Friday, April 25, 2008

The Smithereens on Meth

Looks like I'll be writing the liner notes for the next Smithereens album, which is quite a thrill. I'm a huge fan of liner notes in general and absorbed them, like I did album credits, from my earliest childhood albums, the first being Veejay's "Introducing the Beatles." Coincidentally, the next 'Reens album will have more than a Beatles flavour (I can say that, can't I Pat?) Also, coincidental to this blog, it will feature a cover painting by one of the legendary comic artists. More details to come. In the mean time, here's the latest from Pat DiNizio's gang of four:

NEW YORK, NY--April 14, 2008--KOCH Records is pleased to announce the newest album by rock band The Smithereens. "Live In Concert - Greatest Hits and More" features music from The Smithereens' four-night stint at The Court in New Brunswick, New Jersey, a musical home away from home for the group, which took place January 30th - February 2nd, 2008. The band, all hailing from surrounding Central Jersey towns, played the Court Tavern often at the start of their career.

The album features live recordings of two brand new songs, "Any Other Way" and "Since You Went Away." The set also includes Buddy Holly's classic (and a big influence for The Smithereens) "Well Alright," and the ripping interpretation of the "Batman" theme, a live staple for the band.

For the past 25 years, The Smithereens have toured non-stop, recording and releasing Gold and Platinum albums that spawned Top 40 radio hits such as "A Girl Like You," "Too Much Passion," "Blood And Roses," "Only a Memory" and "Behind The Wall Of Sleep." But at the beginning of that long and successful road, the loved group spent many sweaty, rock filled evenings in the damp, close quartered basement of The Court.

Live at The Court takes us back to that hallowed ground and brings back the energy and edginess that was present at the beginning of The Smithereens' career. The club was packed for every performance, and the love and energy for the Smithereens is evident on each track. This album features the Smithereens in their natural habitat, playing great music for their hometown fans. It shines a light on the love of their fans, and what the group is about.

For more information go to http://www.officialsmithereens.com/

Herson’s Chabad and the DMV: An Apology

I have, on more than one occasion, compared Asher Herson’s Chabad of Northwest New Jersey to the Division of Motor Vehicles—“a cross between a kindergarten, a half-way house, and the Division of Motor Vehicles” is how I believe it was put. But an apology is clearly in order.

I visited the DMV yesterday, one week before my driver’s license and automobile registration were set to expire. Anticipating long lines, bad air and the sub-par service this machine was reputed for, I’d brought along Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy, which I was only 50 pages into, another 300 pages to go. Expected to finish the book before I emerged, sweat-drenched and dysfunctioned by bureaucrats.

I was wrong.

I was in and out of the DMV in less than ten minutes. I repeat: TEN MINUTES! The clerks were polite and plentiful.

So my sincere apologies to those who deserve it. And my condolences to those who don’t.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Celebrity Sightings

As Ted Adams mused over lunch, it wouldn’t be Hollywood without at least one celeb sighting. We were sitting in my favorite Beverly Hills restaurant, The Milky Way, which is owned and hosted by Steven Spielberg’s mother, the lovely, petite Leah Adler, who, at 88, could have retired years ago. But Leah likes to meet and greet everyone who comes in the restaurant. “Your son’s worth $2 billion and he still makes you work?” I always tease. Like she’s never heard that before (like every mutton head with delusions of drollness who asks me if I have a sister name Crystal… but I digress). We’d just started our meal when a guy in a baseball cap walked in.

“Does that look like Steven Spielberg?” I asked my one of companions.

“Nah. Looks like someone trying to look like Spielberg.”

I took another gander. “You think every Spielberg look-alike hugs Leah like that?”

I got up and asked Leah for an introduction... and Steven was as nice as can be.

Also ran into Josh Olson while having coffee at CAA. Does that count, Josh?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Somebody loves me

I'm in Los Angeles for the next few days for meetings but awoke this morning to a startling review of my book One Small Voice (IDW Publishing) at Art Blog by Bob.

Meth’s film noir-esque, combative spirit energizes his writing. “Turn the other cheek: The battle cry of the slapped,” he writes. The meek may inherit the earth, but Meth inherits the legacy of writers such as Vonnegut in his clear-eyed take on life, love, and god, if there is one. Meth’s writing seems perfectly suited to the short format used in One Small Voice. Longer exposure would be overwhelming. Meth in small doses acts like homeopathic medicine, poisoning you just enough to make you better and stronger.

There's a lot more to the review which you can read here.

Of course the danger in accepting a reviewer's praise means I must also consider taking the guy who called Snaked "a dead platypus laying in the middle of the road" seriously, too. Right, doctor?

Mr. Meth, I see our time is up.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Meet the Smithereens

As the weather warms, The Smithereens will be playing a number of shows on both coasts. Visit their website--mark your calender... To help buzz the launch of their last CD, Meet the Smithreens, I penned a feature on the band last year for The Aquarian, New Jersey's rock paper. Here's the unedited long-form of that interview with my pal, lead singer/writer Pat DiNizio:

Meth: Tell me about playing with Paul McCartney.

DiNizio: Gary Talent of the E Street band, who was a friend of ours, gave me a call and said he was the music director for the annual Buddy Holly Celebration that McCartney puts together every year. This time it was going to be held in NY City at The Lonestar Roadhouse to herald the debut of The Buddy Holly Story on Broadway. I remember the date vividly—this was Sept. 4 of 1990 and I was getting married on Sept. 1 in Chicago. I asked Gary if there was any chance that Paul would be there and he said most likely; that whenever he does one of these annual Buddy Holly events he’s usually there. I thought, well, if he’s ever going to be there, he’ll be there for this event because he owns the Buddy Holly song catalogue and he’s obviously going to push the musical. So we changed our honeymoon plans—we delayed our honeymoon by a week and eventually we went to Japan. I just had the feeling that Paul was going to be there so I went. And for me, as one of millions of kids who saw the Beatles the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show, and who dreamed of nothing else but being in a band like The Beatles, it was a dream come true. I actually found myself later in the evening on stage with him and the rest of the musicians who played that evening—it was sort of an All-Star band that was thrown together. I played bass and Paul sand “Lucille” by Little Richard, a great, old rocker. It was one of those moments when you wished that someone had snuck in a video camera because there were no cameras allowed for the event and very few people had video cams that were portable back in 1990. About a year later, I went to pick up the mail and I opened the mail up and there was a videocassette with a little note that said, “I thought you might like this.” And it was whole event on video.

Meth: Did the rest of the Smithereens play that night, too?

DiNizio: No, just me. I played because I had written a song on Smithereens 11, an homage to Buddy Holly, a tribute to his early relationship and his widow Maria Elena. The song is called “Maria Elena”. I had sent her a copy and met her and her daughter and we all became friends. She was there, as well, and they asked me specifically to come and sing that song because it was obviously part of an album that was doing very well for us at the time.

Meth: I’m just feeling your place here, Pat.

DiNizio: It’s a good feeling, Clifford. It’s quiet.

Meth: It reminds me of my old Fraternity House. We had a big, old house in Dover, New Jersey.

DiNizio: So you used to go hang out at The Showplace.

Meth: Yeah. My band played there several times. It was a big deal for us because the Ramones had just played there that weekend.

DiNizio: We couldn’t really secure a gig there. It was too far from where we were based and we didn’t have a fan base in that area. But we’d go up there and pay them a fee to do some recording. We’d get up there on a Monday night when nobody was around. We’d hook up a reel-to-reel tape recorder and get a live board mix. It was a very live-sounding room, which I liked about it. We used it to record early demos—we’d do live backing tracks without vocals at The Showplace and we’d come home and transfer that tape in a recording studio and we’d add vocals. It really gave it a dynamic sound because we hadn’t figured out yet how to bridge the gap between the live sound of the band and what would become the studio sound of the band. They are two distinctly different things. Other bands make the mistake of trying to sound exactly like they sound live, but smart bands don’t make that mistake. There was a studio Beatles and there was a live Beatles.

Meth: What do you prefer?

DiNizio: I enjoy the immediacy of a live performance—I enjoy the immediate feedback that you get from an audience; you know whether you are on your game or not, whether people are enjoying it. It’s thrilling to play live and we still put 200% into everything that we do. But the studio is also fulfilling on another level. It’s more difficult to get to the point where you can say I enjoy listening to it because it’s a building stage. You’re starting with your basic tracks and you’re adding guitars and you’re layering and you’re putting your vocals on and you’re mixing. You don’t know really, until the eleventh hour of the project whether what you’ve done has any merit at all. In other words, it’s a longer process. The only real moment of enjoyment is when you’re listening to the final product and you know you’ve done a good job. And hopefully other folks might find enjoyment in the recordings you’ve created. But for me, going in the studio is very difficult. I don’t necessarily enjoy the process. I appreciate it. I’m happy to still have the ability to make records. But it’s not fun.

It was fun in the early days, when we hadn’t yet made records, but it was always pressure. It was thrilling. It’s still thrilling. I still get that tingling, that sense of excitement whenever we go in the studio, but there’s nothing about it I take for granted. It’s extremely challenging and stressful because I really work at it and I want everything to be the best that I can get.

Meth: How involved are you in the production?

DiNizio: I would say that on all The Smithereens albums, although we’re not credited, we certainly co-produced those records. There’s so much input of ours on everything.

Meth: You don’t get on the board?

DiNizio: I sit behind the producer but I don’t operate the board. I think my energy is best spent on thinking of good, creative melodic ideas and arrangement parts, not worrying about the technical aspects of the recordings. I leave that in the hands of the professionals. It’s a blessing when you find yourself in the studio with someone who really does get it, who really understands what the band is all about. That was a process of elimination in the early days. Our first demos were done with individuals who, while well-meaning, didn’t really understand the band, you know? They didn’t really know how to capture the sound of the band in a recording studio.

Meth: Who did you want to sound like, other than The Beatles?

DiNizio: I don’t know that we were really going for a sound. I think it just happened. In fact, the band today stills sounds very much the way we sounded when we first sat down and played together in my dad’s basement right here in Scotch Plains in March of 1980. It hasn’t changed that much except, perhaps, the songs have grown and matured. Some of the first songs I wrote, while charming, are not great compositions. It’s someone learning how to write songs. Yet some of the songs—in fact my first composition, “I Don’t Want to Lose You” wound up on Especially For You and a lot of folks like that song. “Elaine” was song number two and it wound up on “Green Thoughts.” So you never know. It just took a long time to get to that point—to actually sit down and attempt to wrestle with that beast. Understanding how songs work, the mechanics of songs, having to dig deep inside and come up with melodies that are memorable... The hurdle that I had to get over in terms of my live performances—it dawned on my on stage one evening at Kenny’s Castaways, that I was singing original material that contained lyrics that revealed a lot of my inner life and my personal life, to complete strangers.

Meth: Standing naked in front of strangers.

DiNizio: Exactly. And I felt uptight for a little bit but I eventually figured out that this is the job, this is what I do, this is the situation that I’ve put myself in. So I have to deal with it. After I came to terms with it, I started feeling comfortable because I realized that if the song lyrics were well written, then other folks would live through them as well.

Meth: Did you know you had a hit when you wrote certain songs? Songs like “Blood and Roses” for instance?

DiNizio: The only time that I had the feeling I had a hit was when I wrote “Girl Like You,” which was written for Cameron Crowe for his film “Say Anything.” And after a minor argument with the producer James L. Brooks, we decided to take the song back and save it for ourselves. And that being said, obviously I had a feeling at the time that it was a hit or we would have given it to them. We decided to save it for ourselves because it might have been released on a soundtrack album and got lost and then it would have had no meaning later on, on one of our records. But my feeling with that was based in part on the fact that the first album was a hit, the second album had a #1 rock radio single…we were on a roll and it was likely that radio would receive a song like this from us. I had that feeling. I didn’t know if it was a hit but I remember my wife at the time saying, “It’s a good song, but it’s not your best song.”

Meth: What did she think your best song was?

DiNizio: She never spoke of that.

Meth: How about your daughter?

DiNizio: She doesn’t have a favorite but she’s finally gotten a chance to come to some of the live shows, which is a big thrill for me, that she’s old enough now to attend the concerts and actually see what her dad has done for a living for the past 27 years. I remember while writing Smithereens 11 playing a demo of “Blue Period” and my wife Mary saying to me, “Did you really write this song?” Not saying how good it was but inferring that it baffled her that I was able to come up with it.

Meth: “Blue Period” might be my favorite.

DiNizio: Mary was also of the opinion that songs like “Blue Period” should have been hits. They weren’t. They were handled improperly or perhaps they were out of time. They might have hit in 1966 or 67. There were always problems on every level, with management, with distribution.

Meth: It’s been a long time since you’ve had a record contract. How did you end up with Koch?

DiNizio: It’s not really a contract. We’ve licensed this new recording—we own it and we’ve licensed it to Koch. It’s sort of the new model for 2007.

Meth: Let’s talk about this album, “Meet the Smithereens.” Without knowing anything, my guess was the seed for this disc was planted when The Smithereens did “I Want to Tell You” for Songs From The Material World (A Tribute to George Harrison).

DiNizio: No. Not at all. In fact, I was very much against recording that because the arrangement for “I Want to Tell You” was absolutely perfect as it is on Revolver and I couldn’t imagine any way that we could improve it. In fact, in terms of our history, for many years we were asked to do cover songs for movies. We did a version of “Time Won’t Let Me” for “Time Cop,” the Jean-Claude Van Damm film, and it was an okay version. Mr. King, who wrote the song for the original Outsiders, who recorded it in 1966, said that it was the best version of the song that he ever heard. So we got the vote of approval from the guy who wrote it, which meant a lot to us. But there’s not too much you can do with it. So I was very anti doing cover songs unless we could absolutely make them our own. Somehow, we did achieve that with “I Want to Tell You”—it’s a little different.

Meth: I’m not saying this because we’re friends or because I’m sitting in your kitchen drinking your bad coffee—

DiNizio: You don’t like the coffee?

Meth: —but it’s the best track on that album, by far. Most of those tracks weren’t repeatable—not Bill Wyman’s, not John Entwhistle’s.

DiNizio: The track works well because it’s kind of like The Who meets The Beatles meets The Smithereens. And it sounds like us. So I was pleased. I came and I did my vocals and split. But we have a lot of covers—some are good and some are not so good. I remember when they were making this Christian Slater movie when he was a big star in the early ‘90s called “Kuffs”—they wanted The Smithereens to record a version of The Who’s “Shaking All Over” from “Live at Leeds”—but they wanted it to sound like The Talking Heads. And it’s like, “What are you, dreaming? We’re The Smithereens, not The Talking Heads.” So we did a version of it and it’s okay. We did “Wooly Bully” for “Encino Man” and a version of Ringo’s hit “It Don’t Come Easy” and then I didn’t want to do anything that we couldn’t improve on. But that being said, when it came time to record our most recent studio album, which was also for Koch, “God Save the Smithereens” (1999) I felt strongly that based on the theme of the record, which was originally about Apocalypse 2000. There was a tremendous amount of concern and fear and loathing surrounding the millennium, as you recall, Clifford. And I had been listening to a lot of short-wave radio, picking up a lot of weird signs and signals from all over the place, and the album was really for me, initially, about the end of the world. So “Gloomy Sunday” was one of my favorite songs, which Billie Holliday originally recorded. The song was infamous for having inspired people to kill themselves. Whether what was true or not, I don’t know, but they pulled it off the market at a certain point and stopped playing it on the radio because it had this terrible effect—it was just so depressing. We did a version of it that ranks with anything, I believe, that anybody ever did in terms of covering that song. We did it Smithreens-Beatles style; we took the beat from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and we really did make it our own. I’m very proud of that particular recording. That’s when I realized that we could take a cover and do something totally different with it and turn it into something that sounded like we wrote it... In the case of “Meet the Smithereens,” which is our song-for-song recreation and interpretation of the first American release by The Beatles on Capital, we follow very closely the structure of the songs while maintaining our own identity as The Smithereens.

Meth: Often when I’ve seen you play, even in your solo performances, you’ve often thrown in a Beatles song.

DiNizio: When we first started playing…we all learned from the masters, from The Beatles, The Byrds, The Beau Brummels. We learned from newer groups like The Jam about live performance. The Stranglers. These were contemporaries of ours at the time, but you take different things for different sources. What we were trying to achieve with Meet the Smithereens was to capture the subtle background sounds of The Beatles and not lose our identity. Come on—let’s play a couple tracks.

© 2007, Clifford Meth

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Free Meth

As a promotion to re-invigorate its mailing list, Aardwolf Publishing will be giving away free signed copies of some of its books and comics. Jim Reeber, Aardwolf’s chief bottle washer, says the freebies will include STRANGE KADDISH (signed by Harlan Ellison), THE FUTURIANS #0 (signed by Dave Cockrum), and PERVERTS, PEDOPHILES & OTHER THEOLOGIANS (signed by Gene Colan and myself). “Prizes will be awarded randomly,” said Reeber.

To be eligible, just email aardwolfpublishing@gmail.com with the words GIMME FREE STUFF in the subject line; include your name and mailing address in the body of the email.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

About Last Night

Once you've pulled a feather out of the pillow, it's tough to shove it back in. Nevertheless, some of you will notice that my post "A Night at the Opera" has been deleted, along with the comments and pending comments that were associated with the entry. Sorry. There's few things I love more than my freedom to write about whatever I fancy writing about--and, in particular, stories that I think need telling--but one of those things are my friends.

Harlan has asked me to drop this topic. Now I ask each of you to do the same.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My Classical Shotokan Roots

Some yutz has been obsessively writing me to "question" the authenticity of my martial arts training, considering, as he put it, my tendency towards occasionally using it. Frankly, I couldn't be happier for the opportunity to break out the family album.

I received my shodan (1st degree blackbelt) directly from Grand Master Richard Lenchus, founder and O'Sensei of the Legend Shotokan System, a worldwide syndicate of dojos based on traditional Shotokan plus Lenchus' own inimitable style of kata and kumite. A Legend blackbelt takes anywhere from seven to ten years to achieve. Unlike what's found in American Tae Kwon Do and many other U.S. dojos, rank in the Legend system cannot be bought--it must be fought for, on every level. Information on Sensei Lenchus and "The Legend" is available all over the web, including numerous articles that it has been my honor to pen.

My Sensei trained with and received rank from Kawanabe Sensei in Atsugi, Japan in 1958. I have had the good fortune of corresponding with my teacher's teacher, who is regarded as a pioneer in Shotokan.

Kawanabe Sensei received his training and rank directly from the legendary Funakoshi Sensei, the founder of Shotokan and pioneer of modern-day Japanese martial arts. Funakoshi Sensei's legacy rests in a document containing his philosophies of karate training now referred to as the niju kun. These rules are the premise of training for all Shotokan karateka and are published in The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate wherein Funakoshi lays out 20 rules by which students of karate become better human beings.

I currently hold the rank of Sensei in Legend Shotokan but am no longer actively training nor teaching. I also have a blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do as well as training in Ishin Ru and American Combat Karate.

My two oldest sons, Avi (20) and Benjy (18), both trained in Shotokan and Tae Kwon Do as children. Each of them are accomplished wrestlers, too, and actively training in Brazilian Jui-Jitsu schools within the Gracie system (the top of the food chain). Benjy, whose wrestling record was 21 and 2 his senior year, recently took first place in his very first BJJ tourament--an invitational in Haifa, Israel.

Avi Meth





Benjy Meth



Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dreams with Sharp Teeth

Tonight we make our pilgrimage to the Seer of Sherman Oaks, the Goan of Painesville, the ineffable Rebbe Reb Harlan.

The Fall of America Chronicles

America will neither end in a bang nor a whimper,
but in a cartoon. Preferably one by Mort Drucker.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Candidates

Forwarded to me this morning by Pat DiNizio who has joined me in chronicling the Fall of America.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Herb Trimpe on Wolverine's Humble Origins

Herb Trimpe, who brought us the first appearance of Wolverine in the last panel of Incredible Hulk #180, weighs in on my previous post regarding Wolvie's birth:

[The creation] was a kind of a group grope with John [Romita] doing the final model sheet. Len's concept, I believe, or Roy, but I think Len. I, being present in the bullpen at the time, was privy to what was going on. I like to think that they sewed the monster together and I brought it to life. All this of course with Stan's approval.--Herb