Friday, July 30, 2010

Steve Martin “King Tut”

Five songs I’m looking forward to hearing again, in Newport.

I had already established that my parents didn’t know everything. But who knew that it went so much deeper than that.

Previously, I had realized that my parents didn’t know everything there is to know about everything. And I had come to terms with that. I mean, the amount of information their two brains could hold was finite. I could forgive them for that.

But my head was really turned around when I learned that not only did they not know everything, there were things that they didn’t know, that other people knew.

It was around 3rd Grade that I started making friends that weren’t just based on who my neighbors were or who my parents’ friend's kids were. I was making friends with kids in school, who’s parents were (gasp!) different than mine.

And not just different. Younger.

I mean, my parents weren’t physically older than the parents of kids I knew, but certainly some of those parents had a much younger sensibility than my parents.

So it was a whole new world.

I can remember romping around this big, old, drafty, wooden, Colonial house where my best 3rd Grade buddy lived. They had twisty weird staircases, and a dumbwaiter, and a carriage barn. And a shaggy dog.

We didn’t have a dog. Too hairy.

And his parents seemed funnier. Or, funny in a way that my folks weren’t anyway. And certainly much cooler.

His Dad had records. Current records.

My Dad had records, but they were mostly from a decade earlier. I don’t know if I ever heard my Dad say, “I’m going to the record store.”

I can remember crashing up one of those uncarpeted back-stairs, headed to a room that my friend’s Dad was painting. And on the way up, I could hear talking. But it was big echoey talking, with an audience.

The Dad was painting this room, and had a record player there, with Steve Martin’s “Wild & Crazy Guy” on while he painted.

The pop culture stream had trickled down far enough that a third-grader like me knew the phrase “Excuuuuuuuuuusssssssssssssse Meeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!” But that’s all I knew about Martin, really.

We didn’t have comedy records at home. So the whole idea of putting talking on a music player machine was enough to blow my mind.

And what he said, captivated me.

Why? I’m not sure. Because here in 2010, I can tell you with no uncertainty, that I had no idea what Martin meant when he said, about his girlfriend, “If she is like a cat, I have kitty litter. If she is like a dog, we do it on the paper.”

Definitely no idea what that meant. But I thought it was hilarious.

We listened to that record on my next visit, and the next and the next, until I could recite whole parts of Martin’s routine, whether I understood it or not.

But the coup de grace of the record was something I could wrap my head around: a song.

For all of the wildness and the craziness of the rest of the record, the simple, catchy rhymes of “King Tut” were what resonated with me.

It was the bridge between the Beatles songs and Broadway tunes I could get at home, and the slightly dangerous, out of control comedy shared by these people who weren’t my parents, yet seemed to know so much.

(ed. note: I don't really expect him to play this tonight . . .)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Swell Season “Say It To Me Now”

Five songs I’m looking forward to hearing again, in Newport.

I’m hesitant to write this post, because it does go against personal policy.

I try not to retell other people’s stories.

It just never comes off, does it? When someone retells a joke they heard on a comedy special, or tries to paraphrase Quint’s “Indianapolis” speech from “Jaws” or whatever. It loses something in the retelling. And it even detracts from the original if someone retells a story, and then later you hear it from the original source.

So if you’re going to see The Swell Season anytime soon, maybe you should just skip this post. (ed. note: you may also want to skip to the end of this post and watch the video first)

I think I was already in a bit of a fragile state of mind when I saw The Swell Season last fall. I’ve seen shows within the last week, that I’ve spent less time thinking about, than the show at Berklee in November.

Most affecting was Glen Hansard’s story that seemed to start as an aside---and yes, here is where I ruin his story, by trying to be brief and encapsulate it. He’s an Irishman, for Fuck’s Sake. A masterful storyteller. And here I go, giving you the Instant Mashed Potato version.

He was in an elevator in Chicago, the night after a show, headed down to the lobby. There was a woman in the elevator.

He commented on her beautiful coat. She thanked him and began to cry.

She explained that she’d gone through a really hard time, had lost her son. She said she’d stayed at home for nearly two years. But she decided to live again. She saw the coat in a store window and even though it was more expensive than she could afford, she bought it, as a promise to herself to seize the day.

“My son. He was in one of those fucking buildings.”

You could feel the room seize up.

Hansard didn’t have to explain to the audience what she meant. We all knew he was talking about September 11th.

The woman said she had woken up that day with a bad feeling in her gut. She’d tried to call her son, but had not been able to get through to him. She never got to speak to him.

Hansard walked her to a cab, gave the woman his email address and invited her to come see his show. “She’d never heard of us,” he laughed, lightening the mood. “We’re headed back to Chicago next week to play again. I hope she comes out.”

And then he played “Say It To Me Now.”

I still get chills, get filled up, when I hear that song, and I think about “those fucking buildings.”

And I marvel at his masterful storytelling. He didn’t say why he played “Say It To Me Now.” He didn’t hit us over the head with the point of the story, or the point of the song. He didn’t have to.

Amazing news. I found a Youtube video of Glen telling the story and singing the song. He definitely told the story, slightly differently on the night I saw him. Hope I didn't ruin it for you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Avett Brothers “Talk On Indolence”

Five songs I’m looking forward to hearing again, in Newport.

With every artist, there is a dividing line.

There’s a line between the people who get it and the people who don’t.

There’s a line between the people who are passionate, and the people who are ambivalent.

There’s a line between the people who will pay up and the people who will stand up.

That night from the main stage at Merlefest 2008, The Avett Brothers made a point to say that Merlefest was a huge part of who they’d become, for better or worse.

I remember the buzz in 2006, when the band played one of the small, out-of-the-way Merlefest stages, drawing a small but really raucous, enamored crowd.

They were tapped to open the 2007 Festival, giving the prominent position of First Band On The Main Stage, which, ultimately, is a small honor since, on Thursday at 5pm, only a fraction of the weekend concert-goers have arrived.

But it earned them the plum spot in 2008. They were the Saturday night headliners. THE time slot.

I remember being in the mvyradio On The Road studio (okay, it was a caboose, actually), listening to Gary, a broadcasting veteran, have a back and forth with Nick, a recent college grad, about the Avetts.

The long and short of it was that Nick thought they were amazing, and Gary felt like they weren’t doing anything he hadn’t heard before. Nick thought the crossbreeding of punk and americana was brilliant, Gary didn’t seem to think that the combination did service to either genre.

And this conversation was being played out, across the Merlefest campus.

The Main Stage area is set up with seats in front. You have to pay extra to sit in the first 50 rows at Merlefest. And most folks who held those tickets were older. They were looking forward to seeing Doc Watson and other heritage artists.

After the rows of seats, is wide open field, and you can be anywhere, right up to the point where the seats start, and security checks your ticket. That line was teaming with young, enthusiastic Avett fans, who were jumping, craning, to get a better view of their favorite band.

As the Avetts kicked in to “Talk On Indolence” I watched the people in their seats decided that they’d seen enough. Clusters of couples rose to their feet, gathered their blankets and bags of sunscreen and amenities, and headed for the gate, leaving behind large bald patches of seating, as if the band were playing to a poorly attended house.

But at the same time, behind the line, this song put the young folks into a tizzy. The raucous fan-favorite was sending spasms of musical joy through the passionate portion of the audience.

I’m sure the kids didn’t get why the adults were leaving, and the adults didn’t get why the young folks were staying. And the balance of the musical universe, which had tottered on that line through Elvis and The Beatles and Punk Rock and Metal and Alternative and Hip Hop . . . remained in check.

Here's the full 60 minute performance from Merlefest 2008, as mentioned in the post.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Richie Havens “On The Turning Away”

Five songs I’m looking forward to hearing again, in Newport.

I can’t say I had a ton of regard for the dehydrated Pink Floyd (no Waters). I mean, as my friend Brett said, “David Gilmour still knows how to play guitar,” but the music of “A Momentary Lapse Of Reason” seemed lacking to me, especially in the lyrical department.

But years later, I got turned around on the record, from a completely unexpected source.

I was in the wonderful town of Asheville, North Carolina, for their annual Bele Chere Festival. For a weekend, they close down several city blocks and put arts and crafts on the streets. And in each corner of the blocked off square, is a stage of live music.

I can’t remember whose idea it was to bop over to see Richie Havens. I don’t recall being a big fan or anything. But I appreciated that I was seeing a musical legend, and I knew he did some amazing covers of Beatles songs, so that was enough for me to stick through to the encore.

I knew the song from the first lyric. But I couldn’t place it.

Havens was doing this tune a capella, so there wasn’t a guitar melody that could jog the old sun-drenched brain pan. But I knew I knew the song.

It was a good 3/4ths over before I was finally able to recognize Pink Floyd’s “On The Turning Away.”

He was singing it, not like a Gilmour space-dirge. He approached the tune---with its lyrics about not turning a blind eye to the poor and marginalized---as a gospel song. And in that context, I got the song. I understood the song in an emotional way, in a way that moved me.

All credit to Gilmour for the point. All credit to Havens for making it.

Every year mvyradio heads down to Newport, to cover the Folk Festival. And every year has its share of anticipated performances. I thought I’d write this week about 5 songs I think I’ll hear in Newport, and what I’ll be thinking of as I hear them.

Monday, July 26, 2010

John Prine “Angel From Montgomery”

Five songs I’m looking forward to hearing again, in Newport.

Every year mvyradio heads down to Newport, to cover the Folk Festival. And every year has its share of anticipated performances. I thought I’d write this week about 5 songs I think I’ll hear in Newport, and what I’ll be thinking of as I hear them.

Today’s post is like one of those Russian nesting dolls---a memory inside a memory inside a memory.

In the years just prior to my time at mvyradio, I lived in Virginia, working at a station down there. I had a great group of friends---young, active music lovers.

And when we weren’t working, we were doing some combination of drinking, listening to music and singing. On a good night, all three.

There are probably hundreds of specific moments in those late, loud nights, to reflect back on. But if the director of the film of my life needed just one representative scene from that period, it would be the group, usually the girls in the group, singing “Angel From Montgomery.”

Years later, I’m on the Vineyard, working with another great group of friends, who also love listening to music and singing. And yes, raising a drink or two.

I knew that Barbara Dacey had really only had two jobs---working for mvyradio, and being a singer-songwriter. Yet somehow, even after knowing her for several years, I’d never heard her sing.

How pissed was I, the one year I left the Chili Contest early, only to hear later, that Barbara had gotten on stage with Johnny Hoy? I rode her about this for years.

Jump to 2008, and here we are again, drinking and listening to music, and preparing to sing. It’s the Newport Folk after-party, that we have at a private household, near Fort Adams. Kate Taylor is going to perform, and she’s invited Barbara to join her on stage.

Well, stage is a little bit of an overstatement.

When we come from the Vineyard to Newport, we stay at the home of the station owner, who has a house, and next to it, a large pool house, with several guest rooms. There is a large, living room/foyer where Kate and her band set up. And there’s a balcony overlooking that area, outside the 2nd floor rooms.

That was where I was standing, when Barbara took the stage. I’d gone up there, because I knew she was going to sing, and I wanted to call my wife so she could listen by cell. I wanted to be out of the first floor crowd, where I wouldn’t be noticed.

“I’m going to do a John Prine song,” announced Barbara. “This one is for PJ, because I know it’s one of his favorites. Where’s PJ?”

Fortunately, the lights in the room were low, and the crowd, which had all turned their eyes to me, alone on the balcony, couldn’t see the five shades of red I’d turned.

So when John Prine pulls this chestnut out on Sunday, I’ll think back to the balcony, to Barbara, to the Chili Contest, and to young, late, loud nights when my friends all sang for “one thing that I can hold on to.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Guster “Do You Love Me”

I’m sure your wedding day was lovely. A most memorable event.

Did you have it in a church? We did not.

Did you have a traditional ceremony? We didn’t do that either.

Did church bells ring out when you said I do? Nope, not on the beach they didn’t.

And yet, I’m filled with some sort of matrimonial nostalgia, when I hear church bells.

I blame Phil Spector.

It’s was such a genius move (and he was a genius) to think of wedding bells as an instrument in his wall of sound, in tracks like “I Hear A Symphony.” Because not only was it a unique, uncommon sound for a pop song, it was a sound that had the ability to connect directly to an emotional memory that so many folks carry.

Guster gets the benefit, double-time.

Their new song “Do You Love Me” is delightfully poppy, but when I first heard it, and the wedding bells kicked in, it tapped into both my love of our wedding day, and my love of those great old Wall Of Sound songs. It filled me with a nice warm feeling.

Genius move, Guster.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sheryl Crow “All I Wanna Do”

Seminal Moments . . .

There’s a fun, subtle moment in the movie “The Incredibles” really rang true for me.

Dash, the son in the family, is just discovering his superpowers as he is being chased by bad guys in flying vehicles. He’s running at superspeed when he suddenly looks down, and realizes that he’s not on hard land anymore. His superspeed is allowing him to run across water, skimming the surface of the ocean, without falling in.

With the realization, he smiles with delight, and runs even faster, accelerating beyond his pursuers.

In the Spring of 1994, I found myself suddenly working in radio. It wasn’t something I’d planned. I just kind of fell into it.

I’d always been a music lover, and had had a hobbyists interest in music programming. But I’d never really thought I’d be doing it as a career.

Sheryl Crow was this new, unknown artist, who had this cool, singer-songwriter tune out, called “Leaving Las Vegas,” and we played it. I liked it. It was interesting enough to make me go check out the album.

One listen to “All I Wanna Do” made me think, “Why is this not the single?” It was so catchy, accessible, breezy but deep and unlike anything else on the Top 40 Chart.

I played it for all my friends and became a champion of the song.

And when it became her second single, I said, “This is going to be a crossover, number one hit.”

But I have to tell you, that there was a part of me that was surprised, when it did, in fact, become a crossover, number one hit.

And it made me think that maybe I had stumbled into the right career. It propelled me forward, to start listening to more records, to try to find that breakthrough song and share it with people who love music.

I found my superpower, smiled, and accelerated.

This post is one in a series of Seminal Moments---stories of songs that truly changed the course of my life. For more posts in this series, click on the Seminal Moments link under "Labels."

This post is one in a series of Seminal Moments---stories of songs that truly changed the course of my life. For more posts in this series, click on the Seminal Moments link under "Labels."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Taj Mahal "She Caught The Katy"

It's going to be weird, when my kid grows up. At some point, hopefully, she's going to hear "She Caught The Katy" and say, "Hey, that's the guy that sings the Peep theme song!"

What a strange thing, to come into an artists career, late, when they've delved into the world of kids music.

Dr. John won't be the "Right Place Wrong Time" hoodoo voodoo New Orleans man. He'll be the guy who sings the "Curious George" theme song.

A generation before, little kids around the country knew him as the Narrator to Thomas The Tank Engine, without any clue that he was part of some important band. And parents would turn on the TV and wonder "Why is Ringo in a conductor's cap?"

And a decade before that, I, yes I, knew Dr. Teeth, before I'd ever heard to Dr. John.

By the way, while they may not be as hip as their hits, the two theme songs are pretty damn good, and having these veterans sing the openings, beats the Hell out of having Barney do it, any day of the week.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sarah Blasko “All I Want”

What’s the only instrument that you play, by not touching it?

A theremin.

You may not be familiar with the instrument, but I bet you know the sound, if not from music, then from movies.

The theremin is an early electronic instrument, created in the 1920s by its namesake, Dr. Leon Theremin. It generally consists of two metal antennas. You put your hand in between the two rods, and depending on where your hand is (higher or lower, right or left) the machine emits a certain frequency and volume.

The good Doctor developed this instrument for symphonic use, but much to his chagrin, its sound is synonymous with 50s Sci-Fi movies. The theremin was used for the spaceship sound effects in “The Day The Earth Stood Still” among many other movies.

But the theremin made its way into popular music, thanks to experimental popsters like Brian Wilson. In perhaps his most famous song, at the penultimate moment, a theremin is employed. You know the end of “Good Vibrations”? That electronic whistle of the melody is a theremin (actually a tannerin, a cousin of the theremin).

But what if you want to work backward, and go analog?

You can make your electric guitar, acoustic. You can trade your keyboard for a piano. And your loops for a drum kit.

But how do you have an acoustic theremin?

Sarah Blasko figured out how. She does it with her voice.

It took several listens to be convinced that the theremin sound, is actually Sarah singing. Pretty amazing human recreation.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cake "Wheels"

Saturday night, the Mrs. and I had a date to go see the band Cake, a long-time favorite for both of us.

The show was at the Newport Yachting Center, so we decided we'd go out to dinner somewhere near the venue.

We had a hilarious, only-in-Newport type of encounter, while looking for a place to eat. As we strolled the early-evening streets, which were teeming with the well-dressed, the over-dressed, and the showily-dressed wealthy summer crowd, we spied an interesting, upscale looking place that we hadn't seen before. There was a young woman, standing in front, who noted our interest, and asked if we'd like to look at a menu.

I had about 10 seconds to look over the thing and start to think, "A little overpriced, but it could be interesting," before the woman said to us, "If you'd like to join us for dinner, the next available seating is at 10pm tonight."


I just said, "Uh, no thanks." We handed the menu back, and strolled a little further, to a completely unassuming barbecue joint, where we were greeted with laid-back enthusiasm.

We were near the venue, so I was not surprised that there were a whole bunch of folks in the place, who were headed to the Cake show.

But as our meal progressed, something odd developed.

Now, it's no real secret that Newport (not unlike parts of the Vineyard, and Nantucket) is fairly, um, monochomatic.

But suddenly, we were surrounded by white people.

Meaning, there was a group of 20-plus folks, who had picked this restaurant as their meet-up place, and they were all dressed in white. Everybody had a white shirt. And many of them had white pants, or a white skirt. One guy even had a white fedora.

As they were leaving, my wife tapped one of the guys on the shoulder, and asked what the deal was with the group dress code.

He explained, "We just thought it would be fun, if Cake looked out at the audience, and saw our big group all dressed the same, and then (singer) John McCrea could say 'Hey, look. The white people are here!"

Yes, the audience was pretty monochromatic, and even if McCrea didn't see that group, it wouldn't have been inappropriate for him to deliver that line.

Ever been to the site, Stuff White People Like? Let me pitch to them, two new entries: "Newport" and "Cake."

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Close Encounters Of The Third Kind"

You know, they don't have to all be singles on the radio.

Some of the songs that you know by heart, that bring you back to a certain place and time, weren't experienced on a record player.

Though I would count "Close Encounters" among my all-time favorite films, I have to admit, it had been years since I'd really watched it. But it was on cable yesterday, and I can't believe a) how much it brought me back to the 70s, and b) how I really experienced it in a completely different way, as an adult.

That 5 note sequence. I can't recreate it in writing, but you know what I'm talking about. The Beep Beep beep boop boop, that appears throughout the movie.

Just those notes, are enough to take me back to The Brandt Theatre in my hometown, an old moviehouse, where our whole family would go out to see epics like "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" (or I would go with my grade school friends to see non-epics like "Candleshoe" or "Sasquatch!"). That theatre isn't there anymore, and I'm not sure that there's a unifying movie in the modern universe that could motivate all four members of my family to get out to a theatre.

The thing about "Close Encounters" that sailed over my head as a young boy, is practically my raison d'etre today.

Music as a universal language.

It's so simple, it's fucking brilliant. I was watching the movie, thinking, what a genius concept, that our first communication with extra-terrestrials would be through music. The scene below, though I've seen it dozens of times before, just knocked me out, again.

That sequence of 5 tones is recognizable to folks who speak French or Farsi, Swiss or Swahili. And so is "Let It Be" and the riff from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

I can't say that "Close Encounters" put me on my musical path. But every day I write, and every day I listen, and every day I play songs on the radio, because I believe in the beauty and the power of music as communication.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

James Taylor "Never Die Young"

Yesterday I wrote about segues. Today I’m writing about car wrecks.

A “Car Wreck” or “Train Wreck” is common slang in radio for a segue that just doesn’t work. One song crashes into the other, and does a disservice to both tunes, and anyone with ears.

When a real life car wreck happens on the Island, it’s major news. The terrible tragedy in Vineyard Haven just a few days ago, is on the mind of every Islander I speak to.

There are no traffic lights on the Island, and there are only a few places where you can drive 45mph, and no place where you can go faster. So while I’m sure if you live in a place where there are highways, you’re used to seeing crashes, here on the Island, the rare occasion there is a vehicular death, is a shock to the community.

When I was working mornings on the air, I’d have to do a lot of segues, from music to games to news to commercials. And too often, I was only a half-step ahead of where I needed to be.

On this particular morning, though I was doing my breaks and playing the Morning Moviequote and such, my mind was on a car accident that had taken the lives of a couple local high school students. A terrible, tragic accident.

I knew that the community would be listening for details of the developing story, so I was taking extra care to pre-read the copy, to make sure I delivered it with the proper amount of gravity and respect.

But looking ahead, I did not have my eye on the ball. I was not thinking about that last song, cued up to lead into the news.

We were already halfway through the track, when I realized that “Never Die Young” was a terribly awkward song to segue into the news. It’s not a disrespectful song on its own, but the mere fact of playing it seemed like it was some cheap way to capitalize on a most heartbreaking story. But it was too late. The song was on and there was nothing I could do, except do it.

I made the segue, “That was James Taylor’s ‘Never Die Young’ on mvyradio. Now it’s time for the news. Two Martha’s Vineyard youths lost their lives yesterday . . .”

I made the segue, but it was a car wreck.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rolling Stones "Honky Tonk Woman"

In retrospect, she was almost like a premonition of my own life.

I was young. Not long out of college. And I’d met and started dating this woman, who was a DJ. Which made her instantly cool. She was older than me by about 10 years. Which, to the young man I was, was pretty cool too.

And funny enough, during the time we were dating, she was promoted to the position of Program Director. She was pretty ambivalent about the promotion.

“I’m worried that being the boss means I’m going to get to spend less of my time doing the part of the job I love,” she confided. She spent a lot of time talking to me, puzzling over it.

As that young man, I had no idea what would become of me . . . that a few years later, I’d become a DJ. And a decade later, I’d be faced with the same decision---should I accept a PD job, at the risk of having the administrative work overtake the time I could spend being creative?

Ultimately, in our own time, we each decided to accept the job. And though I have no idea what happened to her and if she came to embrace her choice, I know I’m glad I did. Being the Program Director is an amazing challenge and a rich, rewarding experience.

But, no matter how gratifying it is to steer the mvyradio Programming ship, I think my heart, and I’m sure her heart, will always be in the studio.

When I think about those conversations we had, we’re in the On-Air studio at her station. They had these very State Of The Art (for 1992) CD players, that could cue a song up, to the fraction of a second.

And I remember her discussing, with one of the other music-focused DJs, where to start “Honky Tonk Woman.” Should it start where the kickdrum and cowbell really kick in? Or before that, with the couple of clicks of cowbell, which, they were arguing about, were barely audible. The crux of the conversation was, Which starting point was going to sound better, as it mixed with the song on the air just about to end?

All these years later, I have realized that professionally and personally, that’s really what it’s all about isn’t it.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Beatles “Old Brown Shoe”

Seminal Moments . . .

The whole point of this blog is to write about the songs around me, that have effected me in one way or another. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of songs in my life, that have some kind of story attached, or make me think of something specific.

But at the top of the list, there are a few songs that are truly life-changing. Their impact on me, was big enough to alter the course of my life, in sometimes major ways, sometimes subtle ways, but always in definable ways.

I was going to do a week’s worth of Seminal Moments, but there are probably more than five, so I’m going to sprinkle them in, here and there, as they strike me.

Here’s the first one . . .

At some point in my elementary school years, I discovered two things---Casey Kasem and my parents’ record collection.

I’ll have to write more about Casey Kasem in another post---he was definitely an influence---but listening to his Top 40 Countdown every week, brought statistics to music. My Dad was a baseball coach, so I already understood the importance Stats, in appreciating and understand the impact of something.

Around this same time, I graduated from Sesame Street records, to hunting and pecking through our small stack of vinyl. No surprise that I found The Beatles there.

Dad had the Blue album, which was a multiple record set of the hits from the 2nd half of the Beatle years. I listened to those records over and over, reading the lyrics, staring at the album cover, absorbing the music.

One night at dinner, I asked my parents, “How many number one hits did The Beatles have?”

It was a perfectly natural question, in my mind.

If I had said, “How many home runs does Jim Rice have this year?” or “What’s Carlton Fisk’s batting average?” Dad would have answered that without missing a beat.

But “How many number one hits did The Beatles have?” provoke unsure looks.

“Uh. I don’t know. 50?”

I can remember being shocked that my perfectly natural question, had stumped my parents.

I learned two things that day.

My parents apparently didn’t know everything.

I might just grow up to be a music chart geek.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Loudon Wainwright "Talking New Bob Dylan"

I love being inspired by just listening.

Heard this song today, and I got inspired for a Hot Seat.

We have this show called "The Hot Seat" and each week a different DJ or guest hosts the show, and goes free-form for an hour, usually on a theme. I think it will be a pretty entertaining hour to do 60 minutes of Talking Blues.

Sure, it'll be several Dylan songs, but there are a bunch of fun "Talking" tunes in the Dylan style, from folks like Todd Snider, and Loudon, who had me howling in the car as I drove to work.

So look for that show down the road. And if you have any Talking Blues suggestions, let me know.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Crowded House “Chocolate Cake”

I guess I know how America feels about an American criticizing America, while in another country. America answered that question when the Dixie Chicks criticized President Bush, while in Europe. Cue the firestorm. Followed by the commercial abandonment of their records.

What about the reverse situation? A non-American comes to America, and criticizes it. Does it merit a firestorm? A commercial abandonment?

How much room does an outsider have, to criticize? And how smart is it to do so?

I guess my two-part questions gets two different answers.

Probably the only way to get an objective view of yourself, is to hear how other people view you. It doesn’t make every description of you automatically correct. But it’s nearly impossible to be objective about yourself.

Describe yourself.

Are the things you just said, things you realized about yourself, or were they things that you realized because someone else described you that way?

So it’s kind of incumbent upon us, as Americans, to listen to how an outsider who comes to America, views America.

On the other hand, it’s probably commercial suicide for a non-American artist to do so.

Because as catchy as “Chocolate Cake” is, and as accurate as it may or may not be about American consumerism, it’s hard to imagine the average American citizen swallowing this bitter slice of satire.

Actually, it’s not hard to imagine. Here are the facts. Although “Woodface” is consistently pegged as Crowded House’s best, most critically acclaimed album, with “Chocolate Cake” as the first single the record made no particular impact in the U.S. when it came out in 1991. But it IS the record that broke the band in Europe.

So the answer to the two-part question, rests in which question you’d rather answer.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rodrigo Y Gabriela "Hanuman"

There are no words . . . **

** Get it? A) This is indescribably cool. B) It’s an instrumental. C) It makes for a really easy-to-write post. Triple-word score!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Garbage “Vow”

Thinking about last week’s Neko Case post, and the YouTube video that went with it, brought me back a decade and a half, to the Orpheum in Boston.

We had gone to a WFNX (the alternative station in Boston) event. You know, one of those throwdowns where the local radio station twists the arm of a few labels, to put on a free show featuring some of their bands. The shows are usually an eclectic mishmash of artists---you go for one particular band, and end up seeing some others you might not have otherwise.

We were hanging in the front row of the balcony, enjoying Black Grape and our faves, Letters To Cleo. We figured since we were there, we’d watch the headliner, Garbage.

“We” was me, my sister, her then-boyfriend (and now husband) and my girl friend. Not my girlfriend. Just a friend. You know how that goes.

I liked Garbage’s records well enough, though I don’t know that I would have gone out to see them specifically.

But seeing them live, there was certainly much more going on. Maybe it was the really understated, ace playing of Steve Marker and Duke Erikson. Or maybe it was the near mechanical precision of drummer Butch Vig. Or maybe . . .

“Uh, PJ. Maybe you want to close your mouth . . .” my friend suggested.

Yeah. Shirley Manson. In big boots and a short skirt. Red hair whipping around. Moving, strutting, grinding, vamping in a way that I couldn’t take my eyes off of.

“C’mon. Her moves are so cliche, it's practically scripted. You’re really falling for that?” she asked.

Umm. Yes.

After a minute of back and forth, I had to bring in my sister and her boyfriend.

“Is Shirley Manson really sexy, or fake sexy?”

My sister said something dismissive. I don’t remember her exact words, but they were along the lines of, “She’s dancing like a woman who’s doing a performance of what some man told her a sexy woman should look like.”

There was a pregnant pause, and then my future brother-in-law said:

“It worked on me.”

Me to.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tallest Man On Earth "King Of Spain"

There was a time, several millennia ago, it feels, when I didn’t know the music of Steve Earle. My roommate at the time was a big fan, so we loaded up some Earle discs on the stereo, and we drank beer and listened.

There was something so familiar about his music, but I couldn’t quite place who he was sounding like to me, until “Hardcore Troubadour.”

“Springsteen. He sounds like Springsteen. What Springsteen song does this sound like?”

It was driving me nuts, because I knew it, I just couldn’t quite place it.

Then I got it:

“Rosalita!” and just as I said this, Earle sang the line:

He’s the last of the all night, do right,
Hey Rosalita won’t you come out tonight.
He’s the last of the hard core troubadours.

And it made me like Earle so much, because he wasn’t just a guy who sounded like Springsteen, doing a song that sounded like a Springsteen song. He was a guy who knew he sounded like Springsteen, doing a song that sounded like Springsteen song. That acknowledgement immediately diffused a possible dimissal of Earle as a blatant copycat.

And that only needed to be a temporary pass, because in the years since, Earle developed a distinctive voice and a style that obliterated any need to compare him to Springsteen.

Now if I may quote Arlo Guthrie . . . “But that’s not what I came to tell you about . . .”

Barbara pointed me in the direction of this European artist called The Tallest Man On Earth.

Though I found the song charming from the get-go, there was this moment when I started to say to myself, “Okay, Mr Tallest Dylan Impersonator . . .”

And he sang the line: “I’ll wear my boots of Spanish Leather, while I’m tightening my crown . . .” and I had the Steve Earle experience all over again.

So, Tallest Man On Earth, you have charmed me for now. Go forth, and develop your own distinctive voice and style, and I will love you always.

(Hear clips of "King Of Spain," "Hard Core Troubadour" & "Rosalita")

Friday, July 2, 2010

Neko Case “This Tornado Loves You”

I’ve always found it counter-intuitive, from a Darwinian perspective, that so many people are attracted to danger, to things that are clearly unsafe, to trouble.

I have managed with a fair amount of success, to steer clear of relationships with volatile, unstable people. The ones my mother warned me about.

But we certainly all have friends who have dated the wrong person. Or perhaps who constantly date the wrong person.

From the friends who become entangled by Drama Debbie girlfriends, to the very serious situations involving domestic violence, too many nice, sane people get caught up with someone who is just not stable.

And, even more terrifyingly so, too many of these nice folks find the danger attractive.

I have never been one of those people. Until now.

There is no logical reason for the below video to heighten my attraction to Neko Case. And yet, inexplicably, it does.

Case is quite forthcoming, in her art, about being a bit dangerous, like in the song, “This Tornado Love You.”

But the “I will Fuck You Up” posture of this in-concert scene has some strange magnetism.

The laws of attraction just don’t seem to play by the same rules as the laws of nature.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Paul Westerberg “First Glimmer”

Does it help or hurt, to know too much background about an artist?

On the one hand, additional information can fill in some details that may have eluded you. On the other hand, those details can eclipse---and sometimes deflate---your own interpretation of the song.

I’ve always thought Paul Westerberg did a great job in this song, creating a particular “late summer/lost summer” mood, in his tone and in the particulars of the scenes in this song.

Do you remember me long ago
Used to wear my heart on my sleeve
I guess it still shows

We watched the sun fall down and
I hop on my bike; still that night

You're my first glimmer of light
You were my. You was my first
Glimmer of light

It manages to be cinematic and intimate at the same time, this image of the narrator pulling his love onto the back of his motorcycle at sunset in summer.

A few years after first hearing this song, I read an interview with Slim Dunlap, who used to be in the band The Replacements with Westerberg. Dunlap was saying that he sees Paul around town, semi-regularly, on his bike.

As in bicycle.

Dunlap was saying that he sees Westerberg pedaling around town.

So now, when I hear him sing “I hop on my bike” I don’t see a Harley, I see a Schwinn.

“First Glimmer” becomes less “Purple Rain” and more the "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head“ scene from "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. The song actually becomes a little sweeter because of it.

But the change came, because I knew too much.