August 29, 2019

Even Hitler...

"Not Jordan Peterson" reciting the first verse of "Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend," posted here -- if this works -- because it's still funny (and because it got deleted/disabled from SoundCloud.)

You can read about it here (scroll down.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:22 PM

June 18, 2018

So this is the last post on the What's-It

Well, folks, I must admit defeat. I had intended to keep up at least a tally here, a list of links, noting in this space all my posts in all the various places that I post things. That's ideally how I'd like it to be, a central blog as the origin of all posts, which would stand as a comprehensive repository for "content" as well as an index of activity.

I've used this blog that way for nearly eighteen years, until the current Troubles -- it's very useful to have a searchable index of your life and I truly miss it. However, the What's-It in its current crumbling condition simply doesn't lend itself well to that role. I can't post images, the archives are unstable, sometimes the whole thing just disappears... and it's not all that easy to share native posts from here anyway, since the images and resources have to be strategically minimal. It's an ancient version of Movable Type, but as it stands it is too fragile to update -- previous attempts have been disastrous. I've tried deleting images and so forth (and in fact I had to delete a couple to be able to post this.) Doing that seems to have helped a bit with some of the gremlins. But deleting things defeats the purpose.

I really dislike the current, fragmented version of the internet and would love to return to the more rational world of "one man, one website" but it's not the world we have. (Imagine that, doing one definitive post rather than a dozen scattered ones that are likely to be hidden anyway based on secret criteria you can never manage to discern. We didn't realize how good we had it in 2002.)

Anyway, I meant to link to everything here as a stop-gap while I figured out something else to do, but the last time I managed a post on this blog, as you can see, was nearly two months ago. So that plan is not working. What I want to do is to start a new blog that is more stable and start using that as my main platform, leaving this up as an archive (if indeed it "stays.") I will do it eventually. But till then, the best way to keep up with what I'm doing is to follow my channel or my On Google page. (I do a weekly link round-up the Google channel that is fairly comprehensive.) It's not quite the same as a blog but most of my substantial "content" is at least noted there.

So this is the last post on the What's-It (until the new thing materializes if it ever does -- in which case there will be a sort of "go here" post.) Last post. Feels weird, but apt.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:13 PM

May 03, 2018

Who Killed the Blues?

"There shouldn't be a rock and roll Hall of Fame." Agreed.

That acknowledged, Bill (not that Bill Wyman) Wyman has a go at ranking the Rock Hall "inductees", with capsule summations of each act interleaved with a surprisingly absorbing account of the Hall's farcical backstory.

Wyman is a great writer and as usual has lots of interesting, provocative things to say. What's the word for this elevation of the ordinarily irksome, boring, 100% inert "listicle" format? Transplendent. That's the word, transplendent.

You won't agree with all of his assessments. If you're the kind of person who is moved to anger by such things, you'll probably be moved to anger (and that will be cute, when you vent it on the internet.) Anyway, it's worth reading, which I can't say about all that many things that come across my window.

There's one bit I wonder about, though. In re. the Ramones, he says: "they pretty much removed the blues from a strain of rock."

I've heard people say this before, and I truly don't understand what it's getting at. Surely there's just as much blues in the Ramones as there is in any 1-4-5 pop-rock, going all the way back to the beginning of rock and roll pop songs. Is it just that there are fewer flatted thirds and sevenths in the melodies? (If that's even true.) Is it the "no guitar solos" thing (which is not even strictly true either)?

I'm willing to entertain the idea, but it sure doesn't seem obvious to me. At minimum, it requires some explication. Assuming removing the blues from "rock" is a thing that actually happened, why are the Ramones, per se, the culprits? Is there no blues in "Be My Baby"? Maybe Phil Spector is the blues-remover, then, not Joey Ramone. I'm not saying there's anything particularly or definitively "bluesy" about the Ramones, but rather that you can say that about a great many rock and roll songs that came before. Their compositional aesthetic was indeed based on such material. Is it simply a matter of driving the final nail in the alleged blues coffin, somehow, completing the work begun by Phil Spector, the Brill Building, et al.? Cynthia Weil, with the lead pipe, in the drawing room?

(On the other hand, I've heard people say that Metallica excised the blues from heavy metal -- or "freed" heavy metal from the blues -- which it wouldn't occur to me to question in the same way. That seems obviously true, and also: I"m against it.)

It hasn't moved me to anger, but only to a kind of puzzlement. Anyway, I'd very much like to read a transplendent Bill Wyman article articulating it. Get on it, Bill, wouldja?

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:14 PM

Minor Secrets of "Our Love Will Last Forever and Ever" Revealed!

Minor secrets of "Our Love Will Last Forever and Ever" -- praise Odin! I hope your Wodensdaeg proceeds apace, if apace means what I think it does.

This has never been regarded as one of the "top tunes" in the catalog (at least I don't think it has), but it's one a handful of songs I'm genuinely proud of and satisfied with. Conceptually, lyrically, structurally, melodically, and even maybe in execution, it hits it out of the park, or, to tone down the self-praise a bit, it does more or less precisely what was intended. Which you can't always count on, and in fact it's quite rare.

As to why others don't seem to see it like that, quite, maybe that has something to do with the fact that we've never played it live all that often? (And one reason for that is, it's got a structure that, while rational, isn't predictable: it's hard to remember how many "bumps" go where and it's easy to screw it up.) Also, we never made a video of it at the time, which seems to make a big difference in the beloved-ness of particular songs. This video, which is obviously brilliant, was done long after the fact by the very talented Augustus Rachels, as a school project. (He also did the "Cinthya with a Y" video.. check out his stuff here.)

Anyway, I'm not going to "explain" it or anything. It's a dyspeptic, upbeat, rather grim yet wry love song, which is how I like 'em best. The Tin Pan Alley Cole Porter-y lyrical-compositional affectation doesn't always work this well when crammed in to two minutes of punk rock. It's got some great lines that still make me smile/smirk a bit after all these years. And for what it's worth, for me, it's basically the quintessential Dr. Frank song (if you don't dig it or get it, you probably won't dig or get any of my stuff) and maybe even the quintessential MTX track from that era (along with, possibly, "Sackcloth and Ashes" or "I Fell for You".)

The feedback guitar in the bridge was played by Kevin Army. We wanted it to sound apocalyptic and blown up, and I think layering it over the strummed acoustic has a cool effect, if not, perhaps, quite evoking the end of the world. We used to put more thought into this than you probably think we did.

(Oh and here's the official and semi-official videos playlist for more of this... ilk.)

So there you have it. Another song for Woden. Be good to each other. Kiss each other a lot, keep your fingers crossed, and try to avoid getting shot and struck by asteroids if you can.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:33 AM

Road Story

A re-telling / re-posting of the story of how the Mr. T Experience almost died in a blizzard in North Carolina on the Yesterday Rules tour.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:30 AM

Free Speech Diary

The Count Dankula sentence and various other news item sparked some free speech blather of the sort I tend to emit from time to time, and I aggregated them here, adding some relevant grafs from an old essay sparked by the International PEN award for Charlie Hebdo.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:26 AM

Eh well...

Let things slide with keeping the updates going here.

Here's a round-up of last week's links.

Here's the round-up post of the previous week's links, just in case.

All this courtesy of "on google", which allows important celebrities like me to intrude information in a little panel of boxes on the google search page. Check it out.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:21 AM

April 19, 2018

The Curse of Halford

Revisited here.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:57 PM

Minor Secrets of "At Gilman Street" Revealed

Gesælig Wodensdaeg to ēow, once again. Minor secrets! "At Gilman Street"! Reveal'd!!!

Today's video is the second of two music videos made by Byron's neighbor (that's literally all I know about him, and it); the other one, for "Surfin' Cows", I posted a few weeks back. They're basically short films with a montage of images vaguely related to the song-as-soundtrack, and are kind of like historical documents unto themselves.

This version of the song is from the Rough Trade Big Black Bugs ep, and it must have been put together sometime in 1989. I like the non-sequitur (or are they?) images best (that Greco-Roman statue head that is the current thumbnail and coincides with the Isocracy name-drop never fails to amuse me) but the Gilman footage is genuine as is, the general scuffed-up, chaotic, grainy, what-the-hell-are-we-doing spirt of the whole thing. That urinal, for example.

I started writing the song, rather idly, before the club opened, during those endless planning meetings. At the time it seemed pretty doubtful that it would get much beyond the meeting stage, but Berkeley people love their meetings and that's usually reason enough to have them. I brought my schoolwork to them and was mostly pretty distracted but every now and again I'd look up and notice what was going on: hippies yelling "point of order" at each other, our Dear Leader making everyone vote till they came up with the result he wanted, routine denunciations of Bill Graham Presents, the Judean People's Front, and the military-industrial complex, earnest guys on the "Security Council" renouncing their right to impose their will on other sentient beings... basically, it was just like every other Berkeley community meeting since at least 1968, I'd guess. Vive la revolution. Death to the fascist insect that preys on the life of the people. I am Tania. Then it was back to homework for me, I'm afraid.

Anyway, as many have had occasion to point out recently (quoting my notes to MTX Shards, vol. 2) it is perhaps just a bit of a shame that I of all people was the guy who happened to write the “Gilman anthem.” It could have been a lot more sycophantic and triumphalist and mythopoeic in other hands. Sorry about that, Punk History.

When I noticed people start to mythologize it and Shining-City-on-a-Hill-ize it, I had the notion of writing a follow-up song called "Yo Jerusalem" but it never quite came together. And fair enough, really. I'm glad it was there. We had some good times there (and down the street at Picante.) It's a club, it's a place, it's a thing, innit?

(Putting this on the "official and semiofficial music videos" playlist, because it is at least semi-official, considering. And I think that list may now be complete, till we come up with more.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:43 PM

April 13, 2018

I Hate Rock and Roll, so Put Another Dime in the Jukebox Baby

Professor Josh Blackman was heckled by protesters at CUNY.

'A student shouted out “Fuck the law.” This comment stunned me. I replied, “Fuck the law? That’s a very odd thing. You are all in law school...'
If any of these kids pass the bar and want to practice law in New York, they're going to have to swear an oath that runs rather contrary to that sentiment, which I"m sure they'll do just fine, as I doubt they really mean it. It's still pretty funny, though.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:24 AM

April 11, 2018

Minor Secrets of "Cingular Wireless (Worse than Hitler)" Revealed!!!

It's Woden's day, and the sched calls for video so... "Cingular Wireless (Worse than Hitler)" - what a song. It was never officially recorded or released, but it proved weirdly popular when I played it solo and remains one of the most requested songs. The live version included on The Way It Sounds Like was recorded during an author appearance at Moe's Books in Berkeley. (This video, taken by Marisa, is of a different Moe's "show" I believe -- there is video of the Moe's show that is on the tape, but this song seems to have been cut off. Thank God for Marisa anyhow.)

Cingular Wireless is a now-defunct cell phone company, and the conceit of the song is more or less what really happened: I had a lengthy dispute with them over a mysterious charge that appeared on my bill and I felt they were being unreasonable. The dispute stretched over several calls and many weeks, and in the midst of it, I informed the customer service rep that I was in fact an internationally famous singer-songwriter, that I was writing a song about this experience, and that how that song came out was pretty much up to her. Singer-songwriter blackmail, basically, a tactic with a long history in the protest-song tradition.

She chose the way of pain, the song "Cingular Wireless (Worse than Hitler)" emerged, and the company went out of business, in that order. (Actually it got absorbed by AT&T and the charge disappeared just as mysteriously as it had appeared. There are no coincidences.)

And yes, I actually did sing it to her over the phone: she hung up during the bridge.

When I play it, I always introduce it with a lengthy, shaggy dog style story along the lines above, which Marisa's video doesn't include. It's tolerably amusing. If you'd like to hear a version of it, you can get the Sounds Rad cassette RAD-007-3 Dr Frank - The Way It Sounds Like, or request it at a show. I'll probably do it, because you know, why not?

A ways back I was a guest at some English classes at Berkeley High (I just showed up with my guitar and talked about King Dork.) After I'd played a song or two, one of the kids raised his hand and said "are all your songs about Hitler?" Well, no, they're not, obviously, but that was the first time I'd realized that there was indeed a two-song Hitler sub-theme in my oeuvre, if oeuvre means what I think it does, and that if I wasn't careful I could get a reputation as some kind of "Hitler guy." This concern proved well-founded when, a couple of weeks later on my way to the Berkeley Post Office, I passed a scrum of kids on lunch break and one of them said "hey it's that guy with the book and the guitar and the Hitler stuff, that was hella tight." Lesson learned. (Tight is good, right?)

Putting this on the "official and semi-official music videos" list, because it's all I've got for this release, which is semi-official enough in my book.

(Final note: I'm told -- and I've noticed from past post behavior -- that the word "Hitler" anywhere in any post automatically triggers an algorithmic daemon that de-prioritizes, hides, shadow-bans, or otherwise abuses the content. In fact, it is possible that this whole thing may never get seen by anyone. Well, in this situation, it can't be helped. But you can help by sharing, liking, subscribing and commenting. If you like jokes that are funny, that is. If you don't just, you know, stay there. At ease.)

Praise Odin and head over to Sounds Rad for the cassette and/or a whole mess of other Dr Frank and MTX stuff. Till next time.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:04 PM

April 09, 2018

Dr Frank - The Way It Sounds Like


Risking the image upload because it's a new thing... Available Wednesday 4/11. All details are here.

UPDATE: orders are live now. Here's the link for cassette, player, shirt, pin, sticker, and... ?

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:38 PM

Aw, nuts

Despite my intention to cross post everything here as they come up, I let things slide a bit over the past week. Sorry. So by way of catching up quickly, I'm going to post links here.

-- Minor Secrets of the Mr. T Experience Aggregated (#3).

-- Minor Secrets of Merry Fucking Christmas Revealed.

-- Updated show list.

-- The Week in Dr. Frank (a link digest on Google.)

Will try to do better... at least until the blog problem is solved.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:21 PM

March 30, 2018

Dr. Frank and MTX Shows May-June

I'm doing three solo shows in June with Even in Blackouts and Mikey Erg, and the band is playing in May with the Smoking Popes and in June with Screeching Weasel.

More dates will be announced soon but in the meantime, if you want to see the list of shows with ticket buy links, go here.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:20 PM

Minor Secrets of "King Dork Approximately" Revealed!!

Time for another "minor secrets" post, for Odin, for Darkness, for Humanity.

As I've noted before in various spots, this tune, conceived as a "theme song" for my third novel King Dork Approximately, more or less accidentally sparked the launch of the latest voyage of the MTX Starship. The song was written concurrently with the novel, which isn't too common. Novels and songs are different sorts of writing and that trope about wearing different hats doesn't quite cover it; it's more like you have a couple of replaceable heads, or almost different selves. (Not saying there aren't things in common between the two heads, just that it's difficult to operate them simultaneously.)

Years of hard and bitter struggle against the indifference of the world and the limits of my own abilities had trained me to have modest expectations. You can only do the best you can with what you've got: you can't actually make anyone care about it. I'd hoped for little more than doing justice to one of my better songs, upping the "novel theme song" ante for its own sake, ticking off a promotional box, and drawing attention to the new book. But when we did finally manage to meet up in the studio, something clicked. The song came out great, but more importantly, we knew we were going to have to do more. It took a bit of organizing and agitating but the King Dork Approximately "balbum", a whole bunch of shows, and further schemes of breathtaking grandiosity ensued.

As for the song, I think it's one of my best, as a stand-alone composition, as a sequel to the song "King Dork", and as an integrated plot and characterization feature of the novel. The Dylan reference is almost a throwaway gag in the first two categories, but it's a major part of the novel. The song depicts the ambivalence, uncertainty, and ingenuous hope that follows fulfillment of the "please say yes" love song (before we stampede toward the inevitable break-up song, as I usually do.)

Apart from that, it's got a pretty interesting structure that shouldn't work but somehow does. When I first started playing around with it I was thinking about Tom Jobim's "One Note Samba" and thought I'd see if I could manage that feat (a single note cadence that feels like a melody because of the chords underneath it.) In the end I gave up, but wound up with the two-note melody on the a, b, and d verse lines (with the c line being kind of like a verse "bridge." There's only one chorus, all the way at the end, and it's kind of a coda or adjunct to the song, not strictly necessary even. But the various uses of the word "approximately" during the verses and bridge function as a kind of anchor for the song and make this ending chorus more of a punchline, or at least, a summation. Pretty neat. (Also, I'm quite pleased with that bridge.)

So there you have it. I hope those "secrets" were minor enough for you. Hang in there and see you next time. (More official and semi-official music videos here.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:12 PM

March 21, 2018

It's all show biz, whether you're Zimmerman portraying the character of Dylan or Ron Dante portraying Archie Andrews. Authenticity and "relevance" is bunk.

A song for Oðinsdagr once again. And it's back to Southampton, UK, Summer of 1992.

This is a Partridge Family cover that we played in most every set in those days, and was one of the songs on the B-side of the "Love American Style" 7". (The other was "Spiderman" - basically, zooming out, that record had a semi-unintended theme, and that theme was the possibly warped view of life and love you get when your picture of the world in formative years is only what was displayed on a TV screen ca. 1972. I don't know: I find something that works, I stick with it. And even if it doesn't work I tend to stick with it because, you know, you work with what ya got.)

As I believe I've mentioned before in one of these "minor secrets" write-ups, I'm at a loss to characterize the precise flavor of irony at work in this sort of cover song. It's not "camp," quite. And it certainly isn't meant as a straightforward joke, a la, "hey we're gonna play this cheesy song now, let's all laugh at how stupid it is". That's a kind of cover bands do all the time (and if you want an example, check out the the ISM cover of "I Think I Love You"...)

But I know people have taken it that way when we've done it with various songs (if they even realize it's a cover, which is a whole 'nother matter: I really doubt many of the kids in that Southampton crowd were thinking of the Partridge Family while we were playing it.) There is a bit of irony about it, just in the fact that a band like us is standing there "interpreting" a Partridge Family song. There just is. I suppose there's irony surrounding the entire enterprise of the Mr. T Experience, and in another sense everything is basically irony.

Anyway, if you know a bit about me, you won't be surprised to hear that my take on "Somebody Wants to Love You" is that it's a great song per se and full stop, and that our cover of it is as sincere or "serious" as, say, when some band covers Dylan or the Velvet Underground or whatever it is that people tend to cover "seriously." I've never understood the contempt with which the recorded work of fictional TV bands of that era was and still is routinely dismissed. I mean stuff like the Partridge Family, the Monkees, the Archies, the Banana Splits, the Wombles... There's this sense that it's some kind of disgraceful, shady fraud and moreover that it's an affront, somehow, to the legitimate, oh-so-important High Art created by more "authentic" acts. But: "acts". That's the giveaway. It's all show biz, whether you're Zimmerman portraying the character of Dylan or Ron Dante portraying Archie Andrews. Authenticity and "relevance" is bunk.

They got the greatest and best songwriters and musicians to create these recordings to fill out the recording artist conceit in what were in fact great collective, commercial art projects. And while the Partridge Family discography probably doesn't match that of the Monkees (and what could?) there are more gems there than in most bands' discographies and some of them are in fact genuine works of pop genius (e.g. "Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque," "Brown Eyes," the present song, even "I Woke Up in Love this Morning.")

I was around five when The Partridge Family first aired, and I encountered it at some point thereafter because it was on after the Brady Bunch, which, to be honest, was more my speed. I thought of the Partridges as kind of the dark "hippie" side of the Bradys, and I was afraid of hippies because of that whole Manson thing. However, I thought Laurie was pretty. (It was also through Laurie that I first became aware of the Rolling Stones when she heard them through her braces that one time during a living room rehearsal.) And when I was asked by my twin aunts (who were only five years older than me because Catholic families) when they were babysitting me what my favorite group was I said the Partridge Family because it was the only group I knew the name of. They gave me Partridge Family albums, as a joke. (They were into Lou Reed and Bowie and such... they always used to tell me to take a walk on the wild side, and it blew my mind when I realized the source of that at some point later on.) And the result of this was, after I'd grown up all wrong, well, watch the video.

(And speaking of the video, I know there's some transfer warpage, insufficient data coming through at certain points, but I think it's kind of beautiful, and anyway it's all we got.)

So, that'll just about do it, praise Odin. Go over to my channel, subscribe, and like everything and leave comments. More to come.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:35 PM

My Punk Rock Tape, ca. 1978

"There’s something weird about saying you value and would like to resurrect a state of profound ignorance but, you know, I kind of do..."

My latest post on Mediumis an expanded version of this old What's-It post (with added pics and videos) for the sake of preserving the endangered archives.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:29 PM

March 15, 2018

Qs & As

"Caravaggio was a murderer, and maybe even a bad person. But I only want to look at some paintings, not marry the guy..."

I am interviewed by Articulate.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:23 PM

March 14, 2018

World Famous in Berkeley: minor secrets of "Surfin' Cows" revealed!!!

"Surfin' Cows" was one of three cow-themed (or rather, cow-named) surfy instrumentals from Jon von's old Boston band the Sacred Cows, brought with him when he headed out to California after college. The others were "Skatin' Cows" (which wound up on the Night Shift album the year following this) and "Hang 4" (get it?) which I don't believe we ever recorded but which we used to play all the time in The Early Years. Sometimes we'd play all three in a row in fact, because Alex the drummer liked playing them and was the guy who started them out, so he'd charge into them serially and there was nothing we could do but play along. I suspect that may have been too much of a good thing all at once for our sparse audiences but it was by no means the only thing we did that was probably too much of a good thing for them.

We, shall we say, "challenged" our audiences in all sorts of ways. Like good, standard-issue "punk rockers" we were offensive inadvertently or on purpose, but mostly somewhere in between the two.

The fact that a song from an early 80s Boston punk band wound up on a little home-made record that people still remember over 30 years later, by a band named after the star of the A-Team that is still playing is about as unlikely as unlikely gets. I knew Jon from KALX radio and from Disorder Records, which was a little mail order record business Jon did as a sort of hobby: he'd put an ad in MRR listing the punk and hardcore records available from Rough Trade, people would send in orders, our buddy Max would pick them up at Rough Trade, and then Jon and Kenny Kaos and I would meet up once a week to pack the orders and drink beers. I had a sort of "band" at the time (which I was calling The Visine Eye, in my head and on the cassette recordings we'd sometimes make) with no ambitions beyond personal, imaginary, momentary glory at occasional "practices" in our drummer's parents' basement in Burlingame. Somehow Jon started coming to these -- I knew he was a member of this "band" when after the second practice he left his amp there.

Soon, somehow, to my not inconsiderable befuddlement, we were playing little shows we arranged ourselves and, a bit later, spending a weekend at the cheapest recording studio we could find and recording what would become this album. That was all Jon's doing. I was just standing there going: "wut?" I guess he'd figured out how to do that stuff in Boston with the Sacred Cows and just did it all again out west.

Result: the record "came out", and we became world famous in Berkeley.

I've got more to say about those early shows and the first recording sessions with Kevin Army, which I've been thinking a lot about recently because I've been trying to organize and inventory the mountain of tapes in my apartment and get a handle on what's there and what's missing. In the process I've come across lots of brain-jogging stuff. But that will have to wait for another "minor secrets" session.

I know nothing at all about the video other than that it was made by bass player Byron's neighbor (along with a similar one for "At Gilman Street" which I will minor secrets presently, Odin willing.) Pretty cool-looking though. And that isn't a bad guitar solo, really, for a guy who had no clue what he was doing.

I'm putting this on the "official and semi-official music videos" list because basically it's as semi-official as things get, so you can check them out here. And while you're at it, go to my youtube channel, subscribe, and like everything.

So, see ya next week on Wotan Wideo Wednesday.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:26 PM

Virtuality Is a Dream

"Virtual media’s greatest strength is also its biggest flaw: you can’t trip over it. Easily stored, easily forgotten." I teased this tweet out into a sort of essay about Show Business, records, music blogs, Platforms, archaeology, and "virtuality."

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:24 PM