Thursday, July 11, 2013

Revisions and Re-evaluations – Part One:

It is a real tragedy that Lester Bangs, the great music writer, died as young as he did. According to wiki-land, he was only 33 years old (was he destined not to live beyond “LP” speed?). As I was looking up this factoid I stumbled upon a brief obituary he wrote for John Lennon in the LA Times in that fateful month of December in 1980. I’ll bet it ruffled a few feathers since he refused to pander to sentimentality or myth-building. Check it out here:   Lester's Lennon Obit

What really strikes me about that obituary was how little time Lester had left on the planet when he wrote that piece. He would be gone in only a few more years himself. It is downright odd for me to realize I have outlived both of these men whose work I admire. They will always be “older” than me in my mind.

Of the many qualities I admire about Lester Bangs’ writing, the most fascinating to me is his willingness to put his first impressions on the line about any given topic only to eventually re-evaluate and sometimes totally abandon those initial convictions for new ones. This quality is investigated at length in a nifty essay about Lester recently published in the New Yorker by Maria Bustillos – see here for a great article:  Lester

She writes of Lester’s skepticism as “the best kind of skepticism: the skepticism that turns back on the author himself”. Lester liked to disagree with himself in print. One famous example is how he trashed the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street in a scathing review (in 1972) only to write a total about-face review years later.

It seems to me that folks are less willing to put their opinions “out there” – to go out on a limb to tell how they REALLY feel about music these days. Which is a shame since one of the more profound experiences I’ve had in my music-appreciation endeavors is when I suddenly “get” an album, a song, a composer that I never “got” before – or worse yet, totally dismissed. Those “eureka moments” are precious to me. Less impressive is when a piece of music you once admired ends up sounding tired and dated many years down the road. I’ve been there too.

I know I’ve taken a particular stand about certain albums, musicians, etc……here on this blog. But it crossed my mind to revisit some of my posts to see if my opinions have changed or become more sophisticated or less complicated over time. What follows are a few examples of my own musical revisions……..for better or worse!

First of all – in my enthusiasm for all things Judy Henske, I perhaps went a little overboard in my criticism of the original Jefferson Airplane girl-singer Signe Anderson.
True, she may have been influenced by Henske’s version of “High Flying Bird”, but Signe had a distinctive style all her own. This was brought home to me when I found a cool archive release from Signe’s last Jefferson Airplane show at the Fillmore Auditorium on October 15, 1966. The CD is titled “Signe’s Farewell” and it’s really great stuff! Highly recommended for Airplane fans.
I also found a terrific phone interview with Signe conducted by a local radio station in celebration of the CD’s release three years ago. She certainly has been through many challenges in life since the Airplane days, but she sounds like the coolest lady in the world! Check her out here: Signe interview

I have no idea if her vocals ever graced another record – if not that would be a shame. I’ll be on the lookout for more from Signe!

Now, from the cyber-complaint bag there have been two exciting artist revisions announced, whether or not due to my kvetching here I can’t say. We’ll start with the one that is currently available……

My most popular entry here on the blog has been the one I did about Terry Manning. The man himself stopped on by to extend well-wishes which was awesome enough. In that entry, I expressed my dissatisfaction with the current ZZ Top catalog on CD – how it’s been remixed to sound more modern and snazzy (while sacrificing the “funk” of the original mixes). Well kids – kvetching pays off! Behold – the entire ZZ Top catalog with the original, greasy-wonderment of the ORIGINAL MIXES – on compact disc for the first time ever.
And the price is right too – a cool $40 gets you everything. Get the 10 CD box right here: ZZ Top Box

Also exciting is what’s in store for August………….another popular entry I did here awhile ago traced the complicated history of the Fleetwood Mac / Peter Green classic “Then Play On”. For many years, fans of this great album have kvetched – “Why isn’t there a Deluxe Edition of this important record?” Yes, kids – here it is at last – what we’ve been waiting for……the Deluxe “Then Play On”!
You can pre-order it here:  Then Play On Deluxe

Still, once in awhile – ask and ye shall receive!

But what about all the great revisions on my part? Well, here’s one more that I owe to my good keyboard-playing pal Jeremy………..
I finally “got” Keith Jarrett! It took me listening to the great, classic Köln Concert album. I initially was turned off by the vocalizing Jarrett is known for, but somehow I was able to tune that out and the music flowed on into effortless unknown universes… the point where I’ve picked up a few more of his many albums. He is one prolific dude!

To bring this back to Lester Bangs……one of his most famous essays was a beautiful piece he did about Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” album. I remember reading that many years ago, rushing out to buy a copy and……I didn’t get it.
In fact, I STILL don’t get it. Yet, I haven’t ditched the album. And every so often I give it another chance. I’m not giving up yet. Although I wonder if anyone will ever get “Astral Weeks” like Lester did. It’s amazing what we hear and experience in music…..but always good to keep the ears and mind open. Happy listening!


  1. Signe Toly was a psychedelic music pioneer; she was there at the very beginning. Of course she was influenced by Judy Henske---she was also influenced by jazz and classical and rock and roll and folk. Jefferson Airplane, and others, morphed their influences into a new sound, one that reverberates to this day.

    People of their day raved about the Signe Toly Jefferson Airplane. The great Ralph Gleason wrote his landmark article about them only two days after their first performance. She was a star. When she left the band, Grace Slick attempted to imitate Signe, to no great effect because she wasn't much of a singer. After Signe retired, Jefferson Airplane turned into a bit of a freak show, with Grace dressed as a Nazi, or a nun, or a girl scout, or flashing the audience.

    It's too bad the Airplane themselves were so bitter upon her leaving, thinking their promising career was coming to a screeching halt, that they attempted to censor her out of their history at the time. I guess they've all made up by now.

    Those that were there know that Signe Toly was the best singer Jefferson Airplane had, and one of the great singers of the 60s.. She is finally starting to be remembered.

    Thanks for the link to the interview!

  2. BTW, there are about a dozen live recordings of the Signe Airplane.

  3. Hey there gl63! Thanks for stopping by. Great to meet another Signe fan. I'll have to look out for some of those recordings you mentioned. Grace certainly had her ups and downs, but I always liked her too.