Richie Havens was an old soul, singing with the voice of an ancient wise man even when he was young. Every artist strives to find their own voice, but it seemed to come naturally to Havens. His deep sandpaper and honey baritone came from some inner place of power and transformation. He was able to make every song he sang his own. Havens gained a national following when he played the Monterey Pop Festival, but it was his performance on the first day of the Woodstock Festival, Friday, August 15, 1969, that made him an international presence.
Spencer Moody, who played with the Murder City Devils, is playing the Hemlock Tavern this Sunday. And if you care about rock 'n' roll and punk and experimentation and all that is right with music, you will squeeze your ass into that tiny, little, dark room and go watch him. Here are five reasons Spencer Moody fucking rules.
1. Sometimes he's a bit scary -- in a good way
Any Murder City Devils fan on earth will tell you that, on stage, Spencer Moody looks like he's about two drinks away from being the half-naked crazy guy on a corner in the Tenderloin at 2 a.m., loudly delivering a slurred sermon in which everyone on earth gets sent to hell because his heart got broken. Watch this video -- he even does it in the middle of the day, at massive festivals, where no one understands what the hell he's trying to do:
I'm staggering through Walgreens Wednesday night, my brain in slo-mo, and my body numb. I'm getting a cold and I'm hoping to diminish its severity with some mass-produced placebos. My head is thick, the walls are moving and the floor is tilted. I come to a shelf packed with various remedies all promising instant relief. I blink my eyes, trying to focus, when suddenly a familiar voice comes floating through the air, singing a song I haven't heard in decades:
"Throw mama from the train a kiss, a kiss
Wave mama from the train a goodbye...."
At first, I think I'm hallucinating. The garbled syntax of the lyric echoes my own muddled thinking, but then the old memory cells kick in and I'm transported back to my youth.
[Editor's note: The following post by Houston writer and ESL teacher Shea Serrano was named the best blog post of the year in the first-ever Voice Media Group music writing awards. Originally published by our sister blog at LA Weekly, It's a sidesplitting minute-by-minute account of an afternoon he spent chaperoning a junior high dance. Read more about the VMG music writing awards here.]
By SHEA SERRANO
1:04 pm: In about 25 minutes, I'm going to be chaperoning a middle school dance. The dance is for the school's graduating 8th graders, of which there are several hundred. I've probably chaperoned fifteen of these things already. It's like being a bouncer at a night club, except this party will take place in a cafeteria and nobody told me not to let in Black or Mexican people.
1:08: Oh shit. They're serving free cake at this dance. That's actually kind of great. There'd probably be less hostility at proper night clubs if they gave away cake, right? Once when I was in a club, I got into a bit of a tiff with a gentleman. Shortly thereafter I snuck up behind him on the dance floor and punched him in his ear as hard as I could. I'm almost certain that wouldn't have happened if I'd had a slice of Italian Cream Cake on a Styrofoam plate in my hands. Fuck your nightclub for not serving cake, yo.
For a lot of people, jazz is just a stereotype -- a nebulous free-form art that comedians (or any of us, really) will parody without ever knowing what it's really about. Just hit some keys and scat a few syllables: jazz! And there are certainly performers who embrace the improvisational liberties offered by jazz so enthusiastically that they endanger their accessibility to mainstream audiences. However, Dave Brubeck was not only accessible but popular. His defining quartet, which toured and recorded together for 10 years (1958-1967), created the first million-selling jazz album, Time Out, in 1959 -- the same year that Miles Davis released Kind of Blue and Charles Mingus put out Mingus Ah Um (all on the same label, by the way).
Brubeck's accessibility was not the result of catering to the marketplace, but grew out of a confluence of public interest in "difficult" music and artists (Brubeck, Davis, and Mingus among them) who had been working in jazz for decades and had simultaneously matured as recording artists.