Tuesday, December 16, 2008

39 Greatest Albums: Sinead O'Connor - 'The Lion And The Cobra'

Madonna. Cyndi Lauper. Laura Branigan. Cher. Debbie Gibson. Tiffany. Whitney Houston. Janet Jackson. Jody Watley. Suzanne Vega. Gloria Estefan. Sheena Easton.

These are some of the female names I saw while quickly glancing at '1987 Music' on Wikipedia.

In November of that year, a 20 year old Irish chick with a shaved head released the album she'd recorded while pregnant. I know her following album was the one that sent her into the stratosphere, but when you consider the context in which it was released, this album grows in its importance every year. It is also still ahead of its time sonically.

There were almost no female auteurs/pop stars at this point. They were either packaged dance music stars or singer/songwriter hippie chicks. Sinead was like the appearance of The Sex Pistols to male rock music. She changed the rules and left so-called 'edgy' females in the dust. I mean, Melissa Etheridge? Compared to Sinead she seems like a boozy karaoke artist.

Just like punk music exposed the myth of hard rock by being infinitely harder, Sinead showed that whatever was passing for female aggression in those days was merely a come-on dressed up to look like rebellion. Sinead was not trying to turn you on if you were a man. She'd had it with men in general and she was only 20. This of course turned her into a giant sex symbol to both men and women.

The song I'm going to single out is the epic 'Troy'. It showcases the genius O'Connor has in blowing the personal up into some unholy conflagration of myth and history. She describes a passionate youthful love affair in the specific context of modern day Dublin. Long grass, summer rain.

But something has gone wrong and the affair has ended. When she sings, 'There is no other Troy/For you to burn' the song stops being simply about these two specific people, or about O'Conner at all. Who can sustain a love affair in the modern age? How can such passion be free to live in the context of a grimy urban shattered landscape of divorce and religious oppression? How is it that the carnal embrace of two young lovers no longer means anything pure or wonderful? How do those young lovers view themselves under the weight of a world that has turned its back so firmly on purity or wonder?

These are the questions that she leaves me with. Without her there is no Alanis, there is no KT Tunstall, there is no Pink, there is no Lily Allen, maybe not even a Courtney Love. She single-handedly dragged female rock music into the modern age. And she did it with 9 songs in 1987.

1. Jackie
2. Mandinka
3. Jerusalem
4. Just Like U Said It Would B
5. Never Get Old
6. Troy
7. I Want Your (Hands on Me)
8. Drink Before the War
9. Just Call Me Joe

She's crazy. But it just might be a lunatic we're looking for.

Friday, December 12, 2008

40 Greatest Albums: Elvis Costello - 'King of America'

My junior year of college was Dickensian. Best and worst. I rented a house right near the ocean with two insane good friends, I was in a string of great plays which were insular universes of creativity and sexual tension, and I drove a Karmann Ghia, a car I'd always wanted to own.

The first play of the year was 'Biloxi Blues' and it was a magical process. The combination of the military content and the freewheeling nature of a college theater crowd made for an amazing atmosphere. We all shaved our heads and started doing pushups without provocation.

My soundtrack for this play was Elvis Costello's 'King of America' which had been released a couple of years earlier.

Now, Elvis and I have had to break up. Once I started writing songs his influence was so immense that I sort of had to denounce him and concentrate on other artists. But my singing and writing style will always be very indebted to him and to this album in particular.

While working out to get in shape for the play I would sing along to this album. This doesn't sound like a big deal but when you try to sing along it is a workout all on its own. He holds notes, bends them, modulates the intensity of his delivery...it is truly masterful singing.

The cast party for 'Biloxi Blues' is still burned into my brain. People were on the roof. A mass leap from the porch to the backyard occurred. My roommate had purchased 50 shot glasses for like 10 bucks and insisted that the party kick off with a ritual. He laid out the shot glasses along the railing of the porch and filled each with Southern Comfort, I think. Everyone had to do the shot and then jump off the porch into the backyard, a drop which varied from 5 to 12 feet depending on where you were.

Everyone celebrated in a way that I yearn for today, a simple exuberance that was unfettered by any sense of loss or fear. We were young, talented, and proud. The girls were hot and innocent and the boys were cool and tough. We were artsy-fartsy but unpretentious. We didn't take ourselves too seriously but we were truly dedicated to doing good work. And we did. And once we did it, we partied as hard as you would expect.

The show used a lot of music from the 30's and 40's to set the mood and we blasted the soundtrack at the party. I'd made a mix (cassette!!!) of appropriate tunes from my own collection. One of those songs was 'Poisoned Rose' from the 'King of America' album.

Somehow a lip-synching show spontaneously occurred with the army troop serving as a back up band. The party morphed instantly into an audience and allowed this to happen, mostly as a way to celebrate us for our performances in the play itself. It was exhilirating. To have your whole peer group validate you so unconditionally is truly wonderful.

I could go track by track and describe how perfectly played and written this album is. I could talk about how the lyrics, even on the page, are little diamonds. I could marvel at the fact that during the same calendar year that he recorded this album he recorded another with The Attractions called 'Blood & Chocolate' that is an evil twin so different it is.

But for a solid year I listened to this album in its entirety at least once a week, usually singing along at the top of my lungs. I was young and beautiful. I was the King of America too.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

41 Greatest Albums: Guns N' Roses - 'Chinese Democracy'

I know.


You fall into one of two camps.

Camp 1 hates Guns N' Roses but hates Axl Rose more. You consider him to be Journey on steroids or Poison with pretension. You can't fathom how a sensitive, educated, progressive, avant-garde leaning artist like myself could waste any brain space on Guns N' Roses. You probably think less of me for it. I have nothing to say to you.

Camp 2 loves Guns N' Roses, but only the first Guns N' Roses. The scruffy glamour scumbags who bummed cigarettes from hookers in front of the Whiskey and then threw up on the whole world with 'Appetite For Destruction'. You cringed at the racism of 'One In A Million' and were old enough to be turned off by the MTV over-saturation of 'November Rain'. The fact that the dirtbags now wanted to be IMPORTANT left you cold. You are predisposed to ambivalence. To you I shout, 'Let NOT the past deprive you of the glorious present!'

This prelude to the actual review is for those who fall into Camp 2. If you ever had any love for Guns N' Roses, I implore you to open your heart one more time. Try to listen as if you'd never heard of these guys. As if your hard rock itch had never been scratched, as if your adrenaline cherry had never been popped by 'Welcome To The Jungle'. You will feel like a virgin, touched for the very first time. Well, no...you'll feel like you're touching a virgin for HER very first time.

For 'Chinese Democracy' is not only easily the best Guns N' Roses album, I am, two weeks into listening to it, very comfortable putting it on this Top 50 list.

I have to start the fuck over. FUCK. This review sucks and YOU suck for taking it the wrong way even though it isn't actually the review I intended to write. So take your lack of patience and wrap it up in a live lemming and let 'em drag you ever the edge, buddy, coz' I ain't gotta put up with your misinterpretation of my elaboration.

See? Axl's vision is contagious. And if you don't let yourself get swept away, you are missing the fuck out.

What else kicks things off but 'Chinese Democracy' which, of course, is about Axl Rose making the album 'Chinese Democracy'. This whole album is like one of those photos where someone is looking into a million mirrors and each reflection stares back at them from a little bit further away. The power chords ring in but are immediately stifled, falling away in a gust of wind that conjures up Genghis Khan on the Steppes braving the 1,000 mile blast of snow. I admit I felt a pang of fear here, as if the entire affair was going to be Axl striking-curious-poses-they-feel-the-heat-the-heat-between-me-and-you.

And Axl anticipates this reaction in the first line...

It don't really matter
Gonna find out for yourself
No it don't really matter
Gonna leave this thing for somebody else

With that salvo, he breaks the funhouse rigidity into a billion little pieces, each one reflecting your own prejudices towards him and his band. Er, him.

I'm sorry for swearing at you earlier, it's just when I start off wrong I get so fucking angry. Can I please start this whole fucking thing over again? Oh, you're just gonna keep on fucking reading now even though I just asked you if I could start over? You've got a lot of fucking nerve and you're on my last one you fucking hypocrite. I love you more than you'll ever know and you know it's true because I'm standing on top of the Concorde as it takes its last flight into the Indonesian night.

That's it, I've had just about e-fuckin'nuff. I'm skipping ahead to the crown jewel of this whole sexy mess, 'Sorry'.

I like it more than 'Sweet Child O' Mine', '...Jungle', 'You Could Be Mine', 'Breakdown', 'Civil War', more than all of it. It is my favorite Guns N' Roses song.

It is also absurd.

Backtrack time I can do what the fuck I want it's my fucking review.

In the early 21st century I became aware that Guns N' Roses would include a song called 'Riad n' the Bedouins' on 'Chinese Democracy'. I wondered just what Axl Rose would have to say about a nomadic desert tribe. Well, the waiting paid off with this opening line...

Riad n' the Bedouins had a plan and thought they'd win
But I don't give a fuck 'bout them coz' I am crazy

See? He lets you conjure the image of the proud sand blasted warriors all by yourself and then looks right back into the broken fun house mirror.

I know you're tired of this album even though you've never heard it. I know Axl long ago forfeited any right to anything but skepticism. But even that adds to the pathos of this music. Here is a guy who KNEW he had a great album in him. He knew it wouldn't sound like the band he'd forced upon the world, making it the biggest baddest band on the planet. He believed in the album to the point that he let himself be the posterboy for all that is wrong with big label excess. He didn't say, 'Fuck it, I'll put it out now, it's good enough.'

No, he waited until it was too late to save his reputation.

And lo, there came unto him an angel who said, 'Fuck that...this album restores your motherfucking reputation, dog.'

This review sucks and I'm gonna start over. If I keep working on it until 2024 I'll have mimicked Mr. Rose. Don't be fooled, folks. This sucker is the real deal.

p.s. There's also the amazing fact that Tommy Stinson of The Replacements plays the bass. Which is absolutely bizarre. And awesome.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

42 Greatest Albums: The Raunch Hands - 'Against The World'

If there is one album that evokes my childhood, it is The Raunch Hands 'Against The World'. Released in 1960 or 1961, this collection of folk songs is still one of my favorite albums today. My sisters and I knew the album by heart and even though my parents had bought it, I am sure they grew weary of the hootenanny bellowing from the den.

You might be able to pick up a copy on eBay but most likely you'll have to take my word for it. This is one of the great folk albums of all time. And as far as I'm concerned you can remove the 'folk' and say one of the great albums, period.

First of all it is hilarious. It came out at the height of the Cold War, before social unrest became pigeonholed into long hair and stinky underarms. These guys look like a Skull 'n Bones charter meeting but this is some of the most radical shit ever. They open with 'The Bomb Song' which chronicles a Slavic terrorist group as they keep having to come up with someone new to carry the suicide package.

Imagine 3 kids in Toughskins, faces smeared with Oreos gathered around a record player in 1976. Nerf football in the corner. Fisher Price Little People everywhere. They chant in unison, "Mama's aim is bad and the copskys all know Dad so it's Brother Ivanovich's turn to throw the bomb!" God I love my parents for having that album.

They then turn their laser aim on modern psychology in a song called 'Dr. Freud'. Again, picture 4 kids ages 2 to 11, faces upturned, nailing the harmony in a song whose refrain ends, 'Dr. Freud, oh Dr. Freud! How we wish you had been differently employed! For this set of circumstances now enhances the finances of the followers of Dr. Sigmund Freud!'

Simple arrangements, 4 or 5 voices in harmony, 1 guitar and a whole lotta attitude. After these two subversive songs, they dig back into the respectable canon for a religious rendering of 'Michael, Row The Boat Ashore'. I am not a religious man. But this song, coupled with their version of 'Jordan River' which is on Side B, is about as close as I come to feeling the spirit of the Lord.

Not a group to stay serious for very long, they jump to a folk medley using the song 'I Gave My Love A Cherry'. With spoken word segments explaining the path a folk song takes to the top of the charts, they interpret the song as an a cappella soprano aria, a hillbilly jamboree, a calypso romp, and an Elvis Presley rock and roll shouter.

There is another goofy song called 'A Horse Named Bill' and then comes the piece de resistance...

A song called 'The Old H.U.A.C.' Now, for the uninitiated, the H.U.A.C. stands for the House Un-American Activities which was Sen. Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt group. The Red Scare was in full effect and the fallout from McCarthyism was still rampant by 1960.

Here are the lyrics...

The Old H.U.A.C.

I am a college student
And I've come to sing this song
I've always been a liberal
I never thought it wrong
But I have come to tell you
Take warning now from me
Or you may have to tangle with
The old H-U-A-C.

Now, I am only eighteen years
Of age as of this date
It's hard to see how I could be
A danger to the state
But that's what the committee said
And so it has to be
For their sources are of
Unimpeachable integrity.

H-U-A-C, H-U-A-C
What a lucky thing it is for you and me
That our freedoms are well guarded
By politically retarded
Men of unimpeachable integrity.

I went and joined a picket line
Because I'd like to see
No more discrimination
If our land is really free
I'd like to see them put an end
To weapons testing too
But they say this is a dangerous
Subversive point of view.

I tried to be progressive
But I never was a red
I thought the first amendment
Meant exactly what it said
But now that that's gone out of style
There's just one thing to do
Be silent or conservative
The choice is up to you.

H-U-A-C, H-U-A-C
They're just lookin' out
For guys like you and me
So become reactionary
And of progress be most wary
Keep our country true and brave
And strong and free.

So listen to my warning
And reject each liberal view
And praise the men who govern us
No matter what they do
But even this is not enough
For those who would go far
You'd better make your mother
Join the local D.A.R.

Now please don't tell them who
It was that wrote this song
If anyone should ask you
Tell them I have moved along
I'm sorry that I have to leave
The evening has been great
But I have been subpoenaed
And I really can't be late.

Now, you might think those lyrics are quaint and I suppose they are. But when you consider the context and the source, it gives you a good idea that these guys mean business. They are not 'kumbaya-ing' us to death with platitudes about love and understanding. They are FURIOUS. In many ways this album reminds me more of the punk movement than the folk movement.

Now I could go on and on and on. And none of this really makes enough sense without the SOUND. It is catchy to an almost unbelievable level. And memorable. My mother had CD copies of the album made and gave all of us copies for Christmas (best mother ever) and so I did a little experiment.

My son (best son ever) is 11 years old. He is primarily a Beatles and John Williams fan with a dash of Green Day's 'American Idiot' thrown in for good measure. I popped The Raunch Hands in and within 3 listens he KNEW EVERY WORD.



Now, I could give him a whole bunch of gobbledygook about the folk movement and how important it was and the historical meaning of these obscure Ivy League freaks who cut one record. But is that what caused these songs to imprint themselves so fully and instantly onto his mental hard drive? Did that make it easier for him to memorize 16 songs almost instantaneously?

These punks conclude their battle 'Against The World' with 'Victory in Korea', singing in their beautiful pristine harmony-

Thank you dear God for Victory in Korea
We're thankful that the battle's won
We give you dear God praise for Victory in Korea
We're thankful dear God for what you've done

Now, I don't know what's punker than that. Just type in Iraq to see how raunchy these hands still are.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

43 Greatest Albums: Prince - 'Purple Rain'

Now that Prince has played the Super Bowl it is hard to remember back to when he was still a fringe force. Sure, 'Little Red Corvette' and '1999' were smash hits but there remained an element of oddity to his presence. He pouted at the camera and stroked his guitar lasciviously but who the hell was this guy?

We were about to find out.

Nowadays it is common to see major musicians appear in the movies. It is almost like product placement. Britney, Pink, Justin Timberlake, Mariah Carey, Lindsay, Harry Connick, Jr., J-Lo, Madonna, Dwight Yoakam, Tim MacGraw, Jewel-zegger, Ludacris, Ice Cube, Aaliyah, Queen Latifah, Eve, the list goes on and on.

Some reach for star turns, others try to find small parts in serious films, but the line between the music business and the movie business has never been more blurred.

But in 1984? MTV was still this giant baby, drooling all over us and crapping its pants on a regular basis. They barely played black musicians. The videos consisted of leotards and bizarre face makeup and sound stages. My parents refused to get cable TV, god love 'em, so I longed after MTV like a shipwrecked sailor staring at a distant freighter that I couldn't possibly signal.

Again, not to harp too much on the societal differences but without an Internet we didn't have too much warning. All of a sudden 'Purple Rain' was coming soon to a theater near you. Rated R. I was 15.

I remember seeing the video for 'When Doves Cry' first. Prince is in a bubble bath with flower petals. He insists on slowly climbing out of the tub. The groans of the song kick in and you get the uncomfortable feeling that you are looking in on someones porn collection. Interesting that they chose this song to kick off the airplay as it is a truly bizarre tune. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Somehow I got in to see this film. There were tits. Prince rode a little teeny motorcycle around and brooded in sequins. Symbolism ran rampant. Occasionally he would take to the stage and OBLITERATE it. The audacity of the whole thing was apparent to me even as my adolescent hormones raged for full control. My brain, while addled by blood loss, was still well aware that some cultural shift was happening. It was as if the rest of the country was one giant teen hormone as well, sighing in relief that someone was finally coming right out and admitting how horny they were.

Now to the music which is of course astonishing.

It opens with 'Let's Go Crazy' and the song itself invites insanity. A tightly wound little top spinning on a perfectly polished floor, it gallops along without effort until that guitar solo explodes it and then the top becomes a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the diamond studded mirror of a pimped out Cadillac.

'Take Me With You' lays it on the line and adds a layer of romance to the sheer cock rock of 'Let's Go Crazy'. It sounds vaguely feminine but Prince isn't afraid to let the girl wear the pants in the family so all we know is the intense longing that infuses the music with an almost tragic eroticism.

'The Beautiful Ones' starts to veer off into surrealistic territory. The keyboard figure that drives this song is a curlicue of obsession. It folds over and over on top of itself until Prince can no longer take it and he must scream out over the top of it and tear it down with the roar of his guitar. The universal pain of wondering whether you will be chosen by the one you crave gives this song an epic sweep that raises the stakes considerably.

Next up is 'Computer Blue' and it is an oddly prescient little ditty. Computers at this point were still off the radar of most folks every day lives. In comparing himself to these distant glamorous machines Prince carves an even stranger place out for himself in our consciousness. He barely seems human by this point, what with the metallic nature of his clothing, his other-worldly talent, and his deliberately obscure lyrics. At least, obscure until the next song.

One cannot overstate the effect that 'Darling Nikki' had on the young male population of this great country of ours. Prince had the balls to create a hotel lobby for us, one that had a girl sitting in it pleasuring herself with a magazine. The vaguely nasty tone seems to come out of his inability to trust lil' ol' Appolonia but the adult layer of twisted lust went right over all of our heads, pun intended. There she still is for all time, unconcerned with time or place, using whatever she has at her disposal to get the fuck off.

Now we come to 'When Doves Cry', the spark that set the tinderbox aflame. Apparently the album was ready to go to press and Prince pulled it back in order to make one change. He erased the bass line on this track. Go ahead and take a new listen. Once you notice the lack you realize how essential that space is to the effect of the song. It gives it that strange ethereal quality, that sense of alienness, of even alienation from itself, of OTHER.

Prince is about to put the album into a higher gear, revving the engine up for the home stretch. I liken this stage of the album to a flurry of fireworks right before the grand finale.

'I Would Die 4 U' is a perfect pop song, upbeat but not glib, intense but melodic, intricate but simple. Also, it is proof positive that Prince was ahead of his time. He was already texting.

After the insane variety that we've been happy witnesses to by this point in the album, can you blame Prince Rogers Nelson for taking a moment to brag? The joyous self-affirmation of 'Baby, I'm A Star' is well earned and it allows us the chance to agree. The darkness of the album falls away for a moment and Prince does indeed seem to be a light from the heavens, showing us the way. All we have to do is look up and there he is.

Lastly, 'Purple Rain', the title track. And if ever a title track deserved to be a title track then this surely is it. From the very first chord it is clear the kind of ride we are in for. And Prince doesn't disappoint, drawing every ounce of drama and tension into and then out of this song in moments of total release and abandon. It is 8 minutes and 41 seconds long and every inch an anthem.

Up til 'Purple Rain', we'd all been staring at a void. Bob Dylan, Prince's fellow Minnesotan, said a hard rain was gonna fall and it finally did. What he didn't say was that the rain would be purple and it would break its fall with a twirl and a split.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

44 Greatest Albums: The Descendents - 'Milo Goes To College'

In 1982 The Descendents put out their first full length record, 'Milo Goes To College'. Anyone who was familiar with the band, and there were several hundred of us across the nation, knew that the title of the album was not code of any kind. Milo Aukerman was their lead singer and he had gone off to college. To us they were already superstars. Their debut album announced that they were no longer really a band thanks to higher education.

If you heard The Descendents right now you might not think twice about them. But in this case context is everything. Hardcore punk music was rapidly transforming the music business against its will. Much like rap, it began to succeed in spite of the rigorous attempts of those in charge of mass media to squelch it. Most of the hardcore music was angry, political, naive, and boring. We listened to that section of the genre almost dutifully. But The Descendents were LIKE US. So like us that one of them was going to college. They weren't Wham! They weren't The Thompson Twins. The music they made that we loved so much was not lucrative enough for Milo to abandon his education.

There are 15 songs on the album, none of which clock in at longer than 2 minutes 14 seconds. I don't even know if I should bother singling anything out. This album is like a time machine for me, instantly dropping me back into my buddy Tom's room. We probably walked to his house from high school. We might have gone into a record store. We might have bought sodas at the 7/11. When we got to his house we rummaged through the cupboards and found something to eat.

We turned on his amplifier, he plugged his guitar in and we started playing the songs we wrote. We were no different from The Descendents who we probably just listened to. Tom's Mom would shout up to us and tell us to turn it down. So we would. Then we'd probably do our homework.

Justin would show up and we would bust each others balls mercilessly. Someone would get their feelings hurt, usually me. Feathers would be ruffled and then smoothed somehow without any real discussion. We longed for booze and weed. We lusted after chicks. We talked sports. We talked smack.

In the background Milo would be singing 'Suburban Home'. California pop run through a wood chipper. Imagine The Ramones are supposed to do a show in a garage that opens out onto Venice Beach. Their equipment is all set up and ready to go. But The Ramones can't do the show! The Beach Boys circa 1964 stroll up to the stage and offer their services. They play their set without changing the amplification at all.

This might capture the spirit of The Descendents. Throw in a dash of potty humor, outsider resentment, teenage hormones and you've got quite a brew.

I just came here from Facebook. If The Descendents happened today they'd have a myspace or facebook page 2 days after they got together. By the time I heard about them in 1984, Milo had already completed his freshman year.

I only wish they'd recorded the sequel. 'Milo Completes Grad School'. Which he did.

Monday, October 13, 2008

45 Greatest Albums: Bruce Springsteen - 'Nebraska'

I don't like the E Street Band. There. I said it and I don't care who knows it.

OK, fine, 'Born In The U.S.A.' is a perfect album but I think 'Born To Run' is overrated, 'The River' sounds like it was recorded at the bottom of one, and 'The Wild, The Innocent, and The E-Street Shuffle' is just embarrassing. At their worst they remind me of a coked out middle manager over-dancing to Journey in white jeans.

Most bands are BANDS. You can't separate one of the members from the rest. This is why the E-Streeters are ultimately session players and not members of a band. I don't care how many photos they put on the cover of Bruce leaning on Clarence or Little Stevie or Max. It is Bruce and whoever he brings along for the ride.


The E-Street Band did their best to uphold this mandate but who could live up to an all-encompassing quest for immortality? The true anthem occurs not with forethought, but with humility. Listen to 'Born To Run' and try to find a humble moment. You can't do it.

I also find it ironic that 'Nebraska' is considered Springsteen's first solo album. In my opinion his albums were all solo records, this one merely was honest enough to admit that he didn't need all those other guys, they were just part of his show.

Admittedly to this point this has not been a review of 'Nebraska' but a referendum on The E Street Band. While this might seem unnecessary it is vital in understanding just what makes this album so great and such a departure. Bruce recorded the songs you hear on 'Nebraska' as templates for the band to build from. They took these home demos and expanded on them in typical E-Street fashion.

Bruce then decided it was time to let the dream die. He scrapped the full band recordings and released 'Nebraska' as he'd recorded it...alone.

'Nebraska' begins with 'Nebraska'. As Bruce brings us along on a murder spree that spans the Badlands he immediately announces that this isn't going to be your father's Bruce Springsteen record. There is no glory, just a polite sociopath who is not sorry for his crimes, but glad to have at least 'had us some fun'. America is not the breeding ground for dreams but merely monsters who kill them.

'Atlantic City' brings us back East and into the shoes of a man who is about to commit murder for money. He's in a jam and can't see any other way out. He consoles himself by saying, 'Maybe everything that dies one day comes back' but it is small consolation indeed. Juxtaposing these two murderous narratives, Bruce dares us to find sympathy for either devil. Sure the down-on-his-luck would-be gun-for-hire of 'Atlantic City' is a pawn in some bosses game, sure his victims won't be quite so innocent as the drifter's kill in 'Nebraska', but victims they will be.

'Mansion On The Hill' is simple is as simple does. Poor man looks at rich man's house.

Next up on the docket is 'Johnny 99' in which a man is sentenced to 99 years in prison for killing a night clerk. The line 'I got debts no honest many can pay' reoccurs here and the economic thrust of the album becomes clearer. Is a man's guilt lessened by his circumstances? The men accused seem to think so but the horror of these tales doesn't allow us that kind of certainty.

Until this moment, the album is stark, finely carved, emotionally resonant, and haunting. It is about to rocket into tragedy and genius.

'Highway Patrolman' packs so much action into its 5 minutes and 38 seconds that Sean Penn made a movie out of it. It tells the story of two brothers who grow up on a farm. One goes off to fight in Vietnam, the other stays behind to work the land. They may or may not be in love with the same girl who marries the one who took over the farm. The farm goes under and the farmer becomes a cop to provide for his family. The Vietnam Vet comes back and can't seem to stay out of trouble, as much as his cop brother looks out for him. Finally he gets into a scrape that turns fatal and a car chase ensues. The Patrolman allows his brother to escape across the Canadian border. How Springsteen manages to pull this all off in rhyming couplets is astonishing. The human cost of crime and its collateral victims is brutally apparent.

'State Trooper' flips the coin to view law enforcement from the point of view of a criminal driving on the New Jersey Turnpike. He says, 'I got a clear conscience 'bout the things that I done' but still he prays that the State Trooper won't pull him over. After the first 5 songs, we share that prayer because the desperate men that people this world use murder as a means of escape.

'Used Cars' returns to the mind of the poor, as a young boy dreams of being able to afford a new car some day. The violence of the other songs persists, however, and that very dream of wealth seems like a surefire path to destruction.

'Open All Night' might have been an outtake from 'Born To Run', it's all chrome and wheels and late night driving and nowhere and no-how. But again, the context has changed so drastically that even these declarations of love and fidelity seem as if they'd been wrought with weapons, bathed in blood, cured in filth.

'My Father's House' drops an emotional A-bomb into the proceedings. A man dreams of his father's house. He wakes determined that their relationship will be repaired, that they won't hurt each other anymore, that they will love as father and son. He rushes to his car, drives to his father's house, and finds that his father doesn't live there anymore. The primal relationship is forever scarred.

'Reason To Believe' seems innocuous enough, a litany of woes that end with Bruce saying, 'Still at the end of every hard earned day/People find some reason to believe.' Upon closer inspection, this is hardly the uplifting gospel moment it appears to be on the surface. In the first stanza the narrator is laughing at a man who is prodding a dead dog with a stick. In the second, a scorned lover waits every day for the man who will never come back to her. In the third, he compares a baby being baptized to the death of an old man. In the fourth, he witnesses a marriage but later sees the groom waiting for the woman who has spurned him. The singer of these songs doesn't sympathize. There is a glint of amusement in his jaded eye, the eye of a man who laughs at the weak, manipulates the uncertain, kills the inconvenient.

This is not the sound of a man who is in a good time rock and roll band. This is the sound of a man who has decided that his band is for shit, his fans don't get the message, his image has preceded him like some sort of bullshit carnival barker, and the only connection he is able to muster is with drifters who kill for pleasure, money, or panic.

The album isn't called 'Reason To Believe'. It's called 'Nebraska'. The almost deserted setting that housed a man who thought it would be 'fun' to steal a car, drive off into the sunset, and kill everything in his path.

The scary thing is? He was born to run.

Friday, October 10, 2008

46 Greatest Albums: The Shaggs - 'Philosophy of the World'

Some things are great because they achieve such clarity of talent and perception that they pierce you to the heart. Some things are great because they make you forget that your heart can be pierced and they transport you to a place of lighthearted enjoyment. Some things are great because they speak directly about our society in such a way that something seems to come further into focus.

The Shaggs are not great for any of those reasons. In fact, to use the word great in conjunction with The Shaggs is an iffy proposition.

The Wiggins sisters lived in Fremont, New Hampshire, a small logging town way up north. Their grandmother had had a premonition that her son would have several daughters and that they would become famous musicians. Austin Wiggins believed his mother so, after having married and produced several daughters, he set about the task of bringing his mother's prophecy to light.

It was the late '60's.

He bought a drum set, several pawn shop guitars, and some rudimentary amplifiers. The girls set about learning how to play and writing songs. They were a bit nervous when their dad suggested that they play the Fremont Town Hall Saturday night dance. They didn't think they were ready, even though they'd been taking lessons and practicing together for just over a year. But Austin insisted. They became a fixture there, playing weekly until Austin's death in 1975. The group disbanded after that.

Austin took them out of high school and home-schooled them so they could focus on their music. He also arranged for them to go down to Boston and record an album. Again they weren't sure they were ready for that step but what Austin said went.

The album they recorded is some of the most astounding music you will ever hear. You can't sing along to it, you can't tap your foot, you can't get lost in the melody, you merely try to keep your jaw from hitting the floor too hard.

At the time that they recorded the album their youngest sister Rachel was not yet accompanying them on bass for all the songs. She only plays on 'That Little Sports Car'. The lineup for the rest of the songs is as follows:

Betty Wiggin - rhythm guitar, vocals
Helen Wiggin - drums
Dorothy 'Dot' Wiggin - lead vocal, guitar, arrangements

It is almost impossible to avoid cruelty while describing this music. The girls seem to be playing different songs simultaneously. Legend has it that during the recording the girls would stop and say one of them had made a mistake. The engineer couldn't fathom how any of them could tell.

How can something so disjointed and crude be one of the 'greatest' albums of all time? Well, for one thing, you can't stop listening to it once you start. It leaves you flabbergasted.

I shall take a moment to try and invoke the sound.

Picture 3 very sad teenage marionettes with instruments. They would rather be back in their boxes; they don't like you looking at them or listening to them. But they have no choice so they start to play. Their only job is to keep playing so that the puppet master is happy. They don't realize that they have free will. This mixture of survival instinct and total oppression gives the music a haunted quality, the kind of music one might expect to hear in a concentration camp. Prisoners forced to play instruments they have no affinity for.

Apparently the locals would come out and taunt the girls while they tried to entertain at The Fremont Town Hall. But they kept playing until their father passed away. Then they didn't have to pretend anymore.

But, still, Austin's mother was right. His daughters are famous. Some have greatness thrust upon them.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Return of The Blog

Tomorrow I will attempt to rouse myself from this metaphorical couch, brush the crumbs away from my intellectual lap, and write a new entry.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

47 Greatest Albums: Destiny's Child - 'Destiny Fulfilled'

The first stutter of the marching band snares that skitter along underneath 'Lose My Breath' acts like some magic elixir on me, dressing me up in a tuxedo and dropping me right into an old screwball comedy. I am Cary Grant and I don't mean I'm a gorgeous movie star I mean I'm a naive professor who can't quite wrap his head around the fact that there is a woman in a silky evening gown standing ever so close.

Then 'Cater 2 U' kicks in and whatever machinations she has undertaken to get me away from my important work on particle phsyics have worked. Through some sequence of mishaps and little white lies we are alone in a fabulously appointed hotel room. I've bumped my head and must lie down. She sits next to me, rustling the fabric of that shimmering dress, and presses a poultice to the only lump the code will allow her to acknowledge.

But, being the clumsy minx that she is, she spills a champagne bottle all over me and my throbbing tuxedo. Just then Destiny's Child start cooing 'T-Shirt' and we've got to get out of these wet things!

The screwball reasserts itself as we're flushed out of the hotel room by an overeager bellhop. In the lobby in nothing more than my skivvies I implore the young lady to simply leave me alone, why is that so hard for her to do? Just then my fiancee (fiancee, I'd completely forgotten!) sweeps through the lobby on her father's arm declaring that the grant I'd expected to complete my work has now been taken off the table. Destiny's Child ask, 'Is She The Reason?' on behalf of the wet minx who now views me as something of a cad.

She has a quick conversation with a maid. 'Girl' underscores the scene as the two commiserate in thwarted love.

Our wet heroine then flees the lobby and sits at the hotel bar sipping then gulping cocktails at an alarming rate. Through Destiny's Child she tells herself to break this 'Bad Habit'. I'm still shell shocked in the lobby in my underpants, too shaken up by the loss of my potential academic future to realize that the woman of my dreams is a mere yards away and under the happy spell of martinis.

A quick kick in the rear by the aforementioned bellhop brings me to my senses and I rush in to tell her I could care less about that silly grant and even less about that horrible woman I was engaged to only moments before. Can't she see I've changed? She is deep into intoxicated grief however and rebuffs me, telling me why through the mournful lilt of Destiny's Child 'If'.

In a fit of desperate invention, I rush into the convention being hosted by my ex-fiancee and her war profiteer father! Wrapped in a bathrobe monogrammed with the initials of the swanky hotel I bum rush the stage and begin a rambling explanation of my research. My findings are shocking indeed but when combined with my declaration of undying love for the young lady hiding in the back of the hall they elicit a rousing cheer, as Destiny's Child declares me 'Free'.

My poor sexy ex-fiancee spikes her heels into the plush rug, whips the fur stole further around her neck, and along with Beyonce, declares herself 'Through With Love' until she collides with the bellhop in front of the marble staircase. He breaks her fall with a kiss.

My tuxedo restored I dance cheek to cheek with my new fiancee, the right one, who not only loves me dearly and is sexy as all get out, but is also an heiress bent on funding research that she can feel passionate about. Destiny's Child sings 'Love' as we are revealed to be in the lobby of the hotel where we have just gotten married and decided to live.

Is this an album review? I'm not sure. But when Beyonce asks, 'Can you keep up, baby boy?' and then puts her foot down and says, 'Put it on me deep in the right direction' that is what happens to me. I'm scandalized in all the best ways.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

48 Greatest Albums: Frank Sinatra - 'Sings The Select Cole Porter'

Oh baby this one kills me. Kills me like an olive at the bottom of a glass. Like a broad in a strapless gown and high heels. Like a cigarette on a balcony. Like I hold the world in the palm of my hand.

I am classifying 'Sings The Select Cole Porter' as an album even though it is essentially a compilation of recordings from the 1950's. The collection was gathered and released in 1966 and pays tribute to the collaboration between Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle, and Cole Porter.

Nelson Riddle is essentially the George Martin to Frank's Beatle. Riddle surrounded Sinatra with a fantastically lush landscape. This civilised beauty offered a perfect counterpoint to the tough brawl of that voice, which was simultaneously cultured and savage.

Cole Porter seems English but is actually as American as apple pie. Haughty, snobbish, superior, fabulous apple pie. Throw his burnished sophistication into this cauldron and you've got quite a bitches brew. When folks call him America's greatest songwriter it is not bias but matter of fact. This particular collection showcases him to such a degree that they are almost duets.

Just to clarify, this list is in no particular order but if beginning to end listens were the gauge this album might be # 1. I can sing every line. I practice singing to this album.

I still vividly remember the moment that I discovered Frank Sinatra. As a punk child of the 1980's, thinking about Frank Sinatra was like thinking about Teddy Roosevelt. There just wasn't much call for it. I'd seen 'Guys And Dolls', heard 'New York, New York', heard 'My Way', but I truly had zero idea of who he was or what he did.

I'd just come back from a year in France and I'd been hired as an actor with a childrens theater in Providence. I moved into an apartment right near Roger Williams Hospital (which would come in handy 8 months later when my appendix would burst). I was dating a girl I'd met that summer doing a summer stock production of 'South Pacific' at Theater By The Sea in Matunuck. She was a crazy Phillipino art student at RISD who was spotted waiting tables by the producer of the play and tabbed to play the island goddess. Talented, yes. Sane? No.

Anyway, she lived right over near The Coffee Exchange on Wickenden Street, a legendary part of that lovely city. Wickenden is that street packed with strange little stores, vintage and otherwise, that seem to be entirely populated by the artistic set. One of these shops was right around the corner from her rooftop studio.

I'd come to pick her up and she was having a violent reaction to some psychedelic mushrooms that she'd taken in the hours before we'd agreed to meet. Thanks for thinking of me, sweetheart. I held her hair in the bathroom, made her some tea, and then strolled out into the fall air to while away my time.

A particular vintage shop caught my eye and I ducked in. Old gas station attendant jackets, flapper hats, ruby red slippers, erotic silverware, and one tiny shelf of used LP's. I flipped through and found a Sinatra album that had his version of 'Ol' Man River'. Hmmmm. Sinatra. I'd been a dyed in the wool punk for as long as I could remember. If there was any day to try something new it was this one, with my time to myself and the girl I was dating incapacitated.

I brought it back to my bare room, popped it on the record player (!!!) and proceeded to have my mind blown fourteen ways til Sunday.

Now, 'Ol' Man River' wasn't written by Cole Porter and it isn't on this particular album. In fact, I don't have a digital version of the song at all.

But when Ol' Blue Eyes hit the lowest note I'd ever heard on 'Get a little drunk and you lands in jail' and didn't make me roll my eyes at 'here we all work while the white folk play' I felt as if I had finally left my childhood behind. Within a month I would meet the woman who would be the mother of my child. Who I would ultimately divorce. You don't get any more adult than that.

Like I said, baby. This one kills me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

49 Greatest Albums: Fugazi-'Steady Diet Of Nothing'

Indignation and social criticism do not often make for compelling music if you ask me. For every 'Straight Outta Compton' there are 15 Arrested Developments rhyming every '-tion' in the book (emancipation, resignation, disinformation, reputation, etc. etc.). If you are preaching to the converted you should simply preach and drop the music. Strong moral centers reacting to modern society might be great fodder for research papers but it rarely ROCKS.

Fugazi are the exception to this rule. I've not yet been able to put my finger on why and I've been listening to Fugazi from the moment they came into recorded existence back in 1987.

Context is everything so in order to understand 'Steady Diet Of Nothing', today's entry in the O'Malley Pantheon of Greatness, you must return to the scene of the crime. Released in 1991, 'Steady Diet' was their third album. They had risen out of the ashes of several DC hardcore bands in '87, released their debut '13 Songs' in '89, and followed that up with 'Repeater' in '90.

Desert Storm was raging in Iraq. We were spectators to war for the first time. CNN exploded. The Internet was still a gleam in Al Gore's eye. It is hard to look back at this as a time of innocence. But as we stare down the barrel of a Post-9/11 world even the chaos of Bush the First seems quaint in comparison.

'Steady Diet Of Nothing' is a voice crying out in the wilderness. Far from being didactic or preachy, the album is simply a mirror held up and left too long in front of an unwilling public.

Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto trade off singing their own compositions. The interplay between their vocal styles is a giant part of the appeal of the band. MacKaye is gruff and staccato, barking his manifestos like a hybrid of a carnival barker and a drill sergeant. Picciotto is mellifluous and nasal, stretching out notes to their breaking point and beyond. The two singers also spar with their guitars. Sputtering and spitting and grinding each other up they create an interlocking cry of anguish.

The rhythm section is precise to the point of danger. They bring to mind a POW running at top speed along a fence of barbed wire. Occasionally a spotlight brings them to a dead halt and you can hear the fear in the silence. Then they are off and running again, leaping right back to full speed and volume.

There are no declarations of right and wrong. They are as leery of solution as they are fatigued by misdirection. In 'Stacks', MacKaye goes beyond politics and into the realm of linguistics.

Language keeps me locked and repeating
Language keeps me locked and repeating
Language keeps me locked and repeating
America is just a word but I use it

I type those words out and it hits home just how powerful the music is. Upon hearing this song you will feel a strange connection to the uneasy Roman at the height of the Empire, thinking that there couldn't possibly be a day when Rome wouldn't rule. But deep down they were all Nero waiting with a fiddle.

I could go track by track but to be honest my articulation fails. Just know this. When I think of the Gulf War I think of Ian MacKaye in 'Nice New Outfit' bellowing the following...

You're number one with a bullet
That's money well spent
Your mouth plastered like poster
Address yourself success
You can pinpoint your chimney
And drop one down its length
In your nice new outfit
Sorry about the mess

The SCUD missile has become just another fashion accessory to a public CONSUMING the war. The illusion of boundary has fallen away and we are merely the tribe you fear.

This album is not well-loved by Fugazi fans. Perhaps it is rigorous to an almost fascistic degree. Perhaps every sing-along makes you feel like a part of a blood crazed mob. Perhaps it hits too close to home. Most political music allows you the pleasure of superiority, be it left or right. Toby Keith and Bruce Springsteen are two sides of the same coin. But that is still the coin of the realm.

With this album, Fugazi somehow project us into a world where the United States is merely an idea, a communal projection. And that isn't some idyllic community broadcasting its best self for the world to see. It is a place slaves built. It is a place the poor go to die. It is a place you do not want to be late at night.

No rhymed combination of -isms or -tions can keep the slouching beast from roughing us up. Hey Nero, we've got 250 million fiddles, can we come up on the hill with you and watch ourselves burn?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

50 Best Albums: Miles Davis' 'Sketches Of Spain'

In no particular order I am going to lay down the O'Malley gauntlet of greatness. I was talking with my cousin Mike about what the heck I was going to do next on my blog and he said I should review my favorite 50 albums. Well, what could I do? Once something like that is out there it has to be done.

As I readied myself for the bus ride this morning I immediately thought of The Replacements album 'Let It Be' which is probably the album I'd have on a deserted island, an island with an iPod and electricity. But I have wanted this blog to be a constant source of challenge. I'll get to 'Let It Be' but I thought I'd start with something I barely have a vocabulary to cover...


I have vivid memories of making my sister Sheila howl by imitating a person I call a 'jazz douche'. I won't go too far into what makes up a 'jazz douche' but I will give a quick distillation of what truly bothers me about the die-hard jazz fan.

The die-hard jazz fan is deluded and angry. They feel that jazz is a superior form of music and they can't quite wrap their beret laden brains around the fact that the majority of the populace prefers just about any other genre. I'm all for passion and interest but when that starts to calcify into prejudice and snootiness, count me out.

According to the die-hard jazz douche, my love of the three minute pop song with repeated verse/chorus/verse structure is evidence of my inferior brain. I also am a slave to marketing because if I could only throw off the shackles of the corporate jailer I would instantly abhor anything so bourgeois as MELODY.

So. Never been a fan of the jazz fan. For decades this kept me from exploring even the slightest bit in the genre.

Then I was cast in 'Side Man'. It had won the Tony a year earlier and was now being done around the country in regional theaters. I'd scoffed and rolled my eyes at the NY Times review that compared it to a jazz ensemble. My hatred of the prejudice of the jazz fan caused me to hold this play in contempt. When I got the sides from my agent I barely took the time to read them, so deep was my scorn.

I went to the audition and came out thinking, "I'll probably book this stupid jazz-douche play, you watch." Sure enough, I booked it.

Once I read the whole play however, I was forced to admit that it was not merely the ravings of a beret-topped, handlebar mustache wearing, microbrew in the garage, stamp collecting, jazz douche. It packed a fierce emotional wallop and the writing was fantastic.

This pierce in my armor allowed me to take a chance on listening to some jazz in order to better understand the milieu. I figured Miles Davis wouldn't be a bad place to start.

Thus 'Sketches Of Spain'.

How did I decide to buy this album? Deep research? Asking a true jazz douche? Nope. I liked the cover. Stately, mysterious, violent, gorgeous.

Now a real jazz douche would be able to say, "They recorded this album entirely live with each instrument filtered through copper and brass pipes which gives the album its trebly overtones. Frank 'Bubbles' Harrington produced the album and he was greatly influenced by Ferdinand the Bull and gallons of homemade sangria. So when you listen to these tracks, man, you got to let the grapes take you away and sit down on that bee and let Miles bite you in the ass."

But alas, I am not a jazz douche. I know nothing of how this was made. I only know how it sounds to me. Track by track...

1. 'Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio)'

A strange percussion types away while horns seem to fly in over tiled roofs. Men in white shirts and black pants held up by lengths of rope roll slowly out of hammocks, blinking away the rice and wine that led them to their sleep. The smell of blood can be sensed coming from the arena at the heart of the town. A bullfight.

2. 'Will O' The Wisp'

Her dark hair falls over her full lips. The basket she has prepared sits on a brightly colored blanket. Birds chirp and call your eyes up to the horizon. The town is far away. No one will see you. You know she wants you to kiss her but you've waited so long to be alone with her that you prolong the conversation, drawing your voice lower and lower until the talk can't get any smaller. Her eyelashes flutter as she laughs and suddenly your mouths are meeting as closely as your minds.

3. 'The Pan Piper'

The children are afraid. The man with the knapsack and flute has them gathered by the church. He's told them that they will see their parents again if they are very very good. They like music, don't they? If they like music, they should raise their hands. They don't want to raise their hands even though they like music. They feel like if they start doing what he says they'll never be able to stop. The sun tries to reach them from beyond the church spire but the clouds are gathering. Horse hooves pound from around the corner of the wall and suddenly the flute is silenced and the man on the horse is bringing them back to their houses trying to keep them from seeing the blood on his sword.

4. 'Saeta'

The learned men must hide their knowledge. Superstition rules the hour. If the Church has the ear of the King then the people must give over their mouths. Practical men reconcile this hypocrisy quite easily but dreamers are compromised to an almost maddening degree.

5. 'Solea'

Aren't the ships in the harbor beautiful? They await their orders. The beach goers lounge and converse. The bells in the tower peal on the hour. All of a sudden a cannon booms and a flurry of activity ensues on the decks of the warships. Word spreads until recreation seems inappropriate and the sand is quickly vacated. War has come to Spain.

6. 'Song Of Our Country'

Fists pounded on the thick table cluttered with pewter mugs. National identity emerges from each man's mouth louder than the one before. Loaves of bread are ignored. So are women, until later. Minutiae rules the day.

7. 'Concierto De Aranjuez (Part One)

The bull has swords hanging from every part of his hide. Breasts heave in corsets ringed with lace. Screams fall short of the sun. Pride holds the matador still beneath his cape, withholding the death blow for maximum drama.

8. 'Concierto De Aranjuez (Part Two Ending)'

The arena is empty. The sand is stained here and there with the blood of the bull. The setting sun casts darkness into the stands. How could such brutality end in such peace?

I guess there is a little jazz douche in everyone.

Monday, August 25, 2008

One More For Old Lang

For those three to six people who occasionally check in here I wish to extend my heartfelt apologies for failing to update on a regular basis. I have been unsure as to what this space was going to become so in lieu of flailing about in all different directions I thought I'd wait until I was certain of what I hoped to accomplish. Obviously that meant that I would never write again. Ahem. So today, in order to kick start the daily commitment, I'm going to revert to the iPod chronicles. Tomorrow something else will happen.

1. 'The Gutter Shit (Featuring Jayo Felony, Gangsta, & Squeak Ru) by Ice Cube from 'War & Peace, Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc)

With all of his family friendly cinematic offerings it is easy to forget just how sharp a social critic Ice Cube can be. He views all power and prestige through a jaded lens, knowing just what it takes in order to achieve it. I know that gangsta rap is seen by many as some sort of blight upon our national artistic crop but to my mind it proves the fertility of the American soil.

2. 'Valentine' by The Replacements from 'Pleased To Meet Me'

When the opening chords of this song rang out my face went in three thousand different directions at once and finally landed on a wry smile. There is something muscular and open in their crunch and you expect to be carried off into some anthemic sunset. But then the first line hits and you feel as if you are just waking up the day after your first love broke your heart. Sleep allowed you to forget just how much pain you were in. Dawn is a chore.

So you wish upon a star
That turns into a plane
Well I guess that's right on par
Who is left to blame?

3. 'Square Dance' by Eminem from 'The Eminem Show'

How does he do it? If you are one of those people who view Eminem as some sort of cheap shot vulgarian you are completely missing the point. And some of the best music ever. I feel sorry for you.

4. 'Morning New Disease' by Jets To Brazil from 'Orange Rhyming Dictionary'

If cultural anthropology had a thesis soundtrack it would be scored by these guys. Sometimes they are a bit too cerebral and the music becomes antiseptic. But this song keeps its heart beating hard up in the forefront of the mix.

5. 'Bobby James' by N*E*R*D from 'In Search Of...'

When NERD (Noone Ever Really Dies) hit the scene, Pharrell Williams was an underground/overground sensation. He'd produced hits for Britney and it didn't hurt his street cred. That's how respected his production skills were. He recorded 'In Search Of...' and decided at the last minute that it too closely resembled hits he'd produced for other people. So he kept the vocal tracks, called in a hot funk group called Spymob to replace the electronic beats with live instruments, and thus a legend was almost born. Yeah, almost. I don't know why but the whole is just a little bit less than the sum of its parts.

6. 'Bravo Pour Le Clown!' by Edith Piaf from 'The Very Best Of Edith Piaf'

It's French.

7. 'Brick Is Red' by The Pixies from 'Surfer Rosa & Come On Pilgrim'

Just another teeny tiny little rock anthem ditty from the rock world equivalent of one of Joseph Cornell's boxes. There is not a single Pixies song that doesn't feel like you were left free to roam the attic of some eccentric relative and discovered indescribably odd knick knacks in dusty old trunks.

8. 'With A Wish' by The Miracle Legion from 'Drenched'

These guys were from Connecticut so they always seemed like almost friends. Musician acquaintances knew people who knew people in the band and we all pulled for them to make it big. It never happened. But if you want a SUPREME joy of an hour, pick up 'Drenched' and get lost in it. It is like the last afternoon of your post adolescence, just before you have the cocktail that will push you from buzz to maudlin, just before you realize that you have to change everything.

9. 'A Man In Need' by Richard Thompson from 'Watching The Dark (1)'

Who's gonna cure the heart of a man in need?

If you ever need a pick me up, just take a listen to the album that this song is from, Richard & Linda Thompson's 'Shoot Out The Lights'. He writes the music and lyrics, she sings. They are breaking up. He is writing songs about the demise of their relationship. They are IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BREAK UP. She is singing his words. Seriously. You will feel like your life is not all that bad after hanging out with the Thompson's for an hour.

10. 'Speak, See, Remember' by Pavement from 'Terror Twilight'

I have no idea what this song is about but I love it anyway. You know that guy in every high school who is a math whiz, President of Debate Club, killer guitar player, excels at some mainstream sport like football or baseball but alienates all of his teammates because he is not a jock, and dates some hot girl from some town just far enough away to make you realize how sheltered and insular your life is? That guy started Pavement.

11. 'Guilford Fall Demo' by Fugazi from 'Instrument Soundtrack'

Hot punk.

12. 'Do You Want To Break Up?' by Eurythmics from 'Savage'

Annie Lennox is not afraid to be unlikeable and that makes her extraordinary. This song is a heinous mix of come-on/brush-off and aloof derision. How this song winds up being a sing-along is beyond me. And Dave Stewart's squiggly line guitar figures are creepily fun. They make my language go all haywire.

13. 'Sad Songs And Waltzes' by Cake from 'Fashion Nugget'

You know how Malcolm Gladwell talks about the tipping point, that moment when something swings from a minor moment into something larger and inexorable? Hearing this song this morning was the tipping point for me and I am fed up with Cake. The guy seems to court off-tempo snags in his vocal delivery and what promises originality comes off as stubbornly idiosyncratic and hopelessly mired in quirk.

14. 'Here I Am' by Lyle Lovett from 'Lyle Lovett And His Large Band'

See 'Sad Songs And Waltzes' by Cake RIGHT ABOVE.

What will tomorrow bring? Who knows...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


So I've been incommunicado for a couple of days working on a project that is going quite well. But it has kept me off the bus and out of my iPod. This morning putting the buds in my ear felt like punching the clock, further proof that the conceit of writing about the binary equation dressed up as art is ending soon. But not today.

1. 'Blown Away' by Pixies from 'Bossanova'

Something happened to The Pixies sometime after 'Doolittle' came out. The music became claustrophobic, insular. It feels like how you feel when you are trying to get through to an addict. They'll keep you involved in 87 stories about this that and the other thing so that you won't notice the empty bottles in the dumpster out back. The stories are well told and interesting but you really want DIFFERENT information from them.

2. 'Long Grift' by John Cameron Mitchell from 'Hedwig And The Angry Inch'

This might be my favorite song off of this amazing album. I love singing along to it. I love the lyrics. I love that it mixes up con-man lingo with love affair talk. Perfect.

3. 'You Ain't Me' by Frank Black from 'Cult Of Ray'

Funny, from Pixies to Frank Black. This is the sound of the addict after he's come through to the bright side of sobriety. The riff and lyrics aren't necessarily better, they're just clearer. More willing to truly communicate.

4. 'London Calling' by The Clash from 'Live: From Here To Eternity'

If The Clash were a movie star they would be William Holden in 'Stalag 17'. I've watched it 3 times in the past week and I can't get enough of it. Gruff, tough, smoking. INTEGRITY.

5. 'Jane Says' by Jane's Addiction from 'Kettle Whistle'

I know they're important and all but I usually don't care all that much about these guys. They add an intro to this live version of the song which is really interesting, though, and I find it quite telling that I like the meandering new tidbit better than the actual song. And Perry Farrell is like Crispin Glover on Letterman.

6. 'It Only Hurts When I Cry' by Dwight Yoakam from 'dwightyoakamacoustic.net'

Repeat from an earlier post.

7. 'Once You've Loved Somebody' by Dixie Chicks from 'Wide Open Spaces'

I dare you to try and resist this group. If you haven't sat down and listened to them from beginning to end than I shan't allow you to form an opinion.

8. 'Don't Do It' by The Band from 'The Best Of The Band'

If any 'band' could be 'THE' band, The Band is the band to do it. How a bunch of Canadians can sound like riverboat gamblers out of a Mark Twain novel taught how to play modern instruments is beyond me.

9. 'Sunshine On Leith' by The Proclaimers from 'Sunshine On Leith'

This album is like Stonehenge. Ancient, anonymous, specific, gorgeous, a little frightening, and sort of goofy.

10. 'On the face of it' by The Evens from 'The Evens'

I would join a militia group if Ian MacKaye started one, so I am a little surprised at how NOT into The Evens I am. I haven't really sat down to delve in so it could be I just don't get it yet but the very fact that I haven't worn it out by listening tells me something. Maybe someday.

11. 'The Ghosts Of Saturday Night' by Tom Waits from 'The Heart Of Saturday Night'

Gina's pasties burn her nipples but her mind's not on that, not tonight. She's dreaming that old dream again, the one where she's living high off the hog with some smart fella footing the bill, his name is Bill in fact, and that's part of his charm. The music keeps her moving up there between the Poles but her Equator's cooling fast so she's got to find a place to land that's warm and sweet. The dollar bills gather at her feet and wait to be spread out on her kitchen table later under the long ash of her cigarette and the scratchy little pencil she uses to add up the spoils that have not gone to the winner.

Oh, I'm sorry, did you want a SONG?

12. 'New Killer Of America' by Bomer-B (aka Brendan O'Malley) from 'Out Of Charactor, Act 1: Id City'

Now that I've just trashed Tom Waits let me turn that critical eye upon myself and say that I love this song. I tried to program a drum beat, the 1 wound up the 3 so you can't tell when the hell to dance, a Bob Dylan harmonica drifts along over the incoherent skitter of percussion and a keyboard tries to hold everything together. I wrote this a year before 9/11.

New Killer Of America

I'm the New Killer of America
Got more giants locked up than Comerica Park
In San Francisco Sisqo the Kid singing 'The Thong Song'
I don't know what I'll do
If I don't get my groove on soon
I'm tired of this country
That's why I been to the moon
That's why I been to the moon
That's why I been to the moon

I'm the New Killer of America
Manifest destiny, Ha!
I'm just makin' the best of me
'Coz that's the only way this freedom's worth the waste of my time
I'll give you every last sandwich
You can have every dime
'Coz motherfuckers come from all over the world just to die here
And I ain't gonna let 'em down by freezin' in the headlights
Like a deer
Like a deer

I'm the New Killer of America
I'm the New Killer of America
I'm the New Killer of America
I'm the New Killer crazy like Magilla
Like Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'
Is that not killer?

I'm drinkin' Miller
It's less-a-fillin'
Still need a million

13. 'Julianne' by Ben Folds from 'Ben Folds Five'

I hadn't heard Ben Folds when I bought this album. I'd read something about him somewhere and it talked about how hard it was to tour little clubs and lug a real piano in and out. I remember thinking it was pretty damn cool that someone was applying piano playing to the punk aesthetic. Finally. He seems like such an institution now but back when he first hit the scene there was NO SUCH THING as young piano playing male rock bands. There still isn't if you think about it.

14. 'My Blue Tears' by Dolly Parton from 'Little Sparrow'

She has her own theme park. You would never know it by listening to this song. You'd think you'd just discovered the next great country singer. And you'd be right.

15. 'Pow' by The Beastie Boys from 'Check Your Head'

Repeat from an earlier post.

16. 'Little Blue Number (Previously Unreleased - Live) by Richard Thompson from 'Watching The Dark'

I prefer his slow tunes. On the fast ones everything gets all muddied up. When he has a long slow drumbeat going behind him he is unstoppable.

17. 'Karma Man' by David Bowie from 'Bowie At The BBC (Disc 1)'


18. 'Good Love Never Dies' by Liz Phair from 'Liz Phair'

Again, read 'Who Said Life Wasn't Phair?' on this blog to hear what I have to say about this gorgeous hot mom.

Hmmm...sometimes going through the motions is fun!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Icarus Licorice

So I swore off the shuffle model yesterday and today I go back on my word. And it is all thanks to John Cameron Mitchell, or to be more specific, Hedwig.

To the uninitiated, Hedwig And The Angry Inch is a musical that tells the story of a German boy who undergoes a sex change operation at the request of an Army Sergeant stationed in Berlin. The operation doesn't fully 'take' however and Hedwig winds up neither here nor there and is plopped down into Middle America the ultimate outcast.

I won't go on too long, I'll only say that the iPod chose 'Midnight Radio' to open things off for me this morning and to say I love that song is to reach a pinnacle of understatement.

1. 'Midnight Radio' by John Cameron Mitchell from 'Hedwig And The Angry Inch'

I am one of the lucky hordes who can say they saw John Cameron Mitchell perform this most post-modern of musicals. My cousin Mike was going to be in New York City for a weekend very near his birthday. He knew it was unlikely that he could see everyone he wanted to see in the limited time he had. So he buys 30 or so tickets to see 'Hedwig' and invites everyone he wants to see. Selfish, I know, but we accept these minor faults in those we love.

The buzz had been building to a massive crescendo and the possibility of an anticlimactic response seemed probable. But just the opposite occurred. What I'd heard could never have prepared me for the emotional impact this evening of entertainment delivered. I remember laughing until my spleen came out of my nose and then instantly being wrenched into a sob.

This song serves as the cigarette lighter waving impetus to end the fictional concert we've just witnessed. Who dares to write an epic rock and roll song to bring a real crowd to the point of worship at the feet of a fictional star? The gall!

The word 'genius' gets thrown around quite a bit these days. Occasionally it applies.

2. 'Gary's Got A Boner' by The Replacements from 'Let It Be'


People, I can't stress enough how quickly you need to own this album. At first listen you'll probably wonder what I'm going on about.

Imagine you are driving down a deserted highway. All of a sudden you come across cars on opposite sides of the road. One has crashed and a man sits cross-legged weeping. The other has a couple in the back seat humping. Which one do you look at?

3. 'Sale Or Return' by Bis from 'Social Dancing'

I've got to go through my iPod and delete some stuff is all I'm saying.

4. 'Fatman' by G. Love & Special Sauce from 'G. Love & Special Sauce'

Having seen G. Love in person before ANYONE knew who he was, I have to say I thought I'd still be obsessed with him at this point. There is something disappointing about him and I'm not sure what it is.

5. 'Popemobile To Paraguay' by The Fatima Mansions from 'Lost In The Former West'

The Catholic Church secretly aided members of the NAZI party in their escape to South America. Hence this song.

6. 'Ash And Earth' by Velvet Crush from 'In The Presence Of Greatness'

Sometimes it looks and sounds like a rat but it ISN'T a rat, you know what I'm saying? Something is off here and I'm not sure what it is. Every note is in place but the sum is less than the whole of its parts.

7. 'Only Son' by Liz Phair from 'Whitechocolatespaceegg'

This song kills me. This album began the whole 'Liz Phair' sells out bullshit that started to plague her. For some reason her supposed 'fans' wanted her to remain the same chick who recorded 'Exile In Guyville'. Whenever I hear ANYONE talk about an artist selling out I want to strangle them. People who TRY to sell out fail. Liz Phair has chased her muse. Period.

8. 'The Interview' by Lenny Bruce from 'The Lenny Bruce Originals - Volume 1'

I have no idea what this is about and it made me laugh.

9. 'I Love You Because (Alternate # 3)' by Elvis Presley from 'The Sun Sessions CD'

To hear this guy fucking around in the studio when NOBODY is listening is the way to hear him.

10. 'Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy' by Queen from 'Greatest Hits'

If Queen were what surrounded Eskimos they'd need thousands of words for 'awesome'.

11. 'No More No More' by Aerosmith from 'Toys In The Attic'

This might be my favorite Aerosmith song. Yep, it is.

12. 'Anything Goes' by Frank Sinatra from 'Sings The Select Cole Porter'

Perfect arrangements, perfect singing, perfect songs, perfect album.

13. 'Mood For Moderns' by Elvis Costello & The Attractions from 'Armed Forces'

More perfect pop condensed.

14. 'Boogie Boy' by Iggy Pop from 'American Caesar'


15. 'By Design' by Rites of Spring from 'End On End'

There is something a bit too fuzzy about the songs here, as if Guy Picciotto's passion were so deep that it affected the actual recording to the point that the edges were lost. It would take Fugazi's precision to truly demonstrate the scope of his writing.

16. 'Sex In The Summer' by Prince from 'Emancipation (Disc 2)'

We're not talking sticky uncomfortable either, we're talking perfect bikini, sweat at the end of the act and not before, and no sand in your underpants.

17. 'Groove Holmes' by The Beastie Boys from 'Check Your Head'

Instrumental goodness.

18. 'Going Mobile' by The Who from 'Who's Next'

When The Who really get going they are unstoppable. I'll never forget my friend Joe telling me he thought The Who were his favorite band. This was in the mid '80's when it wasn't cool to like The Who among punk aficionados. But Joe couldn't help himself. His ardor interested me and I picked up a copy of 'Who's Next'. It is now in my 'Top Whatever' of 'Best Albums'.

So once again I am back at work having sampled a cross-section of my record collection. I still don't know what this blog will morph into but I'll let you know when I know.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Bored Room

Yesterday my iPod bored me to such an extent that I did not write a post. It repeated several songs it recently played, the songs it chose were not sufficiently interesting to spark my discourse, and David Mamet's 'Bambi Vs. Godzilla' overrode any musical connection those songs could attempt.

Today wasn't much better but until I figure out a new way to approach this space I am going to give it a go.

1. 'I Love A Piano' by Tony Bennett from 'Unplugged'

A promising start as Tony sings the shit out of this standard. He lives right near Columbus Circle and I almost knocked him over one day while I was working at The Hub writing my Urban Legends column as Legs Urbano. What an odd time. The internet boom in action. Corporations throwing money around like it was free bagels. Weirdos on deadline almost bumping into American legends on the streets.

2. 'Smile' by Michael Jackson from 'HIStory (Disc 2)'

Oh man. The packaging for this greatest hits schmaltztravaganza is almost too bizarre to describe. It comes across as if it is Exhibit A in some movie courtroom drama in which Michael defends himself with a speech so impassioned that world peace spontaneously occurs while his accusers rip up the incriminating evidence they have of him. Remember in 'Star Wars' when the Death Star explodes and Leia, Han, and Luke celebrate back at the Rebel base and how that should have been the end? And then there is a wordless ceremony in which Leia puts medals on Han and Luke? And Harrison Ford can barely contain his disdain? That's this whole thing in a nutshell.

3. 'Leaving' by Gregory isaacs from 'Trojan Dub Box Set (Disc 3)'

My cousin Liam recommended this compilation of dub music. I pass the recommendation on. Not being a big reggae fan, I am surprised at my reaction to dub music, mostly because these tracks are mainly instrumental. That allows them to be more surreal to me and they hit harder.

4. 'Gatorville & Points East' by John Cale from 'Walking On Locusts'

If you want to fall asleep on public transportation I suggest you listen to John Cale.

5. 'Operaman' by Adam Sandler from 'The Concert For New York City (Disc 1)'

Leave it to Sandler to rouse me from my Cale-induced coma and bring me to tears. The rest of this concert can inspire me to cynicism and a kneejerk anti-jingoism but Sandler makes me proud to be an American and proud to declare that my homeland was brutally attacked by the worst kind of scoundrel.

6. 'Cool' by Gwen Stefani from 'Love, Angel, Music, Baby'

If I were Gavin Rossdale I'd be like, 'Hey, can you stop writing songs about the bass player already?'

7. 'Lola' by The Kinks from 'The Ultimate Collection (Disc 1)'

I never liked The Kinks. I was wrong. They seem to be the most unfamous famous band of all time. Strange strange music.

8. 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You' by Michael Jackson from 'HIStory (Disc 1)'

I don't even want to know who he's talking about.

9. 'Monsters In The Parasol' by Queens Of The Stone Age from 'Rated R'

If you are unfamiliar with this album you are really missing out. Any band that can take something as patently absurd as the combination of 'monster' and 'parasol' and turn it into a great rock song is to be commended and encouraged. Also I sort of want to be Josh Homme.

10. 'Speedo' by The Cadillacs from 'Goodfellas (Soundtrack)'

This vocal figure ('Now you all can call me Speedo, etc.') just might be the combination of notes that I have hummed to myself most often out of all the songs ever written. I can't say it is my favorite or anything, just that I quite regularly find myself in the process of recreating it.

11. 'Stop Talking' by The Walkmen from 'Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone'

I almost loved this band when this album came out. Today I am more interested in what David Mamet has to say about the Ashkenazy Jew and the fact that the titans who created Hollywood all originate from a 200 mile radius in Poland.

12. 'Blood' by El-P from 'Fantastic Damage'

The antithesis of gangsta rap. This is not pleasant music. It is disconcerting to listen to, frightening to contemplate, and hard to digest. Funky as hell, as in funky as the place where bad people go to suffer forever.

13. 'Only The Strong' by Midnight Oil from '10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1'

People forget about Midnight Oil. I do too and then my iPod reminds me not to. Love this song. Love this band.

14. 'Old Brown Shoe' by The Beatles 'Past Masters Volume 2'

John, Paul, George, Ringo. Bingo.

15. 'Senior Service' by Elvis Costello & The Attractions from 'Armed Forces'

Compact pop absurdity.

16. 'Who Are Parents' by The Shaggs from 'Philosophy Of The World'

Google 'The Shaggs'. I can't explain it in any meaningful way.

17. 'Bad Show' by Soul Side from 'Soon-Come-Happy'

DC hardcore interesting because members of this band went on to form Rites of Spring and Fugazi. Not too interesting on its own.

18. 'Willing And Able' by Prince & The New Power Generation from 'Diamonds And Pearls'

Prince hit some kind of high point with this album. When I think of this album I think 'relaxation'. It might be the only time in his entire body of work that he is relaxed.

19. 'This Protector' by The White Stripes from 'White Blood Cells'

Gonna have to work harder than that, Jack.

20. 'House Where Nobody Lives' by Tom Waits from 'Mule Variations'

How sad. An empty house. I might cry. Or press fast forward.

21. 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' by Nirvana from 'From The Muddy Bands Of The Wishkah'

Nirvana live and twice as fast as the song you've heard a gazillion times on the radio. I can't help but layer the detachment Cobain must have felt deep within, the disdain he directed towards himself for winning a popularity contest. It drains the song of its energy and leaves it sounding like the kid who is still screaming and crying even though his mother has caved in and given him the candy he thought he wanted.

I've had it with this format. I may be back here or it may be time to close up shop and move on to something else. We shall see. We shall see.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Declaration Of In

Last night Melody and I meandered up the PCH and got some fish and chips at Neptune's Net. The sun was huge and orange, the bikers let their bikes glint and gleam while sipping beer and eating beer-battered fish, and everything affirmed that, in spite of our flaws as a country, some good decisions have been made.

1. 'D'Yer Mak'er' by Led Zeppelin from 'Houses Of The Holy'

I first succumbed to Led Zeppelin in my fifth year of college, a year I spent abroad in France. My friends and I had access to a small studio in Paris that we could crash in while having adventures in The City of Lights. Let me be start by saying that I never visited Jim Morrison's grave and that the only classic rock conversion I underwent was due to the fact that the studio only had one set of CD's...the newly remastered Led Zeppelin catalog.

The owner of the studio traveled a great deal and had brought back from South America a giant jug of homemade rum. In this rum the moonshiners had deposited various local fruits. By the time I imbibed from the potent brew the fruit was gray. This didn't stop me. I think today it would stop me, and that is why youth is so perfectly not wasted on the young.

2. 'Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me' by Pearl Jam from 'Vitalogy'

This song disturbed me greatly while it played and I didn't know who it was. Eddie Vedder doesn't sing on the track; it is a collage of spoken word by what is either a little child or an adult voice modified to sound like a child. Due to my ambivalence about Eddie Vedder's voice, you'd think this might up my enjoyment factor. But I just wanted it to be over. Thankfully it isn't too long. By the way, the title is completely non-sequitous which is a shortcut that many mainstream artists use when they want to seem more experimental than they actually are. Pearl Jam will always be closer to Stone Temple Pilots than Captain Beefheart and that would be fine except they don't seem to think so.

3. 'Nice New Outfit' by Fugazi from 'Steady Diet Of Nothing'

In Fugazi-land this album is not considered to be a high point. Much like Foo Fighter's 'The Colour And The Shape'. But I am in the minority. I think it is their finest moment. The first Iraq war was raging and naturally Fugazi commented.

This song took on a different meaning for me last year when I performed it as part of a tribute to Fugazi. The evening was organized by a friend, a great actress/singer. She and I geeked out over Fugazi whenever we got the chance and she is really the only other fanatic that I know personally. I know they're out there but I don't know any of them personally.

My cousin Timothy and I did a wacky hip-hop version of this song which we performed. In the midst of all the hardcore sturm und drang volume our funky karaoke was, thankfully, highly appreciated. It marked our debut in live performance.

4. 'Do That Stuff' by Parliament from 'Parliament's Greatest Hits'

I know this must be a funky track but I got pretty into reading 'Bambi Vs. Godzilla', David Mamet's dissection of the film industry. But, listen, if you need me to tell you about Parliament you just aren't quite a good American yet.

Quick sideline. What the hell are they putting in the drinking water up in Minneapolis, MN? Bob Dylan, Prince, George Clinton, Garrison Keillor, The Replacements, Husker Du, Soul Asylum. Seriously. BOTTLE THAT SHIT AND SEND IT TO ME.

5. 'Red Light Fever' by Liz Phair from 'Liz Phair'

See 'Who Said Life Wasn't Phair?' from 2/25/08.

6. 'I Don't Wanna Grow Up' by Tom Waits from 'Bone Machine'

One of his best and that's saying a lot. It sounds like a 'Free To Be You And Me' song that has been dragged into a bar, force fed Pabst Blue Ribbon and pickled eggs, turned onto the joys of unfiltered Pall Malls, dropped onto a crosstown bus dressed in rags, and deposited back at elementary school with instructions to pretend none of it ever happened.

7. 'Tasted' by Brendan O'Malley from 'Rhode Island Red'

This song was actually co-written with my friend Danilo Torres who played guitar in The Mahoneys. I put words to a lick we'd played around with...he thought it should be called 'Tasted' so I wrote a song called 'Tasted'. This is months after the demise of that band, in the last summer I would spend in Rhode Island before moving to The Big Apple. I recorded some songs in the cabaret room at Theater-By-The-Sea for friends and family. They were very kind to come show their support.

All I remember from that summer is the heat and the feeling that my life was like the space in front of an air-conditioning duct that has been blocked. It ought to be cooler so you know something is wrong.

8. 'Whoa, Back Buck' by Leadbelly and The Golden Gate Jubilee from 'Alabama Bound'

Kurt Cobain introduced me to Leadbelly and I'll forever be grateful to that little asshole for that.

9. 'Last Exit' by Pearl Jam from 'Vitalogy'

See? The iPod knew it had fucked up. In revisiting the same album from Pearl Jam, it proves my point perfectly. This is a straightforward guitar cock-rock song. Pearl Jam chafes at the notion that it is as conventional as can be. But like PBJ and network television there is something comforting about the lowest common denominator. Don't fight it guys.

10. 'Mississippi' by Bob Dylan from 'Love & Theft'

When Bob Dylan says he stayed in Mississippi way too long you imagine centuries. Eons. By the end of the song you've spent that time there with him, wondering why you can't leave, what the hell is wrong with you, and why can't you find the gumption to pick your feet up.

11. 'My World Is Over' by Diane Dane from 'That Thing You Do!'

I love this movie.

12. 'Seen Your Video' by The Replacements from 'Let It Be'

Instrumental for the first half, the second half rails against MTV and phony rock and roll. Not their best song, not even the best song on the second side of this PERFECT album, but somehow this song could go into the time capsule and perfectly describe early '80's underground punk music. If you want mainstream go to Maine and find a stream.

13. 'Limp' by Fiona Apple from 'When The Pawn...'

Because one of the first things I ever heard about Fiona Apple was that she'd been raped at 12, I've never quite been able to acknowledge how sexy she is. In the spirit of the title of today's post, Fiona Apple is HOT. Triple hot. The lips, the hair, the skinny little body...sex on a stick and even the imposition of pure evil on her history can't tarnish it. Take that rapist. You failed.

14. 'Pinball Wizard' by The Who from 'My Generation - The Very Best Of The Who'

I just heard this song the other day and commented on how stupid I think it is. 'Tommy' in general I think is pretty over-rated. Give me 'Who's Next' over 'Tommy' EVERY day of EVERY week. If I were deaf dumb and blind I'd be offended. I'm not and I am.

15. 'I'm Ready To Go Home' by The Louvin Brothers from 'Satan Is Real'

Preach on brothers. The Pearly Gates will welcome you. Your belief is complete and therefore self-reflexive.

16. 'The Sprawl' by Sonic Youth from 'Daydream Nation'

Who knew the Converse and Fruit of the Loom generation had a 'Sgt. Pepper's' waiting for them? I didn't know I had a generation to be articulated until I heard this album. In one long dissonant swoop Sonic Youth killed my childhood and I reveled in the carnage.

And so we the people come to the end of our Declaration of In. See youz tomorruh.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Let It Alone

A friend forced my hand. She is presenting a night of her poetry and asked me to be the opening act...sing 4 or 5 songs and set the stage. I've been frustrated musically for quite a long time, longer than I care to admit. From 1995 through 2003 I wrote roughly an album worth of material each year, sometimes a bit more, never less. The last 5 years have seen that pace slow considerably and if it weren't for the arrival of Cousin Timothy on the scene I'd almost have nothing new to show. And my collaborations with him aren't stand-alone songs, they are soundscapes that I contribute to.

So the singer/songwriter train had long since retired to the yard. Unhappily, I might add.

The invitation from my friend meant a lot to me. Oh to hell with it, it's Fielding. I swore I'd write new material for this evening. And last night I took a big step towards meeting that goal. Nothing final yet but some very viable seeds. Left me excited to hear the tunes this morning.

1. 'The Only Answer' by Mike Doughty from 'Skittish'

I was in Rhode Island again, listening to WRIU late at night again, driving home from visiting Jean who was bar tending down at the greatest bar in the world, The Ocean Mist. A song came on that stopped me in my tracks, stunned me to my core. The only problem was the boneheaded college DJ never said who sang the damn thing. All I knew was it was a voice and a guitar and it referenced the F train and Park Slope. My Brooklyn heartbreak seemed to be scraped off the pavement and reconstituted in its entirety in the most modern folk song I'd ever heard. I desperately stayed awake as long as I could to hear the DJ say who sang it but he never did. I called the radio station the next day to find out what it was but they didn't really keep records like that. I did a mad Google search typing in every possible genre/lyric/etc. I could think of. Nothing came up. Months passed and I was back in LA. I remembered the song again and rededicated myself to the Google mission. Ultimately I found it...'Thank You Lord For Sending Me The F Train'. I bought the album. 'The Only Answer' is another devastating track from the mind of the man who reached out to me with his description of what had become my hometown, Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY, USA.

2. 'STP' by Sublime from 'Robbin' The Hood'

I am not a big reggae fan and I am even less of a ska fan so I am puzzled by my infatuation with Sublime. They continually put me in a summer mood. They remind me of the hours I used to spend with sand between my toes and ocean salt all over my body, trying not to look too long at the girls on the blankets right nearby and dreaming of a day when I'd be on a blanket with them.

3. 'Ball And Chain' by Social Distortion from 'Social Distortion'

This is one of those songs that was here long before it was ever written. It lived in the Big House of Songs near 'Rock Island Line' and 'Erie Canal' and 'Red River Valley', it just never got asked to come out and play. Hundreds of years went by and finally this big lug named Mike Ness came to the Big House of Songs and saw it sitting there on the shelf. 'Hey you,' he cried. 'You and me might get along fine.' So 'Ball And Chain' said goodbye to 'She'll Be Riding Six White Horses' and exited the Big House of Songs blinking and excited to visit.

4. 'Low Side Of The Road' by Tom Waits from 'Mule Variations'

I was all ready to get my Waits hackles up, as they've been for several years now. But I found myself really liking this song in spite of how closely it hews to his i-have-no-formula formula. It's funky and weird and cool.

5. 'Downer' by Nirvana from 'Bleach'

This album was recorded for $600 but they sound like a million bucks.

6. 'Bed For The Scraping' by Fugazi from 'Red Medicine'

By this point Fugazi was like The Rolling Stones of the hardcore movement. They'd stood on the mountain top and no one even challenged them anymore. But obviously they challenged themselves. The funk is so hard, the lyrics are like ball bearings skittering around in hot grease, the unity is absolute. They have better songs, better albums, but they've never been more of a group.

7. 'Fireman Hurley' by Mike Watt from 'Contemplating The Engine Room'

A nice song about his buddy the drummer. The drummer came from a family of firemen and here Watt draws an interesting parallel between the combustible propulsion of Hurley's musicianship and his family history of putting out fires.

8. 'Sea of Secrets' by Joe Jackson from 'Night Music'

Heard it yesterday, skipped it today.

9. 'Windowstill' by Arcade Fire from 'Neon Bible'

Ugh. Shut up already.

10. 'Rock You' by The Roots from 'Phrenology'

I want to be in The Roots. I'll play the triangle, I'll be the guy who dances around and yells 'Put Your Hands In The Air!' I don't care. I want to be in The Roots.

11. 'Protection' by Graham Parker and The Rumour from 'Squeezing Out Sparks'

Odd, I listened to this album just last night as I cooked my tilapia. Then I listened to Graham Parker solo and heard this song in that version. A simply fantastic rock song. Legend has it that Graham Parker had a band before he put together The Rumour. That band had a harmonica player from The States who'd been backpacking around Europe and had settled in London and gotten mixed up in the burgeoning punk scene.

That harmonica player? Huey Lewis.

12. 'Winds of Morning' by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem from 'In Concert'

These guys bring me back to my childhood like no other artists. They are the best.

13. 'Everybody In This Town Is Drunk' by Pat McCurdy from 'Showtunes'

This live track demonstrates McCurdy's ability to engage a crowd which is almost wholly unique. If you are ever in Chicago or Milwaukee you'll probably want to see Wrigley Field, The Sears Tower, the breweries, etc. But McCurdy is as much of a landmark. Do not miss him.

14. 'The Ultimate Shit' by Pimp Fu from 'Raw Fushi...t'

Oh man he's good.

15. 'Perfect Hair' by Dangerdoom from 'The Mouse & The M...'

Head trip!

16. 'Boom Boom' by John Lee Hooker from 'Very Best Of'

This guy is a minimalist. Many of the beats are his toes tapping. You can hear the invention as it happens and that he'd never play the song the same way twice. There might be raw moments that could be improved upon but they wouldn't add up to the transcendence in the last verse. So he leaves the imperfection alone.

17. 'Cicatriz E.S.P.' by The Mars Volta from 'De-Loused In The Comatorium'

I try to resist, I swear I do. I try to be above it all, to look upon these freaks as self-indulgent deliberately obscure technophiles who are a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. But ultimately I am swayed by the sheer audacity of their vision. To flout comprehension so willingly, to grate the ear with volume and shrillness, to stretch an idea twice past the limit of ingratiation...hats off.

18. 'Supa Star' by Floetry feat. Common from 'Umpg: Current And Upcoming Singles'

Supa yawn.

19. 'Cinderella's Big Score' by Sonic Youth from 'Goo'

'Goo' is in essence Sonic Youth's disco album. It never sits still, it sparkles, it leaves you likely to make bad choices in public places late at night, and it keeps pulling its skirt higher and higher and higher until...well, let's just say that when you bend down to put the glass slipper back on you get quite a show.

20. 'Pork Chop's Little Ditty' by Primus from 'Pork Soda'

Les Claypool got his hands on a banjo and PRESTO!

21. 'The Last Time' by The Rolling Stones from 'Out Of Our Heads (USA)'

Oh to be young and in The Rolling Stones! They sound like cavemen.

22. 'All Broadway Musicals Sound the Same, Especially The Baritones' by Lenny Bruce from 'The Lenny Bruce Originals - Volume 1'

A short interlude from the King.

23. 'Everlong' by Foo Fighters from 'The Colour And The Shape'

Foo fans don't seem to care for this album overmuch and I couldn't disagree more. I own no other Foo Fighters and don't care to, such is the perfection of this suite of songs.

24. 'Cleaning House' by Grandpaboy from 'Dead Man Shake'

The blues album Westerberg released as Grandpaboy is a kind of ragged perfection. Check him out.

And that is that for the day. Let it alone.