Sunday, December 31, 2006

Get Crazy (1983)

I hope everyone had a good Christmas, and will have a Happy New Year as well.

Last night, I watched a movie that I enjoy watching on or around the New Year's holiday. Get Crazy is a hilarious cult film from 1983. It's a wacky farce about attempts to stage a New Year's Eve Concert at an arena called the Saturn Theater. That fictional venue is based on the Fillmore East, where director Allan Arkush was once employed. Arkush is best known for directing the 1979 cult film Rock 'N' Roll High School. Get Crazy has the same energy and free-spiritedness as that movie, but for my money, it is far more inspired and amusing. It is a fast-paced series of cartoonish vignettes which are both sharp and funny.

Daniel Stern stars as the arena's stage manager, who is scrambling to get the venue ready for the event. Ed Begley Jr. and former pop idols Bobby Sherman and Fabian play villains who want to sabotage the Saturn, even if they have to blow it up in mid-concert. That may give you a clue about the movie's wacked-out sense of humor, but Arkush steadily keeps the laughs coming.

Malcolm McDowell stands out as an egomaniacal rock star who is clearly based on Mick Jagger. Almost as good are Lou Reed as a Bob Dylan-like folk singer with writer's block, Bill Henderson as a Muddy Waters-like blues singer, and Howard Kaylan of the Turtles as a Jerry Garcia type who thinks the year is 1969. (The movie is actually set in 1983, the year in which it was released). Former Doors drummer John Densmore plays McDowell's drummer, and former Fear frontman Lee Ving plays a barbaric punk-rocker named Piggy (based on Iggy Pop?) who wears barbed wire across his chest.

If you sit through the closing credits, you'll see and hear Lou Reed perform his great lost song "Little Sister", which has only been released on this film's soundtrack album and on Reed's box set Between Thought And Expression, both of which are out of print.

Get Crazy is the type of fast-paced farce that viewers will want to watch repeatedly to catch the jokes that they missed during previous viewings. I know that I have watched it countless times, and still get a kick out of it every time. The movie was only available on VHS in the '80's from Embassy Home Entertainment (Embassy VHS 2068). A DVD release will be welcome for those of us who are wearing out our VHS copies (I can't be the only one!). Amazon.com gives customers the option of "voting" for its release on DVD. If you ask Amazon to notify you by e-mail when the DVD becomes available, Amazon will let the studio know how many customers are waiting for the title. So, let's stand up and be counted!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Goodbye, Tower Records

The Tower Records store in my area has closed its doors. It happened on Wednesday night. A friend of mine was there on the last day, and informed me that it was the last day. Today, I walked past it during my Christmas shopping errands, and the once bright and colorful store was in complete darkness.

The writing was on the wall, of course. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2004, but said its stores would remain open. In early October of this year, the announcement was made that Tower Records had been sold to a company that was going to liquidate it. Days later, the going-out-of-business sales began. I remember going in my local Tower in mid-October and stocking up on several CDs at 20% off. The next time I went, I purchased three more CDs at 40% off. The next time, CDs were being sold at 60% off -- but I could no longer find more titles that interested me. My friend told me that everything was being sold at 80% off on the final day, but he was only able to find three CDs and one DVD that vaguely interested him.

It's sad to see Tower Records go under. I can remember, during the late '80's, when the nearest Tower Records to me was halfway across my city. I loved the place, and going there was an event. I used to go there to find CDs and tapes that usually weren't stocked at other major record stores. Then, something wonderful happened. In 1990, a Tower Records store opened less than two miles from my house.

I was in heaven. Whenever I wanted to buy a CD or tape that I couldn't find at Sam Goody or similar places, the place to look was just ten minutes away. Soon, I began to make almost all of my music purchases at Tower, because the prices were usually a few dollars lower than they were at the other places. What's more, there was a Tower Video store at that location as well. I was suddenly able to rent many VHS titles that I wasn't able to rent from my neighborhood video stores (there were no Blockbuster stores in my vicinity until a few years later).

Tower Records/Video actually became a place where I hung out. It was a cool place to be. The employees usually seemed like cool people to be around. It was open until midnight, 365 days a year. It was a unique experience, being able to buy a CD and rent a video after 10 P.M., especially on a day like Easter or Thanksgiving.

There was almost always a good sale going on at Tower that enabled me to stock up on CDs for my collection. I used to look forward to February, when there was usually some type of sale that offered $11.99 titles for $9 or less. (That sale stopped happening somewhere along the line). I used to cheerfully bring stacks of CDs to the register for purchase. Also, every January there was an annual inventory reduction sale in which every CD was on sale for a few dollars off -- including imports.

That was another thing that was great about Tower back then: their selection of import CDs. Being the Rarebird that I am, I was always looking for hard-to-find albums. If I couldn't get them at the used record stores in my area (all of which have long since disappeared), I could sometimes find an import CD at Tower. If I went there often enough (and I went to Tower pretty often in those days), I would eventually find almost any type of import CD in their bins.

Another thing that set Tower apart from other stores, even in its later days, was its way of promoting CDs from lesser-known artists. I can remember one Sunday summer afternoon in 1998, when a local band played a small concert inside the store to promote their CD. Recently, a columnist in my local newspaper bemoaned the fact that Tower was closing, blaming it on a CD-buying public which failed to support a store that promoted obscure artists.

But those of us who understand economics know that the company's problems ran deeper than that. It was competition that killed Tower Records. For me, the picture began to change in 1997, when I first became connected to the internet. Tower's selection didn't seem quite as impressive after I gained access to online music stores which offered nearly every CD in print and shipped them to my door. Imports became easier to obtain than ever.

Tower also faced tough brick-and-mortar competition. Stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart began to sell CDs at lower prices than Tower. I can remember one day a few years back, when I stopped at Best Buy on my way home from work, and saw two CDs which were released that day being offered at very low prices. Tower Records was only a few miles down the road, so I did some comparison shopping. Tower also sale-priced those two newly released CDs, but their prices were a few dollars higher than at Best Buy. What did I do? I got back in my car and drove those few miles back to Best Buy and bought the CDs there. Did I do this to cold-heartedly betray my beloved Tower Records? Of course not. I merely wished to save about five of my hard-earned dollars, just as I did in the days when I bought CDs at Tower instead of Sam Goody. Another thing I remember about that day: Best Buy had plenty of customers in the store. Tower was eerily empty and quiet.

And, of course, the whole mp3 thing probably hurt Tower's sales as well.

As for Tower Video: it was the first video store I knew of that stopped renting VHS tapes. They did this somewhere around the year 2000, before I owned a DVD player. Their VHS selection had dwindled anyway. Their selection of DVD rentals was small, and it wasn't long before they stopped their video rentals altogether, and became only a seller. In any case, the whole Tower Video renting experience now seems like ancient history in the age of Netflix.

I knew the end was near a few years ago, when the store began to close at 10 P.M. instead of midnight. There is really nothing like that old after-ten Tower experience.

Even though I didn't shop at Tower as much in its later days, I was always glad it was still there. But now, alas, it is only a memory. Thank you, Tower Records, for all the great years.

For the time being, Tower Records Online is still in business, but I don't know how much longer it will be. In any case, it's truly the end of an era.

Monday, December 11, 2006

John Hiatt - Live at the Hiatt

The folks at Hip-O Select have issued a 5000-CD limited edition of Live at the Hiatt, a recording of an October 1993 John Hiatt concert in London. Hiatt was backed by the Guilty Dogs, the alt-rock trio who played on his 1993 studio album Perfectly Good Guitar. Live at the Hiatt was originally available only as a promotional giveaway item connected with that album. Information is here:

http://www.hip-oselect.com/scr.public.product.asp?product_id=9F1B71B5-AB67-415A-B2C4-9B0E27E02431&cat_id=42029550-8DEE-4E9C-B712-5F1511256DD9

For Hiatt-philes like myself, it's good to have the disc commercially available while the supply lasts. Still, a lot has happened since 1993. At that time, there was no such thing as a live album from Hiatt. But since then, two have been commercially released: Hiatt Comes Alive at Budokan in 1994, and Live From Austin TX in 2005. And -- get this -- both of those albums were also recorded in 1993 with the same band. Therefore, Hiatt's casual fans will probably find Live at the Hiatt to be a redundant item.

But Hiatt's devotees will find Live at the Hiatt interesting for a few reasons. First, it's been a rare collectible item until now, and apparently will be again soon. Second, it's good stuff. Hiatt's voice sounds a bit road-worn, but he seems to be having a good time. During the song "Slow Turning", he unexpectedly drifts into a medley of well-known classics.

But the most surprising thing about the disc is that it contains a performance of "I Don't Even Try", a song from his 1983 album Riding With The King. In my experience, it is a rare occasion when Hiatt performs a song that dates back farther than his 1987 album Bring The Family. I have seen Hiatt perform live a number of times since the late-'80's, but I have never heard him perform a pre-1987 song. The inclusion of that song makes Live at the Hiatt a keeper for this particular follower of his career.

While we are on the subject of Mr. Hiatt: his 2000 album Crossing Muddy Waters is now out of print, and has therefore become appropriate for Rarebirdian reviewing. I have added a review of the album to my John Hiatt page:

http://rarebird9.net/hiatt.html

Al Jardine, Family and Friends

Do you remember when, several years ago, former Beach Boys member Alan Jardine assembled a touring band called Beach Boys Family and Friends, but was forced to change the name after Mike Love took legal action against him? It was later known as Al Jardine, Family and Friends as a result of that feud. Besides Jardine, the band included his two sons Matt and Adam, Brian Wilson's two daughters Carnie and Wendy (both from Wilson Phillips), and nine instrumentalists, some of whom had previously played with the Beach Boys road band. A November 1999 performance was captured on an independently released CD called Live In Las Vegas. It was released in 2002, but it is already out of print (indie CDs tend to get discontinued fairly quickly). I recently added a review of the album to my Beach Boys page:

http://rarebird9.net/beachboys.html

Purists may object to the CD's existence, but they shouldn't. Jardine and his ensemble did the Beach Boys legacy proud with this disc.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Lou Reed "Coney Island Baby" reissue

Just recently I picked up the CD reissue of Lou Reed's 1976 album Coney Island Baby, which was released this past September. This was a face-saving album for Reed, recorded shortly after his notorious 1975 double-album Metal Machine Music successfully pissed off nearly everyone within earshot. It's one of the best albums Reed made during the '70's. It's surprisingly down-to-earth, which was a big change not only from Metal Machine Music, but also from Reed's cartoonish glam-rock period in the earlier '70's. Coney Island Baby was Reed's warmest and most civilized solo album up to that point, picking up where his self-titled 1972 debut had left off before he detoured into Transformer-era self-indulgence. The title track, "Crazy Feeling", and "A Gift" showed a new and surprising sensitivity. If you prefer Reed's dark side, "Kicks" is an unsettling song sung from the point of view of a psycho who kills for thrills. Velvet Underground aficionados will be interested in the version of "She's My Best Friend" which Reed recorded for this album. It was a then-unreleased VU song which later turned up on the album titled VU. He seems to have been singing it to the tune of "Lisa Says", another then-unreleased VU song which later turned up on VU.

The 2006 reissue has a very crisp remastered sound, and it contains six worthwhile bonus tracks. Two of them, "Downtown Dirt" and "Leave Me Alone", were previously available on Reed's 1992 box set Between Thought And Expression, which, by the way, is now out of print. Another one, "Nowhere At All", was the B-side of "Charley's Girl". The other three were previously unreleased, and (like "Downtown Dirt") feature ex-Velvet Doug Yule on bass and guitar. Those tracks are alternate versions of "Crazy Feeling" (engaging), "She's My Best Friend" (rather awkward-sounding), and the title track (superior to the album version).

It's good to finally have Coney Island Baby available on CD in the U.S., especially with the clean sound and bonus tracks that this reissue offers.