SOUNDTRACK: FRANKIE SPARO-Arena Hostile (VPRO Radio Recordings) [CST 017] (2001).
I didn’t love Sparo’s debut album, but a year later while on tour with A Silver Mt. Zion (whom I do love) he went into a studio in Amsterdam to re-record some of those songs. I’ll let the Constellation site tell you what this EP is and why I like it so very very much,
In January 2001, Frankie Sparo toured Europe with a Silver Mt Zion. Musicians from the latter group worked on new arrangements of songs from Sparo’s debut record My Red Scare, adding strings, organ and electronics to Frankie’s guitar and beatbox compositions. Some of the results were captured in a live studio performance recorded live to 2-track at VPRO radio in Amsterdam, where a feverish flu found Sparo in a ravaged, hallucinatory state – which only added to the dark magic of these recordings. The four songs on this EP are all first takes, beautifully recorded by the good people at VPRO. Along with 3 songs reworked from the debut album, the EP also includes a heartbreaking cover of the Rolling Stones’ “I Am Waiting”, which Sparo performed solo a number of times in concert.
“Diminish Me NYC” is great in this version with an off-kilter electronic arrangement and strings. “The Night That We Stayed In” which I singled out on the debut album has two violins, turning the song into an even cooler number (although the “throw your hands in the air” line seems moderately less comical now). “Here Comes The Future” has an almost dance beat—a slow dance mind you, but still, a good one and ends with some organ waves. And the cover of “I am Waiting” must be the slowest cover of a Stones song ever. I don’t know the original, but I bet it sounds nothing like this.
I really like this EP a lot and it makes me want to like the debut album even more–if I had more patience with it.
[READ: April 15, 2014] 3 book reviews
This month Bissell reviewed non-fiction three books.
The first is Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North. In this book North argues that newness, that novelty, has always been a problem: “one of the very first ideas to trouble the consciousness of humankind.” This dates all the way back to Aristotle who argued that nothing came from nothing; that everything came from something else. Even the Renaissance, that period of great exploration and creativity was really just mimicking classics (hence the word renaissance). The new tends to be looked at askance, so we get terms like “novelty act.”
North says that one thing which is genuinely new is our proclivity to turn everything into information as gigabits or as abstract knowledge.
I’m intrigued by the premise of this book but not enough to want to read it and frankly, Bissell doesn’t make it sound that compelling.
Bissell connects this attitude about newness and novelty to the rock world (and rightly so). Where we (well, some people) value novelty and criticize anything that is derivative. Which leads to the second book (another one I don’t want to read but for different reasons). Beatles vs. Stones by John McMillian. The Beatles were arguably the most original band ever since no one did what they did before them. And then, arguably, the Rolling Stones came along and did just what the Beatles did a little bit afterwards.
Some easy examples:
- The cover of the Rollings Stones’ first album is compositionally similar to the cover of The Beatles’ second album.
- A few months after the Beatles released their ballad “Yesterday,” the Stones released their ballad “As Tears Go By.” (The song was recorded earlier but was initially dismissed as not Stones enough).
- After the Beatles used a sitar in “Norwegian Wood,” the Stones used one (in a different way) in “Paint It Black.”
- And quotemaster himself, John Lennon, once said, “Everything we do, the Stones do four months later.” [The Stones did still released some great music after The Beatles broke up, of course, even if now they play nothing they wrote after 1981 on tour anymore].
And this Lennon quote is typical of this book which is a gossipy casual look at the differences between the Beatles and Stones [Beatles when you're writing, Stones when you're jogging; Beatles when you're alone, Stones when you're with people). But in addition to comparisons, he includes scenes like when the Beatles attended a Stones show and when Jagger and Richards were at Shea Stadium for The Beatles' arrival.
There are many similarities between the bands, although the biggest different seems to be that the Stones never really became friends, while The Beatles were friends till the end.
Of course, the Stones has always been cooler than the Beatles, which is a nice segue into Bissell's third book: The Cool School: Writing from America's Hip Underground by Glenn O'Brien.
O'Brien's thesis is the seemingly obvious one that "cool" is not a new thing--that early tribes doing war dances had cool people playing syncopated drums in the corner. But he is not arguing about coolness, he is collecting "a louche amuse bouche [that must have been fun to write]…a primer and inspiration for future thought crime.” The book includes works by the likes of Henry Miller, Delmore Schwartz, LeRoi Jones and Eric Bogosian. I like some of these guys, but as soon as I see them assembled together, I know I’m not going to be going anywhere near this book.
Bissell says that there is some cool stuff here: Miles Davis writing about Charlie Parker for example, but most of the cool seems to be trying too hard. Like the “charmlessly dated” Norman Mailer piece, “The White Negro.”
I appreciate the way Bissell sums up what comes through from the book: “to be cool…is to make the conscious choice, every step of the way through life, to care about the wrong damn thing.”
It is comforting to come away from one of these book reviews without wanting to read anything.