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Mashed Potatoes Can Be Your Friends: The Non-Negotiable “Weird Al” Yank Originals

Below I decree the best original songs (i.e. songs not specifically parodying another composition) “Weird Al” Yankovic has ever recorded. Amazingly, a track from the Post-Mustache Era sneaks its way in (the Mustache Era of course being 1979-1997).

“Happy Birthday”
“I’ll Be Mellow When I’m Dead”
“Nature Trail To Hell”
“Dare To Be Stupid”
“This Is The Life”
“Stuck In A Closet W/ V. White”
“You Make Me”
“UHF”
“Generic Blues”
“Everything You Know Is Wrong”
“Hardware Store”

These are my absolute faves, obviously, and I think if you stuck ‘em all on one disc and threw that disc into a time capsule future generations would have no problem understanding why we dubbed this frizzy life form “weird” (and why we angled to save his greatest hits). Before anyone pipes up to argue that “UHF” doesn’t work outside the context of UHF the film: yes it does. It’s a song about television as mind control.

Also, “UHF’s” generic rock riff is ten times more satisfying than any other generic rock riff of its time period. That riff, it rustles my jimmies!

Honorable mention: “Let Me Be Your Hog,” which isn’t really a song, just part of a song, but still manages to be fucking hilarious in under, what, twenty seconds? That’s the true mark of genius.

Unsolicited Musings On “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Mandatory Fun

- Mandatory Fun’s cover is funny, but not as funny as the fact we could go to war with North Korea over that James Franco movie

- my issues with late period Yank: he doesn’t scream as much as he used to, and rarely do any songs break mid-tempo (even the polka medley here speeds too safely); in Al’s defense, he’s creeping up on 55, and he went plenty nutso on his older albums

- I want to say the Lorde parody “Foil” should be longer to milk more out of the subject twist, but laborious college fight send-up “Sports Song” proves brevity is the soul of wit

- “Word Crimes” is disappointing because Al spends more time just shitting on the grammatically ignorant instead of trying to educate them; it’s very “get off my lawn,” but at least his heart’s in the right place

- Mandatory Fun’s polka medley may be caught in second gear but it’s also plenty fun, as most of his medleys prove to be

- while I appreciate Al taking the piss out of Frank Black on his Pixies style parody “First World Problems,” the song itself is nowhere near as clever as the first world problem rap that mush-mouthed teen posted to YouTube a few years ago; this could be because mush-mouthed teen legit feels the struggle and Al is (generationally?) removed from that kinda thing

- a few of Mandatory Fun’s originals lean alt country, which makes one wonder what a non-weird Yank album would be like at this point; maybe like Wilco, with more references to boogers and socket wrenches?

- “Weird Al” has some major cajones calling out other people for being tacky (“Tacky”) when you consider the fact he’s worn nothing but Hawaiian shirts for his entire career

- overall, Mandatory Fun is limp; not one song is on par with classic Yank, and the album’s closing ballad “Jackson Park Express” (a tale of love and miscommunication on public transit) could be the least engaging song Al’s ever done; of course, it’s all lightyears better than whatever Dr. Elmo’s doing right now, and what do you want from a guy twenty-six years after “Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White?”

- this would be a great place to post a link to the interview I did with “Weird Al” in 2011 where he clears up that rumor about getting punched by Billy Joel’s wife; alas, evil forces have taken it offline

- yes, I am bragging that I interviewed “Weird Al”; career lulls aside, he’s still “Weird Al,” American comedy god, hero of my youth, the Gozer of parody

Q: What’s The Best Music You’ve Heard So Far In 2014?

A: All Night Lotus Party by Volcano Suns; “Razors In The Night” by Blitz; Brody Dalle’s Diploid Love (which actually came out this year); Prince’s Black Album; the s/t debut from Orient Express; “River Rock” by Froggy Landers; Anti Everything by Surf Nazis Must Die; Destroyed by Sloppy Seconds; Iron Prostate’s Loud, Fast, & Rapidly Aging.

Don’t ask me how I made it to 35 without hearing some of this stuff prior. I can only blame ex-girlfriends who ate up valuable listening time with ska or Our Lady Peace.

On Erdélyi Tamás

Johnny may have been the General, the guy who made the trains run on time, but in a pinch he always deferred to Tommy. That’s because Tommy was smart as hell and could visualize this thing called the Ramones before it even existed. Necessity planted him behind the drums (no one else really grok’d this sound), and how lucky for us. Tommy worked like a dog behind the scenes but that percussive attack was so even and strong that some fans insist the Ramones stopped being the Ramones once he quit.

And only in a band like the Ramones could other members actually harass Tommy for being relatively normal. Witness: the interview snippet in End Of The Century where Dee Dee admits he gave Tommy so much shit back in the day because he was jealous the guy knew how to cook. Regardless of interpersonal dynamics, to fans Tom was Teflon Ramone, the Ramone you just couldn’t dislike for any reason. He drummed on the three best albums (Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket To Russia), produced the best two he didn’t play on (Road To Ruin, Too Tough To Die), wrote the lion’s share of their undying anthem “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and remained pleasantly normal as the years rolled on.

Once the Ramones were done, Tommy seemed like the peacekeeper. He wasn’t arguing with Joey on “Howard Stern.” He wasn’t writing books full of dubious claims against his Bruddahs. Tommy just wanted to preserve the legacy and love his fellow Ramone—or at least dispel the myth that they all openly prayed for each other’s death. “Believe it or not, we really loved each other,” he told the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame during the Ramones’ induction. “Even when we weren’t acting civil…we were truly brothers.”

Tommy spoke those words with conviction, clarity, and palpable emotion. Unfortunately, that portion of the ceremony was quickly eclipsed by Johnny announcing “God bless President Bush” as he cradled his statue and Dee Dee thanking himself for being so wonderful (a cute moment, admittedly). In that sense, the induction was typical Ramones: a fat chunk of heart smothered in patriotism and self-reference.

Despite what you may have heard or read (even by my own hand), the Ramones are my favorite musicians in the history of recorded sound. Nothing else fills me with the same joy and excitement, and I mourn the loss of the last surviving original architect.

Thanks for everything, Tommy.

Jerry Only Moves For Dismissal Of Danzig Trademark Lawsuit

The warring parties of Only and Danzig in 1983. Photo by Bill Daniel.

You bet your life there’s gonna be a fight: Misfits bassist Jerry Only and his lawyers have moved to dismiss the lawsuit Misfits founder Glenn Danzig brought against Only in May for trademark infringement and breach of contract, claiming Danzig has no evidence to back his myriad allegations and also that the singer waited too long to make this legal move.

“By his own insistence, Danzig has had no association with the Misfits since at the latest 1994,” Only’s filing state, going on to make the accusation that the singer is attempting to “unfairly profit” from “belatedly recogniz[ing] the [Misfits'] value” (Danzig is seeking $75,000 in damages from profits lost due to Only’s activities). The term “naked money grab” is also used at one point, which conjures up quite the image if you’re not expecting it in relation to Glenn Danzig.

Danzig’s original suit alleges that in the early 2000s Jerry Only fraudulently put his name on various Misfits logos/trademarks that, per a previous legal settlement, were supposed to be co-owned by band members. Only now claims that original settlement did in fact grant him full use of those logos and trademarks, and that even if they hadn’t, Danzig waited too long to do anything about. The statute of limitations in a situation like this is six years; Danzig had patent objections pending against Only for “nearly ten years” with no conclusion, and his lawsuit comes “approximately fourteen [years]” after the disputed breaches of contract.

Danzig concedes that by 2005 he even had actual knowledge of the underlying facts to exercise his purported rights…yet chose to wait nine more years before bringing his claim.”

This could play into Only’s other serious counter: that Danzig can offer no concrete evidence Jerry’s merchandising activities have cost him business. Indeed, there is no specific example cited in Danzig’s claim of a licensing deal gone south thanks to Jerry Only’s interference.

Touching on the aforementioned legal settlement, a.k.a. the 1994 Misfits Agreement: it states that “the parties shall be co-owners of the name and trademarks of the Misfits and all logo(s) and artwork…previously associated therewithin.” However, Jerry now argues that in “renouncing” the band at that time Danzig also renounced his claims to these logos and trademarks. Although there is no specific language in the ’94 Agreement that covers the contingent of a Misfit abandoning his rights, the “Merch” section ends by saying “the plaintiffs and Danzig will each retain 100% of what each earns from the exploitation of merchandising rights and neither [party] has any obligation to account to the other for revenue derived…”

That sounds like it might be tough to beat. Do note the entire merch outline in the ’94 Agreement is but a paragraph long. It would seem Danzig (at that time the defendant) had little idea as to the exact windfalls of cash the Misfits logos would yield in the following decade—thanks, mostly, to his letting Jerry get out there and reform the band without him.

Not everything with Jerry is rock solid here, though. The bassist’s legals throw out a few sentences that are sure to rub longtime fans as dubious at best. To wit: the part about the Crimson Ghost (a.k.a. “the Fiend Skull”) being “uniquely developed by and identified with” Jerry’s ’90s version of the band, a logo he’s claiming “the 1977-1983 incarnation of the Misfits never used as a trademark.”

If he’s referring to the weird 3-D Crimson Ghost that popped up around 1997, sure, that’s undoubtedly a “NewFits” logo, but there is no staggering difference between that emblem and the “Fiend Skull” that appeared on the front of the 1979 “Horror Business” single and the back of the 1980 Beware EP and on the back of 1981′s Walk Among Us album and all over the Misfits’ amplifiers and wrist bands and guitar straps circa ’82.

[Never mind the fact that every "Fiend Skull" in Misfits history is a shallow derivative of something "uniquely developed" by Republic Pictures for a 1940s film serial.]

Even stranger: Jerry’s motion literally says that what is even worse than Danzig making all these claims is the fact the singer filed his papers in California. “[Danzig] seeks to drag [me] 3,000 miles across the country to defend against his deficient claims.” Methinks the $75k Danzig seeks in damages is more crippling than a plane ticket, but who knows, maybe Jerry’s got some paranoia about earthquakes.

Two other bits of interest:

- Jerry Only boasts that he and his company Cyclopian Music “have developed the Misfits into an iconic lifestyle brand”; that translates to “we got the Misfits logo on shoelaces”

- “it is legally irrelevant with what person or entity, if any, consumers associate a mark and, more precisely, this cannot constitute the likelihood of consumer confusion”; Jerry’s missing the point here in the sense that Misfits fans aren’t worried with marketplace overlap, they just want to make sure they’re giving their money to the Misfit they agree most with artistically (even if Danzig is found guilty of framing Jerry for everything in the past three decades there will still be a loyal army of spenders who live to dump their paychecks into his wallet because of How The Gods Kill)

Said it before, saying it again: justice should prevail in this war. May the guilty be punished and the innocent spared. Also, maybe one side or the other could think about putting Googy on a t-shirt? Need to show my drummer pride.

That Rarest Of Flyers

Every band has a great name. I dig the venue’s name too, but apparently it’s just somebody’s house. This is an upcoming show in Tallahassee. Will you be able to say you were there?

New Muffs Song Tight, Film At 11

“Up And Down Around,” from the forthcoming Whoop Dee Doo. Comes out July 29. No, all the good bands didn’t break up in the ’90s.

Jerry Only Ready To Take Latest Misfits Legal Mess To Court

Jerry Only in 1979. Photo by John Rynski.

Danzig’s lawsuit can only be described as a sour grapes tantrum based on outrageous allegations, the majority of which are completely false,” Jerry Only announced yesterday in a statement to Alternative Press, continuing to say the accusations of breach of contract and trademark infringement brought forth by his estranged band mate are “ill conceived and grossly misguided and will be proven false in court.” Let’s start making bets on whether or not Only will show up for the trial with his devilock.

Jerry’s statement also claims Danzig’s lawsuit is packed with “falsehoods” and that the whole thing is born from the fact “[his] own product line doesn’t sell as well as he might like.” My favorite part is where Only refers to Glenn Danzig as “former co-founder” of the Misfits. Maybe this is semantics, but you can’t quit having founded something. You can quit being a member, which Danzig did, but creating something isn’t an ongoing process you can walk away from. If you shoot somebody, you can’t say, “Oh no, I formerly shot that guy. I’m not a part of that anymore.” You did it, that’s part of your life and everybody else’s.

A more important point: Jerry Only says he is “under no obligation, legal, contractual or otherwise, to obtain consent, or approvals of any kind, from former member Glenn Danzig in connection with their use of the Misfits name or logos.” This is true, technically, simply because Only registered himself as sole owner of almost all of the pre-existing Misfits marks circa 2000, ignoring the mid-’90s agreement between band members that said they share ownership of said marks. Forgive the U.S. Patent Office for not being terribly familiar with the ongoing saga of punk rock’s most ghoulish.

Maybe there wouldn’t be an issue with Danzig or other original Misfits if Jerry was mainly licensing images from the non-classic version of the band he’s been performing with since Clinton was in office; one look at the official Misfits.com store, however, and you can see that isn’t the case. The front page is laden with accessories boasting Danzig era artwork, including the classic stencil of the Crimson Ghost and the ’80s Fiend Club logo (there’s even a section of t-shirts on the site labeled “vintage series”—all with images created before 1994).

Excuse me for stating the obvious, but it will be very interesting to see how this all plays out and/or what facts further legal action uncovers. One would assume Jerry worked out some deal to use the pre-existing marks on the handful of Misfits albums he made in the late ’90s before getting his name on the logos in 2000. What’s Danzig’s story with that? There has always been an enormous amount of confusion over who owns what in this band, particularly in regard to the artwork. With any luck this case will actually go to trial and we’ll see the clearest picture possible of the imagery lineage.

Also worth noting: Glenn Danzig is not exactly an angel when it comes to business or his business relationships. You don’t have to go very far to find proof of that. He may have told Jerry one thing about these trademarks and decided he had another opinion later. As I’ve stressed since the publication of This Music Leaves Stains: yes, I have my own biases and opinions when it comes to the Misfits, but I try hard to look at all this stuff objectively, and as in any other matter I hope the truly wronged find their justice.

Meanwhile, Black Flag managed to settle all their legal issues, because summer’s coming and they don’t want to harsh that beach mellow. We really wouldn’t want any of those guys to have a [puts on sunglasses] nervous breakdown.

[cue Roger Daltrey scream]

Glenn Danzig Sues Jerry Only For Trademark Infringement In Latest Misfits Lawsuit

On Earth as it is in court: Only and Danzig in happier(?) times.

The brand new Misfits legal horror business: founding singer Glenn Danzig has filed suit against bassist Jerry Only for breach of contract, claiming Only violated a 1994 legal agreement by trademarking various band logos and images in his own name in the year 2000. Danzig is seeking $75,000, but is also asking the court to figure out how much Caiafa might owe him as a result of lost or blocked licensing deals.

This action comes just five years after ex-Misfits Bobby Steele and Arthur Googy sued Only over the exact same thing. That case fell apart after key evidence on the plaintiffs’ side went missing (according to Steele, his ex-wife purposely destroyed said evidence during their very acrimonious breakup).

Both suits cite the same facts: during the second half of 2000, Jerry Only filed applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark various Misfits logos—including the Famous Monsters version of the Misfits logo and a version of the Crimson Ghost mascot—in his legal name of Gerald Caiafa and did so without notifying other band members. The applications were all approved by 2003; Only then began licensing these logos to retailers. This violated a 1994/5 contract in which splintered Misfits factions agreed to share ownership of the band’s name as well as pre-existing trademarks, logos, and artwork. The Misfits were also bound not to use “names, likenesses and visual representations” of each other without written consent.

That contract, of course, was one of the end results of Jerry Only suing Glenn Danzig in 1992 over various copyrights and unpaid royalties. Another result was Danzig, who broke up the band in 1983, allowing Only the performing rights to the Misfits name. Only has had some version of the band going ever since; in this new lawsuit, Danzig calls Jerry Only’s Misfits an “imitation” and asserts the “vast majority of…Misfits fans associate the [trademarks in question]” with his original stint, wherein Danzig was known as the band’s “creative heart.” The singer also points out that Jerry Only’s “primary qualification” for replacing original bass player Diane DiPiazza is that at his time of joining in February of 1977 “he had recently received a bass guitar for Christmas.”

Danzig apparently became aware of Only’s trademark moves around 2005; that’s when the singer first began filing cancellation/opposition proceedings with the U.S. PTO. Danzig last filed an opposition in 2008. Meanwhile, Only hasn’t let up in his quest to put the Misfits logos on every available surface. This would be fine and dandy, allegedly, if he had cleared it all with Danzig, and if he hadn’t bullied stores into not working with Danzig. To wit:

Caiafa has prevented and continues to prevent other retailers, including Hot Topic, which is the largest retailer of the Misfits products, from entering into licenses with Danzig and/or his designee to merchandise products…by falsely instructing the merchandisers that he is the exclusive owner of the marks, and that, if they enter into a license agreement with Danzig to exploit the marks, they must pay Caiafa a license fee and/or a significant monetary penalty…Caiafa’s misrepresentations have proximately caused injury to Danzig by causing merchandisers not to do business with him, and have deceived consumers as to the source of merchandise bearing the marks…Had Caiafa not interfered with Danzig’s ability to exploit the marks, Danzig or his designee would have entered into lucrative agreements to license the marks…”

Danzig (or rather, his lawyer) goes on to call Only’s behavior “despicable” and that he’s been “subjected to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of his rights.”

The most recent action in this case is the April 29 waiver of service of summons from Jerry Only’s attorney, which just means Danzig’s lawyer doesn’t have to send someone to New Jersey or Chicago or where ever Only lives now to serve the guy with papers.

It’s interesting to note that these papers never refer to the Crimson Ghost logo as the Crimson Ghost, just the “Fiend Skull.” Might this be Danzig’s way of avoiding the wrath of Paramount Pictures, who now own the rights to the 1940s Crimson Ghost serial from whence said logo came? Paramount doesn’t fuck around; they wanted what amounted to several months rent to reproduce a still from Crimson Ghost in my book. Granted, they might not be in a position to go after the Misfits for various reasons (the image the band uses is a clear alteration of the character, not just a copy; they didn’t own the films when the Misfits began using the CG), but all the same…Danzig wasn’t born yesterday.

More on this story as it develops…or, maybe in this case, decomposes. Below: the first page of DANZIG v. CAIAFA, all of which I have read. Yes, there is reference to Kryst the Conqueror.

Unsolicited Southern Fried Notes & Musings On Athens

- this past weekend marked my first excursion to Athens, Georgia, home of R.E.M. and the B-52s and Jeff Daniels for the first six weeks of his life; it’s not the type of town I expected to have multiple Zaxby’s, but in fact they do (Zaxby’s was actually founded in nearby Statesboro, which helps to explain the proliferation)

- Athens is also not the type of town I expected to lack gazebos, and as you can see from the photo above at least one was very easy to find in the four-to-six block radius I traversed

- I visited the homeland of Stipe for a wedding; ’twas a lovely affair on all counts (yes, they played some R.E.M. during the reception per some local statute I’m sure)

- the day after the wedding a couple friends and I attempted to visit the grave of B-52s guitarist Ricky Wilson, but the Oconee Hill Cemetery office was closed and there were no maps tucked away by the door so we didn’t find jack; this is just further evidence all graveyards should be alphabetized or arranged by birth/death year

- the Last Resort serves up a pretty good cup of joe, and I hear the black bean soup is awesome

- in general Athens offers pretty hilly terrain, so keep that in mind when you look at a map and decide, “Oh, the Dunkin’ Donuts isn’t too far away from this hotel, I’ll just walk there for a treat in long pants and what feels like a thin sweatshirt in this eighty degree weather”

- the guy at Weaver D’s really does say “automatic!” all the time

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