BOOK REVIEW: Glyn Johns’ “Sound Man”

 photo GlynJohns_cover_zpsdf6c2566.jpg If you have bought any rock albums in the last 50 years, you will have come across Glyn Johns’ name a number of times, as he was responsible for producing and/or engineering some of the music that has become a part of your life. He has been mythologized due to the work he did with The Rolling Stones and The Beatles but Sound Man (Blue Rider Press) tells the stories direct from the man himself, from his childhood tales to joining a choir that would lead him to become not only part of the recording studio, but part of the record industry.

As someone who is known as a producer and engineer, I had wondered (and perhaps hoped) that he would get technical about some of the projects that has made him someone to work with. It doesn’t get too technical or “over the head” at all but instead, he touches on meeting and working with the artists, his interaction with everyone involved and the experiences he may have had during a recording session or live shows. One is able to read about certain equipment from time to time but Sound Man isn’t a gear essay. Instead, Johns speaks from the perspective of someone who was there, yet at times he also writes as he was just a fly on the wall, observing what’s going on while putting together the process of what was and still remains his work.

The bulk of the book focuses on what he did in the 60’s and 70’s, which means extensive work with Led Zeppelin, the Stones, The Beatles, Eric Clapton, and so many others. It’s a chance to find out about the negotiations for artists, doing a lot of traveling from England to Los Angeles or New York and back, and seeing everyone pass him by as if it he was just taking a stroll through a school building and saying hello to old friends. Johns does reveal a few facts that may have been overlooked, such as certain musicians that played in well known songs and why, so if you loved Charlie Watts’ drumming in “It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It)”, you’re actually listening to Kenney Jones behind the kit.

The tales from the Sound Man are that from an employee and a fan, which makes it a pleasant read. By the last third of the book, we get to the 80’s and 90’s and the changes of the music industry as a whole and despite the setbacks, he moves forward and sticks with his job, occasionally having a bit of self-doubt but realizing his ears and expertise still hold a lot of value, as it has since the early 1960’s.


AUDIO: The Who’s “Eminence Front (DJ Platurn Remix)”

This new edit is not a put on by any means, and why? It was done by DJ Platurn, who you can (and should) rely on when he does remixes and re-edits, and he does it again with a song that was from The Who’s last song before they broke up in 1982. It’s one of my personal favorites and now you can hear it rearranged for 2014. If you like it enough to download for possible uses in DJ sets or radio airplay, check out Bandcamp below.

BOOK REVIEWS: Pete Townshend’s “Who I Am”

Pete Townshend We know Who came first. We knew Who’s Next. The answer is pending on Who are you, but for guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Pete Townshend, the band’s creative core and source of creativity, the question of who he is has always been discussed. In his own words, Townshend finally covers a lot of what people have wanted to know about him in his autobiography, Who I Am (Harper).

It is an autobiography that, for Townshend at least, was 46 years in the making, for he had wanted to write a book about his thoughts and himself at the age of 21. That doesn’t compare to what he has experienced in his 67 years of living, but he has managed to put them to words in a way that at times is as rough as the actual life he went through. He covers his childhood quite extensively because much of what he did in his youth pretty much inspired and lead to The Who’s greatest musical successes. From being a British child born in the ashes of World War II with a jazz musician for a father and a singer for a mother, and a grandmother whose male friends abused him as a child, the good and bad would lead to Townshend using music as a source of inspiration, a means of escape, and of course therapy. Beginning with the harmonica, that would lead to him taking up the banjo until he heard guitarist Steve Cropper in Booker T. & The MG’s “Green Onions”. That would change his life forever.

In his public persona and in previous interviews, Townshend has sometimes come off as an over-confident achiever, but one who worked a hell of a lot to get the job done. He states that that comes from having low self-esteem but that lead him to concentrate and work harder on what he loved best. Who I Am covers his early days as a guitarist in bands before meeting up with those that would lead to the creation of The Who.

While the story of The Who has often been from a group perspective, or at least an outsider’s view of the function of the band, the book is all Townshend. While he does play with the ego, he allows himself to reveal himself in a way that shows that while the public knows what he has revealed, there’s still a private side that remains private, one of a business man who has met with success and failures, but one who is willing to share the inner stories and secrets that he had always kept to himself, including his working relationship with Roger Daltrey. While the confidence may get in the way for some, I found it to be incredibly honest and genuine, and within that he opens himself to showing someone who knows of his strengths and weaknesses, and how those weaknesses have often been kept out of the mythology of The Who, which is the whole point of Who I Am.

You do get some Who stories, but Townshend touches on friendships that are both musical and otherwise, and how all of them fit into his life. He gets into some of the drugs and drinking, and eventually overcoming them. In that period where there was no music or concerts from The Who, he talks about him dealing with himself, finding a bit of normalcy that perhaps he had missed (and maybe to a degree, avoided) in the early days of the band. He had children, he had homes, and he discovered a love of boating that would get him to simplifying his life as he got older. His relationship with his wife is explored from first glance to their divorce, and eventually meeting with the lady who has now become his life partner.

On the creative side, I had always been interested in the recording studios he has had over the years, being fascinated with making music and technology, and working beyond the limits of the equipment at the time. My favorite Townshend album is his 1983 record dedicated to early demos and rough versions called Scoop, so I found the information in Who I Am to be as interesting as the liner notes in his Scoop series of albums. He also opens up a few pages from his diary to get into how he felt early on that there would be a time when music would be digitized and everything will be accessible via phone lines, and how some of the ideas he had along similar lines seemed to be laughed at, all of which are now part of the norm.

I had come across one review which stated that Who I Am is an egotistical book that seems to be Townshend boosting his own ego more than anything, and that the topics jumped around from one to another without a sense of continuity. As the man who created Tommy, Quadrophenia, and White City: A Novel, I highly doubt continuity is an issue for him. I found the book to be very easy to navigate through, and while there may have been section where he’ll go from, let’s say, 1972 and jump into the 1980’s before going back to 1972, there’s a reason for it. As for egos, this is his autobiography after all. Sure, there are times when he does pat himself on the back, but rightfully so, and all of them are overshadowed by the bigger picture of a man who has dealt with a lot of crap throughout his life, and has primarily done so through his songs. The fact that he covers the therapy sessions he has been through allows the reader to go deeper if they want, and all of those things help to create a much better of who Townshend is. You really wanted to know? Now he tells you, without hesitation, Who the fuck he is.

REVIEW: My TV viewing experience of the 2012 London Olympics

It’s not a secret: I’m not exactly a sports fan. If I was, this website would be called “This Is Book’s Home Run” or something. However, there is one major sporting event that I go crazy for, and that’s the Olympics. Doesn’t matter if it’s summer of winter, I enjoy both of them. It’s funny because I definitely wasn’t raised in a house or within a family that were aiming for Olympic gold, and as for winter sports? I’m from Hawai’i, if the temperature goes below 70, it’s considered “blue ball” weather and people have to put on their mainland jackets. Yet moving to the mainland made me not only enjoy the cold at times, but winter sports. I was someone who loved watching the intro to ABC’s Wide World Of Sports and looked for “the agony of defeat” part, a Saturday was not a Saturday without seeing that guy eat it.

I think for the longest time, I never saw myself as someone sporty, and definitely not someone who wanted to be athletic. My goal in life was not to be a lazy ass, but I felt at an early age that if I could use my smarts to get me where I need to be in life, I wouldn’t have to get involved in sports, at least competitively. I loved playing sports with friends, be it football, basketball, or baseball, but for an actual team? Forget it. Growing up in Honolulu, I loved to swim and still do when I am able to get to a pool but I love the beach, and I haven’t had a swim at a beach for way too long. In elementary school, we would go to camp every year and I clearly remember playing a game of water polo. I loved the pool, but playing also meant activity, which I wasn’t about. My appreciation for water sports came from my upbringing, being surrounded by water and ocean.

Which brings us to the 2012 Olympics in London, England. When it comes to my Olympics interests, I tend to enjoy watching what I think most other Americans don’t care about. I tend to like the fringe stuff, and I also like to watch all the athletes compete, and not just the Top 5 or “projected winners”. While my experience with archery is limited to the few experiences I had at camp, and with an uncle who hunted and would leave his bow & arrow at our house, I enjoy watching it. Hawaiians also love their volleyball, and I watched a good share of the games that featured Team USA, both men’s and women, but more of the women. I also watched the bronze metal match between Japan and South Korea, that was good.

In 2008, I watched the full Men’s Bicycling race in Beijing, and did so online. The feed came from the BBC and the commentary was great, but also minimal. What I also liked was being able to see the countryside, along with hearing some of the natural sound, which was primarily crowds and the cars and trucks with the camera crews. I wish I had watched the bicycling online as well, but both races were very good. I also liked the mountain biking event, and if anything, it continues to push me to get a real bike so I can do some riding outdoors and explore the world, or at least the world outside my door. My interests in bicycling has existed since my parents bought me my first bike (a blue Schwinn) when I was 9, and after hitting a tree and falling off, I understood the dynamics and did not want to stop riding.

One event that I fell in love with this year is Handball, or “Team Handball”, “Olympic Handball”. It existed before but I know I didn’t spend time watching it or caring. This time, it looked incredible. It’s a game that looks like water polo but without being in a pool. You mix up elements of soccer (football), American football, basketball and… it’s the most perfect hybrid sport I’ve ever seen. Imagine the Trey Parker movie BASEketball, but as a serious attempt in combining the best of many sports worlds, and without the humor. According to Wikipedia, handball is popular around the world, but there’s not too much attention in the United States. With luck, that will change in the last 10 to 20 years, because I’m addicted in watching and I want more.

Most of my viewing was on the weekends, and if I had a chance to watch in the evenings on a weekday, I definitely would. I believe it was the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, but I would not hesitate to watch coverage into the wee hours of the morning, which meant 2 or 3am at times. I’m sure it had more to do with my attraction to Hannah Storm, but that’s another story.

Would I have liked to watch more? Sure. I would have liked to watch more track & field, a bit more swimming, along with the canoeing and kayaking. I would have liked to have watched basketball that were not focused on the USA, and I wished I could have watched more soccer.

  • Which leads us to how it was covered by NBC. With any televised event, one is able to go to social media and comment in real time. In the United States, it was time delayed due to the 5 to 8 hour time different between North America and England (or 11 hours if you factor in Hawai’i and Alaska). This meant that everything would be seen in American homes long after the event was over, although NBC did provide streaming, but there were issues. In order to see live coverage, you had to prove that you were a cable or satellite subscriber by verifying who you were with, but also giving up your e-mail address. The issue was that they didn’t want just anyone to see the games, you had to be with DirecTV, Dish, or whomever in order to enjoy the games. For those who did take on the offer, the feeds were not always there 100% of the time. I read reports on how some games would black out for minutes. I did not take advantage of it, but when I watched a few events online in 2008, I had no problems whatsoever. In fact, I didn’t have to let them know I had Charter, DishTV, or DirecTV, I just clicked to the website, pressed play, and watched, with a minimum amount of technical difficulties.

    In the U.S., the games were spread over a number of NBC-affiliated networks: CNBC, MSN, Bravo (who would cover the tennis matches), NBC Sports, and Telemundo. Unfortunately, I don’t have NBC Sports or Telemundo, and there were a number of events shown that I did not get to see, such as the Handball finals which aired on NBC Sports, or some of the soccer games that Telemundo would run. Despite my Spanish being very limited, I find the Telemundo coverage of soccer much more entertaining and exciting, especially when the hosts get into it and yell out a long “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL”.

    Of course there were alternative ways to watch, including going to the London2012 site in England, or the CTV website from Canada, who primarily use the British feeds but do so uninterrupted. There wee also online streams from sources of unknown origin from many countries, so if you wished to watch it with Russian, German, or Mandarin commentary, if it was online, you could view it. Even if you visited a website where you couldn’t watch the feed because you were not in the website’s native country, there were more than enough programs that could be used to watch it successful. As fans wanted to see what they wanted, when they wanted at any given time, people used social media to get it and for the most part they did. Americans suffered through a number of bad choices NBC were doing with their presentation, everything from editing games/events to commentary that was either corny, dumb, or suggestive to the point where some felt it was offensive. It’s 2012, everyone is capable of watching what they want at any given time, but NBC were basically saying “no, we are going to present it to you this way. We have other ways, but this is the way we’re doing it, and we’re not going to change.” When word had it that NBC were removing elements of the opening ceremony, it was obvious that the commentary was not going to be only about the events, winners, and losers, but it lead to the very active #NBCFail hashtag, along with accounts that would post their delayed NBC-related tweets.

    Someone representing NBC had to come out and say that he didn’t know NBC offered something people really wanted to see, due to the backlash from a very vocal group of people. I found myself getting caught up in some of the dialogue, and when things died down, I realized that many of the arguments were valid. In the end, I feel NBC underestimated the public, what and how viewers wanted to see the games. It’s no longer the 90’s, 80’s, or 70’s anymore. In fact, I heard a statistic during the Olympics which said when ABC showed the Olympics in 1976, only ten hours was devoted to airtime. Ten. Most people didn’t have cable yet, and back then there weren’t many cable channels to begin with. You were stuck with ABC, because the other two networks couldn’t show the games, and you’d never see the Olympics on PBS. Now, you can veg out during the day and go back and forth between three to four channels and watch non-stop boxing, fencing, or tennis.

    I think NBC needed to give people better, more, and easier options, because some of the method they had done to insure people watched their games on their terms… it’s outdated. The means to watch the people in the Big Brother house 24/7 is easier to obtain. If I want to watch extras from any specific season of Survivor, I can go to the website and access each one. Hell, it seems like maybe CBS should have been given the coverage, but I know NBC/Universal purchased the rights and will hold onto it until at least 2020. In fact, as I was watching the games and how bad some of the coverage is, I hope that Google and/or Netflix will be able to obtain the rights to show the games in 2022 and beyond. Imagine Netflix doing it where you could have access to every single event, live, or to be able to watch a feed from the country of your choice, which would be in the language of your choice. If you wish to watch something more compacted, you can have that option, or a “highlights” channel. I feel that NBC will have to do a bit of rethinking and reworking the machine for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and I’d like to think that in 18 months or so, it will work to their advantage. One can assume that if Google and Netflix can do it now, imagine what they could do if they obtain TV/video/feed rights in 2022. Or imagine what would happen if NBC collaborated with Netflix and/or Google for 2014? It could be huge.

    What sucked about NBC’s coverage was that there is an NBC Sports, and most of it was not done with the expertise that NBC Sports is known for. It could have been better. Much better. There was a lot to enjoy and a lot was quite good, but the public deserved more.

    The Olympics is something I like because I like the power of competition and strategy, and the fact that people from around the world can gather together for the love of sport and the game, and the human condition. It’s one of the few times where we can see people get along together without too many issues. We fight wars because of the governments, but the Olympics show that with a sense of community and spirit, we don’t have to have those issues with ourselves and one another. I value that because of the way I was raised with a wide range of people, and in a small way, seeing these people, hearing their languages and how they speak, it’s my way of “traveling without leaving your easy chair”. It shows our world is only limited by what we think the world is, but for those who want to explore, leave your world/comfort zone and see people and places, hear new sounds, taste new food. The Olympics does something very few events in this world can do, especially in an official capacity. We live, we compete, we fight, but we do it to make it to the next stage in life. We do it before we reach “the inevitable”

    I loved the importance of music in these ceremonies, and with my love of British music, film, comedy, and arts, it was great to see and hear music so enthusiastic, understanding things have beginnings, middles, and ends. There’s story and structure, concept and themes, and the British have the utmost respect for artists who made music. The idea that one is a failure because their last hit was a flop doesn’t seem to exist, you are who you are because of what you created, or that you simply created or made an effort to. Within music there is unity. There is also sanity and insanity, but the London Olympics showed you could be any, all or nothing, as long as it moves people. While the opening and closing ceremonies didn’t have everything I wanted to see and hear (no Iron Maiden, Motörhead, or The Police? Why?), I feel it worked incredibly well. What I enjoyed about the ceremonies was that it was like a concept album with a distinct beginning, middle and end, a theme that made sense even though NBC felt the need to remove some of it because they didn’t think American audiences would “get it”. I liked the closing ceremony because the theme was done in the form of “morning, noon, and night”, from the ringing of the bell and using The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” (“woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head”) to partying into the evening with Fatboy Slim. The torch going out but the Phoenix rising was a nice touch, but I also liked the songs The Who uses as a trilogy to encourage the youth to keep the world moving. The line about a “teenage wasteland” in “Baba O’Riley” was changed so it wouldn’t be negative or sarcastic. Using the “See Me, Feel Me” segment of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was a nice touch too, for the concept of Tommy was about “that deaf, dumb and blind” kid who had to deal with physical and mental abuse as a kid, being told to shut up during his childhood. Finally at the end of the song and album, the child speaks by saying “see me, feel me, touch me, heal me” and it fit in with the end ceremony being a celebration of the contributions of British music to the world, with lines that offered a bit of a triple meaning. The song is about an abused kid who feels strong enough to speak and sing again, its use here not only could refer to the celebration of music, but also of the Olympic spirit which will continue with the youth of today and tomorrow:

    Listening to you, I get the music
    Gazing at you, I get the heat
    Following you, I climb the mountains
    I get excitement at your feet

    Right behind you, I see the millions
    On you, I see the glory
    From you, I get opinions
    From you, I get the story

    England was not afraid to share with the world their flaws, it did not want to sweep it under the rug so people can say “ooh, this is a nice place.” The good and the bad was a running theme, but it said “hey, we are a beautiful city and people, but there have been things we’re not too fond of. Let’s see how we got from there to here, and not censor ourselves.”

    Maybe one day, NBC will take the hint.

  • VIDEO: Suicide Death Force’s “Baba O’Riley”

    Suicide Death Force plays Baba O’Riley from Chris Schlarb on Vimeo.

    My sister calls the song “Baba Gnoosh”, others have called it “Teenage Wasteland”, but of course it’s called “Baba O’Riley”, as performed by The Who in 1971 on their Who’s Next album (a/k/a “the shishi cover”). This cover version is performed by a school band called Suicide Death Force. These music students are from Hawthorne Academy, a private non-public school, and musician/producer Chris Schlarb is their instructor (the man on guitar on the right). The students, most of whom are 15, learned the song for their graduation ceremony, and as you’ll see and hear, they did a very good job. It may have freaked out the younger children in the crowd who didn’t realize the CSI: NY theme had more to it than the 30 seconds they’re exposed to, but then again, one would hope those kids are watching Kid Nick and not CSI: NY but what do I know.

    Outside of music projects he always seems to be producing, Schlarb is currently putting together a documentary film on ice cream trucks called We Scream: Voices From The Ice Cream Underground, which will add the term “director” to his impressive line of work.

    We Scream Trailer from Chris Schlarb on Vimeo.

    MP3 OF INTEREST: The Who’s “My Generation” featuring & Slash now available, proceeds go towards relief efforts in Haiti

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic
    If you watched yesterday’s Super Bowl XLIV, you may have caught a commercial featuring The Who‘s “My Generation” but heard in a different fashion. The co-vocals in that mix was done by none other than of the Black Eyed Peas. What you may not have known was that the song also featured guitarist Slash. While the new version is sure to upset purists, it was not bad at all.

    The new mix, created by with approval from The Who themselves, has now been released as an MP3. All proceeds will be going to the Oxfam America’s Haiti Earthquake Response Fund, a charity selected by himself.