On Fire – Van Halen

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 22

Seems to me, I have a backlog of music-related posts to make. The recent passing of Eddie Van Halen moves the band that takes his name to the top of that list of posts.

I’m not going to wax poetic about how brilliant a guitarist Eddie Van Halen was. Everyone knows he was a virtuoso that reinvented the instrument in ways unlike anyone else before or since. All rock fans have anecdotal moments centered around the virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen. My personal favorite is how the song “Eruption” instantly became the ultimate test for any aspiring guitarist. If you could play that you weren’t just good you were awesome. My mind goes back to that college dorm room with that guitar guy playing his attempt at that solo for the other dudes in the hall. It happened a lot. Usually followed by “Wish You Were Here” on acoustic, you know, to chill things out after the heat coming from that semi-blistering version of “Eruption.”

Instead, I want to reflect on my life at the time Eddie Van Halen came into my world. It was 1978 and I was nine years old. I was already starting to get into music. I had a record player of my own. I owned a few full-length albums. Bought them when going to neighborhood garage sales with my Mom. I had a few singles of my own too. Ultimately, Van Halen’s first releases were some of my very first albums on cassette tape.

When Van Halen’s debut came out, I heard it everywhere and like everyone else, it caught my ear. Never before had I heard any guitar like that. It was crunchy and fast but strangely smooth and slippery too. I have vivid memories of hearing that band in those days. Didn’t matter where I was, Van Halen was there too; the local recreation center, the swimming pool, the playground, the backseat of my Mom’s car, even coming from someone else’s car at a red light. Eventually, from my Walkman.

The gestalt present in their sound is unique. It’s simultaneously a cohesive unit and a single dominant force (Eddie Van Halen). Van Halen, Van Halen II and Fair Warning are my favorites. I could have chosen any song from the debut album. The album is that good. I decided to feature the song “On Fire” in my post for a few reasons. “On Fire” is the closing track and it’s a barnburner. It comes as advertised, three minutes of fire. It has remained one of my absolute favorite Van Halen tracks over all these years. Unlike many Van Halen songs, this song means business. It has a speed metal intensity and its purpose is to kick your ass. It’s not messing around. (“Mean Street” on Fair Warning is my all-time favorite Van Halen song for a similar reason). “On Fire” is good enough to close out their debut AND be an opening track in concert (see attached video).

To be fair, I started to lose interest in their music a couple of years into the Sammy Hagar era. That said, I can still listen to all the David Lee Roth albums with a smile on my face. That’s the secret ingredient and the true magic of Eddie Van Halen and the band Van Halen. They just wanted to put a smile on your face and that’s what they did best. Eddie Van Halen’s smile while playing guitar is my indelible, unforgettable memory of him.

Ain’t Got Nothing (To Go Wrong) – Dead Meadow

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 21

Today is my birthday. I’m 51. It’s the first day of my sixth decade. My day, year, and decade started with something that most would say is a minor serendipitous moment. However, I know otherwise. My higher power speaks through music. This was no accident.

I often wind down the day by listening to music in a lowly lit room. Last night was no exception. When I’m not in the mood for a specific artist or album, or a deep listening of something new to me, I’ll often hit shuffle on a vast playlist filled with hundreds of songs I know. That’s what I did last night.

At 11:59 (I looked at the clock) one of my absolute favorite songs came on. Ain’t Got Nothing (To Go Wrong) by Dead Meadow. Not only is this a favorite song, I consider it one of my theme songs. Only a handful of songs become theme songs to me. I’ve written about them before and will surely feature them again in my Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast posts. Typically for me, the music carries me through the song. That’s the case here as well. The guitar solo in this song is incredible. However, my personal relationship to the lyrics and their overall feel with the music, are for me, the elements that elevate a song to the highest level.

The moment midnight came and the calendar turned to the eleventh of September, my birthday, shuffle gave me this song. A piece of music with great personal importance to me. It wasn’t serendipity. It was meant to be. I wouldn’t have had my new sixth decade start any other way.

 

Lemon yellow sun up overhead today
What more is there that I could say then Lord, let it stay
I ain’t got nothing to go wrong today
No, not today

I’ve been up and down this street for quite some time
The gutters get filled, it takes all kind like fish on a line
The way that things go these days, I’m fine
Yeah, I’m doing fine

Good times come, they sure come slow
Why that may be I don’t know, just let it flow
All things in this world they come, they go
Yes, this much I know

If silence is golden then your words they’re lead
I can’t believe how that shit sticks in my head
The sun shines away, there’s nothing to say
People they talk anyway, they’re talking away

 

 

Zig Zag Wanderer – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 19

For various reasons, I have decided that this is one of my theme songs. I have a few of them, not too many. Zig Zag Wanderer, it rings true for me on many levels. This decision comes after many years of living life and many hours of listening to music. This is a decision made through experience.

I am not even a huge fan of Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band even though I respect Don Van Vleet and his important contributions to music as an alternative rock pioneer and beyond. In fact, I had not even heard this song until I was around 35-40 years old, when I took a deep dive into early psychedelic rock.

You can jump you can holler
Never lose what I have found
Heaven’s free ‘cept for a dollar
You can zig you can zag
Whoa I’m gonna stay around gonna stay around

 

Beatbox Rocker – Westbam

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 18

I know it seems like all hell is breaking loose in the United States. I know there’s bullshit flying around you in every direction. I know it seems like the virus is never going to leave us. I know you’re concerned for your safety and the safety of your loved ones.

I also know it’s Saturday night! Time to make some boogie down productions of your own. Time to get up, get up, get, get, get down with this techno electro classic. Seriously, I love this jam.

I’m beatbox rocker, and you dancing to my beat.

W.M.A. – Pearl Jam

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 16

White. Male. American.

This song about police racism was released in 1993. It was inspired by an incident in which Eddie Vedder got into an altercation with a group of police officers who hassled his black friend but ignored him.

“He won the lottery by being born
Big hand slapped a white male American
Do no wrong so clean cut
Dirty his hands, it comes right off
Police man, police man, police man
Police stopped my brother again”

This song is now 27 years old. I’ve listened to it often over the years. Objectively it’s a pretty great song too. The tribal backbeat is hypnotic and it’s message is as vital as ever. Let’s listen to it like it’s brand new because the subject certainly isn’t old. #blacklivesmatter

Let The Good Times Roll – Little Beaver

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 15

I’m still gravitating toward my collection of funk soul classics during these times.

Let music help you rise above the bullshit blocking your way. Whatever get’s you through. This one works for me.

Never An Easy Way – Morcheeba

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 14

Heard this one shuffle this morning. It had been a while since I heard it. This song sounds best after midnight but today it was a morning song and once again I heard the right song at the right time.

The sound is bold and strong yet spacious and sparse. The lyrics are moody yet motivational.

It’s one of my personal anthems. Nothing else to say.

Hello In There – John Prine

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 13

Like many people, I first learned about John Prine through other people’s versions of his songs. My mother played Bette Midler’s version of this song a lot when I was a kid. I recall listening to the lyrics and being immersed in the life of the song’s narrator. I remember being compelled to think of what were very deep thoughts at the time. This is my favorite John Prine song because it’s the first one I ever heard. I still recall taking a journey through the lyrics. For the first time, I thought of a song as a story.

Even though the singer/songwriter tradition isn’t my favorite type of music, I know and respect the legends of any genre. He’s also from Chicago and spearheaded the Chicago Folk Revival.

John Prine is a legend. May he rest in peace.

Ventilator Blues – The Rolling Stones

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 12

The soundtrack of life continues. Rough and tumble blues from the Stones is my nomination for our post apocalyptic national anthem. Lyrically it relates to the news of the day of course. The sound of this tune is appropriately greasy and gritty for our present situation too. Not only that, it is a damn good song, one of my all-time favorites (https://brettcalleroartist.com/2019/09/11/my-500-favorite-songs-at-50/).

If a song could literally kick your ass, this would be one to watch your back around.

When your spine is cracking and your hands, they shake,
Heart is bursting and you butt’s gonna break.
Your woman’s cussing, you can hear her scream,
You feel like murder in the first degree.
Ain’t nobody slowing down no way,
Ev’rybody’s stepping on their accelerator,
Don’t matter where you are,
Ev’rybody’s gonna need a ventilator.
When you’re trapped and circled with no second chances,
Your code of living is your gun in hand.
We can’t be browed by beating, we can’t be cowed by words,
Messed by cheating, ain’t gonna ever learn.
Ev’rybody walking ’round,
Ev’rybody trying to step on their Creator.
Don’t matter where you are, ev’rybody, ev’rybody gonna
Need some kind of ventilator, some kind of ventilator.
What you gonna do about it, what you gonna do?
What you gonna do about it, what you gonna do?
Gonna fight it, gonna fight it?

Mind Control – Truckfighters

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 6

Once again, it’s time to fight trucks!!!

Concert night is here. This time it’s the band Truckfighters, from Örebro, Sweden. One of my favorite bands. They lay down one of the thickest fuzziest grooves you’ve ever heard. Here’s the video for “Mind Control,” one of their very best songs.

One Slight Wrong Move – Archers Of Loaf

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 5

Concert night is here. Concert week is here. Four of them in the next 8 days.

Tonight is Archers of Loaf at Terminal West. Looking forward to it. I’ve never seen them before. I like this band but I love one of their albums, White Trash Heroes, their fourth and final full length album. If you’ve not heard it, check it out. It’s super solid from start to finish. My favorite song form that album is a noisy groove called “One Slight Wrong Move.”

This song kicks so much ass in just a few short minutes.

“A hundred million people could be wrong,
A hundred million people have been wrong before,
A hundred million people could be wrong”

N. I. B. – Black Sabbath

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 3

Fifty years ago today, Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut was unleashed and released to the world. I’ve read many times that Black Sabbath set out to create a sense of horror with their songs. Something mysterious and sinister, like a scary movie but with rock and roll. Just look at the album cover art. Just listen the first notes of the first track, the song Black Sabbath and you’ll see they not only successfully reached this goal, they defined it. They defined that sound for everyone, everywhere, forever.

Millions of words have already been written about the impact of this album (and other early Black Sabbath albums) on rock and roll and the greater culture as a whole. Therefore, I’ll just mention a couple of personal anecdotes.

As an art professor I have an introduction to design project where I have students use their imaginations and create the shapes of sound. I let them choose their own songs but I play about a dozen songs that vary in mood and tempo in class as examples. The song “Black Sabbath” is always one of my choices because of how effective it is at stimulating the imagination of the listener.

I love Sabbath, especially the early stuff. However, I am (and always will be) a Led Zeppelin guy. That said, I will argue that Black Sabbath had a GREATER overall impact on rock and roll than Led Zeppelin. Black Sabbath in many ways started the engine of the heavy metal machine. Thousands of bands worldwide have taken this as their template. Led Zeppelin, despite all their success and influence, cannot say that. I believe Black Sabbath’s impact on rock and roll is second to only the Beatles.

My favorite song on this album is N. I. B. simply for it’s overall sound. I’m a sucker for a funky fat riff. It’s so easy to groove to. Interestingly though, the song has a couple of good stories about it too. Good music misunderstanding stories.

It’s always on the list of banned songs because it mentions the name Lucifer blah, blah, blah. If you actually understand the song, you’ll learn it’s written from the perspective of Lucifer as he falls in love and transforms into a good person.

The title has it’s own misunderstanding as well that I find pretty funny. Most think “N. I. B.” stands for “Nativity In Black.” It doesn’t, it’s basically an inside joke about Bill Ward’s facial hair. You can read about it here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Sabbath_(album), (then click on the link for the song, don’t know why the direct link isn’t working). Basically, that name has been imposed on the song by just about everyone. So today, it un-officially does stand for “Nativity In Black,” because this is what the world wants.

So here you are. Presented in honor of the fifty year anniversary of the release of Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut (and the birth of heavy metal).

Cult of Personality – Living Colour

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (aka ARE) Post: 2

I’m surprised at how many people have NOT heard this song. Kids! Give it a spin! Adults, revisit this song and it’s message. It’s sounds like 2020 doesn’t it? We’re living through the Cult Of Ugly Personality.

Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (ARE)

I plan to make more Artist as Rock & Roll Enthusiast (ARE) posts here on this blog and more posts about other topics in general. Things I might normally post to Facebook. Hopefully I will live up to this proclamation. My mixed feelings about Facebook have helped me come to this conclusion. Post more of what I want on my own blog and post the links to that on Facebook instead of directly posting there.

My next post will be the first of many “song of the day” type of posts. There’s no agenda to these songs, just things I encounter within the soundtrack of my daily life.