Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Faces: An Appreciation

Probably the best thing about growing older these days is the low price of album’s from one’s time.

Last night the scribe converted a $20 Barnes and Noble gift card from mrs. scribe, a Christmas offering, into an album of greatest hits by The Faces pop group called “Good Boys... When They’re Asleep.”

It cost $12 and that’s cheap for a guy who doesn’t have an MP3 player and laments the lack of outlets for purchasing music the old way – bargain bin prices for those of us stuck in the time warp of paying for “ElPees” (long players).

A renewed interest in this old-time boogie band (1970-1975) can be chalked up to endless musical investigations of brother-in-law Clinton; the only person in the world to have placed value on information gleaned from the misspent youth that was the highway scribe’s.

Clint’s been listening to a unique treasure trove of ’60s - ’70s music found on the Web site,
Wolfgang’s Vault, a depository for the late and great rock-and-roll impresario Bill Graham. Not long ago, The Faces were the “concert-of-the week” and Clinton burned a few opening numbers and passed it along.

The Faces were vaulted back onto the scribe’s radar a couple of years earlier when some Madison Avenue types absconded with their wonderful “Oooh La La” for the purpose of selling cars. Maybe you remember it:

I wish
I knew what I know now
when I was younger!

But it was the CD from Clinton, that raw guitar of Ronnie Wood’s pushing the even rawer voice of a young Rod Stewart, that took the scribe back to a place of appreciation for those wonderful Faces.

Clint will listen to any of the scribe’s stardust memories about long ago and was more than willing to accept that the Faces were “enormous” in their time, despite their relative anonymity now.

Yes, Rod Stewart is a very famous man/celebrity and Ronnie Wood’s sitting pretty as co-guitar with the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, but who today remembers their turn as pretty Faces?

Tucked away on Long Island, New York, escaping only to Manhattan for rock shows at Madison Square Garden, the scribe was not nearly as worldly as now and his perception of the Faces’ hugeness can be largely attributed to the fact he lived, ate, and breathed a now-defunct rock rag weekly called “Creem.”

“Creem,” ran hundreds of words about the soap opera that was the band; scores of pictures of The Faces, including Rod with Swedish sexsation Britt Eklund, and the rest of the boys waving whisky bottles around on stage, leaning loopily upon one another in trashed hotel rooms.

They were a unique blend of pretty boy pop group and serious rock outfit that lent themselves to the magazine’s format, which was irreverent, chancy and hungry for gossip. Cameron Crowe, the guy who directed “Almost Famous,” wrote for “Creem” as ( his pen name escapes now) “the world’s most au courant teenager.”

the scribe was crushed, crushed, when “Creem” cheekily announced the break-up in 1975. “Your Pretty Faces Have All Gone To Hell. How Will You Carry On?” (Or something to that effect.)

Anyway, the point is, The Faces may (or may not) have been as big as the scribe remembers through the prism of “Creem,” but they were clearly big enough to gain a foothold in a corporate closet like Barnes and Noble 32 years after the fact.

And surprise of surprises when the liner notes to the CD turned out to be written by Dave Marsh, a regular at “Creem” in the early ’70s.

Here’s how he opens things up: “For me and my crew at the notorious garage-punk rock magazine ‘Creem’, the advent of The Faces in 1970 was a dream come true.”

That explains that.

More Marsh: "Like the Rolling Stones, they were obsessed with R&B; like the The Who, they sported Mod clothes, coifs, and attitudes; like The Beatles and The Kinks, they adapted the anarchic, goofy spirit of the vaudevillian British music hall to the rock 'n roll stage."

Count on highwayscribery for your "anarchic."

Marsh provides some valuable history: The Faces were an offshoot of a ’60s group known as the Small Faces, led by Steven Marriott who left the group in 1969 to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton. During those times, apparently, guitar god Jeff Beck also had a band with Rod Stewart as vocalist and Ronnie Wood on bass (!).

When Marriott blew town (as it were) Stewart and Wood decided to join the remaining Small Faces -- Ronnie Lane, Ian McClagan and Kenney Jones -- drop the “Small” (because they were kind of tall) and forge ahead as the subject of this post.

"I can still remember seeing them take the stage for the first time,” wrote Marsh, “one cold night at the Eastown Theater, a 2,500-seat ballroom packed to the rafters with local rowdies.”

One simple sentence in summation of a time. Clint frequents live shows, but the scribe usually demurs in accompanying him for he finds no joy or identification with the concert crowds of today.

At 14, 15, and 16 years of age the scribe reveled in the mobs of ill-behaved boys and sex-cruising teeny girls, suburban toughs, spun from the green lawns of Long Island.

They seemed countless, legion, and the scribe took heart at their scruffiness and smokiness; found safety in the ample numbers. Certainly all these wayward kids weren’t on the path to ruination? (they were) They couldn’t all be threatened with home expulsion over the length of their hair? (again, they were)

There was a contagious attitude about the youths and the scribe returned home to battle the parents with a new sense of urgency and commitment.

Over what? Priorities kiddies: pot, beer, rock music, money for shows, ElPees, and petting rocker girls, (though not necessarily in that order).

And a good band mirrored all that. Here’s Marsh: “Faces took that stage the way they took over every stage I ever saw them on, from Louisville to Madison Square Garden. They took it the way a teenage gang takes over a corner, rolling into place with unfeigned casualness, tossing a leer and a giggle here and there. They could barely have known a soul in the room, but they acted like they owned the place. Then, like a gang with good intentions, they began bashing away at everything in the neighborhood, nailed down or not, raising a ruckus and ensuring a great time for everyone willing to participate.”

Rock ’n “Role” models, you see...

And because of this, school studies were a source of great concern because they were very far behind the six priorities listed above. In that time, and place, good grades were a mark of shame, barely lower than a clean haircut, and knowing how to play guitar a source of certain and elevated status.

Thanks to a similarly dissolute best friend, Darren Wiseman, there was literature, even if for all the wrong reasons. Darren and the future scribe sat in the school library reading Herman Hesse’s “Narcissus and Goldmund,” largely because Goldmund had weaseled his way into the bed of a certain medieval knight’s two teenage daughters - a definite rock-fed fantasy buried in a “legitimate” book.

An essay penned in senior year on the character of Goldmund was widely appreciated by the English Department and went a long way toward demonstrating the scribe’s otherwise sketchy academic solvency.

Later, in college, a kid named Crash gave the scribe a tape with Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells A Story” on one side, and The Faces' “A Nod Is As Good As a Wink to a Blind Horse” on the other. What with Wood playing both on The Faces' offerings and Stewart’s solo albums it was hard (and unnecessary) to distinguish between the efforts.

It is also worth noting that Stewart, in the single seminal year of 1971, was part of three classic albums, the third being The Faces’ “Long Player;” a string of beauties that form the quality nut of his career.

The writer’s progress continued apace over the years, these values receding, yet lurking, beneath the developing persona of urbane, urban, syndicalist literary lion.

In the early ’90s, the scribe penned a screenplay entitled “Chasing Cuqui Molina,” which recounted the adventures of an English rocker, Peter Coverdale (“heir apparent to Townsend and Weller”), and a Gypsy guitarist in pursuit of a flamenco goddess across Andalusia (where he was living).

The Faces’ “Pool Hall Richard,” and “Had Me a Real Good Time,” fleshed out the English character’s devil-may-care attitude, figuring prominently in the soundtrack to another film that was never made, but should have been.

In fact, for years,
“Had Me A Real Good Time,” stood as personal anthem and credo while the gates of wealth and prestige and pretension were breached with little more than an arsenal of pretty words to buck the highway scribe up.

Thought I was looking’ good
So I cycled cross the neighborhood
Was invited by a skinny girl
Into her high class world

Left my bicycle under the stairs
Laid my coat across the kosher chairs
made my way across the crowded room
I had nothing to lose

My reception wasn’t very keen
So turning on a friendly grin,
Stood on the table with my glass of gin
and came straight to the point

I was glaaaaaaad to come!
I’ll be saaaaaad to go
So while I’m here
I’ll have me a reeeeeal good time!

The years may pass and the gap between one’s aspirations and reality may pinch, but not getting invited back to the party is not without its piquant pleasures.

Thanks lads!

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