Beck performing at the LC Pavillion June 20. Photos by Lee Casalena



I want to dedicate my music column this month to...High Street.

 Because I live with it everyday. And it just keeps getting uglier and more beautiful everyday. Must be love.

 Because, to paraphrase an old Crawdaddy magazine essay, life on High Street is like life on the shore of the primordial sea.

 Because High Street oozes with life.

 I've worked on the strip on and off (mostly on, always in a record store) since the first Singin' Dog Records opened back in '78 Tenth and High. Talk about the wild west. While I don't write much poetry and absolutely do not think of myself as a poet (and at least I know it), I think what poet there is embraces High Street--because there is so much to embrace. Endlessly fascinating, never less than lively, on occasion dangerous, sometimes beautiful. Always untamed. The wildest street in the city, maybe?

 I mean, High Street oozes with life. The people, the noise, the litter, the cops, the heat of the sidewalks, the slutty coolness of the nights, the human scabs whose summer stink clears entire sections of seats on the COTA bus, the badly playing buskers, the vulture-like panhandlers, the cute Mexican kids following mamacita like black-haired ducks, the dogs and their owners, the assholes, the kind people, the wards of the state and the social misfits, the religious fanatics and the politicized youth asking for donations to get to the out-of-town socialism conference.

 Chaos and harmony, compassion and malice, the construction and creative economic destruction--what isn't there to like about High Street? The funky people, the grotesques, the sexy, the everyday.

Why, I've never seen so many people, yo.

 Lemme tell you a quick story.

 The city made these fancy roofed bicycle racks a few years ago, right? Well, leave it to the privileged well-off college kids to abandon their 10-speeds and mountain bikes for the summer, as if they're entitled to long-term parking.

 Like any eco-system in nature, the hungry scavengers soon devour the available parts and leave a once-healthy, well-oiled bike a rusting metal skeleton: seat gone, wheel gone, gear bent through attempted theft by brawn--you get the picture. At 16th and High the rack looks like a car-bomb hit it: no less than five wrecked, abandoned bikes.

 The other day a kid came in and asked if I had a sledgehammer. No, I said. Did I know anybody who had one? No. Do you have a paper clip? No, again. Said he lost his bike lock key. An hour later a customer came in and said 'some kid's out there banging on a bike lock with a rock." Great. Two hours later he was arrested, he'd been banging bike locks with a 15-pound huge chunk of broken concrete.

 Yesterday afternoon, two middle-aged men sharing a hacksaw were working on the best of the wrecks, one of them saying it was his son's, stolen two years ago. I told 'em I'd let 'em tell the cops that so I called the cops. They fled. Bike was gone this morning.

 A little bit wild, a little bit ugly, a little bit pretty.

 Thus it is on The Street.

 Dateline LC Pavilion, June 20: the best thing about the Beck show was opener Sean Lennon.

 Beck is clever--too clever. He's cool--too cool. He's hip--hipper than any hipster in Ohio, he's that hip.

 Too clever, too cool, too hip. But what is he? Or rather, who is he?

 As he streamed and cruised through his slick, rocking, energetic show that outdoors night, he never seemed to really reveal his real self. Maybe he doesn't have one. Maybe I don't like precocious metrosexuals. Maybe I'm amazed at the way he really loves himself. Or perhaps there is no there there?

 Whatever. I think he's too good at being too clever. It can get tiresome. I can't say I've ever seen a giant in music pull it off by just being clever. Surely we all know he stands on the shoulders of giants.

Someday maybe he'll change and write music and songs and stories that bespeak a bigger man. Am I saying he's a girly man? Well, if the pantyhose beneath the pants fit, hallelujah.

 Bottom line: he ain't no Johnny Cash.

 But he is the Quentin Tarantino of pop, alright. He skims the substance of what's come before and presents it in a way you can't help but enjoy. You want lounge groove? Odelay, Midnight Vultures.

Dirty grooved country-blues-hip-hop? Mellow Gold. Sensitivity? Sea Change. Albums that don't saying anything? Information. Will the real Beck please stand up and projectile vomit, please?

 Thus it was at the LC: a huge crowd, a lively Beck trying to show he's got performance in him (he doesn't really, I felt it was forced and I also thought he sucked live in the '90s), a set long on career overview and great manufactured moments but short on...substance.

 Yes, I'm a stickler, I know. Was I sensing high self-regard? I was sensing two things. One was there, one wasn't. Beck in the flesh, yes; Beck's soul? Maybe not so much. Am I saying he's the most fascinating soulless performer of his generation? Yes, I think I might.

 Now John Lennon's kid, well, I'm not saying he's the second coming. No, while the apple does not fall far from the tree, the apple is still the apple and the tree is still the tree. No great revelation seeing him and his band Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger--though he had the coolest girl bass player of all time and I want to marry her for a year or two before we shed each other. But there was something there in their mildly lush, mildly psychedelic mostly gently paced pop. There was--como se dice?--charisma.

Maybe call it charismatic chemistry. As Sean and band's set paced its way it had the effect of drawing one in a little more, a little more, so that with each song one felt one ended up somewhere other than where one started out.

 John Lennon was a god to me and still is. To see the son o' god was...affecting. Maybe Beck should've opened for Sean. Maybe.

 Here's a short review for ya.

 Saw the Band of Skulls. At the Newport. Last month. A trio. From England. I didn't 'get' them at first. Then I threw some Tic Tacs at an old pal and her girlfriend until they came over and their beery cheery countenance got me in the mood. Being with people who sing every word to every song helps.

Soon I was 'getting' them, the Skulls. They rocked, somewhat. They weren't Motorhead. They sort of loped. The kids dug 'em--hard. The Skulls woman on bass was the tallest female bassist I've ever seen with the biggest hands I've ever seen. Like, huge. The guitar player, short on chops, fronted the band.

Somehow, with seemingly little invested in their songs, they pulled it off. They got off, the crowd got off and I was along for the ride. Enjoyably so. But that bass girl, whew.

 I threw no Tic Tacs at her.

 Song In My Head Dept.: Without a doubt there are three summer musics I recommend with extreme prejudice.

 First: War Greatest Hits is the perfect summertime album. Feel-good music by the people's feel-good band from L.A., War lays 'em on ya: All Day Music, The World Is a Ghetto, Cisco Kid, Me and Baby Brother, Why Can't We Be Friends?, Low Rider and Summer are eight of the 10 tracks guaranteed to match summer's hip-strokin' social grooviness. Rivals Sly and the Family Stone's Greatest Hits.

 Second: dub reggae, almost by anyone. Scientist, Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby, Adrian Sherwood...floating in outer space is the thing to do in the summer, any time day or night. Play on, brother, float on, mother.

 Third: J.J. Cale, America's laid-back swamp rocker with more than a touch of sexy swamp charisma.

The man's music always seemed to be on the cusp of something. Sensuality, groove, passing out into a coma--he's on the verge of getting it on, whatever it might be, but the feel of what's coming fits summer's airy sexual breathiness. The song I cannot get out of my head is almost qualifies as a filler track from his 1982 album, Grasshopper. Despite two throwaway verses, "Does Your Mama Like to Reggae" is not only the endlessly sung title but also the point of the whole song. And it's not even reggae. Three-chord piano-based slightly trancey medium-speed rocker (in as much as J.J. Cale ever really rocked, he didn't, he was too minimalist and laid-back for that, merficully). It's definitely a come-on that I found myself saying to no one in particular the other day, all day long. Very lewd. Very summery.  Try it. You'll like it. J.J. Cale. The late, the great.

 Hey, man, does your mama like to reggae?

 What is happening to our fine jazz elite?

 Mark Flugge, gone at his own hand; Gene Walker perhaps playing his final coda alone in a hospital room; Ken Messer smashing himself to bits in a car crash.

 Please, don't gimme that 'trouble comes in three's' crap. It comes in eternal streams, is how it comes.

The best you can do is grin and paddle because let's face it, Buddha is right: life is suffering. So fuck it, let's listen to all the jazz we can while we best navigate the rapids in the river of life. As for these fine players, at least they're leaving something.

 I remember spouting something judgmental when told Hunter S. Thompson took his own life with a shotgun. Maybe I was still peeved because Cobain left a toddler to the tender mercies of her birthing witch. No matter. But when the Hunter fan explained how much hopeless physical pain Hunter was in, yeah, I realized I shot off my mouth.

 And of course having Johnny Depp put your ashes in a Roman candle rocket and exploded high above your head does have a finger-flipping appeal to the vicissitudes of life. Ok, Death, you devoured my flesh but you will NOT conquer my spirit! BOOM! Hunter raining to earth.

 So what is there to say about Mark? I loved his shit--spent a number of wonderful Sunday afternoons at the Columbus Museum of Modern Art when his numero uno jazz trio played, channeling Brubeck, Tatum and god-knows-who-else as the two Daves supplied the most supple, sympathetic, telepathic rhythmic support any two guys on bass and drums have ever done in this town.

 Flugge's hearing was going and it defeated his spirit, I guess you could say. I am sorry, sorry, sorry something couldn't've been done. His being in the world was so infinitely better than him not. What can I say? I cannot judge what he did. Maybe it was right for him. Maybe it was even admirable. I don't know. I almost don't want to know. I can only thank him for the jazz piano he played for us. Amazing.

 As for Gene, he's had some ongoing health issues. He's still with us--hospitalized as I write this. But he's still with us. Hang in there, man, hang in there.

 And then there's my good friend, Ken. Passing out behind the wheel due to his meds, crushing many, many ribs and breaking his sternum and just in general, smashing his torso into his new used car and no airbag inflated.

 The good news about my buddy The Mess is that he performed at his own benefit last month, a truly good sign. He's rededicating himself to health and exercise and I promise I will never stop nagging him to do so. Hey, I gotta feel like I do something constructive.

 In the meantime, there are still a few copies of his two CDs available at my shop and at Used Kids.

Buy 'em, all the money goes straight to ol' Kenny Boy. In case you don't know, I consider his Phoenix Project album, a wonderful single-disc affair, to be the finest local jazz CD I have ever heard and I frequently mix it in with my Miles Davis late-afternoon/early-evening jazz sets at the store. His double album from last year is pretty good, too. But definitely check out the Phoenix Project's debut.

 Messer's compositions and his crew's playing on that album, particularly Ted Royal's vibes and Stan Smith's guitar, maybe the best jazz album to ever come out of this world-class jazz-rich city. And that is only one reason we need these cats in this world, not the next. Not yet.



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