Saturday, June 28, 2008

Country Honk

Let It Bleed 
Track 3 
"Country Honk" – 3:10

Okay, maybe I was a little overenthusiastic about the Stones' "country" songs. After knocking "Love in Vain" out of the park with an inventive, exploratory performance, they immediately settle into kitsch on "Country Honk"[*]. The Stones are no strangers to self-parody, obviously, but it wasn't clear at this time that they would be able to go from one extreme of the artistic spectrum to the other with such ease.

God I hate this song – it reminds me precisely how thin the line is between creation and destruction. With "Love in Vain", they created something utterly new to the world. With "Country Honk", they tore that all down, explaining that the whole thing was just a joke and I can't believe you took it seriously.

[* which was recorded during the same period they recorded "Honky Tonk Woman" – neither song appears to have been "first", both simply came about at the same time.]

Friday, June 27, 2008

Love in Vain

Let It Bleed
Track 2
"Love in Vain" (Robert Johnson) – 4:22

Not the first time the Stones perform a blues as if it was a country song. This would prove to be fertile creative territory not just for them, but dozens of other artists who were perhaps uneasy at the thought of appropriating another culture.

The folkie-influenced "authenticity" movement had its day, but now some artists were tired of performing blues in blackface, and wanted to put their own creative spin on the art form. It was an interesting twist, and several artists, from Van Morrison to Gram Parsons to Lyle Lovett, produced some of their greatest music by exploring the territory. As George Carlin reminds us, it was a losing proposition overall, and in general white people were content to stand on stage and mimic their blues heroes without any artistic ambitions beyond homage. That is no way for a genre as powerful as the blues to end up. A fucking sacrilege indeed.

I have always given credit to Mick and Keith and the rest of the guys for breathing new life into the body of this dying art form. It was a brave move. While Cream and Zeppelin and all the other bands of the era were content to tread water, the Stones continued to search for ways to honour their heroes appropriately.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Sorry for the lack of content of late. I have been crushed with work over the last couple of weeks, and while that is over now, my nerves have been absolutely frazzled to the point where I cannot think of anything intelligent to say about anything. (Just look at my lame George Carlin memorial – it has been a long time since I've been hit by a celebrity death like that, but all I could think to write was "Carlin = funny, durr".)

I promise to resume my evisceration of the Stones recorded output within a couple of days. I see that their ambiguous take on Robert Johnson's haunting blues "Love in Vain" is next. I should be able to string a few thoughts together this weekend.

In the meantime, here is a picture of Jesus racing Darth Vader on aardvarks. Let us now praise the nameless artist who memorialised this timeless event. He, too, will one day dine in Valhalla.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin RIP

George Carlin died today. Everyone knows who he is, I don't have to explain his impact on comedy. This one had me bummed out all day.

The web is filled with his material, so you won't have to go far to get some great Carlin goodness.

This is from one of his best specials, 1999's You Are All Diseased. About three minutes in is my favourite Carlin quote of all time.

Here, from the interview album Carlin on Comedy Carlin discusses comedy writing:

And pain:

Here's something I haven't seen uploaded anywhere else. It's a special from 1997 hosted by Jon Steward entitled "George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy". It's a retrospective/interview, but also has Carlin himself performing one of his greatest bits, "Advertising Lullaby", in which he delivers the immortal line, "Whoever coined the phrase 'Let the buyer beware' was probably bleeding from the asshole". You can download the entire mp3 by following the link here.

UPDATE: Jesus. The man wrote his own obit. Dammit George, you're supposed to be making me laugh, not cry.

LAST UPDATE: Louis CK, a great comedian himself, wrote a great piece on his website.

Prolific, hard working... This is the way I would say George has had the most direct influence on me personally as a comedian. The guy did about seventeen full hour standup specials. Very generously, he explained how he pulled this off in a terrific interview that is available on a cd called Carlin on Carlin. He talks about spending every year on the road, working specifically on the next special. Every show has a goal, to hone the specific set he is expecting to shoot at the end of the year. Like writing a book. When he shoots the special, it's over. That material goes away and he starts again. I listened to that interview one night, in my car, while coming from a show where I had just done my regular, stump speech hour that took me fifteen years to perfect, at a Chinese restaurant in Saugus Massachusettes. The show had gone well. And I didn't care that it went well. It was solid material. It had been working for years. I'd been doing comedy for almost twenty. So what? Then I heard George explaining his process and I was terrified and inspired. What balls, to just chuck out perfectly good material and start again.

My first hour of material took fifteen years to write and I did it for another five. My second hour took one year. I shot it as a special called "Shameless" and never performed that material again. After a hard year of touring I shot "Chewed Up" and now that material is gone and I'm working on another hour now, from scratch. This is something I never dreamed I'd be able to do, let alone learn to do this late in my life and career. It has given me a new lease on life as a comedian and as a person. It's made me better, more honest and has made every single show of the last three years mean more than any shows in the previous 20.

All of that is due to George. His example, and his words in that interview, were an absolute revolution in my life. I owe him EVERYTHING.