Pleasant Valley Sunday: Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith Live (Phoenix, September 19, 2021)

On September 10, 2019, Marcia and I went to see a favorite band, King Crimson, in a favorite venue, Chicago’s Auditorium Theater. I wrote about the experience in effusive terms here. We knew that the show would mark a transition point for us, as it was the last one we saw together in Chicago before relocating back to Des Moines, and then on to Sedona. We knew that we’d have far fewer opportunities to see live music after departing the Windy City, but we had no idea that that particular concert would be the last one we’d see for over two years, as COVID changed everything a few months later, and we’re still not quite back to normal, by a large margin.

That said, we did finally have another live music experience last night, two years and nine days after that gig by The Mighty Crim. We went down to the Phoenix metro area yesterday, which marketing geniuses have somehow managed to brand as “The Valley” over the years, though as a map and geology nerd, I struggle to understand exactly what’s Valley-like about the region, at all. And then we went out to the show on a Sunday night, and it was indeed quite pleasant. So when Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz, the surviving half of The Monkees, sang their Gerry Goffin-and-Carole King-penned hit, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” at the end of their concert’s first set, it all seemed most fitting indeed for the time and the place. (The song’s lyrical concerns are also apt regarding Phoenix’s endless suburban sprawl).

The concert was technically billed as “The Monkees Present: Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith,” to pay proper homage to corporate law and intellectual property protections and suchlike (and also to obliquely honor the title of The Monkees’ eighth studio album). But the evening’s welcoming MC and the artists themselves referred to the event as “The Mike and Micky Show,” which feels a bit more personalized and apt. The duo have been publicly adamant that this tour (which has been delayed multiple times by COVID) will be the last one to go out under The Monkees’ moniker, so there was an elegiac element going into the proceedings as well.

Before offering praise for the experience that Micky and Mike offered us all, I do have to note for the record that COVID has not changed the fact that pop music concert audiences are still mostly jerks who still do not know how to behave in mass performance situations. Marcia and I actually left our pretty good seats and moved up closer to the rafters midway through the show, just to get away from the schmucks and putzes and their cellphone addictions who made it virtually impossible to focus on the music and the show while they indulged in their selfish behaviors. Examples: the nimrod right front of us spent most of his time in his seat endlessly scrolling through various social media sites on his brightly-lit screen (when he wasn’t stumbling over his row-mates to go get another beer at the bar, anyway), while a woman behind us felt entitled to film most of the show using her cellphone flashlight to brighten the scene. I certainly have missed live music over the past two years, but Holy Moly, I did not miss that sort of rude and idiotic behavior in public spaces. We also kept our masks on for most of the show; while everyone in the venue was supposed to present either a vaccination card or proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of entry, my Covidiot-radar was pinging at the behavior and attitudes of numerous people near us through the evening, so self-safety seemed warranted.

That all being said, things on the music front last night were much better, thankfully. The group’s two-set show was quite generous, offering an excellent mix of popular crowd-pleasers and deep cuts alike; here’s the roster of what they played. The backing band, featuring Mike’s son Christian Nesmith (who also produced the excellent recent Dolenz Sings Nesmith album) and Micky’s sister, Coco, was just crackerjack tight, doing a superb job bringing some of the group’s ornate studio arrangements to life. Micky was in great voice throughout the show, and I was frankly amazed to watch him effortlessly and powerfully breeze through tough vocal cuts like “Goin’ Down,” “The Porpoise Song,” and “Randy Scouse Git,” the latter of which also featured him offering some feisty tympani work.

Mike Nesmith, alas, was noticeably more frail last night than when Marcia and I saw him deliver a masterful show in Chicago about five years ago with his First National Band, featuring several of the same band members we saw last night, including Christian Nesmith. Mike used a cane to get to and around the stage, he sat through most of the show, he played no guitar, and his normally reedy voice was even more breathy than has been the case over the years, a situation not helped by the room’s sound-man apparently not being willing to turn his microphone level up, even for his solo spotlight numbers, so he was often drowned out by the band. But it was still wonderful to be in the room with Nez again (my fave Monkee, yeah), and I was really pleased to see him get so much love from a live audience.

Micky was also really supportive and loving toward Nez, which was wonderful to see. I suspect that this may be Mike’s “last hurrah” tour, though I would also expect Micky to soldier on in some fashion for years to come, based on what he was able to do last night. Micky and Mike paid tribute to their late band-mates David Jones and Peter Tork by offering a selection of the pair’s best-known/best-loved tunes, actually focusing more on Tork’s deep cuts than on Jones’ more popular fare. Which I was good with, as I always liked Peter’s rare vocal and songwriting contributions a lot. I guess if I was still in my former professional music critic mode, I would summarize the show thusly: “Micky Dolenz was in fine voice fronting a killer live band as they plowed through an excellently-curated selection of music from the Monkees’ large catalog, and it was truly wonderful that the best and most-influential songwriter Micky ever worked with, Michael Nesmith, came out to support him live one final tour with character-rich between-song stories and low-key backing vocals.”

When all was said and done, the evening was essentially a feel-good nostalgia show by a couple of artists who I quite love and admire. And, honestly, that was really quite okay, after two years have elapsed since my last concert experience, much of it filled with cultural, political, and medical dread. Music really is a powerful healer and force for emotional and psychological good, and the love and joy and positivity that washed off the stage last night made this a delightful show to end the longest concert hiatus of my adult life. Marcia and I have tickets to see Dead and Company, Lindsey Buckingham, and Sparks in the months ahead, and I expect all of those shows to be great, too, but Mike and Micky will remain memorable just for being the first step of this next phase of my concert-going life.

I offer a few low-quality snaps below (taken quickly and discretely in the aisle with a darkened phone screen, so as not to be a tool and bother the people seated around us)(not that they would have cared, apparently) to give you a sense of what it looked like. Here’s wishing you and yours some happy concert-going of your own, safely and soon!

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #49: The B-52’s

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: A deeply eclectic pop-party group spawned in Athens, Georgia, and later based in the lower reaches of Upstate New York, originally featuring a quintet line-up of guitarist Ricky Wilson, drummer Keith Strickland, and vocalists Kate Pierson (who also played keyboards and bass), Cindy Wilson (ace bongo player and occasional guitarist), and Fred Schneider. Ricky Wilson was a tragic early casualty of the AIDS era, and after his passing, Strickland shifted to guitar, with the group backed by session rhythm section players from that point forward. Cindy Wilson (Ricky’s sister) left the group for several years after his death, but not before completing her epic vocal work (think “Tin roof . . . rusted!”) on the B-52’s commercial breakthrough album from 1989, Cosmic Thing. After one album recorded and released by a Strickland-Pierson-Schneider trio, Cindy returned for their last studio album, Funplex (2008). In 2012, Keith Strickland announced his retirement from live B-52’s performances, though he nominally remains a member of the group in its studio incarnation, should they ever choose to release new material in that format.

When I First Heard Them: In the summer of 1979, digging their quirky alt-radio hit “Rock Lobster” on the epic free-form WLIR (92.7 FM), while I was living at Mitchel Field on Long Island. I remember them as a key part of what then seemed a strange radio phenomenon involving female-fronted groups bending the rock music rules in marvelous New Wave ways, with Lene Lovich’s “Lucky Number” and The Flying Lizards’ “Money” also standing strong in my memory as defining tunes of the times. In very early 1980, as “Rock Lobster” was gaining traction as a dance-floor classic, The B-52’s appeared on Saturday Night Live, and blew my mind with their performances of “Lobster” and (most especially) “Dance This Mess Around.” It wasn’t quite as life-altering a television experience as Devo’s appearance on SNL had been, but it was darned close, with loads of “What the hell was that?” moments spread across their brief appearance. I was hooked for good after that unexpectedly wonderful Saturday night, remaining happy to acquire whatever The B-52’s wanted to offer us audiences from that point forward.

Why I Love Them: I listen to a lot of dark and dour music (no surprise to regular readers here), and The B-52’s are always a delightful palate cleanser against that trend, offering light and love and joy in pretty much everything they do, even as they have contended as a group with some seriously heavy stuff over the years. While they traffic in goofy and kitschy tunes, their songs arrangements are often surprisingly sophisticated and strange (Ricky Wilson defined their guitar sound with a custom four-string, open-tuned axe, for example), appealing to both the higher and lower function facets of my music-processing brain housing group. While Fred Schneider is without question one of the most unusual front-men in rock music history, the real vocal magic of The B-52’s occurs when Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson sing together. They’re both extraordinary vocalists, with big voices, and Kate’s pure-tone belt and Cindy’s scratchy Southern drawl combine to make a heart-melting sound that’s simply unparalleled among the many other artists in my rather-large collection of tunes. While I’m not generally a shallow fellow who forms unrequited emotional attachments to famous people who I don’t actually know personally, I will confess to having had a big teen-age crush on Cindy Wilson way back when, smitten by her stage presence and singing, swoon! And having confessed that, I’m now deeply embarrassed, so I will get on to listing my fave B-52’s songs below, noting that there is nothing to see here, keep it moving right along, never mind the old man behind the curtain getting woozy with nostalgia for more innocent times.

#10. “Revolution Earth,” from Good Stuff (1992)

#9. “Song for a Future Generation,” from Whammy! (1983)

#8. “52 Girls,” from The B-52’s (1979)

#7. “Wig,” from Bouncing Off The Satellites (1986)

#6. “Roam,” from Cosmic Thing (1989)

#5. “Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland,” from Bouncing Off The Satellites (1986)

#4. “Legal Tender,” from Whammy! (1983)

#3. “Party Out of Bounds,” from Wild Planet (1980)

#2. “Dance This Mess Around,” from The B-52’s (1979)

#1. “Give Me Back My Man,” from Wild Planet (1980)

The “Favorite Band” Question (Re-Revisited)

In 2011, I wrote a blog post called “The ‘Favorite Band’ Question,” wherein I attempted to answer the query that, as a known hardcore music nerd, I am probably asked more often than any other, online and in the real world: “So, who’s your favorite band?”

I noted then, and I note now, that I listen to so much music, and I am so musically omnivorous, that it’s really hard for me to answer that question, simply because there are so many apples to oranges, or meatloaf to polonium, or bicycle to aardvark comparisons between the different types of things I spin. To wit: per my iTunes account, here are the past ten songs that have spun via the “random shuffle” setting on my collection as I’ve sat at my computer, getting ready to write this post:

  • “Coming Your Way” by Fleetwood Mac (Deep cut classic rock, 1969)
  • “Grand Ennui” by Michael Nesmith and the First National Band (Seminal country-rock, 1971)
  • “A Crude Likeness” by Dana Sipos (New Canadian folk-rock, 2021)
  • “Beat Them All” by Public Enemy (Titanic political hip-hop, 2020)
  • “Wet Rubber Soup” by Godley & Creme (Arty pop pastiche, 1985)
  • “Let Me Be There” by Olivia Newton-John (Country pop, 1974)
  • “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” by Ian Dury and the Blockheads (Literate pub-rock, 1978)
  • “Calling Dr. Love” by KISS (Disco-flavored rock, 1976)
  • “You’ll Be The One” by Mammoth WVH (Anthemic rock, 2021)
  • “Bricks Crumble” by Dälek (Trenchant industrial hip-hop, 2007)

I loved every one of those songs as they spun, and I love every one of those artists. But can I rank or compare them in any meaningful fashion? No, not really. They’re just too different. So because I don’t do anything simply, when I first started thinking about this question back in 2011, I decided that I had to define what constituted a “favorite band” for a generic listener before I answered the big question myself. Here’s the list of criteria I developed:

  • The listener actively looks forward to listening to the favorite band’s music more than any other music, and does so weekly, if not daily;
  • The listener seeks to have a complete collection of the favorite band’s work, and is willing to spend a little bit more money than usual to acquire it, with special attention paid to albums or singles that less-enthusiastic fans might never find or hear;
  • The listener never grows tired of the favorite band and its works, and anytime they come on the stereo or radio, no matter what the song, it is greeted with volume raising and singing along;
  • The listener seeks to learn more about the favorite band, and will often buy books or magazines or watch television or internet shows related to its members and their music;
  • The listener makes an effort to see the favorite band in a live setting as often as practically possible.

In my first and second stabs at the concepts embedded in this article, I went back through the ages of my life and listed the bands that I am pretty certain met all of those criteria more than any others in different years. That list looked like this:

  • Simon & Garfunkel (Initial musical sentience-1971)
  • Steppenwolf (1971-1973)
  • Wings (1973-1976)
  • Steely Dan (1976-1978)
  • Jethro Tull (1978-1982)
  • XTC (1982-1984)
  • Butthole Surfers (1984-1994)
  • Hawkwind (1994-1998)
  • The Residents (1998-2004)
  • The Fall (2004-2009)
  • Napalm Death (2009-2015)
  • King Crimson (2015-Present)

I note that those years in no way limit the time spans in which I actually listened to all of those groups. Take The Fall, for instance: I first started listening to them in 1983 or so, and I was gutted when their leader, Mark E. Smith, passed away. I still listen to them regularly, never really stopped doing so, and I cited some albums from outside the 2004-2009 time span as all-time favorites in various lists like this one or this one. But for a variety of reasons, internal and external, I was really, really, really into The Fall in that six year span in the early Naughts, and they really spent an extravagant percentage of time on my stereo, and on my mind. I didn’t like them any less come 2009, but I did find myself spending a lot more mental time, energy, and effort listening to and seeing Napalm Death.

Likewise with King Crimson circa 2015, when they supplanted Napalm Death atop the current pile, though I didn’t realize it for a couple of years, as favorite bands are like economic recessions, apparently: you can’t really decide that they’ve started until you’re well into them. I had been listening to, and loving, the Crim since the ’70s, but they sort of moved onto a different plane for me around 2015, when the “Seven-Headed Beast” incarnation of the band hit the road with a show that for the first time in their complicated history featured music from 1969’s debut album, In The Court of the Crimson King, along with cuts from every band era since, and a healthy slab of new tunes. At the time of this writing, the last live music show I’ve seen (damn you, COVID) was The Crim at my favorite Chicago venue, The Auditorium Theater. (Review of that transcendent event here).

I wrote a series explaining the where’s and why’s and what’s of my Favorite Band roster, all of which you can read here. And as I type this post, I’m some 48 articles into a second series about the groups I love who don’t quite rise to the top of the heap, all of which you can read here. As I was writing one of that second series’ posts, I had a revelation: my obvious answer to the Favorite Band Question seemed to have shifted in 2020 (again, like a recession, you don’t know it has started until after the fact), with Sparks now holding down the top spot in my personal pantheon of musical greatness. A shift! A change! Huttah!

Here’s the piece I wrote about Sparks a few weeks back, explaining and justifying why I’ve shifted a bit in terms of my best-of-the-best roster. As has always been the case, this shift doesn’t mean that I love King Crimson any less than I once did, but rather that Sparks have moved into a more constant, and central point in my musical consciousness than any other group, right here, right now. They’re issuing career-best music in real time, and they’re experiencing a level of cultural relevance and significance well above what’s been the case in the past (in the United States anyway; they’ve always been more popular in Europe), and those factors move me to make a shift in how I answer the question I’m asked more than any other.

And so I update this occasionally-recurring article today, with a new roster of Favorite Groups by year appended and amended as below:

  • Simon & Garfunkel (Initial musical sentience-1971)
  • Steppenwolf (1971-1973)
  • Wings (1973-1976)
  • Steely Dan (1976-1978)
  • Jethro Tull (1978-1982)
  • XTC (1982-1984)
  • Butthole Surfers (1984-1994)
  • Hawkwind (1994-1998)
  • The Residents (1998-2004)
  • The Fall (2004-2009)
  • Napalm Death (2009-2015)
  • King Crimson (2015-2020)
  • Sparks (2020-Present)

I don’t know when it will change again, but I do know that it will. And that’s exciting to me: it won’t mean that Sparks aren’t doing it for me when it happens, it will just mean that I’ve discovered and internalized something even grander and greater in my current psychic playing field when that time inevitably comes. Watch this space five-ish years hence, if past cycles are indicative of current and future trends.

Ron and Russell Mael move me. As they should you.

 

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #48: 10cc (And Related Artists)

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: In their original incarnation, 10cc were a smart pop quartet with a far more impressive back story than most of their peers. Eric Stewart had been the front-man for The Mindbenders, who scored a massive international hit in 1966 with “A Groovy Kind of Love.” Graham Gouldman had been a teenage songwriting prodigy, penning such hits as “For Your Love” (The Yardbirds), “Bus Stop” (The Hollies), and “No Milk Today” (Herman’s Hermits), among many others; he also played in, wrote for, and recorded with various bands around his home in Greater Manchester with friends from the local Jewish Lad’s Brigade, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme. Gouldman was later contracted as a songwriter by the (in)famous bubblegum pop production team of Kasenatz and Katz in 1969, eventually convincing the American producers that their assembly-line approach to disposable pop songs could be best facilitated if Gouldman, Stewart, Godley and Creme created the Super K label’s confections at Strawberry Studios, a hugely influential creative destination owned by Stewart, Gouldman, and other business partners. (Manchester’s extraordinary punk and post-punk community later recorded many of the most seminal albums of the late ’70s at Strawberry, as did Stewart’s good friend, Paul McCartney). One of the proto-10cc’s pseudonymous pop period tunes, “Neanderthal Man,” became an international hit under the group name Hotlegs, with Stewart, Godley and Creme as band members; they followed it up with the equally eclectic, though less commercially successful “Umbopo,” credited to Doctor Father, while also releasing scores of other songs under a variety of names during their writers-for-hire days. The full quartet later worked together with Neil Sedaka on his acclaimed creative come-back album Solitaire (1972), recorded at Strawberry Studios. Signing with pop impresario Jonathan King (who had already discovered and launched Genesis some years earlier, among other accomplishments), the quartet were branded as 10cc after that name came to King in a dream. With two accomplished songwriting teams (Godley with Creme, and Gouldman with Stewart) emerging from within the group construct, the quartet scored a massive UK hit with their debut single, “Donna” (1972), then went on in their original incarnation to issue four highly-acclaimed albums, and to score eight additional Top 40 UK hits. The grandest of 10cc’s popular songs was the massive 1975 global hit “I’m Not In Love,” one of the most innovative and strange pop songs ever released and recorded; there aren’t a lot of single chart-topping songs that merit full exposition into their creation, but “I’m Not In Love” is remarkable enough to make films like this hugely interesting and informative. Godley and Creme left 10cc in 1976 to launch successful careers as musicians and video producers, and to (less successfully) promote their patented “endless guitar” device, the Gizmotron. Gouldman and Stewart (supported by guitarist Rick Fenn and drummers Paul Burgess and Stuart Tosh, among others) carried on under the 10cc moniker, scoring their own additional hits with “The Things We Do For Love,” “Good Morning Judge,” and “Dreadlock Holiday.” Gouldman continues to perform and record under the 10cc moniker to this day, while Stewart left the group in 1995, after working with Paul McCartney as his first prominent songwriting partner post-John Lennon, and serving as a successful producer for a variety of other artists. After the Godley and Creme partnership broke down in the late 1980s, Creme worked with Art of Noise and The Trevor Horn Band, while Godley served as an influential video director in his own rights with U2, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins, Sting, and many others.

When I First Heard Them: Summer of 1975, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, when “I’m Not In Love” was completely inescapable on the radio. A couple of years later, after I’d moved to Mitchel Field on Long Island, New York, I acquired my first 10cc album, Deceptive Bends, which is a defining soundtrack to a particularly memorable and influential period in my personal life and development, for all the wrong reasons, with adult hindsight. I didn’t really get deeper into the 10cc until Godley and Creme’s 1985 album The History Mix Volume 1, which offered extraordinary Fairlight CMI-fortified melodies of songs from the duo’s long career together, including Hotlegs, Doctor Father, 10cc, and their own eclectic releases. I scored the essential 10cc compilation Greatest Hits 1972-1978 soon thereafter, and then enthusiastically acquired both 10cc’s and Godley and Creme’s back catalogs over the months and years that followed. I’ve been on a bit of a 10cc jag here in recent months, all these years on, having recently read the updated version of Liam Newton’s outstanding book 10cc: The Worst Band In The World, which I highly commend to your attention.

Why I Love Them: I would sincerely rank 10cc second only to The Beatles among the list of self-contained rock ensembles who wrote incredibly smart and infectious popular music, then brought their brilliant songs to market with four unique vocalists working ably together, atop technically masterful instrumental beds, all deftly produced in innovative ways that significantly changed the ways in which rock music was recorded in the decades that followed. And in some ways, 10cc may have actually over-achieved against the Beatles’ record, in that they owned and operated their own studio, they didn’t have an outside producer of the George Martin variety as part of their creative team, and they successfully wrote for and backed other artists, alongside their own successful careers. Paul Hanley, erstwhile drummer-keyboardist for The Fall, wrote an outstanding book a few years back called Leave the Capital: A History of Manchester Music in 13 Recordings, which clearly and ably demonstrates just how important 10cc’s Strawberry Studios were to the massively influential groups and music that emerged from Greater Manchester in the late ’70s and beyond. I also appreciate the fact that 10cc were the most successful (mostly)-Jewish band in UK chart history, overcoming embedded cultural prejudices with grace, aplomb and humor; they semi-seriously considered naming themselves “Three Yids and Yok” before Jonathan King branded them with the 10cc moniker. Probably for the best, as it turned out, even though the group labored for most of its existence under the myth that their name was based on the fact that the volume of the average male ejaculation was 9cc, so as manly Manchester men, they were clearly 1cc more macho than all of their peers. Sort of like Spinal Tap’s amps that went to 11, I suppose. Just dirtier.

#10. “The Worst Band In The World,” from Sheet Music (1974)

#9. “The Dean And I,” from 10cc (1973)

#8. “Art for Art’s Sake,” from How Dare You! (1976)

#7. “The Things We Do For Love,” from Deceptive Bends (1977)

#6. “I Pity Inanimate Objects,” from Freeze Frame (1979), credited to Godley & Creme

#5. “Life Is A Minestrone,” from The Original Soundtrack (1975)

#4. “Cry,” from The History Mix Volume 1 (1985), credited to Godley & Creme

#3. “Rubber Bullets,” from 10cc (1973)

#2. “Silly Love,” from Sheet Music (1974)

#1. “I’m Not In Love,” from The Original Soundtrack (1975)

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #47: Andy Prieboy (And Related Bands)

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who He Is: A Northwestern Indiana-bred singer-songwriter who’s best known as the  second front-man, replacing Stanard Ridgway, for the California-based band Wall of Voodoo. If you’re a casual music fan of a certain age, when I mention the name of that band, your brain is likely to start singing “I want to go to Tijuana, eat some barbecued iguana,” as the song that spawned that lyric (“Mexican Radio“) is Voodoo’s best-known peak MTV-era hit. It’s okay, sure, but WoV were so much better than that one over-played pop-culture hit, during their early days with Ridgway and (most especially) during the period when the Prieboy-fronted version of the band issued two studio and one live album. Simply dynamite, offering a superb blend of pop chops, Southwestern-infused mythologizing, fascinating instrumental beds, and choice California ennui, their latter-day tunes all brought to brilliant life through Andy Prieboy’s thoughtful lyrics and memorable baritone vocals. After Wall of Voodoo had run its course (its fate sadly tied to the drug and alcohol issues of some key members, including their stellar late guitarist Marc Moreland), Andy Prieboy went on to a solo career that has included a couple of records released via traditional label channels, loads of songs and EP’s released via streaming and other independent platforms, a live stage rock opera called White Trash Wins Lotto,  and a wonderfully entertaining novel called The Psycho Ex Game, co-written with his life partner, writer-producer-actress-comedienne Merrill Markoe. While Prieboy’s presentation of his own songs is always exceptional, his post-WoV career hass probably been most-known through covers of his “Tomorrow Wendy” by Concrete Blonde, and his “Loving The Highwayman” by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

When I First Heard Him: In 1985, when the first Wall of Voodoo album featuring Prieboy, Seven Days in Sammystown, was released. I was a Wall of Voodoo fan from their earliest days, and while I was happy for the group when “Mexican Radio” became a hit, I also had that sense that a great ensemble was going to be pigeon-holed and marginalized by the popularity of that somewhat atypical cut. To Stan Ridgway’s credit, I think he recognized those factors as well, and bailed on the band soon after their popular peak to strike out with a solo career; I nabbed and appreciated his first couple of post-WoV records, but he lost me after that, alas. I will admit that I acquired that first post-Ridgway Voodoo album in 1985 with a bit of trepidation, as it’s a rare rock group that can successfully replace their primary singer-songwriter, but in this particular case, I was most amply and deeply rewarded, finding Andy Prieboy’s singing and songwriting to be far superior to anything that his group had done before him. I know it’s a minority position (and Prieboy actually addressed that sentiment in The Psycho Ex Game), but I absolutely, positively consider Prieboy’s albums with Wall of Voodoo to be the group’s defining and most-memorable studio work. I’ve been a passionate believer in and advocate for Andy Prieboy’s outstanding output ever since, always thrilled when he gets around to putting out new music. If you’re a long-time reader here, and you have a good memory, then this is probably not a surprising position, as I’ve written about Andy and his music many times here over the years.

Why I Love Him: First and foremost, for his songwriting skills. If I were asked to name my five favorite songwriters ever, right here, right now, then Andy Prieboy’s name would easily and clearly be one of the first names to pop into my mind, and he would most emphatically make the final list, even after I researched and considered the full library of potential claimants for that significant personal honorarium. Prieboy is a great storyteller and lyricist, and he’s got stupendous melodic and arranging chops, making his songs track and scan as densely rich little works of fine art, fleshed out in ways that most singer-songwriters would find too daunting to begin to consider, much less to carry through to full studio fruition. He’s also got a truly great voice, which happens to fall in sweet alignment with my own vocal range, so I deeply enjoy singing along with his songs, especially the ones arranged in a sort of post-Gilbert and Sullivan opera buffa style, which allows me to pick out which of many vocal parts I want to ape, per my mood at the moment. I think Prieboy’s understanding of, appreciation for, and talent within the theatrical end of rock music-making contributes substantially to his work shining so brightly and uniquely in an otherwise often drab field of same-old-same-old post-punk rockery. I could truly imagine his songs being played and sung a century from now and beyond as choice representatives of our creative era, even if the general audiences of the early 21st Century didn’t recognize, in his time, the genius of what Prieboy was graciously offering them. In a truly just and fair world, the popular music charts would routinely feature Andy Prieboy and his songs as long-running hits with bullets and with good beats that you can dance to. In the world that actually exists today, though, and alas, he’s a niche artist, but I’m happy to count myself as a critter than can squeeze into that creative crevice, feeling deeply rewarded and sated for the efforts I put into keeping abreast of his always-interesting canon and catalog.

#10. “The New York Debut of an L.A. Artist (Jazz Crowd),” from . . . Upon My Wicked Son (1990)

#9. “How Would I Know Love Now,” from Sins Of Our Fathers (1995)

#8. “Get Me Out of This Town (feat. Tony Kinman),” from Every Night Of My Life EP (2019)

#7. “Back In The Laundromat,” from Happy Planet (1987), credited to Wall of Voodoo 

#6. “Send In The Drugs,” from Montezuma Was A Man of Faith EP (1991)

#5. “Elvis Bought Dora A Cadillac,” from Happy Planet (1987), credited to Wall of Voodoo

#4. “All Hail The Corporation,” from “All Hail The Corporation” single (2011)

#3. “Bands,” from The Questionable Profits of Pure Novelty (2010)

#2. “The Grass Is Greener,” from Happy Planet (1987), credited to Wall of Voodoo

#1. “Hearty Drinking Men,” from The Questionable Profits of Pure Novelty (2010)

Odes to Labor

Ten little poems for you (all copyright JES, 2004) in honor of Labor Day, and the workers of the world who the holiday honors, hopefully with a day of rest.

#1. Where the Oysters Are

Push off in the bateau
and through the marsh we go,
way on out there where the oysters are.
Toss out the dredge and tong
drag and pull all day long.
It’s our job to stock the oyster bar
at the brand new resort
where the rich folk cavort,
arriving in their expensive cars,
to eat oysters and drink,
all wrapped up in the stink
of imported fine hand-wrapped cigars,
never thinking of us
who work from dawn to dusk,
way on out there where the oysters are.

#2. Midlevel

The buck? You know it’s stopping someplace higher,
The shit? I see it as it’s flowing lower.
I’m working here, behind the line of fire:
I fix, but I don’t aim, the fire throwers.
The chairmen without faces drop the orders,
I drop them quickly on the faceless clerks.
Don’t venture past my job description’s borders,
that’s terra incognita in my work.
Anonymously, that’s the way we’re quoted,
defined by work and never by our names.
On graphs, our productivity is noted,
red ink for losses, black lines plot our gains.
Midlevel: where I live and where I’ll die,
the limbo of the average working guy.

#3. Beryl

Beryl shared her name with a versatile gem, a fact missed by her mother (now dead).
Her name, Beryl knew, had been taken instead from a romance book mother had read.

Beryl (the stone) was usually nondescript until key trace elements were introduced.
If, for instance, you added chromium, then a precious green emerald was produced.

You could infuse beryl’s matrix with a trace of iron and end up with blue aquamarine.
Beryl had read of such pretty rocks, with rhinestones the sole gems she’d seen.

Beryl was plain, too, in her natural state, before painting herself with henna and kohl,
and hiding behind green and blue eye powder so nobody could look into her soul.

Wrapped in color and swirling in feathers, Beryl danced on the stage every night,
for the seedy old men with their one dollar bills who were desperate, but always polite.

At the end of the evening her color came off; nondescript, she went home to her son,
and counted her tips and read romance books, just the way that that her mother had done.

#4. Bogmen

we dig the peat moss ‘neath the hoarfrost sign the old cross
gather stones
wash wild lettuce let grit upset us pitch a fit fuss
spit out bones
there’s no pretending nor comprehending we’re just wending
through the bogs
wet trousers saggin’ as we’re draggin’ simple wagons
made of logs
in the night we drink and fight
kill the light to make it right
on and on until the dawn
when we’re strewn out on the lawn
wild insane consumed by pain
whipped and chained we work again
to dig the peat moss ponder our loss curse the old boss
gather bones
pitch a fit fuss kick up old dust whimper and cuss
spit out stones
cinch the straps down turn the cart ’round drag what we found
hate the bogs
nuts to soup we fly the coop thrown for a loop
and crushed by logs
whipped and chained we work again
wild insane consumed by pain
’til we’re strewn out on the lawn
on and on until the dawn
kill the light and make it right
let us drink and fight all night
let us drink and fight all night
let us drink and fight all night

#5. The Boots of Sleep II

Leap out of the boots of sleep,
rip open the sash,
assault the innocent morn
with bayonets of caffeine,
bullets of bacon,
and fried chickens (yet unborn).

Feint and thrust decisively
in your turbo Saab,
liberate the passing lane,
evade capture, play Wagner,
survey the bunker,
seize your cubicle again.

Review plans and strategies,
goals and objectives,
rally yon weary minions,
Patton at the water tank:
damn Montgomery
and his weak-chinned opinions!

Carpe diem, warrior,
office commando,
Sherman of the morning shift,
strike while the world is sleepy,
but save Savannah
as a presidential gift.

Burn brightly, flash, flare and die
by second smoke break
outside of your fortress keep,
anesthetized by donuts,
collapse on your shield,
slip into the boots of sleep.

#6. Delmas, Master of Tractors

These big ol’ caterpillars here, I’ll tell y’,
they’re like the lions in a circus cage:
doin’ what y’ tell ’em while y’r watchin’
then bitin’ your ass off when y’ turn away.
Y’ gotta crack the whip with’ese ol’ fellas,
let ’em know that y’r the big, bad boss,
but at the same time y’ gotta love ’em, too,
gotta keep ’em good n’ healthy, at any cost.
They’re more’n just big piles o’ glass n’ metal
and I b’lieve they can smell fear on a man,
but I walk confidently through their garages,
maskin’ m’ scent with th’ grease on m’ hands.
I respect these tractors, n’ that respect’s mutual,
they know it’s me what keeps ’em fit an’ clean.
I’m not no fancy doctor or lawyer or nothin’,
but I’m King o’ the World to these here machines.

#7. The Cedars of Chalybeate Hollow

Just look at them there cedars,
man, they’re gorgeous and they’re fragrant,
above the springs
with the red iron water,
they’ve got to be quite ancient.

We sit beneath them resting,
soon the half of us are snoring,
but we’ll wake up
real quick, just as soon as
the chainsaws start their roaring.

We’ll cut the trees to pieces
and then sell them in the city,
where fancy folks
put chips in their closets
to make their clothes smell pretty.

#8. Cow Catcher

The engineer stands way back in the dusty cab
of the 2-6-2 engine rolling southwest from Canadys,
bound first for Hampton and then for Savannah,
heavy with a load of southern yellow pine trees.
The sun’s setting there directly out in front of him,
so he squints and blinks beneath his stained denim cap,
ringing his bell periodically, in good force of habit,
just to alert anything caught unawares in his path.
He turns to checks his steam pressure; there’s a thump
and he sees some broken thing as it flies into the field.
He keeps on steaming, thankful for the welded black iron wedge
that kept whatever it was from derailing his engine’s wheels.

#9. Labor, Organized

They cut the timber, we make it into pulp
They bring us pine trees, we grind ’em into pulp
Our machines eat up their logs in one big scary gulp

They work the west seam, we burn their coal for heat
They bring us black coke, we burn it up for heat
Watch ’em coughing up their lungs while drinking in the street

They grow the soy beans, we feed ’em to our pigs
Feed corns and soy beans, we give ’em to our pigs
Come the holidays we’ll have some bacon with our figs

They’re in the garden, with pitchforks in their hands
Pitchforks and torches, and long ropes in their hands
We sit here in darkened rooms and wait for their demands

#10. Fishing Vessel Ophelia Rae

The sun’s rising on the horizon
as our boat motors into the east,
with nets hanging low on her winches
like wings on some cumbersome beast.
She’s a mote in that vast living ocean,
a speck catching yet smaller specks,
which we haul up in great writhing masses
and then dump in her tank, below decks.
With a full metal belly, she shudders
as we turn her back ’round t’wards the shore,
and then ease her back into her harbor,
where she vomits up shrimp by the score.
And the townsfolk, they scoop up her purging,
which they take home to shell and de-vein,
and then eat with their families at dinner,
while our boat, she gets hungry again.

They didn’t appear on your plate by magic, you know . . .