Friday, October 19, 2007

Not That Funny Is It

Not That Funny Is It

Reporter: Mr. President, following up on Vladimir Putin for a moment, he said recently that next year, when he has to step down according to the constitution, as the president, he may become prime minister; in effect keeping power and dashing any hopes for a genuine democratic transition there ...

Bush: I've been planning that myself.

It's not that funny is it
When you don't know what it is 
But you can't get enough of it 
It's not that funny is it?

Fleetwood Mac, 1979

Tusk is the underrated album of all time. It was rejected by the public on its release, in part for the massive price tag on the mammoth double album which hit the market just when a glut of other excessive double albums came out for the 1979 holiday season.

Even the packaging was massive, sleeves within sleeves that made the thing feel like a slab of marble when you picked it up in the $1.99 cutout bins where it resided until vinyl died in the late `80s. And as the CD era dawned it was truncated by the still-developing technology, and issued with a short version of "Sara" that helped deny the album its proper retrospective reassessment. Judged by the standards of the vinyl era and its 35 to 45 minute, intermission to flip the side expectations, it seemed long. But in the CD era with its 70 to 80 minute average running time, it would have fit right in. And judging from its appearances in random play, its individual pieces hold up in the one song at a time, everyone as their own DJ playing for an audience of one, iPod era.

It didn't help in 1979 that Lindsey Buckingham insisted on making a single out of that bizarro world title song with its murmured background sounds, that `70s rock star excess marching band in a $50,000 rented empty Dodger Stadium, and those wild incongruous shouts of "Tusk!" What the hell was that? Probably the most avant garde piece of audio ever to hit the top ten. That's right, it was right there on top 40 radio between the Bee Gees and the Knack. Real savage like.

But mostly people wanted it to be Rumours 2, which it emphatically wasn't. But Lindsey Buckingham was at his quirky coolest on songs like "The Ledge" and "I Know I'm Not Wrong," and mellow and thoughtful on "Walk A Thin Line" and "Save Me A Place." Some of his stuff was barely more than home demos -- the band was falling apart, no wonder with all those drugs and affairs -- and sometimes he just worked alone. Buckingham is the great underrated rock guitarist, largely because his band dealt in pop-rock and not in metal-rock. Any doubts? Listen to the last minute or so of "Go Your Own Way."

Stevie Nicks was always more interesting when her cosmic tendencies were fused with Buckingham's off kilter but always pop musicality, as on "Sisters Of The Moon" and "Angel." Way better than what she cranked out a couple years later with the California mellow mafia on the solo album "Bella Donna" (except, of course, for the incredible "Edge of Seventeen" and its bootylicious groove). Sure, she got sued for "Sara," but that was just legal harassment. And the overshadowed Christine McVie is at her sweetest, easing us into the marathon listen with "Over and Over" and sending us home with a sweet kiss on "Never Forget."

Took me forever to find all 20 tracks to download -- if I paid $15.98 for it in 1979, am I really stealing if I download it in the 21st century? -- and one might actually have to buy it somehow. There's a deluxe edition out now that has demos on disk two and the full-length "Sara."

All my music listening these days is on the media player anyway, a 30 gig Creative Zen that I deliberately got instead of an iPod because 1) I'm quirky and 2) it has an audio recorder so I'm able to rationalize it as a work expense. Back in the college house, in the basement music room, we had a door on its side with a eight foot row of 500 or 600 vinyl albums, that I used to shuffle through as I DJ'd our countless parties. Today, I've got that 600 albums worth of music in my pocket, and the vinyl collection is down to a couple dozen sentimental souvenirs. One of those is that slab of Tusk.

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