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LORD OF THE STRINGS: Q&A With Dick Dale

March 17th, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally posted on July 16th, 2012. To mark the sad passing of Dick Dale at the age of 81, we are re-posting it.

BY JONATHAN VALANIA Surf music? Dick Dale invented the stuff. Pure mainlined adrenaline, it is. Like a pocketful of white lightning. Nitroglycerin on hot wax. Surely you’ve seen the opening moments of Pulp Fiction. Easily the most thrilling marriage of profanity, felony and surf music in the history of American cinema. Rock guitar? He re-invented it. He is more or less the bridge between Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. He worked closely with Leo Fender — godfather creator of the essential machinery of rock, the Fender guitar and the Fender amp — to advance the power and the scope of the electric guitar. He pioneered the idea of guitar as nitro-burning funny car. He made it a fast machine and louder than it had ever been before. When you are packing out the ballrooms of Southern California with 4,000 kids a night, as Dale routinely did in the early 60s, you’re gonna need a lot of firepower. Before Dick, guitar amps didn’t go to 11. After Dick, they did. Now 81-years-old, Dick’s been rocking’ and rolling for more than 50 years. Nothing — not cancer, not diabetes, not renal failure — can stop him. Long may he rock. DISCUSSED: How to surf, Quentin Tarantino, Gene Krupa, surfing, beating cancer, Leo Fender, John Travolta, surfing, going blind, Egyptian medicine, and the angels of mercy.

PHAWKER: Unlike, say, The Beach Boys, you actually used to surf correct?

DICK DALE: Sun up to sun down.

PHAWKER: What advice would you offer to non-surfers?

DICK DALE: Well, you should certainly get someone who has been surfing a long time to give you tips on what not to do with your board as you’re walking out into the ocean. Many times, some people will put the board down horizontal to their body on the water and the water will come real, real slow, you won’t even see it happen when it happens, and it will push the board upward right into your face. So you should always have the board pointing out towards the ocean, the nose of the board, and you should stand beside it with your hands on the board. When you go out in the water and you’re paddling out, I used to always start out paddling fish style on my stomach and when I was tiring I’d get up on my knees and paddle then go back down on my stomach. You’ve got to be careful sometimes when you’re grabbing the rails of the board when your hands are wet, a lot of the times a person put wax on the board and on the rails there was the wax, and your hands will slip off out into the water and you’ll just smash your face into the board and you could break your cheek or get injured that way. Another thing, I don’t want to take up all your time …

PHAWKER: No. Go ahead.

DICK DALE: When you’re paddling out to the water and the waves are coming at you, one’s going to come over you. Well what I used to do was to lean forward, grab the nose of my board with both hands so that I’m laying on it and I’d roll over and pull the nose down towards my head so that the waves would go right over the top of me and continue rolling as I went through the wave. Some people, they’ll sit forward and they’ll kind of duck their head down and push the nose up but I don’t advise that. I advise them to, if they’re laying down or just kneeling paddling, just grab the nose with both hands, like 10 or 12 inches down from the tip of the nose on each side of the rail, and then just spin over upside down in the water and pull that nose down so that the waves go over you. You don’t want that wave to break on you and slam the board up into your head.

PHAWKER: It sounds like a good way to get knocked unconscious.
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BEING THERE: Meek Mill @ The Met Philly

March 16th, 2019

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Photo by DYLAN LONG

Meek Mill is for the people. This should come as no surprise if you’re even vaguely familiar with the rapper-turned philanthropist and criminal justice reform leader. His ethos is speaking truth to power – on and offstage, in and out of the studio. Hell, City Council just named this weekend “Meek Mill Weekend” to honor his dedicated efforts to use his platform to incite positive change within his community and beyond. This formal recognition of Meek as the king of Philly coincided with his two-night stand at The Met Philly. And what a homecoming it was.

Thousands of flashing phones glistened off Meek’s pristine bling as pyro and CO2 exploded in front of the sea of fans packed into the former opera house as bangin’ 808s relentlessly shook the foundations of the newly restored venue. He blew through a set full of bangers, odes to loved ones lost to the streets, and back-in-the-day tracks that only his true Day Ones could properly appreciate. “This is what I love about growing up in Philly,” said Meek, gleaming. “When I’m on the road I can’t do my old shit.” His setlist ranged from recent heat like “Millidelphia” and “Uptown Vibes,” all the way back to Meek’s very first release, “In My Bag.”

One critical component to the night quickly became apparent: this night was for Philly. Not Havertown, not Bryn Mawr, not Villanova. This night was another glistening chapter in Meek’s story, which began once upon a time on Berks Street in North Philadelphia. “I came up from the streets,” Meek shouted. “If you here tonight and you lost a loved one to the streets put a light up in the air. If you have a loved one and you can’t take 60 seconds to put a light up for them…” Meek made it out of his struggles and found success despite intense roadblocks throughout his life. A drug and weapons charge dating back ten years triggered a never-ending timeline of probation and scrutiny throughout his recent life, landing him back in prison for, get ready for it, riding a dirt bike. The probation that Meek has endured on top of the recurring instances of police brutality against black citizens in the U.S. has strongly informed his bold and passionate stance in support of criminal justice reform.

Images of black leaders, black victims of police brutality and even Meek’s own mug shot flashed upon the stage’s backdrop throughout songs like “100 Summers.” He dedicated break after break between songs to empowering everyone at whatever stage in life they found themselves in, even as a fight broke out not far into the crowd from where Meek stood. “I’m tryna preach black power and y’all over here rumblin’,” he said, smirking at the crowd as the situation was defused.
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NEW DAY RISING: Q&A W/ Former Husker Du/Current Porcupine Bassmaster Greg Norton

March 15th, 2019

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BY JONATHAN VALANIA
Five years ago, I went to Portland to profile Bob Mould for a MAGNET cover story. In the course of many hours of interviews, I asked Mould the question he’s been asked 457,876,621 times on the off-chance that the 457,876,622nd time he’s asked if Husker Du will ever regroup the answer would be different.

No such luck.

“There’s no need, there’s no need,” he says.”That band did everything it had to do the first time around. To try to put the lightning back in that bottle ain’t going to happen. You know, I’ll be really simple about it. Grant could stuff that lightning back in the bottle and I’d come and rip the cap off it. And vice versa. That tension and that friction made for, you know, that good — when the competition was in good nature and good spirit, it did great things. When it became destructive it destroyed it. And you just PORCUPINEdon’t go back to stuff like that. Nobody in their right mind should ever go back to something like that. You know, that was a great band, you know, great band. And there’s no way it could be as good in the future as it was even close to the end. So why bother?”

Why bother? I’ll tell you ‘why bother.’ Husker Du, along with REM and the Replacements, formed a troika of indie-rock royalty that produced some of the greatest music of the early to mid-80s. Nineteen eighty-four was their annus mirabilis. REM released Reckoning, The Replacements released Let It Be and Husker Du released Zen Arcade and New Day Rising. All three soon signed major label deals with varying results. The Replacements released four albums of increasingly diminished returns before limping across the finish line in 1991, not with a bang but a whimper. A reconstituted version of the surviving ‘Mats toured extensively for the better part of 2015 before pulling the plug again — perhaps permanently.

REM would, of course, go on to global stardom before eventually calling it a career in 2011. Husker Du lasted just two albums, the uneven Candy Apple Grey and the overlong and underwhelming Warehouse: Songs And Stories, having peaked creatively with 1986’s Flip Your Wig. Come 1988 the Huskers were history. But I saw them live back in the day and I’m here to tell you that from 1984 to 1986 Husker Du was The Greatest Fucking Band On Earth. Transcendental, supersonic, louder than bombs. Like The Byrds circa “Eight Miles High” being sucked inside the turbo engine of a 747.

That’s why I bothered.

But then in 2017 Grant Hart passed away — at the ridiculously premature age of 56 from liver cancer and Hep C, the cruel consequences of decades of intravenous drug use — rendering all talk of a Husker Du reunion moot. Nobody took the news harder than Greg Norton, the Sphynx-like bassist in Husker Du who nailed down their din with sly fox grin beneath his trademark handlebar mustache. After Husker Du imploded in 1988, and after a brief run with Grey Area, a band he formed with Husker Du audio engineer Colin Mansfield, Norton hung up his bass to pursue the chef life, opening a restaurant in Red Wing Minnesota called The Nortons’ Restaurant.

Ten years ago, Norton shuttered the restaurant, hung up his apron and started making his living a husker_zenfknowledgeable purveyor of fine wines to area restaurants. Concurrently, he pulled his bass out of storage, forming a short-lived instrumental band called Con Queso before transitioning into another short-lived band called Gang Font feat. Interloper. In 2016, he joined Minneapolis-based alt-rock mainstays Porcupine, who are currently on tour in support of their third album, What You’ve Heard Isn’t Real. Porcupine plays Johnny Brenda’s tonight with west coast punk legends The Flesh Eaters. Earlier this week, we got Norton on the horn. DISCUSSED: Wine, cooking, bass, mustaches, Porcupine, The Mary Tyler Moore theme song, how he met Grant Hart and Bob Mould, how Husker Du got their name, and why they went bust in 1988.

PHAWKER: Let’s start with Porcupine. You guys are out on the road as we speak, correct?

GREG NORTON: Yes we are.

PHAWKER: And how is that going?

GREG NORTON: It’s going quite well, actually. Tonight we’re in Grand Rapids, MIchigan. It’s night three of eight shows that we’re playing in support of The Flesh Eaters in the eastern leg of their tour. We started with them in St. Paul on Saturday night; we were in Chicago last night. We play tomorrow, then we have a big break on Wednesday from them because we are playing Albany Wednesday at The Low Beat, headlining. Then we’ll hook back up with them in Boston on Thursday. And then in Philly Friday, D.C. on Saturday, and then wrap it all up on St. Patrick’s Day in New York City at the Bowery Ballroom.

PHAWKER: Is this the first time being out on an extended rock-and-roll tour since the Husker Du days?

GREG NORTON: RIght after Husker Du broke up, I had a band called Grey Area and we did one kind of extended tour where we were out for a few weeks. That would have been in, like, 1989. So we made it through the Midwest, down to Texas, and worked our way back up to Ohio, Michigan, Chicago, and then home. Since then…ya know…since I’ve been in Porcupine, we’ve gotten out for, usually, long weekends. Last weekend we were out for three nights. This will be the longest trip in 35 years or 30 years or whatever. Starting tonight every place that I’ll be playing, with the exception of New York City, this will be the first time I’ve played in any of these towns since Husker Du broke up. And it’s gonna be my Grand Rapids debut.

PHAWKER: How does it feel to be back on the road? I think we’re roughly the same age? I’m 53 and you’re in your 50s as well, yes?New-Day-Rising

GREG NORTON: I will turn 60 on [March 15].

PHAWKER: Congratulations! How does it feel to be back on the road at 60?

GREG NORTON: Well, it’s definitely a lot of fun being back on the road. A lot of things haven’t really changed in the last 40 years as far as how it goes, ya know? You get in the van, you drive someplace, you wait, and then hurry up, then wait…load in, sound check, sit around and wait…play your gig, get the gear out. A lot of things are about the same. Yesterday on the way to Chicago, we were talking about how we have all been a lot of bands over the years and we remember being on that two dollar a day/three dollar a day per diem.

PHAWKER: So bottom line is…you guys are enjoying yourselves!

GREG NORTON: We are enjoying ourselves, yeah.

PHAWKER: I also think I read that you are a father again recently?

GREG NORTON: I was a first-time father at the age of 55. So my daughter, Coco, just turned four and a half, and then I’ve got a younger daughter, Stella, who is three and a quarter. So…two daughters very close in age.

PHAWKER: So what made you, at this stage of the game, throw your hat back in and start recording and performing with a rock and roll band?

GREG NORTON: Well, what got me back in was the opportunity. Ever since the first time I’d seen Porcupine, I had great admiration for Casey [Virock] and his songwriting and guitar playing. I hadn’t seen them for a while, so when I first joined the band was my first opportunity to meet Ian [Prince] and play with him and he’s…he’s a pretty good drummer. [laughs] He’s sitting right here. Ian’s great. Playing with these guys is a lot of fun. We all know what we’re doing and what’s going on. There’s not a lot of bullshit. We had an interview a couple months ago and I made a comment about how it’s nice being in a band not being distracted by the folly of youth, and the interviewer was like “Well I’m 26…what do you mean by that?” And I’m like “Hehehe…well…”

PHAWKER: “You’ll find out.”husker_WIG

GREG NORTON: Yeah. You do this because you love the music, and you want to get out and play it. And that’s what we’re doing. There are no ulterior motives for why we are at work on the road — except that it sells some merch.

PHAWKER: How would you describe the Porcupine sound? I haven’t heard the previous albums; I’ve only heard the new ones. I’m assuming they’re not incredibly dissimilar. How would you describe the sound of the band or the vibe you’re going for?

GREG NORTON: Obviously a power trio. Driving rhythm section. The way we’ve been putting the music together has had a rhythm section where it kind of has the chance to stand out and propel the music along. And Casey kind of frames everything up with the guitar work, and kind of layers his vocals over the top. I would imagine some people would be able to go, like, “Oh, you can pick out this influence, that influence.” But I think all three of us have a very distinct sound that works really well together.

PHAWKER: Last I’d heard, when Husker Du had sort of imploded, you had gone off to pursue cooking. You became a chef; you opened a restaurant. Where does that stand? Is that still your day gig/your forte?

GREG NORTON: No. I got out of the restaurant business about ten years ago. I do not miss it. I certainly don’t miss the hours, although the hours in the restaurant business and in rock and roll are kinda similar as far as late nights and stuff like that. But no, I got out of the restaurant biz…and there are relationships with customers and things like that so…you miss seeing those people on a regular basis. But in a sense, though, [leaving the restaurant business] also got me to a point where I enjoy cooking again. It’s different when you’re just gonna sit down and cook for your family or yourself or your friends, as opposed to “Let’s see if we can run through 150 covers here tonight.”

PHAWKER: So you got out of the restaurant business ten years ago. May I ask you what you picked up in the absence of that?

GREG NORTON: Well, I guess I didn’t totally get out of it. I work for a wine distributor now. We import wines and work with some domestic/U.S. producers. I go around to restaurants and retail outlets and I sell them fine wine. huskerdu_large

PHAWKER: That definitely seems like a much easier job than slaving over a hot stove.

GREG NORTON: Yeah. Like any job it’s got its pluses and minuses. I have a book that is small wineries, family owned producers. And when I started selling wine, I’m like “OK, this is sorta like record stores.” You have your stores that are only interested in the top 40 and then you’ve got your stores that are looking for what’s the next underground thing or the independent label or whatever. So that’s kinda more the territory that I exist in. I’m not out pushing grocery store brands that are stacked up everywhere. It’s families, not factories. Real wine.

PHAWKER: Are you a wine enthusiast/connoisseur or is this just a job unconnected from your personal interests/tastes?

GREG NORTON: Well, when I got into the restaurant business and went to start putting together a wine list, I had to start learning about wine. And so that became sort of a side passion. And I was a wine buyer in the restaurant for 16 years. So it’s a natural progression to step over to the sales side of it. It’s one of those things like…you don’t think you really know anything, but then someone will ask you about something and you start telling them about it and say, “I guess I do know a couple of things.” It’s like anything in life; there’s always so much more to learn and pursue and discover. It keeps it fresh and interesting.

PHAWKER: I must confess, I know almost nothing about wine except that I can enjoy a fine glass.

GREG NORTON: The only rule when it comes to wine is to drink what you like.

PHAWKER: Would you indulge me and let me ask you a few Husker Du questions?HUSKERS_WAREHOUSE

GREG NORTON: Sure!

PHAWKER: So, two quick Husker Du war stories to establish my “Du bonafides,” if you will. My girlfriend first saw you guys in a basement in West Philly. This was probably circa Zen Arcade, and that basement probably fit 12 people but they somehow crammed about 100 in there she said.

GREG NORTON: And they had closed circuit TV—television.

PHAWKER: Oh, you remember this?!

GREG NORTON: Oh yeah! We did a couple of gigs there. But that first one definitely was stand-out. And just looking out over the people that were in that basement who were moving was like watching the ocean rolling in. It was just crazy.

PHAWKER: She wound up having to sit — she’s a small person — and she had to sit on a washing machine. And she would like you to know that she lost her shoe, and she still wants it back. I don’t know if you guys could do anything about that, but I just wanted to throw that out there.

GREG NORTON: [laughs] Don’t think I can help there.

PHAWKER: Second of all, I saw you guys at Love Hall in Philly with Soul Asylum circa Flip Your Wig. Love Hall no longer exists, but the first of two things I recall at that show was 1) There was a long line to get in, stretching for a couple blocks. And I remember overhearing somebody in line describing you guys as ‘Midwestern farmers doing supersonic covers of The Byrds circa “Eight Miles High.”’ Which is kinda how I remember you guys sounded that night, which is pretty awesome. Secondly, someone did a swan-dive off the balcony expecting the crowd to catch him and, in classic Philly crowd style, instead of catching him…everybody just scattered and he wound up belly flopping onto the hardwood floor.

GREG NORTON: I do believe I recall that, yep. HUSKERS_EIGHT_MILES_HIGH_

PHAWKER: I’m impressed. I would have thought these would have all been lost in the mist of time. I can barely remember them. I applaud your memory. Let’s really test it. What do you remember about the first time you met Grant, and what do you remember about your first time meeting Bob? Your impressions, the circumstances, or anything that sticks out?

GREG NORTON: The first time I met Grant, I had just started working at a record store in a mall in West St. Paul, Minnesota. I was on a break, and he was like, “Hey, you’re the guy that took my job.” And I’m like “What are you talking about?” And he’s like “Well, the manager’s been telling me that she was giving me a job at the store, but then she hired you.” I’m like “My buddy Bill is the assistant manager. Let’s go talk to him.” So we went in and talked to Bill, and Bill said he would talk to Sharon and then Sharon’s like “Yeah, let’s hire him too.” So that’s how Grant and I met, and we started working at this record store together. The store was owned by a guy who had another store on the Macalester College campus called Cheapo. And Bob in ‘78 was a freshman at Macalester. He met Grant one day because grant had a PA speaker out on the sidewalk hooked up to the stereo and was blasting the Ramones on the street. And Bob was walking by with his brand new Johnny Ramone haircut and his brand new leather jacket and was like ‘Hey I like the Ramones.’ So that’s how Grant and Bob met. Then I’d kinda met Bob just briefly a couple of times. But my first time of really hanging out with Bob was when Ramones did a tour opening for Foreigner in the fall of ‘78.

PHAWKER: Wait…the Ramones opened for Foreigner?
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INCOMING: The Horror, The Horror

March 15th, 2019

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Cinepunx, the Philadelphia cinema podcast collective, whose love of film is rivaled only by their love of hardcore music, will be screening Starfish March 18th at 7:30pm at The Rotunda. The feature-length debut by director Al White, who is probably best known for being the front man for the UK band Ghostlight, will also be in town for a post screening Q&A. Starfish world premiered at Fantastic Fest, where I caught it back in September and genuinely dug it. The film is a thought provoking look at grief and loss as a young woman, Aubrey (Virginia Gardner), loses her best friend Grace. After the funeral she breaks into Grace’s apartment in an attempt to comfort herself only to fall asleep, waking up after the apocalypse has decimated the earth. Still reeling from loss of her friend and armed with a series of mixtapes left by Grace, Aubrey is tasked with not only discovering what happened, but surviving in this new world as well. – DAN TABOR

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DON’T KVETCH WITH TEXAS: A Q&A With Kinky Friedman, The Last Of The Jewish Cowboys

March 13th, 2019

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This rollicking interview was originally published on June 12th, 2012. We are reprising it here in advance of Kinky Friedman and Dale Watson performing at the Locks At Sona on Monday March 18th. Enjoy!

BY JONATHAN VALANIA Kinky Friedman has worn a lot of hats over the years, both literally and figuratively: Satirical cowboy singer-songwriter (“They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and “Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed”); serial detective fiction novelist; friend to animals; scourge of the phony, the corrupt and the ignorant; purveyor of fine tequila/salsa/cigars, and failed gubernatorial candidate from the great state of Texas. In advance of his appearance at The Sellersville Theater tonight and we got Kinky on the horn to explain himself. Discussed: the crimes of Michael Vick; the sexual orientation of Rick Perry; his good time buddies Willie Nelson and Billy Bob Thornton; the disappointing difference between candidate Obama and President Obama; why he wants to bomb Syria; how he almost was killed onstage by a pack of angry lesbians back in the ’70s. And more. Much more. Enjoy.

PHAWKER: So let’s start with a hypothetical.  I’m a dumb, 22-year-old goy Yankee who doesn’t believe he is responsible for knowing anything that happened before he was born.  How would you explain Kinky Friedman to me in a sentence or two?

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Well, I think that that would be probably impossible.  I would just tell him that I suffer from the curse of being multi-talented and that I am a defender of strays, that’s probably what I’m most proud of.

PHAWKER: We’re going to talk about that in a sec.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: I had to think of how I could compete with Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber.  We don’t know why this is the case, but I’m still able to be out on the road in my advanced years,  particularly for something like the Bi-Polar Tour which is 25 shows in 26 days.  I am 67 years old though I read at the 69-year-old level and I’ve got my last will and testament worked out which is, when I die I’m to be cremated and the ashes are to be thrown in Rick Perry’s hair.  I would just say, Jonathan, for the 22-year-old, a lot of them by the way seem to be in my audience over the past few years, that really this is not up to me, it’s up to him, or he, or she.  I think there will be a lot of people in this crowd, let me say that, who will be younger than the songs.  In other words, I wrote the songs before they were born.  And that is a blessing.  That’s a real privilege to have such an eclectic audience.  Then there will be people who were music fans of mine in the 70’s, those people I refer to as the insects trapped in amber.  And then there will be people who have read the books.  There’s 32 books that I’ve churned out…er…I mean carefully crafted.  And then there’s the politics, the running for governor of Texas, and that was a race we won every place but Texas.  So you’ll see lots of folks coming because of that and I will submit that there will be a lot of people who were jumpin’ rope in the schoolyard when I wrote these songs.  And, of course, I was selling dope in the schoolyard.

PHAWKER: Very nice, very nice.  OK, next question.  To paraphrase one of your most infamous songs, are they still not making Jews like Jesus anymore?

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Yeah, that one has become a real anti-PC anthem. I just point out that today if a young Richard Pryor were to walk into the room we couldn’t make him a big star in America.  He would be like me.  He’d be playin’ clubs and he’d be doing well as a cult act, but he would not find mainstream success today.  Neither would a young George Carlin, or Mel Brooks, or Lenny Bruce.  And, of course, we couldn’t make the movie “Blazing Saddles” today.  So thank the lord we still have “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore.”  That song I think is being well understood these days.  It wasn’t always, but now it is.  And something like, “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed”, which really created a very ugly riot at the University of Buffalo in 1973, where the lesbians actually attacked the stage.  A group of cranked-up lesbians attacked the Jewboys.  They were smashing the equipment and everything, and the lesbians were winning.  The police were called and the Texas Jewboys got a police escort off of campus right in the middle of the set.  But that song goes down extremely well now.  Now people sing along.  So, I’m finding it very interesting and that’s why I’m kind of doing the tour in the Townes Van Sant spirit.  It’s a solo tour.  Jewish troubadour strikes again and it’s kind of in the Woody Guthrie spirit, and maybe the Will Rogers spirit.  I also do a reading as well as the songs.  I do a reading from the new book Heroes of a Sexless Childhood, about 23 heroes of mine when I was a kid.  I’ll sign books after the show and before the show and, of course Jonathan, I will sign anything but bad legislation.

PHAWKER: I’m not going to even ask you if that Buffalo story is true.

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Oh, it absolutely is.  That can be checked out.  You know, it sounds humorous to the audience but it was a really ugly, pretty violent deal.  And it was all over that song, you understand, that song “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed”, which is hard to imagine.  But that’s how the attitudes were then.  That same year I received the Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year Award from the National Organization for Women, an award I’m still very proud of.

PHAWKER: So now I want to know, why are you calling it the Bi-Polar Tour?  Is that referring to the routing of the tour?

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Well no.  Some of it’s that, and some if it is it’s insane to do 25 shows in 26 days at any age.  I kinda borrowed a page from Willie Nelson ‘cause he doesn’t believe much in taking time off.  He thinks it kind of throws you off your feed and I think he’s right.  You get in a groove when you’re doing it.  You get an adrenaline thing going and the shows get better and better as you move along.  Of course doing it solo like this is something I haven’t really done that much but it seems to really, really connect and that’s what entertainment is — to catch a glimpse of who the person really is when a string breaks or they forget a lyric, no matter what happens and, plus, after pretending to be a politician in Texas this is a very high calling, being a musician on the road.
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ARCADE FIRE: Baby Mine

March 13th, 2019

From Tim Burton’s forthcoming Dumbo. Easily the best thing they’ve done since The Suburbs.

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BEING THERE: Bob Weir & Wolf Bros @ The Met

March 10th, 2019

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Bob Weir & Wolf Bros @ Met Philly Friday night. Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

Though lift off initially felt a little wobbly, when Bob Weir and Wolf Bros finally noodled their way out of a nebulous aural haze and into a discernible set opener Friday night at Philly’s Met, the Grateful Dead founder, fronting a stripped down trio of legendary producer Don Was on upright bass and Primus alumnus Jay Lane on drums, still managed to elevate the sold-out crowd to stratospheric highs with new interpretations of some old tunes and debuting some unexpected new ones. The opener, Weir’s 80s-era jam, “Hell In A Bucket,” came off as a bit familiar, if not phoned-in. When followed by the Garcia standard “Bertha” and a rather wooden take on Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately,” it seemed as though the evening might only yield low hanging fruit from the OG psychedelic warrior’s technicolor repertoire. Things picked up with “Gonesville,” a number from Weir’s 2016 Blue Mountain, which finally delivered on the Wolf Bros’ promise of cowboys and campfire vibes. The trio brought out Philly homeboy Tom Hamilton, an alumnus of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead and other satellites in the Dead’s orbit, for a rousing run through Daniel Lanois’ “The Maker,” a first for the band. In a nod to International Women’s Day, they opened the second set with Harry Belfonte’s “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” — a long time Dead setlist staple, but another first for Weir and the Wolfs — and wove it into a string of jams that included the Altamont cautionary tale, “New Speedway Boogie,” and Kesey Acid Test anthem, “The Other One,” before gently touching back down on terra firma with an elegiac “Brokedown Palace.” Noice. — HERBIE GREENE

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CINEMA: Bikini Kill Kill

March 8th, 2019

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CAPTAIN MARVEL (Dir. by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 124 min., USA, 2019)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Captain Marvel arrives at an interesting inflection point in the Marvel Comics Universe, preceding the apocalyptic events of Infinity War by decades, while introducing what could possibly be their most powerful superhero yet. The film is directed by the husband/wife team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who have a demonstrable knack for complex character building, which is surely why they were chosen to bring Marvel’s first female led superhero film to theaters. Brie Larson was recruited for the title role fresh off her Oscar winning turn in Room, which only amplified the feeling that this film was going to be something a bit different than the testosterone-soaked popcorn fodder we’ve come to expect from Marvel.

Taking place in 1995, the film begins on the Kree planet of Hala where Vers (Brie Larson), as she has come to be known, has been training with the warrior race ever since they found and assimilated her six years ago. She doesn’t remember how she came to their planet, or how she was imbued with her fearsome cosmic powers, but we meet her right before her first mission under her mentor/commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Their mission to rescue a Kree informant goes south when they fall into a Skrull trap aimed at kidnapping Vers, who is thought to have information on a light speed engine that was being developed on Earth. The problem is, like a lot of things in her back story, Vers has forgotten it. It helps if you know that the Kree have been at war with the shapeshifting Skrulls, a race that can copy a being down to their DNA for thousands of years, and what Vers forgot could bring an end to the war. Eventually, Vers escapes from her captors and ends up stranded on Earth where she meets a much younger agent Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who helps her track down the Skrulls responsible for her kidnapping and find a way back to Hala.

The best compliment I can give Captain Marvel is it doesn’t feel like a Marvel film. Over the years we have been conditioned to the assembly-line plotting and exacting narrative MCU films tend to deliver, and every new character is introduced spouting pop culture references while firing off an endless string of deadpan one-liners with roguish charm. That’s not what we get here. When we first meet Vers, AKA Carol Danvers, she is a shell of a woman who’s been broken and brainwashed with Kree propaganda, struggling to recover her past and her identity. It’s a transition she makes over the course of the film as she slowly evolves into Captain Marvel. This is not your typical origin story and all the better for it, and thankfully it doesn’t go overboard with the tie-ins and call backs to other films in the franchise, which, given how endlessly self-referential last few Marvel films are, is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Filled with an empowering message and sharp-elbowed clapbacks at the toxic male naysayers of the Marvel fanboy universe, Captain Marvel is just what the MCU and fandom in general needs right now. While the non-stop nostalgia blam-blam of ’80’s/‘90s needle drops (Blockbuster! Top Gun! Elastica!) can be a bit much at times, they are a welcome reminder that Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were originally slated to tackle Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 1, making them Marvel’s logical go-to choice for Vol. 3. Brie Larson has given us a different and more complex hero than we have seen from the MCU stable thus far and a great way to transition from the old to the new guard, which will no doubt be a result of Infinity War: End Game. Captain Marvel feels less like the last film of Phase 3 and more like the fresh first chapter of what will be Phase 4.

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MUST READ: One Nation, Under Fox, Divisible

March 7th, 2019

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THE NEW YORKER: In January, during the longest government shutdown in America’s history, President Donald Trump rode in a motorcade through Hidalgo County, Texas, eventually stopping on a grassy bluff overlooking the Rio Grande. The White House wanted to dramatize what Trump was portraying as a national emergency: the need to build a wall along the Mexican border. The presence of armored vehicles, bales of confiscated marijuana, and federal agents in flak jackets underscored the message.

But the photo op dramatized something else about the Administration. After members of the press pool got out of vans and headed over to where the President was about to speak, they noticed that Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, was already on location. Unlike them, he hadn’t been confined by the Secret Service, and was mingling with Administration officials, at one point hugging Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security. The pool report noted that Hannity was seen “huddling” with the White House communications director, Bill Shine. After the photo op, Hannity had an exclusive on-air interview with Trump. Politico later reported that it was Hannity’s seventh interview with the President, and Fox’s forty-second. Since then, Trump has given Fox two more. He has granted only ten to the three other main television networks combined, and none to CNN, which he denounces as “fake news.”

Hannity was treated in Texas like a member of the Administration because he virtually is one. The same mayercan be said of Fox’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch. Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.”

Hemmer argues that Fox—which, as the most watched cable news network, generates about $2.7 billion a year for its parent company, 21st Century Fox—acts as a force multiplier for Trump, solidifying his hold over the Republican Party and intensifying his support. “Fox is not just taking the temperature of the base—it’s raising the temperature,” she says. “It’s a radicalization model.” For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy—it keeps people watching.” As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. All day long, Trump retweets claims made on the network; his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has largely stopped holding press conferences, but she has made some thirty appearances on such shows as “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.” Trump, Hemmer says, has “almost become a programmer.” […]

Trump is not the first President to have a favorite media organization; James Madison and Andrew Jackson were each boosted by partisan newspapers. But many people who have watched and worked with Fox over the years, including some leading conservatives, regard Fox’s deepening Trump orthodoxy with alarm. Bill Kristol, who was a paid contributor to Fox News until 2012 and is a prominent Never Trumper, said of the network, “It’s changed a lot. Before, it was conservative, but it wasn’t crazy. Now it’s just propaganda.” Joe Peyronnin, a professor of journalism at N.Y.U., was an early president of Fox News, in the mid-nineties. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” he says of Fox. “It’s as if the President had his own press organization. It’s not healthy.” MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Q&A With Investigative Journalist & New Yorker Staff Writer Jane Mayer

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FRESH AIR: In July 2018, former Fox News co-President Bill Shine joined the White House staff as deputy chief of staff for communications and assistant to President Trump. He wasn’t the first — or only — Fox News personality to align with the president. In November, Fox News host Sean Hannity, who reportedly speaks to Trump “almost daily,” faced criticism after joining Trump onstage during a rally. And New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer [artist’s rendering, above right] reports that 21st Century Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch speaks to Trump on a weekly basis and that Fox Business Network anchor Lou Dobbs has been “patched into” Oval Office meetings.

“In past White Houses there have been favored members of the press, but nothing where someone is so close in that they are coordinating on a daily basis with the president,” Mayer tells Fresh Air. She adds: “Some of the people who are still hosting shows on Fox are seen by many of the people who are in and around the White House — including some of the White House staff — as basically being a ‘shadow cabinet.’ ”

Mayer’s latest New Yorker article, “The Making of the Fox News White House,” describes the ways in which the network has bolstered the president — and vice versa. One of the stories she uncovered involves Trump’s attempt to get the Justice Department to stop AT&T from acquiring Fox News rival CNN’s parent, Time Warner. Mayer also reports that Fox News had the Stormy Daniels story before the 2016 election — and killed it because it would have hurt Trump’s chances of winning. In this respect, Mayer says, the network is “not a regular news organization. … What its critics say is that Fox is an arm of the White House. It’s a mouthpiece for Trump.” MORE

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Guided By Voices Announce Next Month’s Release Of War And Woof LP, The Follow-Up To Last Month’s Zeppelin Over China Double LP

March 7th, 2019

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Following GBV’s sprawling double-album Zeppelin Over China, Robert Pollard has written and recorded another full-length in record-breaking time. It’s Warp and Woof (April 26, 2019), exuberantly barreling through 24 songs in just 37 minutes with a brevity similar to mid-90s GBV albums Alien Lanes and Vampire On Titus. GBV kicked this one out in a flash, recorded in studios, club soundchecks, hotel rooms and even in the tour van.

After completing Zeppelin, Pollard felt the itch to record a few EPs. Just as GBV had done back in 1994, he would use them to channel his everflowing ideas to an outlet. But when a magical boombox writing session produced six fully formed songs in under half an hour, Pollard realized he had an album on his hands. What to do?

With a band so formidable they’ve been dubbed the Golden Age of GBV, they quickly completed much of the recording on the road. The 2018 Space Gun Tour provided impromptu recording venues. Pollard recorded vocals in hotel rooms and small studios. Doug Gillard cut guitar tracks for “End It With Light” through his Mesa Boogie rig at soundcheck at the Ottobar in Baltimore. Bobby Bare Jr. recorded his spacey main rhythm guitars for album closer, “Time Remains in Central Position” at the same show, but in the backstage green room. Kevin March added drum tracks in a studio in his hometown Montclair, New Jersey. Gillard played guitar on “Bury the Mouse” in a van hurtling at 60-plus m.p.h., and Mark Shue laid bass on “Angelic Weirdness” as he balanced on the speeding van’s bench seat…

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THE BLACK KEYS: Lo/Hi

March 7th, 2019

First Black Keys’ music since 2014, released today without explanation.

PREVIOUSLY: Given the expansive economies of the ’90s, it was no wonder that stripped-down, gutbucket guitar-and-drum duos like Flat Duo Jets and Doo Rag couldn’t get arrested, their minimalist roots-rock exiled to the sub basements of the indie concert circuit and the privileged ghetto of college radio.

But in this age of austerity, when everyone is doing more with less, it is stripped-down, gutbucket guitar-and-drum duos like The White Stripes and, more recently, The Black Keys, that have made some of the most seminal and commercially-viable music.

Upon the release of 2010’s Brothers, The Black Keys connected with a mass audience and eventually graduated from econo to arenas. They are a big band in these small times, and Saturday night black Keys zoomthey delivered a smoking-gun performance — which is to say they killed — at the sold-out Wells Fargo Center.

The Black Keys are singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. At the Wells Fargo Center, Auerbach was all stubble, leather and sweaty bangs, bouncing on the balls of his feet like a prize fighter circling the ring. Carney was octopus-armed and absent his trademark Buddy Holly Ray Bans, hunched over his drum kit like he was driving an Ed “Big Daddy” Roth hot rod.

For the first and final third of their blistering performance, the Keys were joined by a pair of utility players — Gus Seyffert and John Wood — trading off the bass, slide guitar and vintage keyboards that flesh out the Grammy-winning Brothers, and the new, already-gone-gold El Camino.

This expanded version of the Keys opened with the lupine hump and grind of “Howlin’ For You” and the swampy, primordial ooze of “Next Girl.” They closed out the night with the hits — the whistling Northern soul of “Tighten Up” and the souped-up rockabilly “Lonely Boy” — and encored with a majestic “Everlasting Light” performed beneath a giant mirror ball that turned the Wells Fargo Center, for a few minutes anyway, into the world’s largest snow globe.

During the middle of the concert, they kicked it old-school, like they did in their parents’ basement back in Akron, Ohio, at the turn of the century. Just Auerbach’s blazing guitar and blacksnake moan and Carney swinging heavy wood, bashing out a fierce trifecta of righteous, deep-cut, back catalog, BK blooze: “Thickfreakness” followed by “The Moan” and then “Girl Is On My Mind.”

It was at this point that a casual observer could look around and marvel at the fact that, with nothing more than the bang and strum of a drum and a guitar, The Black Keys could lure in 14,864 souls Pied Piperlike into this vast arena and hold their rapturous attention for nearly two hours. And then you would stop and think how often that happens — which is pretty much never — and think how lucky you are to be here now. MORE

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BEING THERE: Positively 4th Street

March 6th, 2019

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800 block of North 4th St. Philadelphia. Photo by JONATHAN VALANIA

“May 10th. Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and trash off the sidewalks. I’m workin’ long hours now, six in the afternoon to six in the morning. Sometimes even eight in the morning, six days a week. Sometimes seven days a week. It’s a long hustle but it keeps me real busy. I can take in three, three fifty a week. Sometimes even more when I do it off the meter. All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” – Travis Bickle, TAXI DRIVER (1976)

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‘If the Grateful Dead came to town, I’d beat my way in with a fucking tire iron if necessary.’ — Hunter S. Thompson

March 4th, 2019

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Bob Weir is one of the founding members of the legendary Grateful Dead. They were an American band. Since establishing the Dead in 1965, Weir has become one of rock’s finest and most distinctive rhythm guitarists. He is currently a member of Dead & Company which features Grateful Dead members Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann along with GRAMMY-winner John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti. Weir is embarking on a Fall 2018 North American tour with Bob Weir and The Wolf Bros, a new trio featuring Weir, Don Was (on upright bass!) and Jay Lane performing songs of Grateful Dead in stripped down, three-piece cosmic cowboy campfire-style. They will perform at the Met Philly on Friday March 8th.

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