, Men. Which was something, shall we say. I’m not quite sure what, but certainly something. (I like weird/ambiguous films, and I like Alex Garland, but after thinking about it for a couple of days, I have to judge this one as a well-made film, but not a particularly good film, in large part for scripting reasons, though the core cast of Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear did do most formidable work with flawed material).

So then, back to the hotel, another early morning wake up, an unplanned and unexpected flight back to North Carolina (both the ATL and CLT airports were utter mob scenes), then onward by air to Phoenix, then the 100-mile drive back to home again, home again, jiggety jig. A nice little adventure, all things considered, and despite the American Airlines annoyances. And, of course, I took my usual photos throughout the week, and you can see my usual album by clicking on the usual sample image below, this one of Paul’s “duet” with John at the concert.

Into The Storm: Alan White (June 14, 1949 – May 26, 2022)

I was sorry to learn this morning that long-time Yes drummer Alan White flew away from this mortal coil yesterday. I’ve seen him half-a-dozen times live over a 30ish year period, and he was one of those cool, cool cats who could play hard, complicated works for hours, without looking like he was exerting himself, and while exuding genial “what could be better than doing this for a living?” vibes, always. After Yes founding member Chris Squire died in 2015, White became Yes’ longest continually serving member, an honor he held until his death. (Though in recent years, his health had been such that Jay Schellen had been deputized by Yes to do some of the heavy lifting in concert settings, allowing White to play select songs and pieces, adding flash and flair to the proceedings instead of anchoring them). In the end, White was a member of Yes for half a century, from 1972 to 2022. How many artists can claim careers like that?

Yes are, of course, known for their complicated family tree, with various members coming and going and going and coming over the decades, rival troupes attempting to claim the “Real Yes” banner (oftentimes with both sides having excellent arguments for said claims), and radical changes in tone and style creating a fan base that is often widely enthusiastic in their appreciation for certain eras of the group, and lackluster or even antagonistic about other eras. For all of Alan White’s gifts, in the minds of some sizable portion of the Yes fan base, he was damned or denigrated for no other reason than the fact that he was not Bill Bruford, the founding drummer of Yes. Bruford is a genius, yes, in his own ways, and he went on to become a member of the Progressive Rock Royalty for his subsequent service with King Crimson, Genesis (briefly), UK, and his own various solo and small group projects. No argument about the merits of Bruford’s work and career, but most drummers aren’t him, obviously, and Alan White brought his own formidable gifts to the Yes fray, ending up playing on several of my own personal favorite Yes albums (e.g. Relayer, Drama, and Fly From Here).

It’s also important to look at the roles that Alan White played outside of Yes, and the esteem in which some of the most acclaimed rock musicians in history held his work and deployed his skills. He spent most of the ’60s backing such then-big, but now-mostly-forgotten rock and pop stars as Billy Fury and Alan Price, along with stints in Ginger Baker’s Air Force and Balls (a proto-supergroup featuring Denny Laine of the Moody Blues and Wings, and Trevor Burton of the Move, among others). In the cultural paroxysm that followed the dissolution of The Beatles, with each of the four Ex-Fabs working to establish themselves as unique solo artists, White was tapped to serve as the live and studio drummer for John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, appearing on the three records that arguably stand as the pinnacle of John’s solo career: Live Peace in Toronto 1969, the “Instant Karma!” single, and Imagine. White’s band-mates in the original incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band were John and Yoko, Klaus Voorman and Eric Clapton, and later incarnations of the group included George Harrison, Billy Preston and Nicky Hopkins. If that weren’t enough of an endorsement, John’s fellow ex-Beatle George also tapped White after their “Instant Karma!” appearance together to serve as one of his time-keepers on the epic All Things Must Pass album, again, arguably that particular Beatle’s peak recorded work as well.

By 1972, Alan White was gigging regularly while living in London with producer-engineer Eddy Offord, famed for his work with Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes, among many others. During the final stages of recording Yes’ legendary album, Close to the Edge, Bruford made the decision to jump out of Yes and into King Crimson. As White had gotten to know and spend time with the other members of Yes via his association with Offord, and given his impressive chops and resume, he was offered the gig, on short notice, to replace Bruford on the group’s imminent tour. (Selections of White’s work on that tour were released on the classic Yessongs album, a three-slab set that may be the exemplar and prototype of the live rock album idiom in the ’70s).

As Yes evolved and (occasionally) went into periods of hibernation and inactivity, White remained stalwart and steady behind his drum kit. He only released one solo album, Ramshackled, in 1976, when Yes decided that each member of the group needed to do so, whether he wanted to or not. White worked with a collection of colleagues from his Alan Price Set days in the ’60s, allowing them to write and sing the songs, while White just did what he did: he played the drums, really well. White also occasionally guested on other solo albums by Yes members, or with fellow travelers like Gary Wright and Paul Kossoff and Donovan and Joe Cocker, but, at bottom, he was Yes’ drummer, for better or for worse, in health and in (lately) sickness, until time, damnable time, finally took him away to the great drum riser in the sky.

His work and music gave me a lot of joy over the years. While I would have been hard pressed to imagine Yes existing and continuing on without Chris Squire, they’ve done so, and having already deputized Schellen to support White in his later years, I sort of expect that they might do the same thing again, leaving guitarist Steve Howe as the solo “classic era” member still standing in the group. (Of course, if the group undergoes one of its regular re-permutations that brings back classic era singer Jon Anderson and keyboardists Rick Wakeman and/or Tony Kaye, then all bets are off about the future). I guess from where I sit, as a fan, Alan White was such a stoic and supportive and solid member of the group for so long, that I’d feel okay if his passing was the final straw that made his colleagues, new and old, say “Yeah . . . that was a great run, let’s let it go in style.”

I’ll guarantee you that there will be plenty of drummers in plenty of bands out there who will keep Alan White’s work alive by playing plenty of his songs for plenty of audiences, for plenty of years to come. Yes don’t have to carry that sole responsibility to their collective graves. So RIP to a great player. All things must pass, indeed.

Alan White (1949-2022)

 

Different World

1. Marcia and I made a brief return to the Grand Canyon this past weekend. We wanted to get some hikes and exploring in, but we weren’t quite ready to do a trek as heinously difficult as the one we did last October. So instead of carrying our tents, bedding, and food down into and back out of the Canyon, we elected to stay at the Under Canvas resort some 20 miles south of the Park Boundary, and it was a delightful experience. Yeah, we slept in a tent, but we didn’t have to carry it. And it had a wood stove, which was helpful when the temperatures dropped to 29°F on Friday night. We ate breakfast and dinner in Under Canvas’ main tent, twice each, and the food quality and ease of ordering and service were both outstanding. We also had live music out under the stars each night, while we made S’mores over the propane fire pits, and it was a nice place to just sit around when you didn’t feel like doing anything strenuous. We’ll do that sort of trip again, for sure. (They’ve got several other locations around the country, so we’re already scouting them out). For our Grand Canyon hike, we elected to take the South Kaibab Trail down to Skeleton Point, down some three miles horizontally and 2,100 feet vertically from the South Rim, just far enough to get a first peek at the Colorado River, waaaaayyyy further below us. (It made our minds boggle that we actually went all the way down there last fall, and then hiked back out, with 30-pound packs). This past weekend, we made it down to Skeleton Point in about 90 minutes, and back out in about two hours, the latter trip slower not only because of the vigorous climbing, but also because of the temperatures, which approached 100°F, with the sun’s position offering paltry shade as we hugged the cliff walls on the way up the various switchbacks. The next day, after a lazy morning, we headed back toward Flagstaff and hiked up to Red Mountain, a really distinctive and cool collapsed volcanic formation. I snapped some pics, as I do, and you can see them by clicking of the sample photo below, taken at Cedar Ridge, about halfway down to Skeleton Point. . .

2. For our final years in New York and our first couple of years in Des Moines, I used to go out golfing with Marcia fairly regularly. She’s good at it, I’m not. But during our first stint in Iowa, I just got really tired of not only doing something that I couldn’t excel at, but also of the truly obnoxious “golf bro” culture that was so prevalent on courses there, public and private alike. So I quit golfing at that point, for those and a variety of other reasons. Fast forward to this spring, when for a variety of other, other reasons, I’m going to take it up again. I played nine practice holes yesterday and another nine today. I’m still not good, but I was pleasantly surprised how much muscle memory I maintained from having done it all those years ago. We’ll see how it all plays out. I think the fact that we now live in a place where you can play year ’round, and the fact that there’s a course at the end of our road, and the fact that this is mostly a lower-key, bro-free, retiree-laden community, hopefully will mean it’s easier to go out and have a good experience without having to be rushed by or listen to a shouty gaggle of drunken, cigar-smoking, racist/sexist louts trying to channel their inner John Daly. And I’m always happy to have the extra time with Marcia, so that matters too, a lot.

3. Another back to the future note: when the first Roomba robot home vacuums came out, I had to have one. But we found that the size of our house, and the fact that we had three cats, and the buggy early versions of that particularly home technology meant that our first Roomba didn’t get much done before gagging on cat hair and then spending an hour desperately cleaning and re-cleaning one table-leg until its battery ran out. A few months back, though, Katelin and John told us they had gotten a new one, and that the newer technology version seemed to be working well for them. So we gave it another try with a second Roomba, and I have to say that it seems to be working well for us this time. I can send the helpful little robot out from my phone while we’re out of the house, and so far, it just does its thing, and then properly takes itself home to its little docking station once it’s finished being useful. When I set up the account for the new helpful beastie, I had to give the unit a name. It didn’t take me long to settle on Tarkus, and if you’ve been reading here for any amount of time, you’ll probably know why that is. I put a sticker of his eponymous armadillo-tank on Tarkus’ shell, so he’d know who is he, and when he does a particularly good job at his assignments, I’ve taken to giving him a little reward for his good work and service . . .

Clear the battlefields, and let me see . . .

4. I was sorry to read that Scottish guitarist Ricky Gardiner passed away this week. He was a core member of the interestingly odd Beggars Opera in the early 1970s, before a brief, but high-impact stint with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, appearing on the landmark “Berlin Era” albums Low and Lust for Life. His most lasting contribution to the core rock canon was his amazing riff and music for “The Passenger,” a critical, crucial song in the twinned journeys of Iggy and David at their most enigmatic and experimental. Iggy’s touring band in support of Lust for Life featured Bowie, Gardiner, and the Sales Brothers (Hunt and Tony) rhythm section, and those shows are arguably among the all-time most legendary live rock events, ever. Ricky Gardiner continued to write and record in a variety of genres until his failing health rendered him finally silent. He was a player, for sure, in the true and best sense of that word. Here’s a nice video for “The Passenger,” if you want to hear why that was the case . . .