Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lost Pop Masterpieces #1: Everyone's Gone to the Moon

Jonathan King wrote and recorded "Everyone's Gone to the Moon" in 1965 at the heighth of the Beatles frenzy. In America he was a one hit wonder, but in England he had a long career producing weird pop rip offs and cover versions of hit songs. I've always thought of him as the English Kim Fowley. (He was also the original producer of Rocky Horror Picture Show.)
The song is a great post-Beatles pop song with slightly surreal lyrics and a reverby guitar tone.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I first heard about Monsterbuck when they were mentioned in an article in Esquire that discussed the great music to be found on MySpace. I checked them out because of the fact that they were from Upper Jay, NY., since I grew up in the Adirondacks and I was frankly surprised that anyone would think that a band from up there could be any good. Plus, the article spoke of their songs' "gorgeous melodies," and I'm a sucker for gorgeous melodies.

Not only are the songs great, but there are a couple of fascinating back stories going on with this band.

One is that these guys are not your typical Williamsburg indie-pop types. They've been around. Chris Kowanko, the singer and songwriter, first came to New York City in the mid 80's, and actually put out a Lenny Kaye-produced solo album in 1991. From then until he settled in Upper Jay a couple of years ago, he moved arounf the country a lot. Probably had a lot of jobs. But he never stopped writing songs. He put out another fine solo album a couple of years ago, produced by Seattle's Steve Fisk. He moved to Upper Jay with his wife and daughter because the bass player from his New York days, Scott Renderer, and his brother Byron (who happened to be a drummer) had moved there and opened an furniture upholstery business. When Chris arrived, they started Monsterbuck.

I've always admired songwriter/musicians who didn't know when to quit. It's part of that romantic idea that the music is so important that you would starve, you would neglect your family, you would give up everything as long as you could keep playing music. Kowanko seems like one of those guys. And the fact that the music he and the Renederer brothers is creating now is so cool just makes it that much more amazing. And in a town like Upper Jay, with a population of a couple of hundred people.

The other interesting backstory concerning Monsterbuck also concerns Upper Jay's most famous resident, Arto Monaco, who, in the '50's and '60's, was kind of the Walt Disney of the Adirondacks. He designed and built amusement parks, including Storytown, Gaslight Village, and his pride and joy, the Land of Make Believe, which he built in his backyard in Upper Jay. All these places were familiar to any kid growing up in the Adirondacks. Land of Make Believe was perhaps the most truly amazing. It combined fairy tales, and cowboys and pirates and other kid-centric fantasies and made them all come to life, often interracting with each other in ways that, in the real world, would have made no sense. (A cowboy saloon next door to a medieval castle, next to a paddle wheeler docked on the "Mississippi River.")

The members of Monsterbuck have adopted Arto Monaco as a spiritual forebear. The name of their ep and first album-to-be is "Land of Make Believers." And one of their best songs is called is "Arto Monaco."

The Land of Make Believe was destroyed by a flood in 1979, but you can still see the shells of some of the buildings in Upper Jay, along the banks of the Ausable River. Arto Monaco died in 2003, but his spirit lives on in Monsterbuck's quirky, beautiful songs.

Monsterbuck's first ep, "Land of Make Believers," is available at

The song "Arto Monaco" isn't on the ep but you can download it:
Monsterbuck - Arto Monaco.mp3

Saturday, September 16, 2006

CMT Crossroads: Steve Earle and Rosanne Cash

I've been Tivo-ing the CMT show "Crossroads" for two years, and I had never come across an episode that I thought was worth watching, until last night, when the two guests were Steve Earle and Roseanne Cash.
It was a perfect combination of artists - Earle was his usual gruff but sensitive self, and Cash was folkie-sincere and obviously really intelligent.
Cash gave Earle some shit about showing up stoned at a concert 20 years ago, and Earle, now famously sober, seemed a little chagrined. He, in turn told a funny story about hanging out with Johnny Cash right after he got out of jail.
They sang a bunch of songs together and to be honest I wasn't crazy about either Earle's or Cash's later stuff, but "Seven Year Ache," "Guitar Town," and especially "Goodbye," were sensational, and reminded me of why I used to listen to both of them a lot, and go to see them any time they were in New York.
I'm sure CMT will rerun the episode - it's definitely worth checking out.

I posted this on MySpace a month ago. I'm reposting it here because I need to fill up space and also because it's really the first of my rock and roll experiences.

Monday, August 07, 2006

RIP Arthur Lee

Almost exactly 40 years ago, in the summer of 1966, my friend Mickey Leonard and i hitch hiked the ten miles from the small town we lived in, Warrensburg, NY to the equally-small but way more interesting tourist trap town of Lake George. I had just come back from a summer in Europe, courtesy of a camp-sponsored exchange program, and was two or three weeks away from going away to prep school. Mickey Leonard was my best friend from junior high school, kind of a fuck up, and the coolest guy i knew.
A couple of miles outside of lake George, a beater of a car pulled up, smoke curling out of the exhaust pipe. We pried open the back door and got in. I remember we had to climb over a stack of lp's. In the front seat were two long-haired scary looking guys, unshaven and dressed in crazy shirts and vests. I had some guys who looked like that in Germany and France, but never this up-close.
The driver, was dark and had kind of an Afro (I call it that in hindsight, because I'm pretty sure i had never heard the term before). He asked where we were going, then without waiting for an answer asked if we had 50 cents, because they had to get to NYC. Mickey and I scraped together 50 cents and handed it over the seat. Then Mickey asked if the two guys were in a band. One of them said yeah. Mickey said, "I saw your album in the drugstore. You're in Love, right?"
The blond guy sitting in the passenger seat said yeah.
It was Arthur Lee and Bryan McLean.
I had been to Europe and knew who the Animals were and the Stones and the Kinks, but I had never heard of Love. And to be honest, even though I liked the Stones and knew all the lyrics to "Dirty Water" and "Psychotic Reaction", I was really a nerdy Herman's Hermits and Dave Clarke Five fan at heart.
As nerdy as I might have been, I still knew that these two guys were the coolest guys I had ever met.
I bought the first Love album as soon as I could, and fell in love with it. I even managed to find a place that sold the suede boots with fringe on the top that a couple of the band members were wearing on the cover of the album
So I've been listening to Love for 40 years. I've been a Velvets fanatic, a Stooges fanatic, a NY Dolls fanatic, a Big Star fanatic, a Television fanatic, a Feelies fanatic. But my appreciation of Love has lasted longer and has been more profound. I'd have to say that their first three albums are maybe my favorite albums of all time.
Even objectively, if you listen to "Forever Changes" now, it's hard to date it. The genre hopping is perfectly in tune with the kinds of stuff Calexico and Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire are doing. The sophisticated melodies and arrangements make it hard to believe that Love, in its heyday, was never really more than a struggling garage band making a living in clubs on Sunset Strip.
I saw Arthur Lee in the early 90's at Trammps and he hadn't lost a thing. His voice was, if anything stronger than it was on the albums. The songs rang as true as they had 25 years earlier.
I know Arthur Lee was fucked up in a lot of ways. (I also think he got treated like shit by just about the whole world.)
But there's no question that may still be the coolest person I ever met. And probably the most brilliant.

Friday, September 15, 2006

My First Post

In the last year I discovered music blogs. It started with Brooklyn Vegan and spread as I clicked through the list of blogs that he referenced. Gorilla vs. Bear, Stereogum, My Old Kentucky Blog, Aquarian Drunkard, Fluxblog, Large Hearted Boy, Rich Girls Are Weeping and on and on. I wasn't that busy at work this summer, and I also don't sleep much, so I got to spend a lot of time reading blogs and downloading mp3's.
I think the thing that I like best about the blogs I read, and the editors and writers of those blogs, is that they exhibit the same kind of passion for the music that the writers at Creem and Fusion and Crawdaddy and NY Rocker and Trouser Press, and other magazines from the 70's. And the passion that my friends and I had. We were in bands, we worked in record stores, we haunted other record stores, we'd sit around each other's stereos and play music at each other. Reading all these blogs was like being with my friends, talking about and listening to music.
I have a couple of goals for Be Hear Be Now. One is to pass along stuff I hear that I really like. Another is to offer a forum for friends of mine who care as much about music as I do, but may have different tastes or interests or simply a different point of view. And finally I hope to write a series of sketches that I'm calling my rock and roll autobiography. Over the years my love of music has caused me to run into one experience or another, in a Forrest Gump sort of way, that I think might be interesting to share. The first one is actually something I posted on MySpace last month after Arthur Lee died.