Between Stations with Three O’Clock Train

And now, one-time regular columnist Geoff Moore makes a triumphant return to the pages of The Delete Bin. This time, it’s in conversation with Mack MacKenzie, the principal of legendary alt-country originals Three O’Clock Train. Mack has a new EP coming out, and with a good cause attached to it …

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“I started busking on the streets of Montreal. I could only play five songs and so I thought I better write one myself,” recalls Mack MacKenzie of Three O’Clock Train. The initial result, ‘Train of Dreams,’ was the synthesis of a crystal radio home kit, haunted record shop aisles, ribs broken while trying to buy Bowie concert tickets, and house music: Beatles, Stones, Monkees, and Johnny Cash. “I had to write more material and start a band. The idea was to play and have fun.”

Reflecting on his younger days, Mack says, “I was a vulture. I don’t think I missed a single concert at the Montreal Forum between 1975 and 1985. I always bought six tickets. I knew every word and every credit on every album.”

Despite the existence of the legendary Blue Angel nightclub with its red leather banquettes and uniformed washroom attendants, a showcase host to Cash and Patsy Cline, Montreal was never really noted as a country and western type of town. And so what to make of Three O’Clock Train’s explosive club shows, their 1986 debut EP Wig Wam Beach and its full-length follow up Muscle In? A prose Polaroid snapshot of those days is facile, washed out, but how could Roy Orbison be fronting the Clash in the shadow of Mount Royal? “We called our own shots. Nobody ever told us what to play. We had freedom from the get-go,” Mack says. “The closest band to us was Rank and File.”

Originally formed as a trio and named for getting home after the closing time of Montreal’s bars, Three O’Clock Train was cowpunk, alt-country before the term existed. “We were a DIY band; we didn’t sign our rights over to anybody in order to not get paid.”

Ignored by commercial radio, the group proved to be a hit on the Canadian university circuit. In 1996, tired of the grind, Mack put the band on hiatus to pursue his interest in the era’s emerging digital technology. “I tried to stay away.” But he never stopped writing and performing. “What else am I going to do?” In 2001 Mack quit an IT position with Cirque du Soleil to revive Three O’Clock Train as a one-man entity. “Now I’m like Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails,” he chuckles, “fluid.”

Recording sessions with Chip and Tony Kinman, Rank and File brothers, have just wrapped up. Cuatro de Los Angeles, a new Three O’Clock Train four-song EP is on the way. The new single, a cover of Rank and File’s ‘Today Was Going to be My Lucky Day’ will be released before Christmas. “Everybody just calls it ‘Lucky Day.’” Luck is fickle. Mack is $300 US lighter having just liberated his car and the vital contents of its trunk (one amp, five guitars and 60 T-shirts) from an LA impound lot.

The studio expenses are a bit of a tightrope too. Tricky business. Mack is only about half way to his GoFundMe goal to pay the costs. “It’ll work out, it always has. I’ve never been too concerned with money.” His laissez-faire attitude combined with a fierce streak of independence has allowed him to weather disruption in the music industry better than the major labels. “I keep my cool.” Nor is the Cuatro de Los Angeles GoFundMe campaign a one-sided deal. Contributor enticements include house concerts, copies of the new EP, sets of Three O’Clock Train’s re-mastered back catalogue, downloads and merchandise. A portion of funds raised in excess of the goal will be donated to the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. Mack already donates $2 from the sale of every Three O’Clock Train T-shirt to the organization. “Not a huge sum, but it’s a good cause and we need to raise their exposure and people’s awareness.”

And backtracking to tickets for Bowie’s 1976 Station to Station tour: “I lined up all night,” Mack says. “I was near the doors. When they opened them there was a crush of people behind me. I was up against the handle. There was a stampede. The staff picked me up off the floor and said I should go to the hospital. I said, ‘I know, but can I buy my tickets first?’”

And since then? “It’s been a lot of fun.”

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Thanks Mack!

Concert dates for the spring and summer of 2018 are accumulating.

For music, tour news and more information on Mack MacKenzie and Three O’Clock Train visit threeoclocktrain.com or facebook.com/ThreeOClockTrain.

To contribute to the Three O’Clock Train GoFundMe page where you can help Mack put out a new EP and get a chance to donate to Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal at the same time, click right here!

Enjoy!

Geoff Moore is a transplanted Montrealer, music fan, author, and roving reporter all rolled into one. He lives in Alberta.

 

 

 

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The Boss Of Me: A Tale Of Two Titles

Duke Street Kings front coverIn his triumphant return to the pages of The Delete Bin, merely popping in perhaps from his sojourn as a book-writer and blogger in his own right (write?), Geoff Moore deliberates over his career as a novelist, specifically as a music nut with a penchant for titling his work like a boss, or rather in deference to THE Boss.

He also talks a bit about his newest book, Duke Street Kings, a tale of friendship, betrayal, the advertising industry, and the possibility of swimming with the fishes, gangland style — all set to a beat you can dance to. 

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In 1962 Bo Diddley sang Willie Dixon’s words: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” But the artwork and especially the title will surely influence your decision to purchase it.

In the mid-1990s I set about writing my second novel as my first attempt was quietly disintegrating in landfill somewhere in the environs of Montreal. Taking Stock was to be a novel about work. In my life I’d found that when my career was going well my personal life was a mess and vice versa. One propped up the other. Neither ever went well at the same time and I wondered what would happen to a man if his alternating pair of support systems tanked at the same time. Read more

The Next Day: Album Art In A Digital Age

For the most part when it comes to buying music, gone are the days of vinyl, cardboard, cellophane, and anal-retentive mylar sleeves . The creation of album art has had to adapt, just as it did when those teenie-weenie CDs came out in the mid-80s.

But, how has it changed by 2013, exactly? What strategies (it’s all about marketing after all!) have artists and labels employed in support of a market in the new, downloadable, digital paradigm? Are there older strategies at work, re-positioned in the age of the iTune?

Music fan, writer, and cultural commentator Geoff Moore is here to unpack the issue of album packaging in the 21st century …

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David Bowie The Next DayA telegram from 1977 arrived the other day. ‘Where are we now?’ it asked, signed, Beauty, the Beast, Joe the Lion and the happy couple who were shot at in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. If the question concerns the cover art of David Bowie’s very recent and very good The Next Day, the answer lies somewhere between The Black Keys and Lou Reed.

Rock ‘n’ roll music is a consumer commodity. Is there another art form that’s been packaged so artfully and in so many ways? In the music’s infancy there were package tours, stacked bills of 20-minute sets. In the wake of Elvis there were manufactured teen idols.

Post-Fab Four the record companies and the television networks foisted pre-fab bands on their teenaged markets. The Beach Boys wore candy stripe shirts. The Ramones dressed in black leather and denim like classic Brando gone to seed. ‘Bin readers of a certain age will remember gatefold albums, elaborately die cut sleeves and the inclusion of stickers or posters.

Some releases landed in the racks wrapped in brown paper or tinted cellophane. Designs often featured recurring logos or mascots and, saints preserve us, thematic tableaux beamed from release to release – gawd-awful guitar-shaped space ships, for instance.

And there was other rock ‘n’ roll packaging too. Upon viewing images of Led Zeppelin in their heyday no decent tailor need ask Robert Plant whether he dresses to the left or right.

The Next Day is “Heroes” defaced though it lacks the surreal whimsy of a handlebar moustache on Mona Lisa (she’s smiling because she knew that would happen some day). The original title is redacted, like a document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The dark and pale contrast of the original art is now a wash of monochromatic Photoshop grey; the earlier and eerily luminous portrait of the artist as robot in Rur or Metropolis has been concealed by a rectangular text box.

Although the colour palette and the cropping were different, Lou Reed regurgitated the cover art of Transformer on another suicide screed, the stripped down The Blue Mask, perhaps to acknowledge his return to RCA from Arista. The Next Day steps forward even further into starker clarity, a neat black sans serif font in a white square with proper capitalization, more legible than uniform upper or lower case. Given how society now shops and accesses various media, the genius of each image is the perception that both artists have already cut through the cyber crap and noise and somehow simplified things for you. Brothers, a release by The Black Keys, might be the first calculated example of digital thumbnail album cover art. It was designed to be viewed as a one-inch square on iTunes or Amazon. It has the clarity of directional, emergency and warning signage, easy to understand. And it resembles an app icon.

The Next Day is Bowie’s first new music in a decade. The reuse of the “Heroes” artwork evokes an earlier era when Bowie’s stature was likely at its zenith. It cannot help but set fans’ expectations prior to their first listen. Had the white The Next Day box been superimposed over the cover of Tonight (which begs for a whiteout anyway although the title mash works), fans’ expectations may have been way down here as Tonight is rightly regarded as one of his weaker releases.

The implied link between “Heroes” and The Next Day doesn’t suggest something as desperate and crass as Bat Out of Hell II, nor should the deconstructed repetition negate nor dismiss everything that came between. The more avant-garde than thou Man Who Fell to Earth has linked album cover art before. The original black and white cover of Station to Station and its CD brother’s colour cover both feature stills from the Nicholas Roeg film. Low, its follow up and the first installment of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, utilized the theatrical poster profile image of Bowie, orange hair and brown dufflecoat, the horrific alien colour schemes of A&W and Cleveland football. Still, it’s unthinkable to own only one of this pair of albums.

So where are we now? It’s a mystery but not nostalgia, “Heroes” is our point of departure. Could be we’re desperados waiting for a train 17 coaches long in Berlin Hauptbahnof as the new tracks on The Next Day may take us anywhere. Meanwhile, the distant past is close behind.

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Geoff Moore is a writer of words for blogs, and books. He is enjoying his “Berlin period” in the city of Calgary.

Led Zeppelin Reunion: To Be Or Not To Be?

In days of yore when the rock ‘n’ roll world was young, bands broke up for good.

Solo careers ensued. Years, decades, and trends passed like pages in an anachronistic desk calendar. And the stomping feet of rock fandom began to pound for reformations during an era when many bands had been introduced to new audiences by way of the X-Box.

When it comes to returning to the musical homesteads of old  by way of reformation after years of prodigal albeit often fruitful wandering, one big event on the rock fan’s horizon in recent news is the hint of the clue of the possibility that the mighty Led Zeppelin may reform in 2014.

They were the biggest band in the world for over half a decade once. While they roamed the earth as younger men, they defined what a large-scale rock band could mean to an audience in a (then) new technological era of the late ’60s and into the ’70s; moon landings, global satellite broadcasts, exponential amplification advances, and faster air travel. They created a musical template for many while they were at it. But by 2014, what would a Led Zeppelin reunion look like, and what would it represent in the Age of Internet memes and fragmented media?

Writer, cultural critic, and rock fan Geoff Moore is back on the ‘Bin to find out whether or not a Led Zeppelin reunion would sink like a leaden balloon, or soar like a Valkyrie.

Led Zeppelin reunion 2007
Image: Paul Hudson

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Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoirs: Time Fades Away

The Christmas season is upon us, and just in time for that music geek in your life, a whole batch of rock biographies have recently hit the market.  In the wake of Keith Richards’s staggeringly popular (and therefore best-selling) biography, Life, come a number of tomes from the elder statespersons of rock ‘n’roll myth. Neil Young, Rod Stewart, and Pete Townshend have been the highest profile autobiographers recently, and of the same vintage and venerability as Keef.  But, Stones sax player Bobby Keys, bass-supremo Jerry Scheff (Elvis, Bob Dylan, The Doors, nearly everyone …), and  Greg Allman, among others, all had books to flog this year.

Whatever music and musicians you’re into, the market is ripe for writers and readers alike.

But, what is it that drives the guitar-smashing, microphone-humping rock god into the study, hunched over his or her laptop (or ghostwriter) in a bid to catalog a life of creativity, success, betrayals, and excess? And further, what is it that drives us music obsessives to absorb these stories so readily, with the fervour of a religious acolyte, even if we’ve known many of the episodes by rote through various means even before they appeared between the pages of the latest hardcover?

Cultural critic, writer, novelist, and voracious reader in residence Geoff Moore is here to peruse the texts, and discover not only who wrote the Book of Love, but why in fact we still want to read it…

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Searching For Bob Dylan – In Lethbridge Alberta

And the tour continues! Bob Dylan has a new record coming out in the next few days, on September 11, 2012, which is an anniversary of sorts on more than one front. He released his celebrated latter-day gem Love & Theft on that same date eleven years ago. And on that day, North America and the world changed forever, although not because of Dylan’s record.

And since then, Dylan has continued the tour that began in the late 1980s, a string of dates that has often sent the grizzled troubadour into some off-the-rock-promotor’s-map locations. Our roving reporter Geoff Moore was at one of those shows recently in the other L.A, Lethbridge Alberta.

And what did Geoff find there? Would it be possible to catch Dylan in the hotel bar after the  show, rubbing elbows with the salt of the earth, and thereby with our Geoff, too?

Well, read on, dear readers …

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Farewell, My Brother: A Life In Rock and Pop Music

When it comes to our development as music fans, the influence, opinions, and record collections of older brothers are often primary and very positive forces for our own musical sojourns.  As is often the case with shared musical interests, and subsequent memories, the bond between brothers becomes even stronger; stronger than death itself.

Geoff Moore loved his brother. This is his tribute, which we’re honoured and humbled to publish here on the ‘Bin. 

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“‘Fun, Fun, Fun,’ all right!”

Those were my big brother Bob’s words caught on tape at a 1975 Beach Boys concert in Edmonton’s Coliseum. It was summer of course, probably August. He sauntered through the turnstile carrying one of those high tech, cinderblock-sized cassette recorders. Bob was 24, a man of the world who drove an orange MG convertible.

I was 15, awkward, frightened, a flailing Q & A prototype of my eventual, flawed myself. I was trailing him, blown away by the prospect of my first major rock show. Second hand pot smoke! Bob lead us to our seats (good ones, lower bowl, facing the stage), set the machine on his lap and when the lights went down he pressed RECORD.

Bob the bootlegger.

Bob died April 8th, Easter Sunday. We’d hung out at the University of Alberta Hospital the Saturday eve in a lovely, pacific and leafy public area Bob referred to as his office. We were well pleased the Canadiens had won their final game of a dismal season. Always fun to beat the Leafs.

Joe Jackson sang, “Everything gives you cancer.” Fed up, cynical, that sneering ‘Sunday Papers’ attitude and righteous because collectively we seem to really, really like being fed the mulch of mass hysteria. Yet perhaps cancer (in its many forms) is a disease (or diseases) we have brought upon ourselves or maybe have at least exacerbated since the Industrial Revolution and the corner cutting acceleration of mass production.

The byproducts of progress and ease are spewed, leaked and packaged filth and poisons. I have smoked a pack a day for 37 years. Bob might have had one puff of a cigarette for a joke in 60. Cancer does not discriminate; it doesn’t pick and choose, it just is and it does the awful things it does. Nothing personal, you understand. Robbie Robertson sang, “You gotta play the hand that’s dealt ya.” My brother did with uncommon dignity.

This is not an era of leeches, blood-letting and voodoo priests. Modern medical science and technology have rubbed away some of the opaque condensation coating Madame Marie’s crystal ball. Today there’s a fair chance that you’ll know how you’re going to die and you’ll probably have a pretty good idea as to when.

This foreknowledge can be a powerful tool in the hands of an artist. Warren Zevon’s best records always sounded desperate; The Wind was cut while he knew he was dying from lung cancer. The selfish fan is slain by his version of ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door:’ “Let me in! Let me in!” He meant it. Send lawyers, guns and money.

The late Joey Ramone, another victim of cancer, did a thousand-mile-an-hour rip-through of Louis Armstrong’s standard ‘What a Wonderful World’ to lead off his solo LP, Don’t Worry About Me. Nobody really wants to go and most of us will never manage to get our affairs in order; tough to take care of business from the ICU.

My brother was so thin, maybe 110 pounds counting the layers of robes and the IV stick on castors. The ravens had been circling for three and a half years. We held hands before I left him that last time and he squeezed my fingers hard enough to almost break a knuckle. After this most recent setback we would get down to discussing big, important stuff again: which two people should les Canadiens hire for their vacant GM and coach positions?
Foreknowledge for the eventual survivors is an unwelcome gift, a head start on grieving. These past few months I’ve surrendered repeatedly to the compulsion of playing Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Streets of Philadelphia.’ It eventually dawned me that the narrator is addressing Death itself: “Ain’t no angel gonna greet me, it’s just you and I, my friend.” I know my brother felt this to be true.

This is the sentiment of a lapsed Catholic. Bob grew up with a portrait of his guardian angel and a crucifix augmented with a dried and brittle yellow palm frond tucked behind Jesus hanging over his bed; my room had the same décor. The next line utterly destroyed me: “And my clothes don’t fit me no more.” Press REPEAT, weep, sip Irish whisky, press REPEAT.

Cancer does not discriminate; it doesn’t pick and choose, it just is and it does the awful things it does. Nothing personal, you understand. Robbie Robertson sang, “You gotta play the hand that’s dealt ya.” My brother did with uncommon dignity.

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Bob’s only discernable musical talent was his ability to replicate the flying arrow sound effect in Sam Cooke’s ‘Cupid.’ He had the ‘Eros with Bow’ pose down too. Whoosh! He knew all the words to ‘El Paso,’ easily the best of the Marty Robbins gunfighter ballads: “There’s no chorus!”

Yet he loved songs with an inane, catchy chorus like Wilson Pickett’s ‘Land of a Thousand Dances’ or the Isleys’ ‘Shama Lama Ding Dong.’ He sang-along slaughtered the Drifters and the Temptations. Aaron Neville, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin – no one was safe. He danced like an awkward white man mimicking James Brown; if you’re imagining Jagger now, presume that the actual Jagger was trained by the Moscow Ballet. Ain’t we got fun. Add beer and tequila.

I suspect that I was shipped off from Montreal to Bob in Edmonton that summer of ‘75 at his insistence; I’ve never asked him outright and he never brought it up – this is us, we are Moores. Talking is for other people. Our divorced parents married their new partners and the house we grew up in was sold while I was out west, out of sight and out of mind. He was looking out for me while I was mesmerized by his record collection: Stevie Wonder and more, more Motown, the sounds of Philadelphia and Memphis, Van Morrison and the absolutely magical hook of ‘My Maria’ by B.W. Stevenson. Nobody else in high school listened to this stuff.

I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to become. I was still trying to figure out where to find the dots we’re all supposed to connect although one day I would eventually get a haircut and get a real job. All of this vinyl, this music stored in milk crates opened my eyes and changed my life: Why was I listening to the same stuff as everybody else back home when there was a whole new world waiting in the record store if I would just take the time to browse a different aisle and then spend four or five dollars a risk?

Bob Moore agreed with Bob Dylan who once said, “Nostalgia is death.” Even so when the Calgary Stampede in late April announced a July gig of the reunited Beach Boys here my first impulse was to call my brother and at least float a trial balloon. Something like, “It’s still a few months away; we’ll get tickets and if you’re feeling up to it…” I’d try to sell him on Brian Wilson’s participation, a 42-song set list, the ease of Bob and his wife Ann staying at our place. All of this in a nanosecond before remembering that I cannot phone my brother anymore and realizing that there is no way I can go to this show without him. Staring at the dial pad I catch another of wave of sorrow. I do not believe this tide can ever turn.

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Geoff Moore is a writer and music fan who grew up in Montreal, and is living and working in Calgary. Luckily for us, he’s also a regular contributor here on the Delete Bin.

The Rolling Stones 50th Anniversary: Time On Our Side Marches On

The Stones were once symbols of anti-establishment pop cultural terrorism in a world that asked, fearfully: ‘Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?‘. But, today they are now the grand old men of rock, the last of their kind. They are like old knights (well, at least one of them actually IS a knight!) who’s days as errant travelers, albeit ones who’ve traveled on jumbo jets,  to hotel rooms, to stages, and back again, are drawing to an inevitable close, or at least a major wind-down.

Rolling Stones 50 anniversary logo

For, this year, 2012, marks the 50th anniversary of that venerable institution, the Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band In The World, since their days playing the Crawdaddy and Ealing Blues Club in 1962.  Many a book, article, blog post, pub conversation has dealt with the Stones’ tenacity as Road Warriors since those heady days. But, today, Stones fan and author Geoff Moore paints it black, in a year that will be the Stones’ golden anniversary, and perhaps the beginning of a new world to come never before imagined by generations of people – a world without Stones …

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Rock Collectibles: Meaning-Making and Memorabilia

Frederick J. Waugh The Knight of the Holy Grail (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Like the Catholic Church, rock ‘n’ roll is often most recognized by its artifacts, its iconography, its symbols of power, and yes, images of its saints and martyrs, too. Seeking artifacts of rock ‘n’ roll glory have long been compared to the search for the Holy Grail among rock collectors.

But, a good deal of the value in such objects is in our personal relationship to them, or what they represent to us as individuals who have sought them out, or have personal stories attached to them. In an era of aging populations, mass media, and the recession, if the legwork is done for you, the fruit of another’s journey, can it really mean as much?

Resident pop culture critic, rock fan, and soon-to-be sophomore novelist Geoff Moore opens the dusty vaults of rock collectibles, rock auctions, and rock memorabilia, after a visit to a bona fide rock auction in his native Calgary …

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Rock Movies: Does the Song Remain The Same?

The rock movie once held a certain communal mystique. Even the biggest budget of rock ‘n’ roll film still represented something of a niche market. In days of yore before the home video age, this made the experience of seeing them largely about embracing late-night showings, and cramped, darkened rep theatres. Rock fans all mucked in together to see our vinyl-world heroes take on the world of celluloid. A rock film forced you into close quarters with other fans.

But, what about now in this on-demand content at our fingertips era of ours, when watching a rock concert film is less about midnight screenings, cramped seats, and smuggled-in reefer, and more about home entertainment centers, Netflix subscriptions, and often solitary viewing?

Resident Delete Bin pop cultural commentator Geoff Moore takes us to the heady era of rock cinema’s heyday, and sizes it up, 21st Century style … Read more