Thursday, March 31, 2011

Flea Circus or Flee 'Circus'?--an addendum

After further review in ye olde Circus magazine issues, I found some more interesting meat to chew on... 

I’m a little surprised I didn’t tackle the spectre that was Lou O’Neill, Jr.’s “Back Pages” column in my previous Circus blog post.  It’s just as well that I saved it for now, because I have quite a bit to discuss.  Lou, Jr. was your basic gossip hound/rumor monger—the Rona Barrett/Hedda Hopper of Rock music, so to speak—who tried to pass himself off as some sort of all-knowing authority on the Rock biz, all the while injecting his own unsolicited opinions along the way.  A feeling of déjà vu came over me while I perused various “Back Pages” pages, like I’d read this same kind of stuff even more recently than the ‘70s and ‘80s and then it hit me:  this guy’s writing style was almost a carbon-copy of yet another gossip maven I greatly loathe, former Kansas City Star columnist/column-inch-waster, Hearne Christopher, Jr.!  I detailed my distaste for the great and powerful Hearne in a blog piece here a couple years ago, and as I re-read O’Neill’s tripe, I marveled at how these two Juniors both used the same arcane phrases like “Heard on the streets…”, “Inside skinny/scoop”, “In the know…” and “Rumor has it…” so frequently that I began to wonder if they’re not the same person.  And when not-so-sweet Lou’s ego got as big as his fat head, his columns started featuring photos of him taken with various and sundry music and entertainment people, just to enhance his credibility and prove how “hip” he was, as if to say, “Dig me, I had my picture taken with Joan Jett—how do ya like of me now?”  Sorry Lou, a dork is still a dork, no matter whom one poses with.

Anyway, here’s a little compilation of Lou’s gems:

“’Music Must Change’ is sure to be one of the most talked-about Who songs ever recorded.”—Issue # 194, October 17, 1978

Riiiiight.  I’ve never heard all that many jaws flapping over “Music Must Change”, even amongst rank-and-file Who fans like myself.  I always thought it was one of the weaker tracks off Who Are You, and far too many people (music critics, especially) were reading way way way too much into Pete Townshend’s lyrics here, claiming it supposedly signaled some kind of seismic shift in The Who’s sound and/or in Rock music in general.  Keith Moon’s untimely passing right after it came out is merely a coincidence, but some people (O’Neill included) considered MMC to be some sort of premonition of his demise by Townshend, all because Moon didn’t even play on the track.  At most, it was quite possibly The Who’s quirkiest number, and to me it’s simply a footnote in their career instead of a revered classic or turning point.

“We’re calling it his strongest effort since Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  What we’re talking about, of course, is Elton John’s new album, A Single Man.  It’s obvious that the Madman From Across The Water went to the well with this record.  His back was to the wall.  But the really great talents bear down and thrive under this kind of pressure:  Reg Dwight was no exception.  Elton has definitely salvaged a large portion of his cherished “progressive” image with this new album.  It’s a commercial hit!  The single “Part-Time Love” is also climbing the charts”Issue 203, December 19, 1978

Oh, turn off the hype machine already, Lou!  Chuck the clichés, while you’re at it, too.  And in the words of the dude who Clint Eastwood wanted to make his day in Sudden Impact: “Who is ‘we’, sucka?”  I hated the way this smarmy hack always used “we”, “our” and “in our judgment” to make his column sound like it represented the consensus opinion of the entire Circus staff when it was merely his own personal opinions.

A Single Man was the beginning of E. John’s lost-in-the-wilderness period when he ceased writing with lyricist Bernie Taupin for about three years.  After five prolific years where virtually everything he touched turned to gold and/or platinum, the bottom was bound to fall out sometime, thus by 1977-78, Elton fell and fell hard.  He was also suffering the unfair-yet-predictable backlash for coming out as being gay, which did some major damage to his career for a while.  He even ditched his trademark crazy eyewear in favor of contacts, got his ear pierced and tried to look and act all serious all of a sudden, as the cover photo of ASM makes him look like some snooty aristocrat—a far cry from “Captain Fantastic” three years earlier.  He’d have been better served to just take an extended break from the music biz, but EJ still owed MCA more albums, so onward he trudged, working temporarily with lyricist Gary Osborne.  Meantime, Elton was lashing out in the press at other acts like Jethro Tull and the Moody Blues for putting out contractual obligation albums when all the while he was doing the very same thing!  The man himself has freely admitted what a miserable fuck he was during that time—he was so jaded, bored, drugged-out and burned-out and it’s obvious his heart wasn’t totally in his music at that point.

Getting back to Lou’s commentary:  "Strongest effort since Yellow Brick Road?!?"  Hardly!  Elton’s intervening LPs Captain Fantastic and Rock Of The Westies were as solid as anything else he’d done to that point, and I've always thought Caribou was unfairly drubbed merely because it was such an inevitable letdown after GYBR—a victim of unreasonably-high expectations.  Of his post-Yellow Brick Road studio output up to that point, only Blue Moves proved unsatisfying to me—it was too unfocused and would’ve been better as a single LP instead of a double album laden with throwaway tracks.  A Single Man did contain some good cuts, like “Part-Time Love” and one I thought could’ve been a hit single, “I Don’t Care”.  The best track was the mostly-instrumental “Song For Guy”, which was indeed a song for a guy, but not in the way all the homophobes out there might have you believe—it was about a young man named Guy Burchette, who was a messenger/gopher in Elton’s entourage who was killed in a moped accident.  Still and all, A Single Man wasn’t even as good as Caribou—let alone Yellow Brick Road—and was hardly the blockbuster “commercial hit" that Brother Lou cracked it up to be.  “P/T Love” climbed those charts all the way to #22, btw.  ASM was one of Elton’s more soulless and weaker efforts, IMHO.  Things got worse before they got better for EJ, too—witness the utterly pathetic 1979 disco album Victim Of Love that he pretty much phoned in—and it would be the early ‘80s before that cat named Hercules’ music would once again be relevant.

"Cheap Trick is playing with fire by utilizing pre-recorded tapes in concert.  Ask another big touring band (this one from England) what happens when the word gets out that you can’t perform songs ‘live’ without some help from the friendly Sony tape deck.  And besides it’s deceitful to allow people to think you’re live when in reality, you’re not.  ‘Nuff said.”Issue #225, July 10, 1979

“’Nuff said” was yet another overused grating/irritating Jr. O’Neill catchphrase.  No doubt he was referring here to The Who’s use of tapes of the synthesizer bits from “Baba O’Riley”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and songs from Quadrophenia, while chastising Cheap Trick for doing the same on “Surrender”.  Wait, it gets better…

“In our last issue we [‘I’?] stated flatly that Cheap Trick is utilizing pre-recorded tapes in concert.  This is incorrect…the truth of the matter is that a Cheap Trick roadie, hiding behind the curtains backstage is actually playing the keyboards…Let’s not split hairs.  CT is not using tapes.  But I [what happened to ‘we’, asshole?] still believe what they’re doing is not kosher.”Issue # 226, July 24, 1979

Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for the sound of Lou O’Neill Jr. extricating his foot from his mouth!  Queen always used taped accompaniment for the Scaramouche (sp?)/Galileo section of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the intro to Elton John’s “Funeral For A Friend” was always canned in concert, yet Brother Lou never bitched about that, so why all the fuss about CT?  Who the hell was this wanker to tell a band how to perform in concert anyhow?  Was he a professional musician?  Now I will say that if a band augmented their songs with tapes throughout an entire concert, I might have issues, but for one or two numbers that are especially difficult to reproduce live, who gives a Royal rip?

“The Rolling Stones are working on what probably will be their hottest record ever… Prediction:  The album will not only be the commercial success everyone expects, but will also be hailed as a creative monster.  Keith and Mick are working their magic again and the result is some of the greatest rock you’ll ever hear.  There may be two Number 1 singles on the next Stones LP”— Issue # 230, September 18, 1979

More grist from Lou Jr.’s hype machine.  That would be the fairly putrid Emotional Rescue debacle he refers to here.  Ironic that “She’s So Cold” was the only true standout track on such a “hot” album, and there weren’t no #1’s on it either.  Okay, the title track got to # 3, but it's not all that fondly-remembered amongst Stones fans.  Apart from their consistently-lame live albums, Rescue may well have been the biggest flop in the Stones’ career.  Lou’s prognostications had all the accuracy of Dubya’s WMD intelligence info.  Please witness the following, as well…

“One cut [from Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk] that’s gotta be a single…is Lindsey Buckingham’s ‘Not That Funny.’ The tune can’t miss…”Issue #234, November 27, 1979

Well, it did.  “Not That Funny” even managed to live up to its title, too…

“It saddens and sickens us to see one of our all-time favorite bands sell out for the lure of corporate money”—Issue #276, February 28, 1983, in regards to The Who’s 1982 “Farewell” tour.

Uhhh, as if the Stones were any better?  And again, there’s that “us” and “our” crap.  Again, I can’t stand it when scribes try to make their personal opinions sound like those of the entire publication they’re printed in.  It’s just phony pompous grandstanding in my book.  It’s true that Pete Townshend was a money-grubber in the ‘80s, and I too, could’ve done without the Schlitz logos everywhere on that 1982 Who tour.  But you know what?  The man has been extremely generous in donating his money and time to major charities, like the Secret Policeman's Ball and Teenage Cancer Trust, among others.  Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend is a lot of things, but he's certainly no Montgomery Burns.

Meantime, O’Neill also had this annoying habit of alluding to people in his little blurbs (usually under the heading “Inside Stuff or Secret Stuff”) without naming names, as if we readers could easily decipher whom he meant.  For example:  “A major label is very unhappy with its continuing large losses at a certain high-profile subsidiary.  The ax-man is honing the blade right now.”  Okay, Lou, care to elaborate a little more?  Some 33 years later, I STILL don’t know who he was referring to here.  What’s worse is he rarely, if ever, bothered to follow-up on any of these non-sequiturs in future issues.

To sum up,:  just as with Hearne Christopher’s “Cowtown Confidential” column in the Star, Lou O’Neill, Jr.’s “Back Pages” column was the epitome of vapidity.

Another example of why I view music critics merely as a subhuman species:

“The kids who are buying the album on the strength of ‘You Really Got Me’ won’t be disappointed even though the rest of the songs suffer by comparison.”—Dr. Oldie & Big Al, Issue 185, July 6, 1978, in their review of Van Halen’s classic debut album

First off, why does it take TWO people to review a record?  Secondly, WTF?!?  “The rest of the songs suffer by comparison”?  Which Van Halen album were these stoners listening to?  Surely not the one containing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Jamie’s Cryin’”, “Runnin’ With The Devil”, “Atomic Punk”, “On Fire” and “I’m The One”.  That album rocks from start to finish and is one of the greatest debut sets in Rock history.  You can bet these same two doofuses (doofi?) were just raving about the latest Elvis Costello album at the time.  As David Lee Roth himself accurately pointed out at the time, “The reason music critics like Elvis Costello so much is because most of them look like him…”

And here’s another…

“There is, though, one song that doesn’t work.  It’s glaringly weak and its position (next to last) gives it away.  Seemingly given the least attention, even synthesizers and a pounding sledgehammer beat can’t save “All My Love”.  Plant’s vocals don’t strain or even reach, and there’s nothing to distinguish the song from a product of other rock groups.”—Shel Kagan, Issue # 230, September 18, 1979, in his review of Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door

Hmmm, then why was this the most-frequently played track off ITTOD, Shel, baby?  While not one of my big fave Zep tracks, it sure sounded like a hit to me for being so “glaringly weak”.

Other misc. caca from the annals of Circus

“But I won’t be part of an assembly-line show like Kirshner or ‘Midnight Special’ that’s going to put me on in front of a band like Kiss.  The whole thing’s shoddy, and I’m not going to identify myself with acts like that.  I’m not going on with the giant letters B-I-L-L-Y in back of me, or with the ‘Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert’ logo…it’s not the Kirshner rock concert…if I’m out there, it’s the Billy Joel rock concert.”—Billy Joel, Issue 200, November 28, 1978, on his reluctance to do TV appearances in the pre-MTV days

Bill, I believe you are killing me!  Being the card-carrying Kiss fan I was at the time, I was majorly offended by “I’m not going to identify myself with acts like that.”  Okay, in 2011 I can kinda see his point—Billy’s hardly a spectacle-type performer, and I respect that—but back then it came off to me as such an elitist put-down of my favorite band, and I took it wrong.  Because of this quote, it would be a couple more years before I finally warmed up to Mr. Piano Man’s music and truly embraced him.

The recently-departed Mr. Kirshner didn’t get no love from The Cars, either:  They turned down “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert”, according to Ric Ocasek, “because we couldn’t stand his fucking introductions.”Issue # 229, September 4, 1979

They also passed on appearing on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” for similar reasons:  “they didn’t like the show.”  Gotta admire their honesty, if nothing else…

One rather curious item I found in Circus was an advert for a special edition Kiss issue—published by Creem magazine!  Why on earth would you accept advertisements from your direct competition?!?  Burger King sure doesn’t hype Big Macs, now do they?  Very strange…

In a feature about Styx (Issue # 235, December 11, 1979) Circus publicly outed bassist Chuck Panozzo about 22 years before he did so himself with a caption under his photo that read, “Panozzo’s dark looks can mask his gayer moods…”  Nice job, Circus, I bet that just made CP’s day to see this in a national magazine while he was still struggling internally with his sexual identity.  I just found this rather odd because it was so out of step with the article in the first place.  I highly recommend Chuck’s otto-biography, The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies, and My Life With Styx, by the way—interesting stuff, not only about him, but the band, as well.

From the Strange Bedfellows Dept.:  Issue #243, May 27, 1980, featured this photo featuring (L-R), Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter, Andy Warhol, Ted Nugent and—keep your smelling salts handy—Truman Capote!  And Nugent has his arm around the latter, too, as he gazes longingly at Warhol!  I always thought Theodocious Atrocious didn’t play for that team!  And I'm clueless as to what event brought these five together in the first place.

From letter-writer D.W. in Pittsburgh in Issue #245, July 22, 1980:  “There’s no excuse for [David Lee] Roth’s sickening arrogance and constant use of four-letter words. He needs lessons in manners, maturity and class.”
Uhhh, D-Dub, this is Rock ‘N’ Roll, not the Christian Science Reading Room, bud…

In an ad for Import LPs on sale, Black Sabbath’s Live At Last, their legendary ode to marijuana “Sweet Leaf” was listed as “Sweet Lease”!  Good ol’ Ozzy and Geezer were really into rental properties in those days…

Issue #254, April 30, 1981, did a feature entitled, “The fiery return of The Who” in regards to the quite flaccid Face Dances album.  Apart from John Entwistle’s contributions “The Quiet One” and “You”, the majorly disappointing Face Dances had all the spark and flame of a Zamfir album.  Chalk that feature title up to the Circus hype machine.  It’s no small coincidence that you can’t spell Face Dances without ‘feces’!  I hereby quoth the “Men on Film” boys:  “HATED IT!”

Issue # 256, June 30, 1981 had a bit on Ted Nugent’s new backing band, the D.C. (Detroit City) Hawks, which already featured three lead guitar players.  “Some fuckin’ SWAT team, ain’t they?” Ted mused in his inimitably humble manner.  Three guitarists plus Nugent—can you say OVERKILL?  Ted quickly learned that bigger isn’t necessarily better, and by 1982, he wisely welcomed back his original singer/guitarist Derek St. Holmes and also added journeyman drummer Carmine Appice to his band.

Issue # 273, November 30, 1982:  Circus printed a list of “10 records to shun at any cost” and one of them was Motorhead’s classic Ace Of Spades.  But in the same article, they urged readers to rush out and nab those latest Gino Vannelli and Gary Numan releases.  Surely they jest(ed)!  Even dumber, Ace Of Spades wasn’t even Motorhead’s current release—it was already two years old by then and Lemmy and the boys had put out two subsequent albums by late ’82.