Friday, June 22, 2007


My friends and I have been arguing Beatles vs. Stones forever, or so it seems. My friends are dyed-in-the-wool Stones fans. I, on the other hand, grew up on the perfect pop of the Beatles. I was only 6 or 7 when I fell in love with John Lennon's voice on "Tell Me Why." Then of course, there was Paul...Hey, when I was a kid, they were ubiquitous. On the radio. On television. In the movies. On your lunchbox. I didn't even know who the Stones were until several years after the Beatles broke up. (Yeah, ok, I was a little bit sheltered, but I did listen to Top 40 radio...)

Unfortunately, the 35th anniversary (can you believe it?) of what is arguably the best pure rock'n'roll album of all time, Exile on Main Street, is upon us, and with it, a steady stream of articles in the music press about what geniuses they were on this disc, etc. Well who can argue? I'm not even gonna try. If you want reasons, read Bill Janovitz's excellent addition to the 33-1/3 book series, aptly titled The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street (wow, how did they think of that title?). Anyway, much to my great disappointment, all these articles have done nothing whatsoever to bolster my case because not one music journalist has stood up for the Fabs as being equals, at least none that I have seen. What the?

Anyway, the debate has been revived amongst us for the umpteenth time because some ninny on the network of the OTHER New York baseball team hosted the great Little Steven on his show and one of the totally dumbass questions he asked him was (apropos of his Underground Garage empire), "Beatles or Stones?" What an idiot! You have one of the great rock'n'roll historians in for a Q&A and that's what you ask him? Unbelievable.

So we were discussing Steven's guest appearance on that network [shudders] prior to watching the final Sopranos episode, and the subject came up. It was, naturally, 3 against 1--not even close. (Where are all my Beatlefriends when I need them?) I got creamed with the "World's Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band" argument once again. Ouch. It was truly ugly. Of course, I thought of all my snappy comebacks on the drive home. As a matter of fact, it wasn't until a week or so later that I finally had the proper ammunition with which to counterattack, and by then it was far too late. Figures.

Well, in my humble opinion, there shouldn't even be an "either/or" question when it comes to The Beatles and The Stones. They were both unbelievably great, and it's apples and oranges. But since most of the rock world insists on forcing the issue, I'll play along. So, without further ado, below are some of the arguments I've seen and heard on this issue. C'mon, which side are you on? Read and decide for yourself...

Beatles: They came, they saw, they rocked, they broke up.
Stones: Still around 30 years later. Um, why?
Beatles: 3 out and out geniuses in one band, and the 4th guy wasn't bad either
Stones: Mick & Keith.
Beatles: 4 solo careers, a couple of which have been pretty damn impressive in their own right. Two of them are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as solo artists, for god's sake.
Stones: Xpensive Winos aside, not even a question.
Beatles: They did it all first: met Dylan, smoked pot, went psychedelic, etc.
Stones: They're bad boyz playin' rock'n'roll. It's all about stealing from your influences. Who cares who did what first?
Beatles: They could go from raw and raucous to unabashedly sexual to poppy and sweet to joyfully alive to heartbreakingly sad all on one record -- and it was never forced.
Stones: Um, Exile on Main Street.
Beatles: They practically invented power pop, but who's counting.
Stones: They are a genre unto themselves.
Beatles: Perfect and polished on vinyl, raw and real live.
Stones: Sloppy and messy and unforgettable. The essence of rock'n'roll.

I would say it's a draw. But my Stones friends always insist that they win because the Stones play rock'n'roll--understand the American musical tradition--better than the Beatles ever could. To which I say, check out the following Beatles covers:

"Please Mr. Postman"
"You Really Got a Hold on Me"
"Anna (Go With Him)"
"Long Tall Sally"
"Roll Over, Beethoven"
and last but most definitely NOT least:
"Twist and Shout" - the definitive version of a definitive rock'n'roll song. Yes, it's rock'n'roll, not pop, because it comes from R&B roots. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, pal...

I rest my case.

Oh, and Paul's new record is pretty good for a 64 year old. Sigh.

Beatles vs. Stones? Who cares? It's all great! Just to show that I have no allegiances, I will state that though my new favorite record is by this L.A. duo called The Red Button who play note perfect Brit pop--and they're both huge Beatleheads to boot--shocking, I know (please do check out their new disc, She's About to Cross My Mind--totally rules, right?)--though I love love love this record, I do also love (on the more rockin' side) The Shys and their most excellent garage rock. And they're also from L.A. Wait'll I tell my Stones friends. Could be a new battle in the making. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Things I Like Vol. 38

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World:

1) Live in Dublin - Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band. Fantastic performances of amazing material beautifully shot and reproduced. Why have we had to wait so long for something of this caliber from Our Boy?
2) Easy Tiger - Ryan Adams.
3) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - dir. by Yves Simoneau for HBO Films. Impossible to watch, impossible to look away. It will break your heart over and over again. And the book ain't bad either.
4) Waitress - dir. by Adrienne Shelly. Start fresh.
5) Petal Pusher - Laurie Lindeen. For those of us chicks who will never be in a band but wish we were. And there might be some stuff about Mr. Westerberg in there, too...
6) Adam & Dave's Bloodline - the band, the record, the live show, the guys.
7) Johnny Brenda's, Philadelphia, PA - cool new venue in a cool town
8) Exile on Main Street - the Stones, natch. Well, why not?
9) Johnny Pisano, the coolest guy I know and the nicest, too.
10) Sunday nights at the Headliner, Neptune, NJ - cold Coronas (with lime) for $2.50 and some pretty good Springsteen covers. Great way to bid adieu to the weekend.

Hero of the Week: Francis J. McGrath. For saving my life by playing rock'n'roll.
Villain of the Week: Lewis I. "Scooter" Libby. Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sunday Morning, 2 a.m.

Some people get it. They understand that because of rock’n’roll music, the world can be a better place. And so they consume it compulsively, listening to it on the radio, shouting along to it in their cars when they think no one can hear, discussing it endlessly with their friends late into the night, falling asleep with its healing magic echoing in their headphones. And if they’re lucky, some people even get to play this music, get to be part of its history and traditions themselves.

It’s a compulsion for these people, they don’t do it for the money or the fame, but because they don’t know what else to do. And so they learn to play the guitar or the drums or the piano, they write songs and form a band and rehearse till 4 a.m. in their parents' garage. They all have jobs and lives but they make time because they have to. And if they’re lucky they get booked to play shows and perform before a real live audience. Sometimes they even get paid for it.

Some bands are just passable; they borrow and steal from those who have gone before them and get away with it because mostly people are just there to drink and don’t really notice or care that much who’s up there on the stage. But there those that are good at this; they come up with their own sound, their own look and style and presence, and after a while people begin to notice. People come out to see them regularly, and they ask them if they have a record out. And they say no, not yet, and then they write some more songs and go into some cheap studio and do the best they can, and actually it’s not half bad at that.

And they’re not on a major label—they sell their CDs at the shows and on the Internet, and local papers that practically no one but other musicians and writers even reads give them good reviews, and they take heart from this and keep working hard and the bookings increase. And the same handfuls of people keep coming to see them. And they find out that not only are these people talented musicians, they are also warm and generous and funny. And they get to be friends.

And that is the best part of all, because these are the only people who really get you, who really understand your compulsion to be out every night listening to music, to get drunk and scream and shout along, to voraciously consume and then memorize everything you can find on your favorite artists, to purchase endless books and CDs until they spill over into every nook and cranny of your tiny apartment. They really get you, and you love their music and you can’t believe that they let you hang out with them, that they actually think of you as a friend. You can be yourself with them, you can say or do whatever you want and it doesn’t matter. And when you’re with them, you’re more alive somehow, every moment is electric. You feel you are at your best, that perhaps there really is a place for you in the world after all. You laugh until your stomach aches, you eat and smoke and drink and suddenly it’s 2 a.m. and the place is closing and how will you get through the week now without them? You wake up the next morning and wish you could have put it all in a bottle and taken it with you so you could open it up and enjoy some of it when life becomes too dull and painful and meaningless. You wish it would all last forever, but deep down you know that what makes these nights truly special is that they will, like everything else in life, eventually come to an end.

These people save your life again and again, and you do whatever you can to help them, but they are modest and self-effacing and really, you don't have that much power in this world; there is not much you can do but write the occasional essay and hope someone reads it, submit queries to magazines and pray the editors bite on them. Like them, you can learn to believe in yourself a little, to be persistent and hope it pays off. But in the end, all you can really do is say thank you.