musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Atlanta’

BT in BKK!

The BT Express pulled into Bangkok this week, and it’s been a wild and most amazing reunion. Sometimes known as “The Human Jukebox” or in a previous incarnation, “The Haunted Laundromat”, my friend BT is indeed a one-band of sorts. An incredibly creative musician and artist, we grew up in the same neighborhood of Orlando, Florida, the area known as College Park, and ran in the same circles of music-minded people for several decades. I’ve known him for a long, long time.

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But I had not seen BT since I moved to Thailand, over 18 years ago! While I was in Bangkok, he moved to Atlanta for a few years, and then did a cross-country migration to Los Angeles for over a decade, but we always managed to stay in touch via e-mail. After a few months in Germany this year, he packed his bags again and headed to Southeast Asia for the first time. He spent the first couple of weeks in Malaysia, visiting Kuala Lumpur and Penang, and then arrived in Bangkok this past Monday. Welcome to the Big Mango, baby!

When you haven’t seen a friend in the better part of two decades, you’re not sure what to expect. Would he be the same? Look the same? Act the same? How we would get along? Well, we’ve all aged, but BT didn’t look that much different, and as soon as he walked into my bookshop and started chatting, it was like we were back at Murmur Records 30 years ago and hadn’t missed a beat. No awkward lulls in the conversation at all, just instantly clicking once again.

Within minutes he had me laughing and grinning, thinking about the people we knew all those years ago and the places we hung out and travelled, not only in Orlando, but also in Atlanta and Athens (that’s the place in Georgia, y’all!); Meiner’s Pit Barbeque, South Orange Blossom Trail (OBT!), Freddie and Ray at Rock & Roll Heaven, Fred Schneider, the mysterious Gunther, the various Jims and Daves, the Clermont connection, Chuck’s Jamaican restaurant, R.E.M. and the Athens scene, the religious loonies we know, Mark and Armistead from Love Tractor, Retro Records, Dubsdread, Danny Beard and Wax ‘N Facts, Wuxtry Records, the Fairvilla Diner, April the mortician, Colonial Plaza, Bobby and Adria, Jad Fair and Half Japanese, Quan and  Eddie and Mitchell, Ken and Marty and Paul from Stumble, Nadeem and Anne Marie, the folks in Pylon, Edgewater High, Record Mart, Molly Hatchett and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Northgate Shopping Center, Tom Smith and Peach of Immortality … ah, it was all so overwhelming that my head was spinning. But really good memories.

BT has a 60-day tourist visa for Thailand and he plans to make the most of it. He’ll stay in Bangkok for a few weeks and then maybe head up North to Chiang Mai. He’s already travelled up to the suburb of Pathum Thani, an area he described as a “farang-free zone,” so he’s starting to see different sides of Thailand, not just the bustling tourist zones of Silom and Sukhumvit, all peppered with 7-Eleven branches on every block — or sometimes three to a block. Honestly, sometimes you look around the concrete jungle that is Bangkok, you’d swear that you WERE back in Atlanta or some other large American city. But then the sight of a som tam stand or the waft of an approaching squid vendor shatters that illusion entirely. No, you’re not in Florida anymore. Bangkok truly is a different and magical place.

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Live in Bangkok!

I used to be a diehard concertgoer when I lived in Florida. If the show I wanted to see wasn’t held in my hometown of Orlando I wouldn’t hesitate to drive up the highway to Lakeland, Tampa, or even Jacksonville to see the band. Going to Atlanta, about a 7-hour road trip, was not out of the question either. From the late 1970s through the early 1990s I saw hundreds of shows. But after I moved to Bangkok in 1996 my concert-going days evaporated. Certainly there are far fewer recording acts that pass through Bangkok compared to major cities in the US. We get the occasional superstar act like Santana, Eric Clapton, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Elton John appearing, and once in a while an upcoming act like The Drums or Owl City, but for the most part the interesting artists are few and far between. And frankly, it would take someone really, really amazing for me to come out of hibernation and pay to see a show again.

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Looking at the lineup up acts that are scheduled to appear in Bangkok in the coming months doesn’t exactly make me quiver with excitement: Jason Mraz, Placebo, Ash, Japandroids, Sarah Brightman, and Justin Bieber being the biggest international names, along with Thai acts such as Palmy and Blackhead. But then I saw a huge ad in the Bangkok Post yesterday announcing possibly the biggest concert event of the year: Barbie Live!

barbie_live

Yes, the doll. Barbie does Bangkok. Sounds like fodder for a new porn film. Curious that there was no mention of an appearance by Ken in the ad. Perhaps they had a bad falling out, or rumors of Ken as a cross-dresser are true and Barbie dumped him for good after she caught him wearing her high heels. The Barbie show in Bangkok is a four-day appearance at the Impact Exhibition Hall in Muang Thong Thani (a suburb of Bangkok). The ad describes this as an “All-New Barbie Musical” but other than that, what exactly does this event entail? Will it be animated? Will there be real people dressed up as dolls? Will they all be lip-synching? I’m curious, but not curious enough to shell out money for a ticket. And a front row seat will cost you 2,000 baht.

As bad as this event sounds, at least it’s different from the usual “live” events that occur so often in Bangkok, those being appearances by famous Self-Help gurus and Get-Rich-Quick authors/hucksters, all promising to show you the secrets to wealth and happiness.

Swimming Pool Q’s

It was back in 1978 and a new punk-looking British band, The Police, was making their first US tour. I was there on the front row at the Great Southern Music Hall in Orlando, waiting for Sting, Andy, and Stewart to take the stage, but first, we had to listen to this “other” band, the Swimming Pool Q’s, play a set. The Pool Q’s perfectly fit the new wave mold at the time; lots of short, fast songs (“Rat Bait” … “The A-Bomb Woke Me Up” … “Big Fat Tractor”) and an energetic performance that ranged from weird to exhilarating. They made a good first impression.

 

The Swimming Pool Q’s may have started their life as a quirky new wave act, but in the decade to follow they morphed into a polished and multi-faceted recording act, one of the better, yet woefully unsung, bands in the US during the 1980s. But, unlike some bands that disbanded after stardom didn’t come knocking, the Pool Q’s kept on a-chooglin’ and are still playing shows to this day.

 

The Pool Q’s have recorded many excellent songs over the years, but they particularly shined on stage, dazzling audiences with their well-crafted songs and front man Jeff Calder’s flair for the theatrical. I always loved the band’s sound; a rousing pop-rock cocktail that combined Anne Richmond Boston’s comfortably warm vocals and Jeff Calder’s crafty lyrics (which could range from witty and whacky to poetic and profound) with Bob Elsey’s blistering guitar licks, and a rock-solid rhythm section. Other critics seemed to agree. “Visionary pop eccentrics from Atlanta,” noted Melody Maker. “Some of the most compelling rock sounds in all of America … lofty architectural style distinguished by the elegant and muscular guitar duets between Jeff Calder and Bob Elsey and [Anne] Boston’s rhapsodic alto phrasings,” said The Village Voice. In Rolling Stone, Kurt Loder wrote, “Overlaid with Calder’s unusually literate songwriting sensibility, this musical mélange is one of the freshest sounds coming out of the South.”

 

The band released a “comeback” studio album, Royal Academy of Reality, in 2003, a collection of songs that many reviewers hailed as their best yet. All Music Guide said, “The striking scale and superb craft of this album are impressive by any standard.” David Fricke in Rolling Stone likened the album to “Abbey Road wrapped in kudzu.” Ed Ward in Wire U.K described it as “flat-out astonishing” and “overflowing with musical and intellectual ideas.” Yes folks, it really was that good. But despite the rave reviews and a devoted cult of fans, as far as most of the world is concerned, the Swimming Pool Q’s remain a “quirky band” — if they are known at all.

 

Over the years, I’ve seen the Pool Q’s in concert dozens of times; in and around their home base of Atlanta, and in my hometown of Orlando. In fact, I booked a few of their shows myself and became good friends with the band members. I recently got e-mails from both Anne Richmond Boston and Jeff Calder, telling me about a new project — a “Kickstarter Campaign” — that aims to fund the re-release of two of their best albums, The Swimming Pool Q’s (1984) and Blue Tomorrow (1986), as deluxe CD editions. I didn’t have a clue as to what a “Kickstarter Campaign” entails, so I’ll let the band tell you all about it:

 

This project realizes years of dedication—remastering, research, flights to nowhere—so we’ve taken great care assembling a variety of additional rewards, many available exclusively to Kickstarter backers:

  • A CD of demos, outtakes, alternate versions and remixes from the period, including a country version of “The Bells Ring”.
  • “Fire Makes Us Diamonds”, Jeff Calder’s historical notes examining The Swimming Pool Q’s in the years 1983–1987; accompanying the text will be many never-before-seen photos from The Q’s archive and Anne Richmond Boston’s personal collection.
  • A DVD, created by our drummer Bill Burton, which captures us in a variety of compromising situations: The 930 Club in Washington DC in early 1985; various teenbeat cable television shows; a stirring clip of The Q’s psych-folk interpretation of “Little Drummer Boy”; a promotional video created for A&M Records’ 1984 annual meeting, plus a visit by the band to the record company’s legendary Hollywood lot; and more.
  • Signed photographs from sessions surrounding both albums, plus reproductions of the luxurious 24” x 36” posters that accompanied the reissue of The Deep End (1981/2001) and the release of Royal Academy of Reality (2003).
  • A disc of new material including tracks like “System of Love” and “Science Moon”.
  • Two CDs from The Swimming Pool Q’s catalog, The Deep End and Royal Academy of Reality, along with our debut 7” single from 1979 “Rat Bait” b/w “The A-Woke Woke Me Up” on Chlorinated Records.
  • Archival flyers from many Swimming Pool Q’s performances, reproduced on original Xerox machines, when possible.
  • A full-course dinner at your nearest Olive Garden, hosted by the group.
  • A private live show at which we’ll play selections from The Swimming Pool Q’s and Blue Tomorrow plus bonus tracks

A couple of folks have asked for some more detail on what the fundraising is going toward. This is it in a nutshell: mastering, manufacturing, designing, printing, and assembling as many of the reissue packages as we can afford to make, plus the extra CD and DVD. Producing each of these elements is painstaking and costly, and we’ve invested much time and money already to make this project a reality – and to do it at the highest possible level of quality and creativity. It’s been nearly 30 years in the making – so we want to do it right! As we move along, we will share the details of the process with you to keep you in the loop, since you now have a vested interest.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/swimmingpoolqs/the-swimming-pool-qs-double-album-reissue-project

http://www.swimmingpoolqs.com/

 

RuPaul vs. Ron Paul

Over on the other side of the world — at least the opposite side from where I’m living — the Republican Presidential primaries in the US continue to provide political junkies with a delightfully bizarre brand of entertainment. And who do we find on the winding campaign trail in New Hampshire last week? None another than drag superstar RuPaul, there to declare to confused voters that he was definitely NOT Ron Paul. I read a column by Chris Moody, posted on Yahoo News yesterday, detailing RuPaul’s visit  to an apparently famous local diner. This excerpt contains one of the best quotes from the campaign thus far:

Eventually, RuPaul wrapped up inside and stepped back out into the frosty morning. “You betta vote!” he whooped at the cheering crowd. “Remember, this country was founded by a bunch of men wearing wigs!”

“And heels!” a voice hollers from the scrum.

 

I always got a kick out of Ru Paul and his outrageous stage presence. Long before he was nationally known, knew RuPaul from his infamous club shows in Atlanta in the early 1980s. The guy was always performing somewhere in town, often appearing with a band called the Now Explosion. A few years later, I couldn’t help but smile when he scored a nationwide hit with “Supermodel (You Better Work)”. A drag queen hits the Top Forty? Who woulda thunk it? But a drag queen in the White House? Hmm, maybe that day is still a long way off. Then again, judging from the recent occupants of the Oval Office, a cross-dresser might do a better job, especially when dealing with all of those closeted and confused Republicans!

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/rupaul-hampshire-country-founded-bunch-men-wearing-wigs-000641848.html

 

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