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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hypoallergenic dogs

My son Devon wants a dog. He wanted to create his own website about hypoallergenic dogs, but I convinced him to create a post on my blog. So this is the cute picture of a poodle that he and I found on Google. By the way, poodles are hypoallergenic. Devon would like everyone to know that if they want a hypoallergenic dog, they can type "hypoallergenic dog" in Google.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"But we got homesick for Lincoln Park (imagine)"

There are times when an object's rarity causes us to value it more than it deserves. There are also times when our admiration for a certain individual makes us gloss over his or her weaknesses. In addition, many of us tend to become overly nostalgic for our own pasts. In any case, I certainly know that I do.

These are things I occasionally mulled over in my quest to track down Bob Seger's out-of-print 1969-1974 back catalog. Was the sheer rarity of these albums making me value them more than they deserved? Was I simply becoming nostalgic for a time (the early seventies) and a place (Detroit) that perhaps didn't warrant such a warm and fuzzy backward glance?

Full disclosure first. I don't want to create the impression that I've always been a Bob Seger fan--quite the contrary. I remember hearing his music back in the '70s, but the stuff I liked then was the Grease and Saturday Night Fever soundtracks, along with the disco and pop tunes I heard on the radio. I certainly didn't care about some growling, bearded dude--Seger--who looked like the auto mechanic at our local repair shop. (However I must say, living in 1970s Detroit, Seger was practically in the drinking water. I have vivid memories of my dad sauntering through the house belting out-of-tune versions of "Katmandu." It is this memory, plus other memories of Seger on the radio in the seventies, that made me nostalgic).

By the mid-eighties, I was fashioning myself as a hipster wannabe and listening to college rock and choice older artists like The Velvet Underground, The Doors, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. I recall that my sophomore year college roommate, Paul D., was a big Seger fan, but I found Seger to be hopelessly uncool. It really wasn't until the last decade or so that I came around to appreciating how good this guy was between the mid-'60s until the late '70s.

Okay, digression over. I know you're dying to find out the answers to these existential quandaries regarding the value of these old Seger albums and whether they hold up to closer scrutiny.

In the last few weeks, I've finally struck gold in my "SegerQuest". My old acquaintance from Schuler Books & Music days, Mike V. (who is one of the biggest music fans I know and managed the Schuler music section in the early aughts when people still bought CDs) posted three Seger albums, via SoundCloud, on my Facebook page. (I'd only been pestering Mike, off and on for over a year, to hook me up with some old Seger). The albums were Ramblin' Gamblin' Man (which I already had on vinyl but wanted to convert to a digital format), Mongrel, and Back in '72.

After eagerly downloading them to iTunes, I burned all three albums to CD-R. Although I love being able to digitize music, my preferred listening method is still compact disc since I can easily pop a disc into my living room stereo (yes, I still have one of those), the CD player/radio in the kitchen, my CD Walkman (yeah, still have one of those dinosuar contraptions) or the CD player in our Kia Soul. (Our ancient '97 Volvo station wagon is too primitive to handle CD-Rs). I was able to burn Ramblin' Gamblin' Man and Mongrel onto one (killer) disc.

To top things off, I found an original vinyl copy of Seger's 1974 album, Seven, at the only record store in the Lansing area that's worth a damn, Flat Black & Circular (better known in these parts as FBC). (This reminds me that I'd like to, at some time in the future, write a blog post in which I lament the death of the record store--as if that hasn't already been done to death).

So by now, after I've digressed even more, I'm sure you're begging for the conclusions I've come to after listening to these albums. I've been meaning to do a blow-by-blow analysis of each of these old Seger releases, but not surprisingly never seem to have time or enough energy to do so. Let me then be succinct and say that they are, for the most part, excellent.

I'll start off with the Bob Seger System's 1969 debut album: as I've already mentioned, I've had Ramblin' Gamblin' Man on vinyl for several years, so it wasn't really a revelation. It's clear that Seger was still trying to find his voice on this, his debut album, and it's a little all over the place. The record is mainly bashing, propulsive Detroit rock (the title tune, "Tales of Lucy Blue", "Ivory", "2+2=?") with a little self-conscious psychedelic pop sprinkled in ("Gone", "Love Needs to Be Loved"). Seger was trying perhaps a little too hard to be everything to everybody, so the psych pop is a bit half-hearted and hasn't aged particularly well, but still it's fascinating to hear Seger performing a style of music he essentially abandoned after this album.

Mongrel (1970), on the other hand, is a true revelation. Sounding like a more brutal, savage version of Creedence, the System's third record (after the sophomore failure of Noah) flat-out rocks like a beast. Seger's voice is a hoarse howl throughout most of it, and the band just cooks. One of the few quiet moments is "Big River," which sounds like a rough draft of 1976's "Night Moves". In any case, Against the Wind, this surely ain't. It's a shame that Seger and the rest of the powers-that-be don't re-release this gem. Those who only know Seger as an MOR balladeer would be shocked.

By the time of 1973's Back in '72, Seger was beginning to refine his craft. This may be his most well-rounded record. It starts off with what has to be the definitive cover of the Allman Brothers Band's "Midnight Rider". Seger's version is considerably more soulful and rollicking than the Allman's somber rendition. The other highlights from this album are "Turn the Page" (one of the best songs written about the day-to-day drudgery of the traveling musician) and the brilliant, Stonesy "Back in '72" which contains one of my favorite lines (one that only people from Michigan could understand) "...but we got homesick for Lincoln Park...(imagine)". "Back in '72" is another road song, but rollicking and playful in contrast to the somber "Turn the Page."

I picked up Seger's '74 album, Seven, on vinyl at FBC. Seven is a straight-ahead rock 'n' roll album (and probably the ultimate Seger "party album"--I envision this record played at any number of Midwest "booze and pot" parties in the '70s) and features the Chuck Berry-styled "Get Out of Denver" and the bluesy, tongue-in-cheek "U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class)". The album cover is an abstract painting of rolling dice, and Seger was clearly "gambling" to finally have a hit record, but inexplicably, the album never even reached the top 200 of the Billboard charts. Although Seger made a few more decent records after this one (Beautiful Loser, Night Moves, Live Bullet, and Stranger in Town), I will always contend that when Seven failed, Seger finally had enough and played it somewhat safe thereafter. From Beautiful Loser on, his music became more professional and polished, sacrificing a great deal of the manic energy that made his earlier records so brilliant.

Well, I went into a little more detail about those records than I anticipated. Suffice it to say I'm having a wonderful time listening to these old albums, and am still hopeful that Bob will give them the re-release that they so richly deserve...and yes, the brilliance of these records has matched my level of nostalgia.