It started as a rumor in the barber shops, and then the reality was shouted in the Daily News last week. WQEW, 1560 AM, “The Home of American Popular Standards,” is being reformatted into a children’s radio station run by Disney. The New York Times, which owns the license to 1560 AM, has sold Sinatra, Gershwin, and Artie Shaw down the river, to be replaced starting January 1 by Hanson, Hanson, and more Hanson.
And after all those love songs, all those crooner tunes of heartbreak, how to properly mourn the loss of this radio station, which has become the live-at-home friend to so many of New York’s elderly? Dance, dance, dance. At a protest rally held in front of the Times building Wednesday afternoon, oldsters and youngsters alike kicked up their heels and exuberantly danced to swing music being played on the sidewalk by the George Gee Make Believe Ballroom Swing Orchestra, as the hilarious sight of cops trying to restrain octogenarian dancers on 43rd Street clashed with the sadder reality of 100 less extroverted but equally bereaved mourners lined up along the sidewalk to say goodbye to their old friend WQEW.
“It’s a tragedy. Where will anyone hear this music now?” asked Phyliss Minnagh, as she stood in the cold behind police barricades, angry at the Times for putting the dollar sign before love. “Also,” Minnagh said, “the people who really love this station couldn’t get here today. That’s the irony. You know, people in wheelchairs, the people who can’t get on the bus, the housebound.”
Across 43rd Street, 50 black and Puerto Rican teenagers from Adlai Stevenson High School in the Bronx had stopped on their way into the musical Ragtime to gawk at the crazy old white folks dancing across the street.
“What’s this about?” wondered Jose Perez, 17. When told of the crowd’s dismay over WQEW’s imminent extinction, Perez said, “But most of that music’s butt. Oh, wait, not Sinatra. And Brian Setzer kicks.” —Matthew Horovitz
It was “You Get What You Give” that filled Shine for the New Radicals last Thursday. From MTV and Rolling Stone to alt radio and Z-100, people notice this tuneful rant, which calls out the Dust Brothers, Beck, Courtney Love, and Marilyn “Rhymes With Beck’s Last Name” Manson. All “fakes,” Gregg Alexander charges. Live in “mansions” which, even if they don’t, almost is Marilyn’s last name.
What imparts interest to this opinion is how different Alexander seems from the above-named luminaries, especially Beck and Love, both of whom were obliged by history or fashion to pursue showbiz dreams from a bohemian base. Alexander is like it used to be— a showbiz wannabe whose bohemianism is a side effect of his stubbornly starry-eyed aspirations. A plumber’s son from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, he was a teenager when he first hit L.A., where he soon cut a born-dead debut he compares to Phil Spector and others recall as being more like Meat Loaf. At Shine, the material was all from the new Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, said to have garnered him a $600,000 advance from MCA. Clearest musical referents: Todd Rundgren and Hall & Oates. How many boho bands have the uncool to inspire such comparisons? How many have the knowledge? How many have the chops?
Backed by a generically rockish-looking band distinguished by a scrawny blonde in hooker mufti on tambourine, harmony vocals, cheerleading, and navel, Alexander, a tall white nonteen with a shaved head, who sings and sings only, performed, projected, stretched out his arms like the winner on election night and crossed his heart when he said he loved you. Midrange pitch problems often compel him to shout, not to say yell, but he lives off the kind of emotive falsetto only showbiz kids dare. Together with the funk-lite underpinnings, that’s the Hall & Oates part. The Rundgren runs deeper— falsetto and timbre and vocal affect, melodic contour too, alternating keyb and guitar leads, complete pop arsenal. Everything except lyrics, which are as verbose as early Dylan, or Meat Loaf. “You Get What You Give” may only be “Sex and Candy” ’99. But Alexander wants the world. Why should Beck and Courtney present at the MTV Awards when he and his hooker honey are available? —Robert Christgau
At S.O.B.’s last Friday, Fulanito looked like an eccentric posse of transnational caribbeños— five singer/rappers with powder blue derbies and suits, an older guy with an accordion painted like the Dominican flag, and a timbalero with a T-shirt that said www.fulanito.com. Their stage patter was illin’ bilingual, introducing “Baile del cepillo” with “Let’s get this party started right— que siga la rumba!” Just when the house-happy merengue mob appeared lulled by lead rapper Dose’s chronic clowning, El Maestro cranked up his accordion and set off a crazy two-step that sounded like Colombian vallenato played at 78 rpm.
Fulanito know that roots merengue possesses the samba’s mass appeal and power to synthesize a cultural identity. Their name, derived from Fulano de tal, means “ordinary so-and-so,” but Fulanito is true to Sly Stone’s insistence that everybody is a star— Dose repeated all night that Fulanito was “the most famous man on the earth.” By mining perico ripiao, the rustic rhythm at the root of modern merengue, while retaining their uptown crew posture, Fulanito forge a new Everyman aesthetic for the hiphop era.
The charismatic Dose and his Dominican and Boricua boys from Washington Heights and Jersey are really a house-hiphop crew with roots in the peak Tommy Boy aesthetic masquerading as a merengue band. The psychic core of Cutting Records, Dose and fellow Fulanito MC Winston Rosa have released Latin house records as 2 in a Room and 740 Boyz. At S.O.B.’s, they reprised two older hits, “Wiggle It,” and “El Trago,” a Spanglish house stomp that once got airplay on MTV Europe. But this was a night of Hispañola solidarity (Haitian group Zin would follow them), and Fulanito were reveling in their Latinocentrism. Spinning and jumping in unison, Fulanito’s furious five belted out flag-waving odes to the beaches and mountains of the Dominican Republic, and sarcastic laments about women who cheat on them. But when El Gordito (the fat one), shimmied his considerable girth, their true street colors showed. “You know who taught him how to do that?” said Dose. “Big Pun.” —Ed Morales
Years ago, Ellington scholar Andrew Homzy and I shared a running joke about one of the two albums released under Billy Strayhorn’s name in his lifetime: The Peaceful Side. That title seemed rather redundant to us in those antiquated days of Strayhorn scholarship, when we associated the great composer, songwriter, and Ellington collaborator exclusively with the luxurious ballads that he wrote for supreme sensualist Johnny Hodges— there could never have been such a thing as an Aggressive Side or Brutal Side of Billy Strayhorn. New revelations in David Hajdu’s watershed biography, Lush Life, have done much to correct that obsolete notion.
With his stylistic foundation in Nat Cole and Johnny Hartman (the definitive interpreters of “Lush Life”), it’s only logical that Allan Harris, who is probably the most exciting young male jazz singer on the scene, would stake his claim as the first major singer to tackle an entire program of Strayhorniana. Harris’s weekend, December 11 to 13, at The Jazz Standard— part of a precentennial season of Duke & Billy concerts, given by avant-gardists David Murray and Marty Ehrlich as well as authentic Ellingtonian Louis Bellson (this Thursday at Pace)— showed that there were many more sides to Strayhorn than he’d been given credit for in the years when he labored under Ellington’s shadow.
Lesser-known songs like “Oo” and “Nigh-time” all but exploded in scintillating, Latinate arrangements by pianist David Hazeltine. “My Little Brown Book” opened with a rarely heard verse that sounded more like Charles Aznavour than anything out of the universe of big-band swing. “Just a Sittin’ and a Rockin'” conveyed a jubilant mood that was virtually the opposite of that depicted in the lyric (Strayhorn kicks butt!), and likewise, the usually languid “Lotus Blossom” became an uptempo bebop scat feature. Best of all was “Passion Flower,” reconstructed by Harris and guest tenor Don Braden in a Coltrane mode— it could have been called “A Flower Supreme.” Nor were Strayhorn’s ballads neglected, like “Something To Live For” and a newly lyricized treatment of “Chelsea Bridge.” Harris instantly cut to the core of this material, which he described as “Opening up a place in the heart I didn’t know I had.” —Will Friedwald
When Paul van Dyk launched his Twilo set last Friday with samples of Goldie’s “Inner City Life,” I cringed. Would we suffer another celebrity DJ set like the metal mouth’s gig last spring, when hundreds of starstruck trainspotters herded around the DJ booth, crippling the party vibe?
False alarm. Before Goldie’s anarchic drum loops kicked in, the German spin meister’s authoritarian bassline seized control and a six-hour amusement-park ride began. Like many trance-isters, van Dyk loves roller coasters: portentous keyboard melodies and tweaky sound effects pile on top of 120 unwavering beats per minute. Each layer inexorably pulls the disco train higher. At the summit, some bass and synths momentarily drop out to give dancers a panoramic soundscape view before sonic hell breaks loose and the train plunges. Everybody screams!! When the track levels out, he wipes the aural slate clean and the train resumes its ascent, over and over. But not ad nauseam— unless you’re sober.
“It’s all about the music!” insists a leading trance promoter. Believe that at the risk of boredom, or worse, sleepiness. Trance is drug music, with ecstasy or acid stoking many engines. As for SSSNNNFFF!—that giant sucking sound heard around 5:30 a.m.—weren’t no Yamaha, Casio, or bathroom sex producing that effect.
Paul’s set was harder than the original mixes on recent domestic releases of his two- and four-year-old 45rpm and Seven Ways. Both are more Rohypnol late-morning wind-down than Ritalin predawn blastoff. Heavier artillery included Binary Finary’s recent hi-NRG-inspired anthem “1998,” which hurled a sweat-soaked baldy into catatonia. “I LOVE THIS SONG!” he violently screamed. I asked why. Suddenly spellbound, he stared blankly, eyes buggin’ and jaw hanging, then spun away. They don’t call it trance for nothin’. —Ernie Glam