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How your pretentious local record store asshole got that way
08:38 am


record stores

The smug, judging record clerk is a sad cliche, but the stereotype exists for a reason. Not all of them start out that way. Sometimes it’s a process of grinding down that takes place over several years. I’ve been working in and around record stores since 1991. Anyone working retail knows dealing with morons and nutjobs comes with the territory, but music retail people will tell you they deal with a completely different breed. There’s something special about a record store that attracts a fringe class one might never encounter any other place, save the emergency room or the DMV. Ask anyone who has worked in music retail, especially the old-timers, and they’ll tell you. We all have a story to tell.

In 2002 I stashed a notebook behind the counter of the shop where I work, something I wish I had had the foresight to think of years earlier. Anytime we got a dopey phone call, boneheaded comment, or generally batshit customer experience we’d log it into the book with the date and time of occurrence. We’ve got a few volumes filled at this point. Earlier today I flipped through some back pages and noted favorite entries. I have omitted the date stamps for the sake of brevity, but these entries span from February 2002 to November 2014. There’s so much more where this came from, but ideally this begins a dialogue with other battle-scarred shop grunts. We want to hear your stories. If you have favorite quotes or tales, especially ones that top these, post them to the comments and share with others who’ve lived the struggle.

Enjoy these hand-selected quotes from the music retail front

Customer: “Why are there only 12 songs on this CD?”
Clerk: “Uh, that’s just how many songs are on it.”
Customer: “So, there’s six songs per side?”


Customer: “I’m looking for an old song called ‘The Monster Mash’. I think it’s by Kris Kristofferson.”


(phone call)
Customer: “Are you the manager?”
Clerk: “Yes.”
Customer: “OK. There’s a Beatles album… it’s really rare… it’s worth a whole lot of money… Do you know which one it is?”
Clerk: “No.”
Customer: “OK. How much would it be worth?”


Customer: “Do you have a Christmas album by Aryan Neville?”

Customer: “Do you have any Van Morrison? I didn’t see any under ‘V’.”
Clerk: (politely) “Well, it would actually be under ‘M’.”
Customer: “NEVERMIND!” (customer storms out)


(phone call)
Customer: “Is this the record place?”
Clerk: “Yes.”
Customer: “Could you tell me how to get a record deal? I do rap.”

Customer: “I’m looking for a Country singer. The last name is ‘Redding’. I think the first name is ‘Otis’”


(phone call)
Customer: “Do you have any… uh… Gospel… uh… I mean… uh… tape… on… video… uh… I mean… (screams) DO YOU HAVE ANY HALLE BERRY MOVIES?


(phone call)
Customer: “Do you have constellation music?”
Clerk: “Constellation music?”
Customer: “You know… A variety.”


(phone call)
Customer: “There’s this lady that just put out a song. I don’t know what it is.”
(statement ends here with customer expecting an answer)


(phone call)
Customer: “I have some… I don’t know what they are… uh… (moment of silence) Do y’all buy 26 inch records?”


Customer: “Do you guys have any Kenny G posters?”
Clerk: “No, I’m sorry we don’t.”
Customer: “Well, if I get two then I’ll give you guys one.”


Customer: “I know that the Beatles Red, White, and Blue albums are the best, but are there any other good copulations by the Beatles?”

Customer: “Do y’all have ‘Old Mount Zion’?”
Clerk: “Um, who is it by?”
Customer: “The New Years song everybody sings!”
Clerk: “Auld Lang Syne?”
Customer: “I dunno, maybe.”

Customer: “Are all your CD’s made?”
Clerk: “...?”

Customer: “I’m looking for ‘Theme From a Summer Place’.”
Clerk: “Do you know by who? About 100 different artists have done that song.”
Customer: “There’s no ARTIST! It’s an INSTRUMENTAL!”


A guy comes in and wants to order a TV-only-offer CD. He brings in the 1-800 number from the commercial and asks if we can call it in for him.


Two sorority girls come into the shop.
Sorority girl #1: “Do you guys have any Beatles DVD’s?... no… wait… I guess they didn’t have video cameras back then.”

A young white woman’s inquiry about Reggae:
“Y’all got that Reggae guy? ...He’s black.”


Customer: “Y’all got any Ronald McDonald?—You know that guy who used to be with the ‘Doobie Boys’”

More after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Discussion
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Grace Jones is greeted with laughter at her duet with Pavarotti (then she blows them away)
07:08 am


Grace Jones

I’ve been attempting to track down the entirety of Luciano Pavarotti’s Pavarotti and Friends, a 2002 benefit concert for Angolan refugees, ever since I saw his brilliant duet with Lou Reed on “Perfect Day.” There’s just something so absurd and charming about this classical operatic tenor with a pop culture presence, using that leverage to reach out to such an erratic assortment of musicians for charity. I haven’t found the whole show on YouTube yet, but there’s video of his duet with Grace Jones, and it is phenomenal.

In a fantastic moment of grand drama, some members of the audience break into laughter upon Jones’ entrance—whether it’s nervous, derisive or joyous I cannot tell. Ever the gracious stateswoman, Grace radiates… well, grace, and blows them away with the strange and powerful performance. Pavarotti is characteristically brilliant, and I’m not sure if he picked his guests for the special, but he pairs with Jones beautifully.


Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Kickass kids cover Led Zeppelin songs on xylophones!
09:41 am


Led Zeppelin

Here’s a delightful video of the Louisville Leopard Percussionists during rehearsal sessions for their cover versions of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” “The Ocean,” and “Immigrant Song.” 

Even though this video was posted to YouTube back in November 2014 (with hardly any views), it’s finally getting the attention it deserves now due to Jimmy Page posting it to his Facebook yesterday afternoon. “Too good not to share. Have a rocking weekend!” wrote Page.

It is too good not to share. The kids are going to be all right.

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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See if you can figure out what LANGUAGE Mick Jagger is singing in here
11:25 am


Mick Jagger

A YouTuber saw fit to offer a transcript of this amusingly incoherent live Rolling Stones performance from 1976 where Mick Jagger simply refuses to form real words with his mouth.

Name that tune:

“Yah Awa bo anna craw fah huh cay Anna ho alamo in a try ray Buh ah ray ah now yeah and fad is a gay Oh ray now, a jumpin jay flay sa gas gas gah. Ah wa lay bah a toodleh beedeh hay. Ah wa sko wid a strap rahda craws ma bah. Bahda oh ray now en fad is a gay. Buh oh ray now jumpin jah flah sa da ga ga geh”

What freaking made-up slurry LANGUAGE is he singing in, anyway? What drugs was he on? I want some!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Advanced Genius Theory: David Lee Roth, Val Kilmer, 80s Lou Reed were just too advanced for mankind

During my stretch as a student at the University of South Carolina (Go Cocks!), I attended classes with six individuals who would, for better or worse, go on to have a profound influence on the way we as a culture experience music. 

Four of those dudes formed Hootie and the Blowfish:
The other two were the think tank behind Advanced Genius Theory.

Wikipedia explains this theory:

The theory, developed by Jason Hartley and Britt Bergman, maintains that seemingly bad and confusing artists are actually still producing excellent works today, despite critic and fan belief. The hypothesis is based around a few key musicians (only individuals), namely Bob Dylan, Sting, David Bowie and (most-critically) Lou Reed. At one time, these musicians wore sunglasses, leather jackets and mullets when it was un-ironic to do so. Musical artists must at least have a self-portrait on one of their album covers, displaying their sunglasses or hairstyle (e.g. Street Hassle, Infidels, Aladdin Sane). The basic tenets are:

You must have done great work for more than 15 years.
You must have alienated your original fans.
You must be completely unironic.
You must be unpredictable.
You must “lose it.” Spectacularly.

Advanced Genius Theory essentially boils down to the notion that truly cutting edge work by great artists is typically misunderstood at the origin of creation, and that when those artists eventually attain public acceptance and later produce seemingly terrible material it is not so much that the new material is in actuality bad - but that the artist has advanced to the next level and it’s the audience who has yet to catch up.

Advanced Genius Theory was adopted and exposed to a wider audience by celebrated author Chuck Klosterman where it has since remained a hotly debated premise in music crit circles.

Sadly, this week Advanced Genius Theory founder Britt Bergman himself advanced from this mortal coil at the age of 43.

I had a chance to speak with Jason Hartley, the theory’s co-founder and author of The Advanced Genius Theory: Are They Out of Their Minds or Ahead of Their Time?

Britt was more than a contributor to the Advanced Genius Theory, he was the reason it exists. He and I had known each other as children through a basketball league, but we went to different schools. In tenth grade, we reconnected in French class because he listened to Bauhaus and I listened to Black Flag. One day I went over to his house to listen to music, and he played The Velvet Underground & Nico. I knew Lou Reed a bit, but I didn’t know anything about VU because I had grown up on classic rock. After that day with Britt, The Doors just didn’t seem so mysterious anymore, though I still liked them and didn’t see why I shouldn’t just because another band was better. So while he exposed me to music most people had never heard, I made it a little easier for him to admit that he liked classic rock (including The Doors). Our high school years were a mix of Sisters of Mercy and Foghat, Captain Beefheart and Steely Dan, the Circle Jerks and Lynyrd Skynyrd. We were cool with all of it.

But one thing we could not understand: how did Lou Reed get so terrible in the 1980s? In particular, where did the slick, drum-machine powered, antiseptic Mistrial come from? One day in college at a Pizza Hut, we figured it out. If Lou Reed was ahead of his time when he was in the Velvet Underground, he must be still ahead of his time now and we were just like all the people who didn’t understand VU. Everything clicked into place. He didn’t suddenly start sucking, he was just beyond our comprehension. One of us said, “it seems like he has lost it, but really he has advanced.” We started listening to his solo stuff, including Mistrial, and loving it. Jokingly at first, but then completely sincerely. This opened up a whole world of music we had rejected before without truly listening to it. Who were we not to give Bob Dylan the benefit of the doubt? If David Bowie wants to do a duet with Mick Jagger, isn’t it possible that he knows a bit more about what is good than we do?

Over the years we developed what became the Advanced Theory, and so when I started freelancing at Spin Magazine, I brought it up one night. Everyone dismissed it, but then over the next few days, someone would come up to me and say, “is Prince Advanced? What about Elvis Costello?” I would patiently explain to them why or why not, but they were usually unsatisfied with the explanation because they didn’t understand the rules. At the time Chuck Klosterman was a contributor to Spin, and someone told him about the Advanced Theory (I wasn’t working there anymore). A bit later, he was talking to his editor at Esquire about possible column ideas, when Sting came on. I believe Chuck said, “oh, he’s Advanced,” then explained what that was. The editor thought it would make a great column, so Chuck called me up to ask if it was okay, then interviewed me. His article mentioned Val Kilmer as the most Advanced actor, which earned Chuck an invitation to visit Val in New Mexico. I’m told David Lee Roth wanted to know if he was Advanced.  Eventually I wrote The Advanced Genius Theory, which expanded the theory to include actors, scientists, writers, and anyone else who was great for a while, then (seemingly) embarrassingly bad. All of this is thanks to Britt Bergman, who as I wrote in the book’s dedication, invented Lou Reed for me.

Read more about Advanced Genius Theory here. And in the meantime enjoy some “Advanced” Lou Reed in memory of Britt Bergman…

“The Original Wrapper”:

“My Red Joystick”:

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Discussion
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Steve Strange & Chrissie Hynde offend all of England as punk band The Moors Murderers, 1978

Before Steve Strange became known as a club host at Blitz and a New Romantic pop star with Visage, he was in a punk band with Chrissie Hynde called The Moors Murderers. It’s fair to say, there was a tacit understanding with some elements of punk that to cause offense was an acceptable way to achieve notoriety. Having a band called The Moors Murderers was certain to bring considerable opprobrium and cause offense to the Great British public as the band’s name referred to the notorious serial killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley who had raped and murdered five children in Manchester, England, between 1963 and 1965, burying their bodies on Saddleworth Moor. To this day the body of one victim Keith Bennett has never been recovered.

Brady and Hindley were a dark stain on the colorful psychedelia of the swinging sixties. Their evil deeds had a troubling influence on many writers and artists, perhaps most notably Morrissey who used the brutal killings as material for songs and may have even named his band after the Brady/Hindley associates and in-laws David and Maureen Smith—or as they were called by the press at the time, “the Smiths.”
Steve Strange’s involvement with punk came when he saw the Sex Pistols perform at the Castle Cinema in Caerphilly, Wales, in December 1976. The gig changed the teenager’s life and he became friends with the band’s bass player Glen Matlock. Strange was then known by his real name Steven John Harrington, and inspired by the Pistols he started booking punk bands to play gigs at his home town. He then moved to London and became part of the revenue of punks that orbited around Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s shop SEX on the King’s Road. Here he met the iconic Soo Catwoman, who first suggested forming a punk band called The Moors Murderers. As Soo later recalled:

“The Moors Murderers thing was a big joke to be honest. I was joking about getting a band together called the Moors Murderers and doing sleazy love songs, I had no idea he [Steve Strange] would actually go out and do it. …”

Strange certainly ran with the idea and approached Chrissie Hynde telling her about the band and singing her the song “Free Hindley.”

They say it started in 64
Myra Hindley was nothing more
Than a woman who fell for a man
Why shouldn’t she be free
Brady was her lover
Who told her what to do
Psychopathic killer-nothing new
Free Hindley Free

What she did was for love
The torture scenes the boys and girls
Hindley knew but couldn’t say
She was trapped by her love
What mother in her right mind
Would allow a girl at the age of nine
Be out on her own
Don’t blame Hindley
Blame yourselves
Brady was her lover
Who told her what to do
Psychopathic killer-nothing new
Why shouldn’t she be free?
Free Hindley Free

The Moors Murderers came out of the band The Photons, of which Strange was briefly a member. For a short time The Photons and The Moors Murderers coexisted as “essentially the same band.” According author Andrew Gillix:

Strange claimed to be part of a band called the Moors Murderers in order to do a photo shoot for German magazine Bravo. Catwoman says she was also present but left the shoot. Steve Strange may have played a gig with The Photons under the Moors Murderers monicker supporting The Slits at an NSPCC benefit concert at Ari Up’s school in Holland Park circa Christmas 1977.

At The Slits gig was musician and producer Dave Goodman, who had worked with the Pistols and Eater:

There was a support band who I assumed were friends of the Slits. They had this singer dressed in black leather calling himself ‘Steve Strange’. I also remember at least one female musician, who turned out to be Chrissie Hynde. They had a certain ‘first gig’ quality about them, their sound being somewhat chaotic and the lyrics virtually unintelligible.

I couldn’t believe it when they announced themselves as ‘The Moors Murderers’. It really was controversial. I had lived through that gruesome event and the darkness it brought to my childhood still felt gloomy. To protect me, my mum would remove any ‘Moors Murderers’ tabloid sensationalism from the papers, after first reading it herself.

After the show Steve Strange came up to me at the mixing desk and confirmed the band’s name. I’d heard right - it was as I thought. We got talking. It turned out that they had this song called ‘Free Hindley’. They had just performed it, but I hadn’t noticed. He had my interest - what was his motive behind it? Steve explained. He felt that it was hypocritical of the government to automatically consider other child murderers for parole after a certain length of time, while ignoring Hindley. Being a high profile case, I believe he felt they were just pandering to public demand. We also discussed change and to what level people can achieve it.

Strange told Goodman that he wanted to record a single “Free Hindley,” but Goodman suggested “two main things to Steve”:

1. To show he is not condoning murderers he should create a balance. Why not record the Ten Commandments to music for the B-side? You know, get out of it in the studio and really get into it man! He liked the idea.

2. Talk to Lord Longford, he’s been visiting Hindley in prison and is campaigning for her release. He liked that idea as well.

Strange arranged a hasty press shoot where the members of The Moors Murderers kept their anonymity by covering their heads with pillow cases. According to Goodman three of the group in the photo are “Strange, Chrissie Hynde and Nick Holmes (Eater’s roadie who is believed to have played guitar on ‘Free Hindley’).” The fourth maybe Mal Hart, who played bass on the track.
Understandably, a band associating itself with the country’s most reviled child killers soon saw them damned by the press. On January 8th, 1978, the Sunday Mirror published an article on The Moors Murderers asking “Why Must They Be So Cruel?”

As Strange was mainly unknown, The Moors Murderers was labeled as Chrissie Hynde’s band, much to her chagrin, as she became the focus of the media’s ire.

In mid-January Sounds music paper ran an article on The Moors Murderers—now apparently three members, again with their heads covered though this time with black bin bags. The band played the Sounds journalist four of their tracks “Free Hindley,” “Caviar and Chips,” “Mary Bell” (about the child murderess) and “The Streets of the East End.”
According to Andrew Gallix, following the Sounds “showcase”

...the band played the Roxy on 13 January 1978, supporting Open Sore. Steve Strange was on vocals (calling himself Steve Brady) and Hynde was on guitar. Bob Kylie (Open Sore): “They were terrible! Absolutely dreadful!” On 28 January 1978, Strange told Sounds that he had left the band.

Whether “Free Hindley” was ever released as a single is debatable, but it was available on cassette as David Goodman recalls:

I remember hearing an acetate of the two recordings ‘Free Hindley’ and ‘The Ten Commandments’, possibly played to me by Nick Holmes the drummer. Not long after that, I saw an ad in the back of Melody Maker or NME for the sale of some ‘Moors Murderers’ acetates and cassettes @ £10 each I believe. I seem to remember Malcolm McLaren bringing that ad to my attention. Anyway, I didn’t buy one, I’d heard it once and that was enough.

Years later, when entering a record store in San Francisco, I saw a sign offering thousands of dollars for one. That was the only time I wished I’d grabbed one when I had the chance.

Chrissie Hynde went on to form the Pretenders in 1978, while Steve Strange eventually achieved success with electronic band Visage.

Below Chrissie Hynde talks about her involvement with The Moors Murderers.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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The Cramps’ guest spot on ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’
06:25 am


The Cramps
Beverly Hills, 90210

I never could understand the appeal of Beverly Hills, 90210, but I do remember when this happened because I so loved the Cramps. Around Halloween of 1995, the band appeared on the episode “Gypsies, Cramps and Fleas” to promote their Flamejob album. They got a mere 40 seconds of the broadcast—just long enough to be introduced by Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, greet the audience in the punning style of the Crypt Keeper (or would Ghoulardi be more apt?), and play the hooks from Flamejob‘s “Mean Machine” and “Strange Love.”

I can’t help you with the plot of the show. For me, making sense of the interactions between these turkeys is like trying to read the Epic of Gilgamesh in the original Akkadian. You’ll have to take‘s word for what happens on this episode:

Colin appeases Kelly by ending his affiliation with Claudia and taking a teaching job. A fortune teller sets up shop at the Peach Pit for Halloween. In spite of her questionable credibility, her presence has an impact on many couples. She forces Susan to come clean with Brandon about a past relationship. David buys a love potion to use on Valerie, and the two become closer. Steve and Clare accidentally drink the potion and have a rendezvous in the club’s dressing room. Donna spends time at the Halloween party with Joe Bradley, the university’s star quarterback. A jealous Ray accosts her, prompting Joe to back off. Ray lurks at Donna’s apartment and becomes physical when she refuses to talk to him. Joe returns and comes to Donna’s defense; he had reconsidered his decision and wants to date her. Dylan and Toni take in a stray kitten. Toni finds Dylan’s gun in the first aid kit and insists that he get rid of it. Toni’s father meets her at the Peach Pit in the hopes of ending their rift. He refuses to give Dylan a chance, and Toni gets him to admit that he had Jack killed. Dylan disposes of his gun and vows to let go of his anger. He and Toni plan to move to Hawaii.


See, but wouldn’t it have made for better TV if Dylan had kept his gun and vowed to hold on to his anger? Or if they’d given the Cramps, say, a solid minute rather than the 40 seconds below? I know these suggestions come 20 years too late, but I record them here for the benefit of future generations. May they succeed where others have failed.

The whole thing, after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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‘Motor City’s Burning’: The incendiary 60’s Detroit music scene from Motown to the Stooges
10:43 am


Iggy Pop

Martha and the Vandellas
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

Below you’ll find Motor City’s Burning: Detroit from Motown to the Stooges, A 2008 BBC documentary that gives a brief summary of the musical trajectory and evolution of Detroit’s music scene through the riotous decade. It’s a little overly ambitious in scope and far more focused on MC5 and the Stooges then it is on Motown, but it’s worth taking a look as it traces a path from John Lee Hooker to Berry Gordy’s slick Motown production, through the Detroit riots of 1967 and the emergence of the MC5, the Stooges, George Clinton and Alice Cooper. The music scene is necessarily tied to the history of Detroit and the rise and fall of the auto industry and the 1967 Detroit riots.
Motown Doc
There are many luminaries interviewed here including Johnny Bassett, Lamont Dozier, Martha Reeves, Mary Wilson, Mike Davis, Wayne Kramer, John Sinclair, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, Lenny Kaye, Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper.
The MC5
Some of the best commentary in film talks about the dichotomy between views of the city in the sixties. Inner-city African Americans had a clearly different experience from the largely suburban white acidheads freaking out to the likes of the MC5 in places like the Grande Ballroom (shown in contemporary footage and in complete dilapidated abandon) where the MC5 had a residency. John Sinclair, the MC5’s headline grabbing manager and White Panther Party founder, discusses the fact that white kids came to inner city Detroit looking for “urban adventure.”  African Americans on the other hand felt intimidated and provoked by white police and increasingly infuriated over the ghettoization their neighborhoods. While groups like the Motor City 5 lived right in the middle of the unrest, their largely white audience often did not.
John Sinclair’s arrest for two joints and the John and Yoko support concert is discussed, while Iggy Pop talks about the early Ann Arbor scene, and there’s good footage particularly of John Lee Hooker, MC5, the Stooges and George Clinton throughout the film.

The documentary leaves a lot to be desired with kind of Cliff’s Notes oversimplification but it has some notable anecdotes and perspectives. If you’ve got an hour to kill or you just don’t know much about the Detroit musical phenomenon, one could find a worse primer.

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
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‘Mysterious, Incredible, Bizarre’: 80s Florida buttrockers in best/worst local hair salon ad ever!
07:44 am


Heavy Metal

“It’s mysterious…”

“It’s incredible…”

“It’s bizarre…”

So opens this brain-melting local Brandon, FL hair salon ad.

Thrash-metal pioneers, Nasty Savage, file out, clown-car style, from a vehicle that is not-quite-a-limo. A slack-jawed hesher in white tie and gloves holds the door for them as the Savages make their grand entrance. Group leader and sometimes semi-professional wrestler, “Nasty” Ronnie Galetti, invites us to “let’s just go find out” what “all of the excitement is about” while making the most awkward one-handed air-guitar maneuver imaginable.

Well folks, the excitement is that all of the Nasty Savages are having their hair done at “Flair Family Hair Care inside the Brandon Mall on Highway 60,” and what follows is a truly astounding montage of shots showcasing the vanguard styles of 1984 Florida.  We then hard-cut to the Nasty ones gathered around the barber-chair-seated Ronnie who commands the audience to “get your hair done at Flair.” This endorsement/directive is punctuated with a hypnotic flourish of the hand indicating that the will of the Nasty Ronnie must be obeyed.
Nasty Ronnie Commands
One might speculate that a band member was a blood relative of a Flair stylist or that perhaps someone owed someone a favor. It’s difficult to say because it’s unclear whether the salon or the band is benefiting here. It would appear, neither. Nasty Savage, who recorded for heavyweight Metal label Metal Blade Records in the mid 80s, were known for their over-the-top stage shows. “Nasty” Ronnie frequently smashed television sets over his head as a gimmick. Such tactics were undoubtedly damaging to his various hairstyles, and one can assume that frequent repair visits to Flair Family Hair Care were in order. Perhaps lending his professional endorsement to this commercial was a way of taking the treatments out “in trade”?

This is one of those videos that must be viewed more than once to take in the full measure of every stupid thing happening in it. Of particular interest is anything the overly-animated “‘It’s incredible’ Guy,” David Austin, does. If you’re looking for the prototypical “Florida Man,” look no further. Be sure, also, to take in the confusion on the face of the “limo driver” as the members of Nasty Savage emerge. Finally, try not to miss the kid on the right side of the screen in the salon wide-shot getting his hair teased. It doesn’t get much more incredible, mysterious, or bizarre. The excitement at the Brandon Mall is palpable.

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Discussion
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Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead’s unrealized ballet

Though The Sea Lion, Ken Kesey’s tale based on the mythology of the Northwest Coast Indians, wound up as a children’s book, the author originally intended it to be a three-part rock ballet scored by the Grateful Dead. Kesey discussed his vision for the ballet with Old Dominion University’s student newspaper during a 1982 visit to Virginia:

He says he has just spent all of last year researching Northwest Indian myths. The author wants to write a ballet featuring the Indian legends, and have the music written and performed by rock group the Grateful Dead. “I want the Dead to write the music and score for an orchestra,’’ Kesey explains, “and put the Dead down in the orchestra pit where they belong! The Dead are the best!”

The Greatful Dead traveled with Kesey to the site of the Indian rituals, where they saw the rites performed by the Kwakutl, Tlingit, and Hiada Indian tribes. Kesey wants the Dead to do the ballet because “They won’t be remembered unless they do something permanent.”

Kesey says the performers are enthused about the project, and that Bill Graham, the rock promoter, is very interested in staging the production. Kesey doesn’t want the ballet to be just another rock performance, or rock “opera.” He wants it to be something special and lasting.

The ballet will be called ‘The Sea Lion,” and will concern a boy who finds a magic amulet of god. Later, the boy must contend with magical powers and the designs of necromancers.

Kesey believes the ballet would be a success, and would preserve the mythology of the Indians as well as returning the sense of story and art to people.

“I’d love to see Baryshnikov do it!” Kesey laughs.

Given the personalities involved and the size of the undertaking, it is perhaps not too surprising that this ambitious project was never realized—at least, not with the Dead’s participation. The Sea Lion wasn’t dramatized until 2002, the year after Kesey’s death, when a Chicago-area YMCA staged a production.

In the news clip below, the Dead get back on the bus with Kesey to learn about the folklore of the Northwest Coast Indians at the Lelooska Foundation in Ariel, Washington. It all starts to make a lot of sense as soon as you see the masks.

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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