David Bowie used to say that Time takes a cigarette and puts it in your mouth — but now you can stick an exploding cigar in Time’s mouth and laugh till you, uh, die. Can’t change the past? Can too! The present? Doesn’t exist, or always exists (same thing, useless). The future? Sold! You can buy it back, but it’ll cost ya.

Some music from 2003 proves this:

Aretha Franklin, So Damn Happy (Arista). Bowie also used to whine that there wasn’t one damn song that could make him break down and cry. Nearly 30 years later, when Aretha Franklin wrote such a song (“You Are My Joy”), she loved it so much that she did two different versions on the same fine album. I cry every single time I hear her sing it. I even cry thinking about it.

David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, the Motion Picture DVD (Virgin). Funny how quaint this shtick seems after three decades. And on his new Reality, Bowie talks about there being no history. There is; he just hasn’t learned how to restructure it.

Led Zeppelin, How the West Was Won CD, DVD (Atlantic). These five discs constitute an ineluctable puddle of shame. Through clever selection, Jimmy Page tries to make it seem that every other live rock band in
the history of the world must leap over his (at first)
critically despised outfit before amounting to squat.

And he succeeds.

Judas Priest, Electric Eye DVD (Columbia Legacy). As I remembered ’80s MTV videos, they all sucked. Electric Eye proves me wrong: Judas Priest’s were frequently laugh riots, with Rob Halford playing up his leather fantasies to a mob who didn’t know he was gay. (Giggle, for instance, at the bit where a skeleton “bites the bone.”) J.P. were great live metalmen, too, as a 1986 concert and a bunch of BBC clips attest. Halford has now rejoined after a long sulk, and new classic Priest is projected for 2004.

Marilyn Manson, Doppelherz DVD (Nothing). There’s a reason (other than his split with songwriting partner Twiggy Ramirez) that Manson’s recent music seems mired in the ’90s — he’s obsessed with film now. And if you don’t take his auteur aspirations seriously,
you don’t know him. On the DVD included with his Weimar-revival CD, The Golden Age of Grotesque, he does things with words, mood and lighting that can mess with your head.

ZZ Top, Mescalero (RCA). Never dudes to quail in the face of change, ZZ Top seize digital recording methods, grind their boogie sound into a saw-toothed rasp and pump it louder than fuck. Then Billy Gibbons croaks “As Time Goes By.” The fundamental things apply.

Metallica, St. Anger (Elektra). Digitals, fundamentals — same applies here. Strong songcraft. Passionate motivation. A blastoff studio sound highlighted by Lars Ulrich’s roach-killing drums. And no guitar solos, so the fans, nostalgic for ancient twiddle, largely passed on it. Great record.

Sleep, Dopesmoker (Tee Pee). The first cut is 63 minutes of monumental sludge. The second is nine minutes of same. Dopesmoker is an expanded version of these NoCal sluggards’ 1998 Jerusalem; it also expands inside your head, and your head expands until it encompasses everything in the universe except thought. Wonderful.

Drunk Horse, Adult Situations (Tee Pee). These young Oaklanders have taken an Aerosmith/
Skynyrd engine block and hot-rodded it into something that flies. The more you listen, the better it gets.

Derek Sherinian, Black Utopia (InsideOut). ’70s chopsmanship completely out of control in the new millennium, with Yngwie and Zakk back-seat driving. Tony Williams times 10.

Henry Grimes at World Stage, March 21. The great avant-garde bassist poked his head out of 30-year obscurity and brought 1965 back, just like that. Now he’s split for New York to recapture the torch. Blessings be upon him.

The Blue Series Continuum Featuring the Music of Matthew Shipp, The Sorcerer Sessions (Thirsty Ear). Shipp, William Parker, FLAM and N.Y. friends flash back to 1920 Vienna for their compositional juice, while draping the proceedings in a web of 2003 electronic incorporeality. And dammit, it’s mysteriously lovely/weird.

DJ Spooky featuring Mad Professor and Lee “Scratch” Perry, Dubtometry (Thirsty Ear); DJ Spooky vs. Twilight Circus Dub Sound System, Riddim Clash (Play). These are both primarily Spooky albums, so the wiggy slosh factor dominates the dub factor, but he’s always been faithful to the spirit rather than the letter of ’70s Jamaican instrumental deconstruction. And it’s the spirit that counts.

One Love: Life With Bob Marley and the Wailers, words and photographs by
Lee Jaffe, introduction and interview by Roger Steffens (W.W. Norton).
artist Jaffe lived with Marley in Jah’s country during the early bust-out days of reggae. Took a slew of vibrational photos, too.

This Is Rebel Music: The Harvey Kubernik InnerViews (University of New Mexico Press). If you didn’t know that Mick Jagger played basketball or what Kim Fowley thinks about Berry Gordy, Kubernik’s the guy to tell ya, via interviews with Keith Richards, Grace Slick, Marianne Faithfull, Ray Manzarek, Jack Nitzsche, Ravi Shankar and so on. He also interviews himself quite a bit, hence the subtitle.

Johnny Cash, Cash Unearthed (American Recordings/Lost Highway). Seems like Rick Rubin recorded Cash every time the late outlaw brushed his teeth, and now that Rubin has put out a five-CD set of unreleased stuff, you almost wish he’d put out another five of the toothbrushing. There’s so much meat in every Cash song, you could chew on this box for the rest of your life. His collaboration with Joe Strummer on “Redemption Song” — oh my God.

Gov’t Mule, The Deepest End CD-DVD (ATO). It took the death of bassist Allen Woody to procure one of the globe’s downest bands some recognition beyond musicianly circles, wherein guitarist-singer Warren Haynes is regarded as a god. Many respected bass bonkers and several famous sidemen filled in at a New Orleans blowout, and the result is rock music, brothers and sisters; listen and learn.

Deep Purple, Concerto for Group and Orchestra DVD (Eagle Vision). Don’t laugh; you haven’t heard this 1969 relic. Not just some pretentious yob with a mustache, keyboardist Jon Lord had all the necessary equipment to write first-rate symphonic music; the band slammed; and the sound restoration is amazing.

Build an Ark, Peace With Every Step (Todosonidos Presenta). Newly made stuff straight outta 1970, with all the original soul rhythm, African feel and (no kidding) optimism. A confab featuring Dwight Trible, Nate Morgan, Derf Reklaw, Adam Rudolph and a lot of other local vets, this is an expression of pure love. Cynical as you are, you can’t help but get carried away.

Carl Sigman Songs (Major Songs). Former Weekly publisher Michael Sigman compiled this three-disc tribute to his dad, who wrote the lyrics to “It’s All in the Game,” “Crazy He Calls Me” and lots more standards, here delivered by Frank, Dino, Billie, Aretha, Merle, Lena, Van . . . Gorgeous “vintage” package designed by Bill Smith, too. Sigman sends a free copy to the first several folks who request it at msigman@majorsongs.com.

Cassandra Wilson, Glamoured (Blue Note). This is the real Stripped. Never comfortable with the cover-girl image her handlers evolved, Wilson plays ironically with the title, presenting her earth-toned voice (via producer Fabrizio Sotti) unselfconscious and virtually naked in a light Brazilian mist. Needless to say, it works.

Avril Lavigne, My World DVD (Arista/20th Century Fox). My 11-year-old daughter loves this mega-exposure rock bitchlet. I enjoy Lavigne because she seems genuinely insane, and because she appears on the cover with a pentagram, looking just like Ozzy.

Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal by Ian Christe (Harper Collins). The first book to chart the vector of not just metal’s origins, but the myriad mutations through which it continues to infect the planet. Your children will not be spared.

Akira Rabelais, Bénédiction, Draw (Orthlorng). The future requires powerful computers, obsessive precision, sensitive ears and a Zen sense of timelessness. Rabelais’ samples cycle around your head like tiny metallic angels.

O’Keefe/Stanyek/Walton/Whitehead, Tunnel (Circumvention). There’s clarinet, guitar, piano and trumpet on this, but you almost wouldn’t know it — you’re in a factory at midnight as the janitor drags an oil drum across the cement floor. And it sounds beautiful.

Autumn Rhythm by Richard Meltzer (Da Capo).
Read these essays if you’re getting old, or
hoping to get old. No coddler, Meltzer will kick you where it counts.

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