February 28, 2018

Minor Secrets of "You You You" Revealed!

Every so often I attempt a finger-picking arrangement of one of my old songs. I’m not the greatest picker in the world, and there’s nothing particularly fancy or difficult about the arrangements, but it is really quite a challenge to get through a whole song on video without choking too bad. There are times, on the couch, when it seems like I can play them pretty flawlessly, but I must be kidding myself there because I can never manage to replicate that feat when the laptop is rolling. They’re offered “as is.”

(And here’s a playlist of the ones I’ve done so far.)

“You You You” is a simple enough tune, and quite traditionally structured, but there are just a few counter-intuitive bits that were easier to sing than finger till I got used to them. Not technically difficult, but your fingers keep wanting to go a different way, or mine did at any rate, so it took quite some effort to train them to do it proper, basically months of zombified, semi-autistic playing, over and over.

A lot of people really like this song, I’ve found. It closes the album Revenge Is Sweet and So Are You (replacing, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere) the originally-planned, far grander “I Was Losing You All Along” which we couldn’t finish. When that album came out Ben Weasel sent via email a lengthy, quite heartfelt and detailed, song by song critique of the album, and about this tune it said only that it was a weird way to end the album. Which is true enough.

The track as recorded verges on a lot of arguably contradictory things without ever committing to any of them: minimal, traditional, bouncy, punk-but-not-really, mournful, bubblegum, restrained and over-wrought at the same time. Kevin Army captured a truly great guitar tone on that one, really dark and brittle, and the vocal is stark and rather “intimate.”

(The guitar was an old 1950s Les Paul goldtop, borrowed for the occasion, that had been hilariously refinished and stained so that it matched the previous owner's yacht or the hardwood floors of his faux-Scandinavian lodge in Marin; smart things come in stupid packages, that is to say, some things look stupid and sound great, and I regret not buying it to this day.) I remember Kevin saying to someone at the time that it was the best vocal from me he’d ever recorded. Well, maybe maybe not. Always punching above my weight in that regard, I’m well aware.

As originally conceived, this song was supposed to be much more restrained and quiet, wistful or whatever, more like this arrangement to be honest, at least in “feel.” But that wasn’t a thing we did, or were capable of doing, in 1997. That’s why people like ’97, I know. To the extent that the RIS “You You You” is something special, it’s the result of stumbling on to whatever it was that made it so. It leaves a lot unsaid, which is why ending the album that way turned out to be apt, though it was almost entirely accidental.

I’m still pretty pleased with it as a song (which I sure can’t say about all of them.) That “expects to see” / “more agony than ecstasy” rhyme is a too-trite Cole Porter-ism that is pretty awkward in the context and it makes me wince slightly when I hear or sing it. (Not to mention the fact that it alludes to Michelangelo and invokes Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison.. none of these guys should be intruding into what was meant to be a simple, plaintive elegy to a love affair.)

Anyway, though, back to this version: how about that guitar? A 1949 Martin 0–15, if I’m reading the serial number right. I’m kind of “curating” it for my friend Lawrence, who acquired it back in the ’80s from a student of the great Furry Lewis. Furry may have even owned it previously, or if not, at least he played it. You know how “provenance” is. This is the Furry Lewis guitar. The tone is out of this world, which is what you get from 70-year-old wood christened with the sweat of a delta bluesman.

(Grim Deeds, by the way, on the shirt, is your future favorite band.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:05 PM

Titanic Satanic Panic

Some decades ago there was a society-wide spasm of utter madness in which obviously innocent people were accused of being Satanists, rounded up, and imprisoned by the hundreds. Some of these people still rot in prison to this day, but now there are two fewer of them, courtesy of the work of the Innocence Project.

I hadn't been familiar with this case, but to judge from this twitter thread from an OK attorney, it exhibits many of the standard features (a lurid, implausible theory of "ritual" crime, a bribed jailhouse informant, a corrupt police detective, dubious Satan "expert," and a crooked prosecutor who fought tooth and nail to prevent the DNA test that finally exonerated them and then tried to keep them in prison anyway on a preposterous technicality.)

God bless the Innocence Project, but shame on us.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:22 PM

The Dr. Frank Method

According to my phone, the convoluted route I have to take around the neighborhood to avoid all the people I don't want to stop and talk to increases my step count threefold on average. Fitness through social anxiety and misanthropy.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:04 AM

February 26, 2018

A Schedule for My Dumb Little Web Presence

So, I've recently started trying to stick to a rough schedule in all my posts to various places, something that makes more sense than my previous randomly-determined model. (e.g. seventeen posts in a row on a night of insomnia, followed by two months of radio silence, followed by a single cat picture, etc.)

The schedule is: Mon.: a story; Tue.: day of rest; Wed.: a video, with commentary; Thu. an old pic or other item "from the archives"; Fri. a cover of my song "Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend" found on the internet (styled "your Friday morning 'Hitler').

The stories go on my Medium account. The video on my Youtube account. And from there they "flow" along with the song commentary, the pics, and the "Hitlers" (as long as they last) and whatever else to all my various places: minds.com; twitter/frankportman; twitter/mtxforever; this here old blog (crumbling before our eyes, but still accessible); my Facebook; my band's Facebook; Instagram/drankf (sometimes). And now, F. Portman On Google, which is where I originally typed this.

Beyond the self-discipline for its own sake, I'm doing this to provide people who want to find out about the stuff I'm doing with a more structured, consistent way to find out about it. Because (a) I'm doing a lot of stuff these days, and (b) the social media platforms that are now people's main source of information on things that people like me do seem to hide a lot of stuff these days.

You'd think a riotous world of competing communications vehicles would be a good thing for the sake of spreading such stuff further, but in fact, if they're competing at anything it seems to be trying to outdo each other at hiding things people want to find out about from the people who want to find out about them. It's the opposite of communication. Dis-communication, if you will.

I miss the days when I just had a single blog where I'd post things and anyone who was interested would just know to go there to find out what I was up to. Of course, I could still do that, but it wouldn't work because people don't get information that way anymore and no one would go there. For better or worse (worse, of course, it's always worse when that's the choice) everyone has passively accepted that tidbits be served to them by an aggregate of faceless companies based on secret criteria. It's not a good thing, but it is the way it is. Hell in a handbasket, I tell ya.

Anyway, I'm not saying I think doing this will solve that problem. I'm not an idiot, or at least, not all the way. But at minimum, when people say "how can I find out about the stuff you're doing that I'm not seeing?" I will have a place to send them, and a more or less predictable structure extending to the future in case they ever feel like checking back. I figure it's better than nothing, and maybe it'll help, who knows?

We'll see if I can keep it up!

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:44 PM

Soul Butcher Meets the Duckhead Buddha

Today's story is one I've told before (e.g. here) but here it is with some embellishments and a couple of photos.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:40 PM

February 21, 2018

Minor Secrets of "Coffee, Tea, or Me?" Revealed!

"The kind of girl I dig, some of her was big, but part of her was petite..."

Mikill Wotan!

Here I am doing "Coffee, Tea, or Me?" with the Smugglers at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on July 26, 2003. As you can see, the front bit is missing, but as it's the sole document (as I must assume) of something that happened only once, that is, me singing this song with the Smugglers it seems worth a post, praise Odin.

This occurred during a week-long Lookout Records festival. We were in the midst of recording Yesterday Rules and took time off to play that show. (I also did a solo set that week at Thee Parkside, leaving the rest of the band to do tracking without me, which felt very weird, though also kind of rock star-y if you know what I mean.) I was a bit pre-occupied with recording stuff on both nights, and remember nothing at all about them except doing this song, but the memory is glorious.

This was one of two of my songs that the Smugglers recorded on the Rosie album. Both date from the Revenge I Sweet - Show Business is My Life era, part of a large batch of songs that included Revenge rejects and also formed the basis of Alcatraz. ("You're My Hostess Cupcake", recorded under the title "Bombay" by the Go-Nuts, was also part of that aggregate.)

As originally conceived, "Coffee, Tea, or Me?" was from the stewardess's point of view,, but then I hit on the idea of going all high-concept on it and making the entire composition from beginning to end a literal Penthouse forum letter and I couldn't resist doing it that way. I love stuff like that, and several of my best/favorite songs are in that category: "Concept of the Soul" (term paper); "Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful" (postcard); "Jill" (message left on voice mail.)

I'm sure a lot of "young people," if any there be reading this, have no clue what "Dear Penthouse, I am just a regular guy..." is meant to invoke but for people of a certain age the Penthouse Forum loomed fairly large as an icon, as cultural currency. If it is now mysterious and confusing rather than clever, well that's the way these things go, isn't it?

Of course, "Coffee, Tea, or Me?" originally was a 1967 semi-fictional faux-memoir about the swingin' antics of some risqué airline stewardesses. That's another dead reference, probably, but it was also pretty obscure when I wrote the song to be honest. My parents had that book and it made a big impression on me, though I remember very little of it now. The 1973 TV movie starring Karen Valentine feels like it should have had a theme song but as far as I can tell, though it had songs in it, I don't think it did. Anyway, even if it did, I bet mine is better and if there's ever a Coffee, Tea, or Me? "reboot" it'll be here waiting for them. (Not bloody likely, I know.)

Anyway, the Smugglers are one of the greatest rock and roll combos in the history of rock and roll combos, despite being Canadian, and it was a great honor that they did one of my songs, let alone two. I do like my original, quite rudimentary demo of the song, and I may release it in some form one day.

In the meantime, here's what it's like when I do it solo:

And here's the Smuggler's version, from the record:

Here's a bit of the 1973 TV movie to give you the flavor of that:

And here's a girl who wrote another "Coffee, Tea, or Me?" playing it on the internet:

Thanks to the Smugglers, Karen Valentine, semi-fictional faux-memoir sexy stewardesses, Xaviera Hollander, and most especially to Marisa for capturing the event on video and sharing it.
You know, it's funny but I always begin these little write-ups thinking I won't have much to say and I end up typing loads. Praise Odin, share, like, subscribe, etc.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:46 PM


The subject is "dirty jokes" through a child's eyes, and it's a story I've told before. But here I am telling it again, so that if everything here disappears it will still be there.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:41 PM

February 18, 2018

Blog maintenance

You may have noticed this blog has been ailing and limping along for some time, and a bit more than previously since December 2017.

A lack of allocated disk space, that apparently cannot be increased, has recently prevented me from posting any new images. I can still post text, and links that load resources and previews from other sources, like youtube and twitter. But the front end tends to load incompletely and intermittently and the archives, when their links are visible, are unstable. (They're still there, it's just that searching and accessing them is unreliable.)

It's not a solution to the long term problems, some of which are fundamental and go back many. many years, but I've deleted a bunch of images to clear up enough space to allow the front end and indexing to function a bit better. It seems to have worked, at least a little, as far as I can tell.

When I've deleted an image, I have left a link to the image (e.g. as in this post.) I probably won't be posting new images here unless something big changes, but I may well delete more. Sorry about that, if you care. And if so, it sucks for me too.

The images I would have posted here are currently being posted on social media and on my minds.com page. I'm not going to post links to every image here (though in the case of significant things I may.) If you're interested in that kind of thing (saints, whimsical pictures of various kinds, MTX memorabilia) that is the place to go to find them.

Still working on a better solution, but we'll see.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:03 PM

February 15, 2018

Minor Secrets of "Love American Style" Revealed!

Gesælig æsc Wodensdaeg to þe!

Gonna shift away from Southampton '92 to Hamburg '92, because it's Valentine's Day and "Love American Style" is an appropriate song for the occasion. Sort of. (LAS was in that Southampton set but the video has lots of glitches during it.) This was just a few days after that Southampton gig, back on the continent, and near the end of the tour if I'm remembering right. It's a rough performance, as they always were, but it does manage to put the song across and it's the best we've got as far as live renditions of it in that era.

To paraphrase something once said in reference to Leppo, the fifth Rutle, the Reeperbahn is one of the naughtiest streets in the world: we couldn't play our instruments but we knew how to have a good time, and in Hamburg, that was more important. I remember that night very fondly, and recall that show as one of the great ones despite what appears in the video to be a distinct too-cool-for-showmanship distance on our part and a sparse, only mildly interested crowd. Well, we were certainly used to those.

The song "Love American Style" was recorded for a 1991 single on Lookout Records, and it is the first recording where I was genuinely satisfied with the way it came out. I think the hot guitar leads way up front were a bit shocking to the tiny, quite conservative, developing "pop punk" crowd, and the cover of the single was controversial in that little world, too. I do think, though I say it myself, that it has held up pretty well nearly thirty years on, as a recording and as a song.

But, it's a pretty weird song. The idea of forming a love song by mashing up and combining bits and pieces of de- and re-contextualized, unexplained bits of ancient pop culture is strange in itself; it was something I liked to do, and it came naturally for better or worse, but this is arguably the first time it really worked. "I will defend your right to cry" (the original theme song of the TV show said "try") is maybe one of the best things of its kind I've ever managed. I doubt further explication would be useful. I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you. Either you get it or you don't, and if you don't you won't.

There are a few other songs from that set that may be worth pulling out and commenting on, but I'm not done with Southampton yet, believe me.

Have a great time on your mandatory dates tonight. Þu eart dust and to duste gewendst.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:51 AM

I wrote a thing about fan art...

... and posted it, sharing many examples.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:48 AM

February 08, 2018

Minor secrets of "Let's Be Together Tonight" revealed!

Another song (for Odin) from that 1992 show in Southampton.

Rich Levene was there and says his diary indicates there were 60 people at the show, which sounds/looks about right. They really were a wild, exuberant bunch. They shouted incomprehensibly at us throughout the set. It was a good time, as you might be able to tell.

"Let's Be Together Tonight" was our typical show opener in this era (succeeding "What Went Wrong"), written during, but not recorded in, the Milk Milk Lemonade sessions, late '91.

Just before heading to Europe the following summer, we threw together a recording of it along with two other songs for a 7" called Strum und Bang, Live?! to be released by Munster Records in Spain, on the theory that it would be a good idea to have some release in Europe when we went there. That record was presented as "live at the Regal Beagle" -- the Regal Beagle being the bar frequently mentioned on the TV show Three's Company -- but it was actually recorded in a Berkeley 8 track garage studio called Smooth Papa's Greasy Groove Hut, though I'm not sure it had that name yet at the time. (I believe that this and Alex Sergay's Recording Emporium were same place, but the timeline eludes me, and I could well be wrong about that.)

The crowd noise between the songs was taken from KISS Alive II, Blue Oyster Cult's On Your Feet or On Your Knees, the record of JFK's inaugural address, and a jazz record whose title I can no longer recall.
We recorded another version almost as soon as we got back from Europe, in the same room (which had, in the meantime, acquired a 16 track deck -- I think) as a three piece since Jon von had left the band by that time. The Gun Crazy songs were recorded there in those same hurried session, as well as chunks of Our Bodies Ourselves a bit later. This version came out under the title "Together Tonight" on the Gun Crazy 7" and was tacked on to the end of the Our Bodies... CD.

The song itself is a nice little pump-and-pummel pop song, and the slightly clumsy lyrical construction serves to enhance rather than degrade the wistful, pleading, confessional spirit of ingenuous romance-cum-regret-cum-horniness that makes it work. Or so I keep telling myself. I bet I could write the lyrics better now, but I doubt it'd be an improvement. So let's just leave it as it is, shall we?

Praise Odin, share/like/comment/subscribe/follow, bang your face into your laptop till the blood voids your warranty, and check back next week for something new.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:58 AM

February 06, 2018

How College Radio, Dr Demento, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus Turned Me into a Punk Rock Antiquarian

New post with pictures and such over at Medium.

One day I'll sort things out here, but till then farming them out and linking is how it must be done.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:16 PM