30 Burl: Jingle Thud

And my final post of the night:  a never-before heard Burl Xmas tune.

Or lightly-heard, at best.

The 2000 effort, Jingle Bell Jar, was a mind killer, as Frank Herbert would have put it.

I’ll maybe post later about the Album That Killed Burl, but essentially we moved on after this album.  As a result, we didn’t push out many of the songs, or make many CDs.  I think I uploaded this song to the website absolute last of the bunch. It was also the second to the last Xmas song I recorded for Burl, and the last one was never put to a project.

Jingle Thud fits into a consistent pattern of crunchy songs which sound they’re sung like an insane madman.  More of those to come.

SONG:  Jingle Thud

30 Burl: “Fluffy Christmas for Cuddles”

Here’s all you need to know.  1998’s “Have a Burly, Burly Xmas”  had 7 songs, and then a 5 song EP.

I think that means we dropped the first 7 MP3s on a cassette tape, and then had the other 5 for download.

The 5 song EP was called “Bad Touch Xmas”, and no song on it was more horrifying than “Fluffy Christmas for Cuddles”.

I blame Bill Braine, the evil genius behind it.

SONG:  Fluffy Christmas for Cuddles

Original Liner Notes:

A Fluffy Christmas for Cuddles
Vocal: Bill Braine
Background vocals: Amy Larimer & Susannah Keagle
Strings Arranged by Mark
And after, we had pasta.


30 Burl: “Do We Care It’s Christmas (Fuck the World)”

This has already been requested, so I’ll post it first.

Spingo’s track listing indicates I sung on it, but I honestly have no memory of doing that.

The music is nicely close to the original, the chorus has an All-Star feel, and the lyrics are just degenerate.

SONG:  Do We Care It’s Christmas (Fuck the World)

Lyrics by Jamie “Spingo” Barnett

Burl All-Star Choir: James Barnett, Tiffany Lee Brown, Cap’n Tom Igoe, Maura Johnston, Morgan Noel, Greg Sewell, and Max Whitney

From:  The Island of Misfit Noise, 1999

30 Days of Burl

OK, 19 days from now until Xmas Eve, but who’s counting?   (Um, besides me, just there.)

For the next bunch of days, I am going to post tracks from my band Burl, which from roughly 1996 through 2001 produced primarily albums full of Christmas covers.

We had only a few rules for these covers.

1.  Could we play the song?

Every single year, we tried to figure out if we had gotten better enough to play a good version of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, but not once did we find a way to do it we really loved.  Different approaches, different singers, switching instruments an speeds and so on.  Never anything we loved.  And as you’ll hear, it’s not like our standards of “listenable” were EXACTING.

There is a version, and it’s fine, but it is some uneffable way not quite “burly”.

2. Was It Public Domain?

No interest in licensing fees for a vanity project.  I think we strayed from that in later years, but mostly for covers that were so…distinct that I am pretty sure the original writers would not want to claim any kind of kinship.

3. Was It Mostly Non-Religious?

Except it’s CHRISTmas, so I tink that was mostly a reason for the other guys to tell me I shouldn’t ever — EVER — record a version of “Adeste Fidelis”, bellowing at the top of my lungs.

4. Ignore All Rules If It Cracked Us Up.

Every single one of these recordings cracked us up enough in concept or execution to get us through learning how to play it, recording it over and over and over again to get it right — or “right” — and then listening to it over and over and over again to get it mixed the way we wanted.

I still pity Spingo and Mark having to listen to my singing so many time, up close and personal in headphones.  They were and are stalwart fellows with eardrums of iron and stomachs of steel.


Normally, I just write for myself.  But I realized tonight, I’m writing these for either Henry or Vivian-to-be, whichever type of offspring arrives in March.

Once March comes, they’ll learn enough about their father close-up, sure enough.

But maybe, at some future date, they’ll find these notes, maybe even find the tapes themselves, and think…

“Boy, the old man is really OLD.  Like, grew up in the 1980’s old.”

Maybe they’ll even enjoy his-or-herself-to-be.

But let’s not hope beyond reason.

Slapdash Flashback: The Police, GHOST IN THE MACHINE

My wife – 100% Sicilian in background — joyously berates me every time I switch which ethnicity I identify with depending on the circumstance.  I am Norwegian-Scottish-Welsh-Dutch-Belgian-Irish in direct background.  Or, by last name:  Mose-MacRae-Waite-Stahl-Noel-Morgan(Catholic)-Biggin(Prod).  So I have a convenient palette to choose from.  And that’s not even counting the various North American spinarounds, from upstate NYC to Canada to the Upper Midwest.  Nomads, my people, often criminals and peasants.

The story about one of the Irish ancestors, a Biggin I believe, was that he killed a tax collector with a shovel, and thus had to emigrate with all due haste.

So you can easily envision how a 12 year old me thought a song about The Troubles, with a music video banned by the BBC for content, sounded like something that had to be owned and devoured.

So I bought this tape for “Invisible Sun”.

Obviously, the two best known songs on the album – “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and “Spirits in the Material World” – are in continual radio play and are still pretty unavoidable.

But the rest of this album is just an unmitigated disaster.  God damn, if “Invisible Sun” has just been a hit, I could taped the three good songs off the radio and been satisfied.  DAMN you, BBC.

Summers and Copeland, the non-Sting Policemen, have their own quoted issues about how the heavy synth sound took them away from the interesting stuff of their proto-pop punk sound.

But with retrospect and much time spent living in Florida, the real problem with the rest of Ghost In The Machine is that Sting appears to have taken a vacation in the Bahamas, and decided that The Police should subsequently become the best-ever shitty Island-style bar band.  We’ll take a godawful tourist-style and make it the best-selling album of 1982.

I hope to hell he meant it as irony, because if not, it’s just hideous crap.

Go to Amazon and listen to tracks 7-11 for yourself:  http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Machine-Police/dp/B000002GF4

Shrieky vocals, low in the mix.
Guitar sounds that barely exist.
Sax work that would make Huey Lewis say, “Boy, that’s some overproduced cheesy shit right there.”

By the time you hit “One World”, and hear Stewart Copeland desperately smacking his drums and cymbals harder and harder and HARDER, trying to inject some small spark of life into these rotting corpse-songs, you have to eject the tape out of a certain amount of embarrassment on his behalf.

But “Invisible Sun” holds its melancholy well.  It makes me want to read some Yeats or Garth Ennis, drink some Jamesons or Guinness — and never, ever let the tape reel further than the fadeout of that song.

Slapdash Flashback: The B-52’s; THE B-52’S / COSMIC THING

I actually heard the first few rhythms and chords while driving home alone after dinner, a few days ago. I only sort-of recognized it, until the voices came in. Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, those are two voices that stand out.

It turned out to be Planet Claire, from the very first album.

The next afternoon, I let the tape roll some more, until probably my favorite B-52’s song – MANY people’s favorite song, probably — came on: “Rock Lobster”. I remember listening to “Rock Lobster”, some year that resembled 1996, driving on a dark stretch of US-20, near the Dunes.

It was a softly cool Indiana summer night, middle of August. A fierce demand of fall dropped a hot week into a chilly  night. Fireflies were out in force, in a mob, in a riot. In the space of only a few hundred yards, fifteen or so of them suicided onto my windshield with explosions of yellow glow. I actually had to pull over, and scrape off their kamikaze bodies, while the phosphorescence slowly disintegrated.

That night, “Rock Lobster” was a strange and ironic soundtrack, an urge to keep on driving no matter how many fireflies lemming’d themselves onto the windshield of what was probably a hand-me-down Buick, or a borrowed Mercury Sable.

During this commute, over a decade later, I could only marvel at how fucking hard the B-52’s work their early songs. They work them to death, wringing every bit of smoke and sweat of each lyric, each pluck at a guitar or bass string, each random-ass shout from Fred Schneider.

Here’s what especially struck me: “Rock Lobster” has only really got about two riffs. And really, only two basic lyrics. But the B-52’s turn that meager musical gruel into an epic goddamn meal. It’s SIX MINUTES AND 51 FUCKING SECONDS LONG.

(Damn me, I just checked. “Stairway to Heaven”, the gold standard for epic rock song to end all rock songs, is only 8 minutes, only one minute longer than “Rock Lobster”.)

But in the car, I finally realized how “Rock Lobster” makes that work for me. The song tastes of 2AM in a basement, or a frathouse, and you’re finally drunk enough. You’re finally out of your own head enough. You’ve give on getting laid, given up on conversation, but you haven’t given up on the night.

And this simple song kicks in. From a band that can clearly play just okay, not great, but they work harder than any other band you’ve ever seen, and they play just well enough to kick the music around in a very simple way.

But thank god, because simple is all you can handle at 2AM, on the tenuous string between “just getting started” and “fucking done”.

On that string, “Rock Lobster” is an moment that lives and thrives, and it’s easy for you to actually dance. Not dance-club dance, not with any skill. You wouldn’t draw any eyes, or win any awards. You’d simply throw your hands in the air, like you just did not care. And you’d dance that mess around for as long as you could, until the sweat ran down your face, and the floor vibrated like a trampoline.

Of course, that would be the last song of the night, the lights would go up, some jackass would put on Frank Sinatra, and you’d stagger out into the street, dissatisfied but happy.


12 years later, the B-52’s would put out “Love Shack”, which is about as effortless a song as ever existed.

I did not listen o that side of the tape, and here’s why.
I have a kid on the way. First kind, very happy, very expectant, thanks very much.

If it’s a girl, we’ll call her Vivian. A boy: Henry.

Right, stick that on the corkboard for a second. Hold it…

During the middle of the song, there’s that singular point of silence, where Cindy Wilson shouts out unintelligible words, and then the song continues. I learned years after the song came out that she shouts, “Tin roof! Rusted.” I believe it is probably one of the most misheard lyrics around, but I’m sure you all recognize what I’m yapping about.

I always heard her singing, “Henry! Busted!” Or more accurately transcribed:

“Heeeeeeeeeen-RAY! BUSTED.”

If it’s a boy, if it’s Henry, I’m going to listen to that song with him. And I’ll tell him my misheard version is the correct one. So always, even after he’s old enough to think and KNOW I was full of odiferous crap, Henry can think that song is about him.

Then maybe I’ll flip the tape, and see if my son likes to dance.

Slapdash Session: Styx, THE GRAND ILLUSION

TWow, man!  That ZEBRA is psychedelic!he Grand Illusion, 1977

Some geographic areas are stuck with unavoidable oversaturation of radio play, beyond all sense of recognition.

Springsteen || Jersey.
Mellencamp || Indiana.

Can LA avoid The Doors?  Or SF the Dead?

Styx is one of those unstoppable earworms for Chicago rock radio.

Let’s brass tack “unavoidable” here, shall we?

How many different versions have you heard on some of the best-known hits?

Can you quote the stupid throwaway line from a LIVE version of one of the overplayed songs, during the STUDIO version?

Because whenever I hear Dennis DeYoung belting “I think of childhood friends, and the dreeeeeeeeeams we had”, I find myself uncontrollably chiming in:

“Ah, we had dreams!”

I smile when I shout it.

Then grimace, like biting into a too-sweet apple on a humid day.  Too much, Dennis!  I’m super-saturated in your long-haired “Broadway Blues-rock” miasma.

The Grand Illusion is the first Styx album I recognized doing a rough-beast-slouch toward a Broadway musical feel.  And yes, that slouch did eventually culminate in the Bethlehem of  Kilroy Was Here and “Mr. Roboto”.

But don’t call it a concept album.  Styx didn’t do “concept albums”.   The Grand Illusion isn’t fucking TOMMY.  It’s “Lullaby Ziegfield Follies of 1977” — only fraught with meaning.

so if you think your life is complete confusion
’cause your neighbor’s got it made
just remember that it’s a grand illusion
and deep inside we’re all the same

Wow, that sings-along a LOT better than it reads.

Here’s the thing, and this is not the only Slapdash Tape that has this issue.  Most of these albums have 3-5 good songs, and a bunch of crap.

The Grand Illusion scorecard:

Enjoyable Bombastic Junk:

– “The Grand Illusion”:  epic, ridiculous synth and chunky guitar interplay, with George M. Cohan writig ans singing the lyrics.
– “Angry Young Man”:  good ol’ Tommy Shaw single.

– “Come Sail Away”:  Oh, you know you want to sing along, and see if you can hit the high notes at the end of “they climbed aboard their starship, and headed for the SKIIIIIIES!”  Come sail away with me, lads.

Decent B-Side:

– “Miss America”:  bonus points for the sarcastic riff from the actual “here she comes, miss america” song.



“Man in the Wilderness”

“Castle Walls”

And I only listened to the last track, “The Grand Finale”, to remember why I never, ever listened to the back half of The Grand Illusion.  You could see Dennis DeYoung, high on megalomania, thinking, “This — THIS! — will be the lift-the-disposable-lighters-in-the-air moment, before they file out to the parking lot of Alpine Valley, to their custom cargo vans and their sad, patheitic lives, lives to which at least I have brung a modicum of hope and beauty.”

Ah, Dennis, you had dreams.

Slapdash Flashback Tape Sessions

Last summer, when we moved into this house, west of St. Louis, my folks finally got me to drag the last of my stored crap out of the family cottage and into my fresh empty basement.

Last week, I finally got to one old briefcase that had in it:

– An assortment of pens, markers and scratch-pad paper

– Some dead double-A batteries

– A pile of old cassette tapes.

All those tapes were the ones that somehow made it back from NYC when I moved back to Chicago in 99, but never quite made it to the car tape deck rotation.  And so they didn’t get tossed when I added a CD player to my car.

Strangely, the car I am driving now is a ’98 Volvo, and has both the CD cartridge that loads in the trunk.

And a tape deck.

For a long while, the only tape I had in the car was some crackly-ass “Who’s Greatest Hits” — though luckily the section of tape “Substitute” was clear, and I’ve listened to that fine single about a thousand times recently.

Now, however, I have a Dierberg’s plastic bag stuffed with the tapes I actually felt like keeping.

Monday morning, I blindly grabbed a tape out of the bag, stuffed it into the tape deck


You understand, yes?