Sunday, July 15, 2007

STAN THE MAN

Yes kiddies, it's time for another You Tube retrospective (a glorified slide show as Pinky once called it).

Recently I was reorganizing my music collection and I came across one of the first CDs I ever bought--producer Hal Willner's 1985 tribute to the music of Kurt Weill, Lost in the Stars. One of the reasons I initially purchased it was Stan Ridgway's version of the brutal anti-war "Cannon Song" from The Threepenny Opera. Ridgway's cynical sneer was a perfect fit for Weill's taut music and Bertold Brecht's unsparing lyrics, as relevant today as they were in 1928 when they were written.


"We quick as winking cut them into steak tar tare"

I admit I first became aware of Ridgway's music through his biggest hit, his band Wall of Voodoo's 1981 song Mexican Radio, a staple of early MTV and a single that even eventually got them on American Bandstand. The rest of the album Call of the West paints a picture of L.A. as a wild west nightmare, the music suggesting some kind of post punk Devo meets Morricone dystopia. Ridgway's lyrics were bleak little stories of lost weekends, drunken liquor store owners and dehumanized factory workers, but blackly funny. It's strange as hell that this band ever achieved a hit single at all. Here's their ode to procrastination, "Tomorrow".



Eventually Ridgway tired of the novelty hit aura of "Mexican Radio" and went solo. His songs became both subtler and funnier. By the time of his record Mosquitoes, he was dabbling in sad nostalgic love songs like "Lonely Town"(albeit one that has my favorite nihilistic couplet ever--"I think about those mosquitoes on the windshield/How they don't give a damn about Christmastime") This is a cautionary song I would play for anyone considering a move to Hell A.



By the early 90s when I last saw him live he was playing to smaller crowds, but still as sharp and sarcastic as ever. His masterpiece Black Diamond was released without a trace in the mid 90s, but recently was reissued. Here's a creepily weird video of "Knife and Fork" from that record.



He's done a few spotty and uneven records in the past few years, but if life were fair he'd be reaping the fame and hipster cred of someone like Tom Waits (who I love, don't get me wrong).

Kudos to Stan Ridgway (and Jackie "Teak" Lazar, his wooden headed manager who is a recording artist in his own right) for plugging away through the years.