Saturday, December 12, 2009
"What's T What!? doing these days?"
Oh. Sure, T What!?. Stunt guitarist for The Pants. I mentioned that he had been doing some traveling and working on a solo project. But I haven't heard from him in a while, so back at the Pantmansion, I got on the go-phone and tracked him down.
The short answer:
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
I don't know what you think of when you think of Christmas, but here's what I think of: Disappointment. Tension. Yeah, I have a few memories of opening some toy I wanted, but those are fading just like the photographs of the days my parents probably can't find anymore.
I do remember my aunt and uncle gave me some of my first music - "Tattoo You" by the Rolling Stones. "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac.
Christmas, 1983. The band is still in the studio, working on "Life, Style..." On Christmas Day. Hoping to finish so we can go home for dinner. I'm in the vocal booth, having just finished the lyrics and vocals for "Last Song", which was also the last song we were working on.
The album was ready for mixing, and we already had a rough up. The phone rings. It's the label guy. We were being dropped. The album was never going to come out. He was claiming we cost too much money and weren't going to recoup. There were other reasons, too, but I'm not going into them here.
Over a year of hard work, and our whole teenage lives, gone. The band leaves the control room to go smoke or drink or cry or whatever. They don't notice me still in the vocal booth, in the dark. I slip out the back, my Schott leather jacket barely keeping the chill off. I walk nearly a mile before I can hail a cab and just tell him to drive...and I disappear for a long, long time.
There are other Christmases I could write about with similar stories, but instead, I'll focus on the positive.
In July of 1983 back when The Pants were still The Next Big Thing, we were asked to participate in some network Christmas special. I think Carl Sagan was hosting or involved or something. I remember Ewoks or Muppets or Gremlins or Goonies. It's all a little vague. The band couldn't make it, but the agent insisted that I did. So I turned up and did a nice little rendition of "Winter Wonderland".
Of course, after the band was dropped, they cut the segment from the special and it never aired (if anyone ever finds a YouTube video, please let me know!). But I managed to dig up a copy. We were going to put it on a flexi and send it out to the fan club.
Hope you like it, and Merry Holidays.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
He tells me it turns out they "made a mistake" on my taxes. Supposedly I owe Uncle Sam...well, let's just say it's a lot. But he's got it figured out. He's got me booked on "Dancing With The Stars". Cash plus promo. "Really?" I say, that's actually great!
"Well...it's not exactly 'Dancing With The Stars', but it's close" he says. "Oh, that other one, 'So You Think You Can Dance?'" He pauses and says "...not exactly."
This continues for a bit. Long story short, it's filmed "overseas" and it's "on the Internet". Whatever. The important thing is I end up making money (and surprise, so does my agent).
Now I have to learn what the kids are calling dancing these days. So I got this video:
Yeah. Good news is this ain't exactly learning the Virginia Reel (though I can do that, too. Thank you, elementary school!) Also I think I now have all the song titles for my next solo album!
Thursday, October 08, 2009
Been there, though. Sometimes you gotta give 'em the boot. They have a job to do, they're supposed to do it. In Jay's case, they're not "contributing". Jay writes the music. The band is named after him - it's his group.
It's not easy managing a band. It's somewhere between running a volunteer organization and being married to multiple partners. A tricky balance, requiring a wide personnel/personal skill set.
Many bands like to talk about how they're "democracies" where everyone writes and contributes to the music, vision, etc. It's true some bands do work this way, but very few. Or at least very few successful bands.
Look, Picasso didn't have a bunch of other people coming in to doodle on "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon". Shakespeare and Stephen King didn't have some of their teenage school friends dropping by to scribble a few lines or tell them they didn't think the second verse "worked". Frank Lloyd Wright didn't bring in some "session architects" to add some parts to the Johnson Wax building.
Heard of "the auteur theory"? It applies to bands, too. I've met a lot of band members and musicians in my day. Hell, I've been a lot of band members and musicians in my day. Mostly they want to stand in the back and play. And sleep with the significant others of the rest of the band members. Sure, they're all egomaniacs, but not all of them crave the spotlight enough to do the work.
But they're still people. Messy, fucked up people. So here's the inevitable solution.
To be honest, this isn't exactly new. When The Pants were touring through Germany, Florian from Kraftwerk got a little tore up on schnapps and gin and started talking about how he was going to replace his whole band with what he called "Bandroids".
Typically, he was overreaching and way beyond what the technology could deliver - he talked about creating an entire label of Bandroid acts, eventually evolving things to what he called "maschine für maschine" - music by and for machines. Then he started talking about robot bicycles. I left him with T What?! and went back to the bar. That's all I remember.
Anyhow. Bandroids replacing humans - it's closer than we think!
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Yeah, so what. To tell you the truth, I've faked Hooky's signature. Also Simon LeBon's, Mike Score's, Cy Curnin's, Jonathan Brandis', and once, when I was real messed up, Kevin Bacon's.
Every time, I managed to snag something between a fin and a Benjamin. Here's how it goes down: It's pretty much always night time. I'm out at a restaurant or club, keeping a low profile. Some giggly woman comes up and says "excuse me, are you Peter Hook?".
I smile, affect a terrible English accent, and reply "of course, luv." They start gushing about how much they love New Order and inevitably a request for an autograph follows, with a shakily extended piece of paper.
I look to one side as I'm pulling the Sharpie I always carry out of my pocket and say "sure, 20 bucks". More or less, depending on how I'm feeling.
Now before you all get up in arms, every successful singer I know does this. When you're almost famous, you get recognized all the time - just as somebody else. In the mid 90's L.A., I couldn't leave the house without getting "recognized" as actor Jonathan Brandis. Of course, the more you deny it, the more they're sure you're him.
The best part about this is that everybody wins. I get some cash and/or free drinks. The fan gets a special experience and a good story. And Hooky gets taken down a peg, because inevitably said fan will tell everyone he charged them for an autograph!
Anyhow, in today's music business, the conventional wisdom is "the music is now free, so sell what can't be copied". You know what can't be copied? Special moments. A connection between an artist and a fan. And also my faked version of Simon LeBon's signature.
Some of my more-broke musician friends think this is appalling. They think it should be about the music or something. They say musicians are supposed to produce music, not meet-and-greets, dinner dates, web chats, and (possibly faked) signatures. Then they try to sell me a t-shirt.
But sports fans have no problem standing in line for hours for an autograph factory like A-Rod at a "sports convention", and that's after buying tickets to games for hundreds of dollars. The secondary market for memorabilia is blowing up. Why can't I get in on this?
Music's being downloaded for free, like it or not. I gotta get paid somehow, like all my friends who play guitar. While I was "missing", I know people were passing around fake Sid Luscious merch, bootlegs, and so forth. Not to mention all the 80s band who ripped off my sound and look. I think of this as karmic (and actual) payback. What's a pop star to do?
And let me tell you, some of these people that come up to you and ask for autographs, these "fans" - they're creepy as hell. No musician will admit it in print, but most of them are terrified when people come up and start freaking out about how much they love you and how great they think your music is.
What's going through our heads is "Mark David Chapman". What we're not saying is "that song you think is so special? I wrote that in about 15 minutes because we needed 4 more minutes of material on the album."
And don't for a minute think that the "signature" on these things looks like how we actually sign our names. We aren't letting you fake up checks and credit card applications - I made that mistake once. Ok, twice.
Look, I've met lots of famous musicians. Most of them were boring. Or jerks. Yeah, a few were real nice (Eddie Van Halen tops this list). But I never once deluded myself into thinking they'd remember me, and that on the off chance we met again they'd say "hey, how are you, Sid?" Ed gave me a guitar and an amplifier once, but I still bet he couldn't pick me out of a police line-up (actually, I'm banking on that!)
Never confuse the art with the artist. The best thing you can do is simply say "thanks for the music" and walk on. That's all we want. If you want a "connection", buy a CD. Go see a show. Or just make up a story for your friends.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Case in point: Somehow word got out that I might be looking for a new bass player. Don't ask me how. The end result? My inbox is now full of videos like this:
In the old days, I'd just get a cassette with a headshot or a polaroid, and the odd bit of glitter, weed, or broken glass (for "cred"). Now I gotta look at this while I'm trying to wake up?
I should have been an investment banker!
UPDATE: My friend Adam Tober (who is fluent in Japanese) just told me the title of this song translates as "Drink Milk! Do Not Drink Milk!" and at the end is some sort of disclaimer about drinking milk. Go figure.
Monday, June 29, 2009
I wanted to try to write something with a little more soul while simultaneously paying tribute to some of our hardest-core fans. Make no mistake - I love the older women. Look at Farrah Fawcett. Smokin' until the end. There are too many to name.
Still on track to have the new album finished before summer's over. Dante's going to paint up a nice cover.
Tell us what you think.
Older Woman (mix 09) MP3
Friday, June 26, 2009
Dude was weird, no question. But nice, friendly, polite. At least to outsiders. That may seem like a funny thing to talk about, but you’d be surprised at how many famous people (especially the young ones) are complete jerks.
As for the weird, you’d be weird, too, if you had the upbringing he did. I experienced my own bit of precocious youth pressure back in the days of The Short Pants, trying to balance “academic excellence” with “making hit records” and chasing girls. But it was nothing compared to what he went through. The awful family situation. Worse was the early success and life in the spotlight.
I keep thinking about this Rolling Stone article I read back in the late 80s before “Bad” came out. The writer had followed Jackson around and had noticed a Post-It note in his bathroom that just had “100” written on it. (Jackson was way into the motivational Post-It notes).
He asked what that meant, and Jackson replied “I am going to sell 100 million copies of ‘Bad’ – that’s what it means.”
At that time, Thriller had sold about 40 million, making it (for a long time) by far the biggest-selling album ever. It had cameo appearances by Eddie Van Halen, Paul McCartney, and Vincent Price. It was promoted with a fantastic live performance broadcast on TV and backed up by a series of groundbreaking videos. And it hit at a time when the record industry badly needed a modern, catchy, optimistic record with broad appeal.
Thriller would go on to sell 100 million copies.
In short, it wasn’t just a once-in-a-lifetime event, it was a once-in-an-industry event. And Michael Jackson was convinced his next record (ominously named “Bad”) was going to do 2.5 times the business.
Kid stars have it the worst – they grow up knowing nothing but the spotlight. They’re forced to grow up in front of everyone, fumbling for new identities as teens, young adults, and finally, mature adults. I don’t know that Michael ever acknowledged he was getting older. The pressure he placed on himself was enormous.
He didn’t just want to be the best singer and dancer, or write big hits (and unlike many pop stars who take publishing/writing credit in exchange for recording, Michael did write many of his hits - he wrote the main riff for “Beat It”, among other things). He wanted to transform himself and went far to do it. I’m sure the physical, mental and emotional pain he kept himself in was not pleasant.
The kids. Nobody but Michael knows for sure what went on. But when you get to be that rich and that famous, and you’ve been that way your whole life, you can’t trust anyone over 13. Every time you allow yourself to meet someone new, you’re asking “Are they interested in me, the person, or my fame? Or my money? Or something else? Is this a trap?” Hanging out with kids too young to understand his life was the closest he could get to real human interaction. I’m sure he knew it was sort of messed up, too. Think about what that knowledge must have done to him as well.
I hope he is finally free of his demons and those goddamn Post-It notes. If nothing else, he’s at least free of the spotlight.
When I think of Michael Jackson, I think of a summer dance in 1982. His voice echoing off the walls of a Duke University gymnasium, as I danced into the night. I've never been sweatier, funkier, or more lost in the music.
Every night I step up to the microphone and The Pants fire into another song, I am chasing that one moment.
Wanna Be Startin' Something
Shake Your Body Down To The Ground
Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
Leave Me Alone
Friday, June 19, 2009
Close-to-final mix here.
I really like this one. Not just because the chicks go nuts for it, either. Makes me feel sorta lump-in-the-throat when I sing it sometimes. Lots hidden away in such a tiny little song.
I was made a hollow man(C) 2005 Erich Zahn Music (ASCAP)
My head all stuffed with fluff
I thought that was enough
Gears and machinery and fear inside of me
I thought that's all there was to be
I never felt a thing
I never had to sing
I never laughed or cried
I never wondered why
I wonder where you are now
You showed me how to laugh to cry to feel alive
You showed me
Love makes you real
Have you ever felt like you forgot something important
but you can't remember what?
Have you ever had a broken heart?
The kind where it cuts so deep you don't want it to stop?
Sometimes it hurts
It feels like you might burst
But once you're real, you can't go back
Once you're real, it lasts
I want you
I need you now
You showed me how to laugh
to feel alive
Love makes you real
Friday, June 12, 2009
Me? I've been in the studio mixing.
I'd like to present what I believe is The Best Song I've Ever Written. It's called Summer's Promise. This is the current rough mix. I wrote this song back in 2005. It's based on a true story, as are many of my songs.
The lyrics may be a little corny, but I love the feeling. The melody, the keyboard line, the guitar parts - I don't know how it turned out so good, but I'll take it.
Let me know what you think. Snare drum is too loud or something. But it's very close to done.
It was June and July, it was her and me
It was meant to be
When the heat of the day became the heat of the night
We held each other tight
And we danced
All summer long
And we sang
All summer long
But vacations end and it was time to go
On my own
All that year I carried the mark of Summer's promise
On my heart
I would wait for Summer to come
Until they all were gone
But Summer's promise never meant to last
She gave her heart and then she took it back
People change and the world spins so fast
Summer's promise never meant to last
Next June arrived
And so did I
With a flower and a smile for her
But the look on her face told me everything had changed
We never talked about it
But there was no doubt
And to this day, I have a scar
Where her promise broke
and cut my heart
and I cried
All summer long
Summer's promise never meant to last
She gave her heart and then she took it back
Feelings change and shatter like glass
Summer's promise never meant to last
(C) 2005 Erich Zahn Music
Sunday, March 08, 2009
The 3 Texans have had careers longer than most musicians have lives - they started playing together in 1869. They've been savvy enough to get way rich without selling out - they turned down $1 million each from Gillette to shave their beards. They've been doing exactly what they want longer than anyone can remember and people love them for it.
Everyone knows they're cool. But they don't get the respect they deserve, especially these days. Yeah, yeah, they're in the Rock n'Roll Hall of Fame. Don't hold that against them - it doesn't count for anything, and the kids today haven't managed to pick up on how awesome they are. They're too busy listening to Journey and Duran Duran.
ZZ Top never cared what anyone else thought and still doesn't. They played their blues-roots rock for something like 100 years. They wrote great, slightly dirty songs like "I'm Bad...I'm Nationwide", "Tush", and "La Grange".
And then they started getting weird.
They made an album called "Eliminator". Maybe they were bored after making several dozen solid blues-rock records, each with super-solid singles. Perhaps they were savvy enough to understand what tastes were changing to in the 1980s. I like to think it was instinctual rather than calculated.
For "Eliminator", drummer Frank Beard played to a click track and synced and mixed his live drums with a Linn Drum. They took their buzzing distorted guitars and mixed buzzing sawtooth synthesizers in, chugging sequences augmenting the chugging guitars and bass. It's a breathtaking combo, which sounds both raw and polished, timeless and modern.
"Eliminator" sold over 10 million copies, becoming one of the first albums to be certified "Diamond" by the RIAA. Also one of the last, because since the music business threw itself out a window and genres splintered into a million shards, nobody buys records like that anymore.
A big portion of the album's success came from the fantastic videos they made to go along with it. "Gimme All Your Lovin'", "Sharp Dressed Man", and "Legs" were the quintessential MTV videos. The band appeared, driving the car on the cover of the album. There were (by 80s standards) high production values, short stories of the band turning ordinary losers into cool people, and of course, hot chicks.
These videos, for all intents and purposes, were the 80s. You wanted to be one of the people in the video. Or grew up looking to find people like the ones in the video to sleep with. The videos supported rather than upstaged or ignored the music. They kept similar cast and stories so the videos all felt part of a piece.
They managed to parlay their success into a song on the hottest movie series of the 80s - the Back To The Future trilogy. And they followed up "Eliminator" with an even more synthesized album, "Afterburner".
Not as charming as the previous record, "Afterburner" sort of sounded like the band on autopilot. But that was also perfect for the 80s zeitgeist. It had more of everything, and some big hits as well. "Rough Boy" is particularly nice, with a clear influence from Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" video, and an icy take on a pop blues ballad.
So what's so special about ZZ Top? Well, since their big breakthrough on "Eliminator", countless other rock bands have tried to combine drum machines, synthesizers, and guitars. The bands who have tried to duplicate ZZ Top's brilliant sound include:
- Def Leppard. Their albums with "Mutt" Lange actually surpassed ZZ Top's in technological achievement and sales, but without any of the quirky fun.
- Jesus Jones. They don't know it, but they owe a debt to ZZ Top
- Nine Inch Nails. Trent acts like he's the first guy to think a drum machine and a distorted guitar would go great together, or that a clever video would help sell a record. Sorry, man. ZZ Top FTW.
I ran into Billy Gibbons at a party I crashed in the Hollywood hills in 1991. He did not look well, but I suspect he had probably crashed the party, too. I wanted to tell him how much I liked his music, but he was just so cool and there...I couldn't bring myself to get close enough to say anything.
If I could have said anything, I would have said "I want to ride in the car. I want the hot chicks in the animal prints to do unspeakable things with me. I want to be transformed by the power of rock into the cooler version of me I know is in there. I want to drive down a dusty road to a brick loft with neon and Nagel prints on the walls and an old refrigerator full of beer. And thanks for the music."
Alas, it was not to be. Should I be fortunate enough to be graced with the opportunity again, I will not fail. I will tell him that I, too, am bad...and nationwide.
ZZ Top still around, they're still playing. I suspect they'll be rocking in another hundred years. Rick Rubin is producing their new album. Despite Rick's continuing self-cartoonification, I look forward to hearing what ZZ Top sounds like in AC/DC drag.
Until then, check out this short playlist for an example of their unmitigated awesomeness.
Sharp Dressed Man
I Need You Tonight
I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide
Tube Snake Boogie
Friday, February 27, 2009
My close friend Anu has released a new album called "Overcast". It's sorta dark and depressing modern rock.
He asked me what I thought of it and I said "Dude, it sounds like music to not get laid to. I'm not saying it's bad, I'm just sayin' the people probably won't like it much".
Anyhow, apparently you can download it from http://www.chillproductions.com/anu/RPM2009/Overcast.zip.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Dante the drummer is all but completely recovered. However, guitar "player" T What!? has gone to China for 6 months to study guzheng with the masters. It is likely we will do at least one show while he's gone. And the band is still working on the new album.
What I'll be doing (and why you need to at least RSS feed this site!):
- Writing about our influences once a week (like the Julian Cope and Adam Ant articles)
- Posting more tracks, including in-progress demos
- Booking a few shows
I find it hilarious that 20+ years later, all of today's indie musicians out there decided that, of these 2 guys, the look that said "ROCK" and "GET CHICKS" to them was Jan Hammer's!
Special thanks to Solid Gold JP Lester for sending this my way.