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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Slacker Friday

We've got a new Think Again column called "CBS and Dan Rather--Doing theRight's Dirty Work," and it's here.

My Nation column, "Where have you gone, William Safire?" is here.

Sal's got an interview with Hall & Oates and Pierce follows below, whichis followed by more mail. Now here's Sal:

Alter-reviews: New H & O Box Set.

Do What You Want, Be What You Are, is the new 4 CD boxed set from thebiggest selling duo of all time, the oft misunderstood Daryl Hall & JohnOates. For almost 40 years, Hall & Oates have been recording together,topping the charts with hit after hit, while getting hit for theirstring of unfortunate MTV videos during the eighties. As a longtime,pre-MTV fan of the band, I've made a second career out of trying toconvince the non-believers, that Daryl & John are so much more than"Maneater" & "No Can Do." This wonderful boxed set covers it all, fromthe pre-H&O material of Daryl & John's first bands, The Temptones andThe Masters, to the early folk material found on their first two albums,to the middle 70s where they were finding themselves as rock 'n' soulartists, through their most successful period in the 80s, right on up totheir most current achievements.

I had the pleasure of talking to both Daryl Hall and John Oates,(separately) and here's what they had to say.

ME:
So let's talk about the box. How difficult was it for you guys to decideon the final track list for this set?

DARYL:
Well, I did most of it, which is not unusual, and I had to listen. Thatwas the only way to do it...to sit down, take every song, analyze it andlisten to it in a big giant gulp. I'm not a nostalgic person, I don't goback and listen to my stuff. I don't think most artists do. But I had toand it was a real eye-opening experience, like getting a perspective onyour whole life.

JOHN:
It was difficult. There were a lot of choices. How do you do it? How doyou distill 450 songs into 74, or whatever it is? Obviously the hits hadto be included, and they are. But we wanted to create a package for thehardcore fan who really knows us, give them some surprises...createsomething that maybe they never had, which we did with the unreleasedselections. But for the casual fan who may only know us because of thehits, we wanted to show the depth of the material, the songwriting, andthe production, the uniqueness of some of the things that we did thatwere above and beyond those songs that were so famous.

ME:
As I look at every Daryl Hall & John Oates record, each subsequentrelease seems so diverse from the one prior. It seems so natural foryou, like you guys never experimented and failed. But as the biggestselling duo of all time, do you feel that your hits truly represent whatyou and Daryl originally set out to do?

JOHN:
No, not really. I mean, they represent a part of what we are. We came upas pop songwriters. Pop music to us was really the singles that we grewup with as kids. We were never really into the long, involved rockoperas, the instrumental excursions and things like that. We were prettysuccinct, pretty direct. But at the same time, we created a lot ofadventurous things, in our...not only our songwriting but in ourproduction and our record-making. And I think that they are the thingsthat this box set gets to showcase.

ME:
Live From Daryl's House could be the best hour of television not ontelevision. The last episode featured Todd Rundgren as a guest. You guysgo way back, with Todd producing 1974's War Babies, a record that hesays he "took the blame for," because the public perception was that hetook you and John away from your soul roots. It's a record that soundsnothing like the record before it, 1973's Abandoned Luncheonette orits follow-up, the self-titled Silver Album from 1975, which includedat that point, the biggest hit of your career, "Sara Smile." With threealbums so radically different from each other, what was your mindsetheading into the studio to record your next record, Bigger Than Both OfUs?

DARYL:
Well, I like to bust out. I've always tried to break the barriers. Ihave no creative fears, you know? Most people pay at least some kind ofservice to what they've been doing, and try to be a little more careful.They try to repeat their successes. We never really thought that way.Neither John or I, though he's a little more like that than I am. Whenwe went in after the The Silver Album we were just looking ahead, man.We called the album Bigger Than Both Of Us, because we saw what wewere doing and in some ways it WAS bigger than the both of us. We wentinto it with the idea that we were making some noise and people wereresponding to us.

JOHN:
I think we were trying to find ourselves. And you really have to includethe first record as well, which is Whole Oates. It's a real,singer-songwriter, organic kind of record. I think if you take all fourof those records...well actually it's the first three, Whole Oates,Abandoned Luncheonette, and War Babies...you take those threerecords and combine those various style elements, the singer-songwriterfolky thing, the kind of R&B thing we got into, and the moreexperimental rock thing we got into with Todd, you take those elements,and then you listen to The Silver Album with "Sara Smile" on it, Ithink you'll hear all three of those on that record. And I think TheSilver Album was the first time our sound started to coalesce intosomething. The Silver Album really brought it together."

ME:
The Silver Album got the most representation on this boxed set with 6songs. Was that a conscious decision, or did that just happen?

DARYL:
(surprised) No, it wasn't a conscious decision. You're the first personto point that out. Really? Six songs from that album?

JOHN:
No it wasn't conscious. It was exactly the reasons I just mentioned.The Silver Album is really where, in the seventies, we really foundourselves. The three albums that followed, Bigger Than Both Of Us andunfortunately Beauty On A Back Street...if you look very carefully, there's not one song from Beauty On A Back Street on this box set. Ihated that album. And for the rest of the seventies, for ratherextenuating circumstances, the reasons being we were recording in L.A.,we weren't comfortable, we were recording with Chris Bond and ourrelationship with him was deteriorating...that all came to its nadir atBeauty On A Back Street. It's probably the album I like...well, it'sthe album I hate. But then, from that point on, you look at "Red Ledge"and "X-Static," we started to rebuild and to lead ourselves to producingourselves, which is where we had our most commercial success, so...itkind of went up and went down and went up again.

ME:
Now that the boxed set is finished, is there anything that was removedlast minute that you wish could have made the final cut?

DARYL:
Yeah. Off hand I couldn't tell you what, because there are so manysongs. We realized we had a 4 CD set to deal with and I came upwith...at least...10, 12, maybe even more songs that could have easilygone on there and we had to whittle it down for time. But sure, there'sa lot that I could have, or would have put on. But I am really happywith what I DID put on. Put it this way, nothing significant was leftoff. I fought and fought for anything that I thought was important. AndSony was really great. They really were on the same page.

JOHN:
Yeah, there are some things that could have gone on there, but thenthere are a few hundred things that could have gone on there. Where doyou draw the line? What's gonna be really cool, what I think could bethe highlight of this particular box set is the 7 or 8...I can'tremember if it's 7 or 8 tracks from our first English appearance at theVictoria Theatre. (Ed. note: It's 5 tracks.) I can't remember if it was'74 or '75. I had that stuff on an old videotape which I transferred toa DVD and I started looking at it and I was really blown away by it. The band was young...and...when I think back as to the history of ouramazing musicians and bands who have played with us over the years, thatband, that particular ensemble never really stuck out in my mind as everreally being one of our better bands. But when I heard it now, as timehas gone on, that band was unbelievable. The way they played and the waywe played together...I was just actually amazed. I had completelyforgotten about it. When you hear that, I think the hardcore fans arereally gonna freak out.

ME:
"Storm Warning." Tell me about that.

DARYL:
That was an outtake from Change Of Seasons. "Storm Warning was a songby The Volcanoes, a band that was on Arctic Records, which was my firstlabel. And one of the guys in The Volcanoes ended up being in TheTrammps, you know, "Disco Inferno," and he also played on The Temptonesrecords. John and I always loved that song. And we were fooling aroundin the studio during Change Of Seasons and we just cut that song.

JOHN:
That track was recorded live in the studio. We just about got it.

ME:
It's a killer! So what's next? Boxed set out, hopefully that's not theswansong.

DARYL:
Right now, I'm doing a Daryl solo record. I just signed with VerveRecords. And of course, Daryl's House. As far as me and John, we don'thave any immediate plans. John and I work together all the time, sowe're never that far apart.

JOHN:
My next record is going to be a traditional, finger-picking folk album.No drums, just guitars and mandolins. I'm gonna do some Mississippi JohnHurt, Doc Watson, all the stuff I loved when I was a kid. I'm gonna dothat this winter and see where that takes me.

John Oates and I talked a bit about his recent solo release, the verymoving and very folksy "1000 Miles Of Life," a record that takes youright back to the very beginning, with personal songs not unlike whatcan be found on the first two Daryl Hall & John Oates records. I askedDaryl Hall if there were any plans on releasing audio from "Live FromDaryl's House." His reply, "Well, yeah. But you can only imagine theloopholes with all the labels involved."

I highly recommend "Do What You Want, Be What You Are," for both thecasual and hardcore Daryl Hall & John Oates fans. Just skip "Maneater,"if you really can't deal. There are 73 others to choose from.

Sal Nunziato
BURNING WOOD
www.burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com

Now here's Charles:

CHARLES PIERCE
NEWTON MA.

Hey Doc: "And if they don't give us what we like/Men, that's when you gotta go on strike."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Surrey With The Fringe On Top" (MarleneDietrich)--I met Bill Ayers at a ginmill in National Airport and hetold me to tell you that I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: Andrew, pardon me, old son, but this is all my balls.

Part The Second: The Pythons debuted on British TV 40 years agothis week, thereby guaranteeing that I would never be able to listen to anyBBC news reader with a straight face. ("Lemon curry?") Who knew, though,that one of their sketches would so presciently anticipate the current debatein this country over healthcare? We're all the John Cleese character, by the way.

Part The Third: All McCaughey's aside, when is it going to fall tothe editor of ETL New Republic to apologize for the fact that theguiding light of his magazine is a complete f**king lunatic? Mary Robinson--a "frigid anti-Semite"? Get the net, somebody.

Part The Fourth: OK, we all had our fun with this bag of piousoffal. However, spelunking a bit deeper we find this: "First Example - Liberal Falsehood: The earliest, most authentic manuscripts lack this verse set forth at Luke 23:34:[7] Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know whatthey are doing.' Is this a liberal corruption of the original? This does notappear in any other Gospel, and the simple fact is that some of thepersecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is afavorite of liberals but should not appear in a conservative Bible."

"Some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing."? Idon't think I need the Enigma Machine here. Next stop--Oberamaggau.

Part The Fifth: Just die already, ok? Better publications are going out of business and this worthless pile of drivel doesn't even have a cold? Yoicks.

Part The Penultimate: James, bubba, if you're going to rip ameathead like Glenn Beck about the fact that he knows about as much about sportsas he does about political theory--i.e. not enough to throw to a cat--youreally shouldn't be talking about "hockey courts."

Part The Ultimate: I feel safe in predicting that this is an experiment that will result in chaos, disorder, and some really, really bad writing that thinking people will hate with the heat of a thousand white-hot suns. And that it would have done all this even in 1958, when theidea was fresh.

I am admittedly not an expert on the culture and politics of whatwe all used to call the Near East. I am particularly not expert on thepolitics and culture of Afghanistan--which, come to think of it, putsme in roughly the same boat as Alexander The Great, several Caesars, ahandful of British PM's, and Leonid Brezhnev, all of whom down through thecenturies paid far more dearly for their ignorance than I ever will. ButI do know that there is in this country a seriously building sense thatthe war there has spiraled beyond any rational attempt to control it.Correct me if I'm wrong but what I see now is a vicious and expanding tribalconflict the roots of which go back beyond the invention of movabletype, and one that's now energized by a thoroughly modern war between severalthoroughly modern drug cartels, all of which is taking place right ontop of the least stable member of the Nuclear Bomb Club. And we're thereferees. How this is possibly a coherent foreign policy moving forwardis, I confess, beyond me, but it's going to be what finally blows up theObama Administration politically. Of that, I am certain.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

I am reading today on Washingtonpost.com an article about theVirginia Governor race and that the latest poll is troubling forDemocratic candidate Creigh Deeds (Poll May Point to DemocraticWorries Beyond the Old Dominion). It then talks about how the numbersin Virginia may point to larger problems for democrats in otherstates and nationally.

The article ends with this curious sentence in the final paragraph,"But all Democrats have a stake in trying to show that theelectorate that put Obama in the White House was more than a one-time phenomenon built around his personality." His personality? Isthat just a poor word choice on the part of the Post or do theyreally think that is the only reason Obama got elected? It hadnothing to do with his brain, his ideas, it was his winning smile.It wasn't the utter failure by any possible measuring stick of theoutgoing Republican administration, it was Obama's ability to telljokes that won him the election.

Name: Derek Lessing
Hometown: Philly

Responding to Amy Billings from Portland: Do other Note commentersrespond to your posts? If so, then I'd say keep on posting: you'regetting under the skin of other regular readers, and, especially ifyour comments kick off long, contentious threads, then I'd guess thisattracts the attention of the original authors and maybe even aneditor or two. Will anything change? Heck, who knows. More power toya, though, for doing this.

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville Ky

Amy Billings asked whether she can ever expect the mainstream mediato get better at journalism. The line between reporting andeditorializing has been forever blurred. We haven't really expectedmuch from television news for some time. Even the interviews areeither cloyingly absurd exercises in softball tossing or gotcha typehostile catfights with every speaker frantically yelling above thedin. The print media, what is left of it, are ideological periodicals(you get what you pay for here) or skeletal remains of once proudernewspapers. Most have thinned the herd or reporters to so few thatmost of the paper is syndicated reports from the AP or one of thenational conglomerates.

So most of us who want actual analysis, based on at least the factsas they are known at the time, rely on the internet. However, theglossiest sites are owned by the same media moguls who have watereddown or ruined once great outlets. We must find what we can among themillions of blog sites. Build your favorites and make sure to includewriters you disagree with but who practice the fine art ofjournalism. Only then will you build a world view that you can trust.Reading only what resonates with you will narrow your perspective andtrap your mind.

So what is my answer about will they improve. Yes, they will, becausethe cream always rises. They are selling the product ourideologically partisan consumers want today. But we are recognizingthe falsity of their wares. As they slowly ride toward the fringe,the mainstream will begin to attract the talent that will demandethical standards and valid logical analysis. These things take time.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: La La Land

As a Cronkite kid who saw Vietnam every night, and watched as DanRather went from boy wonder journalist to head of the news divisionat the Tiffany network, watching what CBS did to him has been trulysad for me. I am also a Texan, and watching Cronkite and Rather "tellit like it is" was what made me, at one point, consider a career injournalism.

I admire Rather's fortitude in moving forward with his lawsuit, evenif it proves to be fruitless, and hope someday to find out who forgedthose National Guard documents (if they were indeed forged), becauseTHAT is the crime here.

Unfortunately, I think Mr. Rather's television fall is what hasallowed things like Faux News to rear it's ugly head. Televisionanchors report to their corporate bosses much like serfs used toreport the their overlords; telling them exactly what they want tohear, the truth be damned.

If there is a sadder state of affairs in this nation right nowthan the decline and fall of journalism, I don't know what it is.When no one is there to point to the fox in the hen house, thenthe fox can do anything it wants, and that's just the wayCorporate America wants it.

Bread and circuses. Where's the bread?

Name: David Ellis
Hometown: Whitefish, Mt.

Thanks, Mr. Alterman. I worked for a long time in the TV business andsaw how corrupt, arrogant and twisted it is. I also spent 6 yearsfighting a lawsuit (which I miraculously won) defending rights forwhistleblowers. We need more truth tellers, like yourself. I'm notgonna tell you or myself any lies as to what we're up against. Buthere's a sincere THANK YOU for telling the truth.

Name: Seymour FriendlyHometown: Seattle,WA

Re: Nader "wasting the world's time".

Dear Sir:

Mr. Nader, regardless of his flaws, has done more to benefit the USin one year of his life than you personally will be able to point toon your death bed, reflecting back over your career. In case youhaven't noticed, your primary contribution appears to be musicreviews at this point, and "Altercation".

Placing that aside, in case you haven't noticed, the Democratsare busily proving that, even with complete control oflegislative and executive branches of the government, they arecomplete unable, or unwilling, to function as a body and providebasic progressive reform.

Certainly Nader is at this point long past due for retirement.However, his slings and barbs at the Democrats seem awfully accurate.

Name: Alice de Tocqueville
Hometown: Martinez, CA

A nation that wouldn't have Ralph Nader in its government is notworth saving. It has no human pride, or values, no belief in decency,no belief in itself. Just like the US. That doesn't mean I've readhis novel.

Eric replies: "Go ask Alice... She's ten feet tall

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